During this weekend’s biennial D23 Expo, Disney Parks and Resorts made the long-awaited and -expected announcement: the ultra-successful Guardians of the Galaxy franchise will be landing at Epcot.
The rumor that the recently-exploded property would be finding its way to Walt Disney World Resort is an old one, having first appeared shortly over a year ago and gaining more traction in the past two months, when Disney filed paperwork with the South Florida Water Management District for preparatory work to commence at the northeast corner of Epcot. (It’s also a rumor that has gone through a couple different permutations, including the possibility of the company taking Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout, the re-theme of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror that opened just two months ago in California Adventure, and porting it over to the park.)
Perhaps not surprisingly, the specifics of today’s announcement are largely in line with the more prominent rumors from the past several months: the ragtag Guardians will be taking over the pavilion currently occupied by Ellen’s Energy Adventure. The premise revolves around a young Peter Quill – better known today as Star-Lord – actually having visited the original incarnation of Epcot back in the early ’80s.
It seems inevitable that both Guardians and Ellen would be included in this development. On the movie side, the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise is among Marvel Studios’s most profitable; even though it’s only three-years-old and consists of only two installments thus far, it’s the highest-grossing property to not feature the shared cinematic universe’s poster boy, Iron Man (and given that the team is set to cross paths with Shellhead and the rest of the Avengers in next summer’s The Avengers: Infinity War, Guardians is due to become even more popular in the very near future).
(Curious as to how Guardians of the Galaxy is able to set up shop in Disney World, given Marvel’s contract with Universal regarding the usage of its characters east of the Mississippi River? Easy: since none of the Guardians characters make an appearance at Islands of Adventure’s Marvel Super Hero Island, they’re fair game for Disney to incorporate in its own resort – though some have questioned the long-term legality of the move, since the Guardians will soon make that appearance with the Avengers, who most certainly do fall under Universal’s exclusivity umbrella. We’ll have to wait and see – and let the lawyers battle it out behind closed doors.)
The attraction Guardians of the Galaxy is going to replace, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, is highly emblematic of the problems that Disney has had with Epcot’s Future World for the past 25 years now – namely, how the company can keep an entire theme park land devoted to technology, human progress, and the future up-to-date and relevant with the latest trends and developments. Universe of Energy, as the ride was originally known, opened alongside the park – known as EPCOT Center back then, to highlight its Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow premise – on October 1, 1982. Devoted to the history of energy sources on this planet, it included several lengthy presentations, along with a quick ride through a dinosaur-infused primordial region where fossil fuels would ultimately be formed. Bowing to the pressures of making the attraction more palatable to children (Epcot originally debuted with a strict no-Disney-character policy, which has been systematically undone over its 35-year history), Disney opted to give it a new, more upbeat, and humorous tone in 1996, which was accomplished by repainting the dinosaur audio-animatronics with much brighter colors and, most notably, by infusing Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye into the various ride films. It has remained the same ever since.
The arrival of Guardians into Future World, though controversial for many fans (particularly the long-time, die-hard ones), is just the latest example of intellectual properties, specifically, and more broad-appeal characters, generally, replacing the original World’s Fair theme of the land; once The Living Seas was given a Finding Nemo makeover in 2007, it’s simply been a matter of time before further tie-ins to various Disney franchises got their time in the sun – especially franchises that are as immensely successful as anything Marvel Cinematic Universe-related.
But it’s just the first step for Epcot’s eventual rebirth on the way to Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021 – with Animal Kingdom having recently gotten a nighttime makeover with Pandora: The World of Avatar, Hollywood Studios set to soon receive both Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land, and with Magic Kingdom importing a copy of Shanghai Disneyland’s Tron Lightcycle Power Run, Epcot is the last remaining link in the chain. Future World’s reconstitution, coupled with World Showcase’s Frozen facelift from just last year, will make Epcot’s future brighter than ever – well, as far Disney’s shareholders are concerned, at least.
Ellen’s Energy Adventure closes on August 13, 2017.