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SYFY WIRE Theme Park News

Theme Park News: Disney unveils park secrets and Sesame Street expands west

By Carlye Wisel
Theme park news

Hello and welcome to this week's theme park joint! We've got SECRETS we've got SPACE SNACKS we've got SNUFFLEUPAGUS!?!? It'll all make sense in due time, young padawan.

No more distractions, let's get right down to it, since this week was a doozy. Don't miss the links, either — there's plenty of good stuff that went down on and off of DisTwitter this week:


Deep dives into the world of Walt Disney Imagineering are rare. The section of The Walt Disney Company that ideates theme park experiences isn't just notoriously off limits, it's a lockbox. Guests and employees adhere to a strict no-photo policy as a collection of secure and unmarked California warehouses house the most interesting developments coming to Disney's theme parks worldwide — many of which we only see in their final, glossy form.

That's why everything in this trailer for The Imagineering Story, the new documentary coming to Disney+, is so utterly exciting. The documentary offers behind-the-scenes tours from famed Imagineer Joe Rohde, ride test vehicles, and a look inside the hallowed Magic Kingdom Utilidors — and that won't even be the most exciting part of this series. For really the first time, Walt Disney Imagineering, referred to in shorthand as WDI by fanatics, will open its doors in a way we don't usually get to experience.

The Imagineering Story is seemingly packed with archival footage and never-before-seen videos, not just promotional footage of newer attractions created in anticipation of Disney+'s imminent arrival. This thing's the real deal from top to bottom, made with full Disney participation and helmed by Leslie Iwerks, director of The Pixar Story documentary. There is, plainly speaking, no one better than her to set this up; as the daughter of Don Iwerks (who helped create CircleVision, Captain EO, and the Star Tours projection system) and the granddaughter of Walt Disney collaborator Ub Iwerks (who animated the first Mickey Mouse short, pioneered modern-day cinema, and lent an integral hand to early theme park attractions), it may seemingly double as a dive into her own family's history.

Even this little preview is overwhelmingly special. C'mon, that early Matterhorn footage? An interview with Bob Iger from inside Disney California Adventure's members-only bar? Test vehicles malfunctioning?! It's all fantastic, but nothing compares to the promised looks inside Walt Disney Imagineering. And, okay, inside the Matterhorn. (And if you're hell-bent on those Utilidors, don't forget — some of the Magic Kingdom's daily tours will take you inside the underground tunnels.)

Curious what will be covered in this series? Here's a breakdown of some of those lesser-known items in the trailer:

  • A lot of ride footage is from overseas attractions, including Hong Kong Disneyland's beloved Mystic Manor. The Beast audio-animatronic is going to Tokyo Disneyland's Beauty and the Beast attraction, opening spring 2020, while the cube-like submarine is the vehicle used in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea at Tokyo DisneySea.
  • That flying dummy is an autonomous stunt double that has not yet made it into the parks. TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino did an incredible deep dive on it last year which is absolutely worth a read.
  • As one sharp-sighted blogger noticed, The Muppet Mobile Lab is wrapped in plastic in the background of a workspace as though it won't pop out and say hello to me when I'm at EPCOT next week.
  • And how about that Rise of the Resistance glimpse!? Seeing those AT-ATs in their full towering glory is even more nutso when you realize you'll be passing through them on autonomous vehicles, but don't skip past the footage *just before that* — it's a peek at the ride that has never before been shown!

And those quick glimpses at the end:

  • Monorail: It's one of the hallway interiors at Walt Disney Imagineering's main building. The windows are screens that display animated versions of projects throughout the global parks!
  • Robot: That's the Shaman of Songs within the Na'vi River Journey attraction at Walt Disney World's Pandora — The World of Avatar. She remains, to this day, WDI's most advanced audio-animatronic.
  • Carousel: The figures are from the Fantasia Carousel, located at Shanghai Disneyland park.


No, I'm not just phoning in a repeat of last week's column. Shortly after Disneyland announced its new galactic bites landing at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, Walt Disney World — surprise! — got its own array of new interplanetary inspired foods.

So, what's on offer at Walt Disney World? There's a new kid's dish at Docking Bay 7 — pasta with marinara sauce and Impossible meat substitute — while at Ronto Roasters, two new items have landed: a snack mix of the stand's jerky with chips, crackers and pork rinds, and a chicken-based Ronto Wrap topped with Greek flavors like feta herbed yogurt sauce and cucumber relish. Kat Saka's Kettle has a new popcorn, but it's not Disneyland's raved-about chocolate popcorn (which, by the way, is fantastic). This Galaxy Green Popcorn supposedly tastes like standard popcorn but packs a colorful punch, ideal for the picky eater who wants something fun but familiar.

Early word at Disneyland is that the Ronto-less Wrap and its plant-based sausage are a worthy order, but man, that chocolate popcorn is the way to go. Remember, Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios are nearly identical, *except* for this new change, so the new food in California is not available in Florida at the time being, and vice versa.

Looking for a refresher on what's new at Disneyland's Star Wars Land? Click here for the run-down.


Ride renderings of future attractions at Sesame Place in San Diego

Sea World and Sesame Workshop are teaming up on a new Sesame Street theme and water park set to open in San Diego, California, in 2021.

It's only the second Sesame Place in the U.S. — the original, located outside Philadelphia, opened nearly 40 years ago — and will take over Sea World's 17-acre Aquatica water park, which shutters at the end of next summer. Early renderings show an Oscar the Grouch raft ride, Abby Cadabby swings, and I swear if that Snuffleupagus waterslide isn't themed to be riding down his snout, I will freak out!

It goes without saying that Sea World's inclusion of the most approachable children's television program does wonders for its brand. There's apparently a lot more to the partnership than the couple of announced projects, but I couldn't dig deeper because I got distracted since did you know the other Sesame Place lets you hug the full-sized characters?!?!? Journalism!




- NBC Sports Grill & Brew, one of the anchor restaurants at Universal Orlando's CityWalk, is coming to Universal CityWalk at Universal Studios Hollywood.

- Drinks can be so expensive at theme parks it's criminal, but now there's an actual lawsuit over soda.

- The You Must Remember This podcast, known for its deep dives into old Hollywood, returns today with a new subject: Disney's long-hidden Song of the South.

- The Bourne Stuntacular, a new stunt show themed to the book series and Matt Damon-starring action films, will debut at Universal Studios Florida next spring. It replaces Terminator 2: 3D (and sounds pretty dope).

- It accidentally snowed at Disney's Hollywood Studios today!!!

- Hong Kong Disneyland-based Cookie Ann, one of Duffy's friends, is arriving at Tokyo Disney Resort at the end of this year. (Apologies to anyone for whom this sentence is gibberish.)

- The luxury-leaning JW Marriott Anaheim outside the Disneyland Resort is now accepting reservations for May 17, 2020 and beyond.

- I don't even know what these are and yet I need them.

- Truly the most convenient list ever published of which previously released TV shows and movies will arrive on Disney+ when it launches November 12.

- The lovers, the dreamers, and me.

- That Nickelodeon Universe park we discussed a few weeks back opens this week!

- I still contend the best thing at the Germany Pavilion is the caramel popcorn, but this new merch gives it a run for its money.

- Starting today, reservations for Oga's Cantina, Savi's Workshop and Droid Depot at Disneyland's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge can be booked 60 days in advance.

- This secret menu item round-up from Disney Food Blog is 100 percent worth bookmarking for your next trip.

- If you've ever wanted to race a Minion, next February is your chance. Hurry — registration ends November 1.