Wakanda in Walt Disney World

Black Panther is an enormous hit at the box office, earning a whopping $1.18 billion in just five weeks of release. This week, the film should surpass The Avengers to become not only the largest grossing film from Disney’s Marvel Studios, but the highest grossing superhero film of all time. One of the things that all the critics and fans are talking about is the worldbuilding of the film, at the center of which is the fictional, secretive, and technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda.

After seeing the movie, I walked out saying that I wanted to visit Wakanda. And I’m not alone, as searches for travel to the non-existent country have skyrocketed on travel websites. I walked out of the movie theater speculating that Disney could build Wakanda in Disney World Resort’s Animal Kingdom park, which already features a land designed to immerse you in a modern African village. But rumors have turned to the more future and technology-focused Epcot park…but could one painting at a different theme park prevent Wakanda and Black Panther from appearing in Disney World?

Could Black Panther’s Wakanda Come to Epcot?

Black Panther himself has been doing meet and greets at Disney’s California Aventure park in Disneyland Resort since the opening of the film. The California-based Disney park has a lot less room to play with than the Florida-based resort, and while California Aventure is expected to expand Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout into a full on Marvel land, it’s certainly not enough room to bring Wakanda to life. But there may still be a chance that Disney could be planning a ride for Black Panther at Epcot.

The new rumor started as Chairman of Parks Bob Chapek, alongside other Disney executives and Imagineers, was recently seen outside the most abandoned Wonders of Life Pavillion at Epcot planning…something (see the photo above). It has been speculated that the Wonders of Life show building could be used to house a version of Wakana in the theme park.

The building, which is located inside a golden colored dome between Mission: SPACE and the Universe of Energy (which recently closed to become a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster), is generally considered waste of space in Epcot, used only during festivals to house demonstrations and events. It opened on October 19, 1989 and housed the Body Wars simulator ride, a theater that housed the Cranium Command audio animatronics show, and a large space for interactive exhibits. The space closed on January 1, 2007 and has been used for seasonal festivals that EPCOT hosts.

Recently, an internal job posting has popped up from Disney looking for an “Interior Designer – EC Wonder of Life.” One of the main responsibilities of the job is the “design and production of a shop/restaurant or attraction” under the direction of a Senior or Principal Interior Designer. It’s unclear if they are merely rennovating the space for future festival space or if this will be a completely new attraction.

And then there’s the recent news that the entire pavilion will not be used for upcoming festival events, which suggests that something else is being planned for the space.

Could Universal Studios Prevent Disney From Building Wakanda in Orlando?

Back in the 1990s, long before Disney acquired Marvel, the comic book company signed a contract with Universal for the rights to the characters in use within theme park attractions. The contract limits the use of the characters on the east coast of the country, east of the Mississippi, to Universal Orlando with even tighter restrictions within a 60-mile radius of the Orlando parks. Much like the movie deals Marvel made with Fox and Sony, allowing them to keep the rights to the characters for future movies if they make a film every so many years, the theme park contract basically allows Universal to keep the rights to the Marvel characters in their theme park as long as they ensure upkeep of the rides and a few other minor things. This is why the Incredible Hulk coaster got a rennovation recently.

We have seen the Disney World employ Marvel skins on the monorail, but even those were put on the resort loop as to not confuse it for an in-park ride. Disney can’t even use the Marvel brand name in their resort. For example, their Marvel-themed merchandise store at Disney Springs is called “Super Hero Headquarters” and the Marvel logo is nowhere to be found. The theme park business is very profitable for Disney, and if there were any way for Disney lawyers to get out of this contract, they would have done so by now. This is why you see rides and characters based on Marvel’s heroes in Disneyland park and other Disney parks around the world, but not the Orlando-based Disney World parks.

Which Marvel Characters Are Owned By Universal Studios?

So which characters are included in this exclusivity contract? Because very few people not under NDA have read through the actual contracts, it’s hard to say for sure. However, it’s generally believed that it includes any character that appears in Universal’s Islands of Adventure park. This doesn’t just include the characters who appear in rides like Spider-Man, Doctor Doom of the Incredible Hulk, but also the characters who appear in costume in the park, such as the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s believed that any character who was approved by Marvel to appear on the land itself is also covered in this contract. This includes the characters featured in painted murals depicting many superheroes from Marvel’s comic universe.

So which other characters are pictured at Marvel Superhero Island? I don’t have a full list but here are some of the major ones: Spider-Man, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Beast, Black Panther, Captain America, Hulk, Storm, Silver Surfer, Cyclops, Rogue, Namor, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Iceman, Thor, Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, Thing, Professor X, Scarlet Witch, She-Hulk, Doctor Doom, Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin, Hobgoblin, Scream, Hydro-Man, Electro, Magneto, Kingpin and MODOK. Black Panther appears in a mural near the store (see above) and another one inside the resturant.

wakanda

Could Wakanda be a Loophole?

So does this mean that Disney can’t build a ride or land based on Black Panther in Disney World Resort? That much is unclear. After Guardians of the Galaxy became a huge hit for Marvel, Disney World did a short-lived meet and greet with Starlord and Gamora during a special event, which many Disney bloggers determined must fall under the category of movie marketing. But at D23 Expo 2017, Disney revealed that a rollercoaster ride based on Guardians of the Galaxy would be coming to EPCOT, replacing Ellen’s Energy Adventure in the Universe of Energy pavilion. Disney has touted the ride will be the longest enclosed rollercoaster in the world. Naturally, those characters aren’t pictured in Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Now, I want to add a bit of speculation to this rumor. What if Black Panther didn’t appear in this new attraction? He wouldn’t need to. If it was a simulator ride taking guests on a journey to Wakanda, they wouldn’t need to see Black Panther at all. I’m just wondering if the Universal Studios contract is limited to the characters pictured in the land or also the worlds they inhabit. Remember, the Avatar-themed Pandora in Animal Kingdom features none of the characters we know from the movie, allowing park guests to immerse themselves in the world from the film. Why couldn’t they do the same thing with Wakanda?

Another fan rumor has the fictional country of Wakanda becoming the new sponsor for the pavillion, with the center offering a new take on the science-type exhibits that currently inhabit Epcot’s Innoventions (which look to be replaced by a tree-filled park in recent concept art). It could make sense for STEM-inspired science exhibits to have a home here, especially when you remember the Wakanda-sponsored community centers mentioned at the end of the film.

One thing is for sure: Disney will be finding a way to bring their megahit to Disney Parks. We’ll just have to wait and see where and how.

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