While all eyes have been turned to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the Walt Disney World news and rumor mill hasn’t stopped. In this WDW news & rumor round-up, we cover the latest on projects at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. This includes the latest on Future World’s re-imagining, Brazil in Epcot, an addition to Animal Kingdom, the “hibernation” of the Country Bears, and more.
We’ll start with the official announcement that Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Animal Kingdom will reopen on July 11. That’s right my friends, the goats are back! When it does, Walt Disney World will be launching “The Animation Experience” at Conservation Station in honor of the Disney’s The Lion King. The Animation Experience will offer guests the opportunity to learn how live animals have inspired some of the most iconic characters from the upcoming film, learning to draw Simba, Zazu, Pumbaa, and Timon.
In a clever move, Walt Disney World will offer FastPass+ for the Animation Experience, which is absolutely unnecessary. As we pointed out in our recent Huge Hollywood Studios FastPass+ Tier Changes post, FastPass+ can be manipulated by Disney to redistribute attendance. People are more likely to use a FastPass+ (even a superfluous one) once they have it, and that’s absolutely what’s happening here…
One thing that we now know is coming at the D23 Expo is more information about Epcot’s reimagining. Disney has teased this a couple of times now, stating that Bob Chapek will share “more about the transformational plans for Epcot at Walt Disney World” during the Parks & Resorts panel on August 25 at 10:30 a.m.
Disney Parks Blog has elaborated on this, whetting reader appetites, with three things that’ll be included in the presentation. First, more about what’s coming to the core of the park on the opposite side of Spaceship Earth. New areas will be flanking the iconic attraction, and details will be shared with fans. Next, a new classic logo in the style of the originals for the Play Pavilion.
Finally, details about what defines Epcot. Per Disney: “architects of Epcot’s future are working to preserve all the elements that make this park so special while also evolving it to be more Disney, more family, more relevant and more timeless. At the Expo, you’ll hear more about experiences that are uniquely Epcot – for example, the updated films coming to Future World and World Showcase, as well as new dining experiences.”
At present, a lot of rumors are flying about the future of Epcot. This is no doubt because a lot is still being pitched, there are bluesky ideas that haven’t had their fate decided, and competing concepts are vying to be greenlit. With the timeline on this project’s completion now stretching to 2023-2024 (if not later), its full specifics are simply unknowable at this point.
This applies to the veracity of rumors, but it also applies to official statements from Disney. If Bob Chapek stands on stage and says, “there are no plans to replace Figment as the park’s unofficial mascot with that talking tree from our popular super hero movie at this time” that wouldn’t ease my mind. (I’d probably walk away more worried that it’s actually going to happen given the specificity of the denial.) Disney has used the “at this time” caveat to deny plans that are weeks away from official announcement in the past.
Nevertheless, the specifics I anticipate being announced will pertain to the Central Spine Redesign/Project Gamma, an announcement of the Brazil pavilion, maybe a surprise announcement, plus more details about the new films, dining, Epcot Forever, and previously-announced attractions. I’d expect anything more controversial–like specifics of the permanent nighttime spectacular–to be withheld for a future event.
Disney knows it needs to tread lightly with old school EPCOT fans, and also “know its audience.” These are safe announcements for the D23 Expo. That’s especially true if they use Tom Fitzgerald or some other Imagineer who worked on EPCOT Center in an attempt to legitimize the plans in the eyes of fans (it’s an effective strategy–we’re easily duped!).
Out of all of this, Brazil is the big wildcard. It came thisclose to being announced at the last D23 Expo, and the plans haven’t died or changed much to our knowledge since then. Per our post from over two years ago: “The details of what the pavilion would entail have morphed over time, but currently stand at the pavilion opening without a boat ride (to be added at a later date).
More so than Spain, a Brazilian pavilion would be a license to print money for Disney. Its dining offering would be popular, and merchandising would be profitable (Disney already sells some of this stuff without even having the pavilion). Long-term, I think having a people-eater attraction in the Brazilian pavilion is a logical decision, but getting this pavilion open (like, yesterday) as soon as possible is also the right move.”
Credible new rumors continue to point to the pavilion being slated for the plot of land between Germany and Italy where the model train is presently located (this is nothing new), opening without an attraction (also nothing new), and having multiple retail and dining options (also nothing new).
The goal is to have this built as quickly as possible, with construction starting this year (but after the beginning of the next fiscal year). I’m always in favor of speedy construction, but it’s worth pointing out that if construction began two years ago, they probably could’ve done the shopping, dining, and attraction in one fell swoop, and still had this pavilion debut by or before 2022. The thing about multi-phase Disney projects is that phase 2 frequently doesn’t happen.
June 30, 2019 UPDATE: Walt Disney World has released a statement debunking this rumor, stating: “contrary to rumors, Country Bear Jamboree is not going into hibernation any time soon. In fact, we’re looking forward to celebrating its 50th anniversary on Oct. 1, 2021 at Walt Disney World Resort, with Henry, the Five Bear Rugs and the rest of the gang.” As far as Disney goes, this is a strong denial. It leaves little room for “plans to change” at a later date–at least not before the 50th Anniversary celebration. We are incredibly relieved!
Finally, WDWNT is reporting a rumor that Country Bear Jamboree will soon be closing in Magic Kingdom to be replaced by a Toy Story marionette show in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. In the lead-up to the D23 Expo, there are a ton of rumors flying.
Per WDWNT’s sources, the new show would “incorporate elements of the Woody’s Roundup television show featured heavily in Toy Story 2, a faux program that starred puppet versions of Woody, Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete the Prospector.” This would satisfy two goals: fulfilling the mandate for more Disney intellectual property in the parks, and also be one of ’50 new things for the 50th Anniversary.’
What do you think about these Walt Disney World news and rumors? Think Country Bear Jamboree is actually on the chopping block? Any of these rumors you hope do or don’t come to fruition? Any questions? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!