At the D23 Expo, Disney revealed that a new land (or areas?) is under development for beyond Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom. The expansion would feature Coco, Encanto, and Villains (you read that correctly). This post will share all of the details, concept art, and everything we know about the possible expansion, plus a bit of commentary.
This Magic Kingdom expansion news was announced during the “A Boundless Future: Disney Parks, Experiences and Products” presentation at D23 Expo 2022. Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro offered a sneak peek at concept art for the future in addition and teased what was to come in a few years.
This was one of many announcements at the 2022 D23 Expo. Others include the opening season for TRON Lightcycle Run, return of a Figment meet & greet, new nighttime spectaculars for EPCOT & Magic Kingdom for Disney100. And that’s just what has been announced so far for Walt Disney World. We’ll have a recap of every announcement very soon.
This announcement was made following the news a potential Moana and Zootopia area in Animal Kingdom. The reveal was made by Imagineer Chris Beatty and Jennifer Lee, the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. They didn’t provide any additional details, but were careful to use language crouching the announcement, indicating that this is an “early concept exploration” and one of the “potential expansion opportunities.”
Here’s the concept art the duo shared while on stage:
This concept art is definitely more impressionistic than what was shared for the Moana area at Animal Kingdom, but it’s still more detailed than some concept art revealed in recent years.
With that said, only the Coco and Encanto areas are well-defined. The Disney Villains expansion appears off in the distance–no concept art specific to that was shared.
When Josh D’Amaro kicked off this portion of the presentation, he prefaced it with a warning that it would make some people at the company very uncomfortable, but would be exciting to fans.
The Magic Kingdom portion of the presentation was presented with a what if we did this kind of vibe…but they also suggested that these plans are actively being worked on and pursued.
Plans are in early development, but the ideas being explored guests would offer guests the opportunity to enter the Casa Madrigal and ride on the back of Dante or Pepita, Alebrijes of the Rivera family from Coco.
Honestly, I’m not even sure how to categorize this news. It’s short of a fully-fledged announcement, but more than us being flies on the wall for an Imagineering brainstorming session or blue sky pitch. There are concrete details and concept art, but no promises about what the final version of this expansion will actually entail.
One question for me is where this Magic Kingdom expansion will be built (if it’s built). Walt Disney World has been quietly relocating roads behind the park in a way that could accommodate this, quite literally, behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Another possibility is that at least part of this replaces Tom Sawyer Island. About 7-8 years ago, a big-budget expansion for the area alongside Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was rumored. It’s possible that this location is still the plan, but D’Amaro wanted to share good news, and cutting into the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island wouldn’t be as well received by Walt Disney World fans.
Before we get too excited with the daydreaming, it’s worth noting that this might not even happen. Disney has a poor track record when it comes to vague D23 Expo announcements. In the past, many plans presented without the colossal caveats of these Magic Kingdom expansion plans have not come to fruition.
Just off the top of my head, the Main Street Theater, Cherry Tree Lane, original Future World plans, second Future World plans, first Avengers E-Ticket, and more all have not been built. (And I know I’m forgetting a ton of abandoned projects–I saw a list pre-Expo and there was way more than this on it!)
As such, I do not fault any for viewing this with a lot of doubt and pessimism. Beyond all of the asterisks, current management has not exactly done right by Walt Disney World fans in the last few years. It’s been a rough era, and this flurry of news feels very much at odds with what we’ve lived through recently.
Maybe it’s the inveterate optimist in me, but I am still cautiously optimistic about this even knowing how common it is for D23 Expo announcements–even more concrete ones than this–not happening. Even having been burned in the past by Chapek and co., I remain hopeful–perhaps foolishly so–that Magic Kingdom will receive another large scale expansion.
Josh D’Amaro could’ve come out and highlighted returning entertainment and other little stuff. He could’ve talked up the return of Fantasmic (which is very much still happening in the next 6-8 weeks), recapped what has already happened this summer, or spent more time fixating on the specifics of projects that are in progress.
Instead, his presentation swung for the fences with regard to Walt Disney World. This splashy D23 Expo suggests to me that, at the very least, the company has plans to expand Magic Kingdom. Whether it actually ends up being Coco, Encanto, and/or Disney Villains is immaterial.
The desire to build out the park exists at a high level of the company, meaning there’s the appetite to invest more money into Walt Disney World. This being presented on stage at the D23 Expo means this is not just some blue sky idea floating around Imagineering.
As someone who figured the best case scenario for Walt Disney World “expansion” news at the D23 Expo was a replacement for Primeval Whirl, this caught me by surprise. It may not be a direct and immediate response to Epic Universe, but it’s something substantial.
As I’ve said before, I don’t think leadership at Disney believes they need an “answer” to Epic Universe. Their public position when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened was that “a rising tide lifts all boats” — that a stronger Universal was beneficial to Disney because it attracted more people to Central Florida.
That’s inarguably true to some extent, but it’s also spin. Over a decade later, the theme park landscape has also evolved in Orlando. Universal has built a half-dozen hotels in the intervening years at a range of price points, and there’s also the difference that 3 theme parks plus a water park makes. For many visitors, Universal will be a destination unto itself, rather than a diversion from Disney.
Personally, I wonder to what extent Disney leadership is actually worried about Epic Universe. The company as a whole, and Walt Disney World in particular, has lost so much institutional knowledge in the last few years. So many leaders at Disney only know an era of success, and have a “no one can touch us” attitude as a result.
Watch any interview with Bob Chapek or Josh D’Amaro and you can see this confidence (to use a charitable term). If this is the tone being set at the top, do you really think this is a company that fears Universal?
To be abundantly clear, I think this confidence is misplaced. To be sure, Disney has enjoyed a decade-plus of unparalleled success, and its theme park business is at a different stage than is Universal’s. However, as a hotel business that also operates theme parks, Walt Disney World cannot afford to lose overnight guests to Universal.
Those are its most lucrative visitors, and if Universal is able to siphon some away–even just 10%–that’s a huge blow to Disney. With Universal offering more affordable accommodations and on-site perks for a brand new park, it’ll be a totally different dynamic from when the Wizarding World first debuted over a decade ago.
Regardless, none of this could conceivably be ready by the time Epic Universe opens. More than anything else, that’s why this is not an “answer” to Epic Universe. None of the major expansions announced at the 2022 D23 Expo will open before 2026. Probably more like 2027.
In my view, the company is likely preparing to invest in Walt Disney World not due to a perceived threat from Universal’s Epic Universe, but due to the resiliency of its Florida theme parks. Walt Disney World continues to outperform, and investors have begun to take notice of its success. This coupled with Wall Street souring on streaming (at least a bit) means Disney may finally start to bet bigger on its theme park business. (All lessons learned back during the Great Recession…demonstrating both that history repeats itself and that Disney has lost institutional knowledge.)
That’s why I think there’s something of substance to these Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom expansion plans. Even if they don’t incorporate Disney Villains, Coco, Encanto, etc. into the actual lands, there are likely plans for major development on the horizon. From my perspective, this is less about the details and much more about the big picture. The Walt Disney Company once again appears to be bullish on the theme parks business…and that’s a good thing for fans!
What do you think of the possibility that Coco, Moana, and Disney Villains areas or attractions come to Magic Kingdom? Think these lands will actually be built, or is this yet another instance of Disney throwing as much at the wall and seeing what sticks? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!