Disney California Adventure is gearing up to celebrate the release of the next big Marvel movie, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
The Disneyland Resort will welcome the new Black Panther to Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure, which also will add new Black Panther-themed entertainment and African-inspired food in an attempt to get fans excited for the new film. One might expect synergy-loving Disney to do the same at its even larger Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, but visitors there won’t see a thing inside the parks about the new film.
Rival Universal Orlando owns the theme park rights to most Marvel characters in Florida, which prevents Disney World from doing anything with those characters, including Black Panther. Disney would love to get those rights back, as spreading the cost of developing Marvel attractions across both coasts would allow Disney to create far more impressive attractions at Avengers Campus and beyond. A high-level Disney official confirmed to me that the company has made multiple attempts to obtain those rights, but Universal officials have ghosted Disney like a bad Tinder match.
Disney and Universal have had a long and interesting relationship — one that began before what became The Walt Disney Company opened nearly 100 years ago, in 1923. Before Walt and his brother started their own animation studio, Walt actually worked for Universal, making cartoons.
It was for Universal that Walt created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which set up what much later would become one of the more eye-raising deals between the two companies. When NBCUniversal obtained the rights to Sunday-night NFL games, it wanted broadcaster Al Michaels to call the play by play. But Michaels was obligated to Disney-owned ABC at the time.
So Disney proposed a swap — it would clear Michaels to sign with NBC in exchange for ownership of Walt Disney’s first major cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Universal hadn’t done anything with Oswald in decades, and it’s possible that top company officials didn’t even realize that they owned the character. Essentially, NBCUniversal wasn’t giving up anything it held as valuable, so the company swiftly agreed to the deal.
Unfortunately for Disney, it does not seem to own an Oswald-like asset that it can offer Universal in exchange for the Marvel theme park rights in Florida. Universal’s theme park attraction license for Disney’s The Simpsons is said to expire this decade, but trading Marvel for The Simpsons would be like trading Shohei Ohtani for a mid-level reliever.
My favorite Disney/Marvel rumor said that Universal was ready to trade its Marvel license several years back to get Steven Spielberg out of a distribution deal with Disney. That obviously did not happen, and who knows if it’s true? But it was a great story at the time.
Now, perhaps the only way Disney will get the East Coast theme park rights to Marvel will be for the company to write its rival NBCUniversal a really big check – one with more zeros than Snow White’s story has dwarfs.