There’s always something for every fan at the Disneyland Resort — and with the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the holidays are getting even more marvellous at Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure.
io9 was recently invited by Disney Parks to check out its Black Panther: Wakanda Forever celebration to meet the new heroes, try the flavours of Wakanda, and see all the fandom holiday gift offerings. The Disneyland Resort’s creative director Michael Serna was also on hand to chat with press about the ongoing collaboration to make Avengers Campus the most immersive Marvel fan experience on the West Coast.
Check out our guide to experiencing a merry, Marvel-multiverse inspired day of festivities.
Introducing the Black Panther
The way Avengers Campus continues to evolve through its inclusion of characters from Marvel shows and films as they are released keeps the environment exciting — especially considering that its recently announced third E-ticket attraction inspired by the Multiverse Saga is still a ways off. While we wait for the area’s offerings to expand, the debut of the new Black Panther is a solid way to bring out the energy of fans excited to interact with the world of Wakanda.
Creative director Michael Serna — the park’s resident Marvel fanboy who got to get in on the ground floor of developing Avengers Campus — discussed working directly with Marvel Studios on all the phases. “I was just very fortunate that I was working at Imagineering at the time and it became very important to everybody else,” he said. “It was really a perfect moment for me to be able to jump in and start to tell these stories and work with other filmmakers and storytellers.”
And with Wakanda Forever, they knew it would be the area’s biggest opportunity to really bring in new experiences to celebrate the franchise. “We’ve been really thinking about it for a couple of years. As soon as the movie was announced, we thought, well, how are we going to integrate this knowing that the [Avengers] campus was already open and this is going to be our first movie that we knew would be huge?” he said. “So we really wanted to think about how our experiences that we currently had in the campus were going to either work with [it], or [would] we have to change them? In the past six months we got more information on the film. We knew, obviously, who the Black Panther was going to be — those sort of things became clear to us that allowed us to craft how we approach it.”
Marvel Studios’ Involvement
Marvel head Kevin Feige is a noted Disney Parks fan, and Serna discussed how that really impacts the collaboration between Imagineering and Marvel. “They’re really amazing partners … Kevin Feige is a fan himself, and it really helps us bounce ideas off that team and really work closely,” he said. “They’re really transparent about things. I mean, like I said, they inform us of major plot points and brought us into that tiny circle of new things very early — which really helped us work [with] them and say, ‘What about this? What about that? And could we do this kind of thing?’ And often the studio is, ‘Yes, more, more, more,’ versus trying to confine us to something.”
Evolving Stories Inspired by the MCU’s Phases
While the MCU is not the universe within the Disney theme parks — let’s call it the MCTPU, adding “theme parks” in there — it does give Imagineering some leeway with the characters within their multiverse. That could mean seeing both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson’s versions of Captain America, or the storylines on the rides not having continuity with the MCU (Iron Man Tony Stark is still alive, for example). The park creators have the ability to ask Marvel Studios how far they can stretch their reality. “They say, ‘That sounds great. Can you do something 10 times bigger?’ And it’s really exciting to work with partners that way, that want this to be alive,” Serna shared.
New Heroes for New Times
“They want this to be relevant but don’t want it to be a historical piece that you kind of visit say, ‘Oh, remember back in ‘99?’ We’re looking forward, obviously,” Serna said. Connecting the Avengers Campus to big events in the MCU’s Phases as fans grow up with this era of Marvel is the focus here, something that was at the forefront as plans shifted with Black Panther. “We know that a new Black Panther taking on that mantle was important to the film. That’s going to be important to us,” he elaborated. “The ability for us to deliver that to our guests was crucial, because obviously we love to be up to date here in the campus to what you’re seeing in the films and series. So we knew that was number one on our list, and then the rest of it was really exciting — things we could add in to make it even richer, and continue to tell the Wakanda story that we really love to tell in our campus. So that was kind of what drove us first was who was taking on the mantle: How do we tell the story around that?”
The Next Chapter
Serna continued, “We’re working really closely with the studio team because what you’re seeing really with our heroes is the character you saw in a film or series. It’s really been our goal to when you saw that hero, you think, ‘This is a real hero’ that’s in front of you. It’s about the experience the guests go through.” he said of the moments where you’re able to train with the Dora Milaje or take part in a lesson of the Mystic Arts with Doctor Strange.
“From the very beginning of Avengers Campus, we had three guiding principles. We knew guests would want to meet their heroes. We knew they were going to see them do amazing action and be heroic, like Spider-Man flying. But we also knew that guests wanted to train alongside them and do [activities] with the heroes — which is a different approach for us, to make sure that it was active and not a show you were watching from afar, but really being a part of it,” he said. “That’s really what we look at first, versus the heroes roaming around and [fans] meeting them. How could it be sort of plussed up by not being just a photo opportunity, but really an experience that you share [and] take home with you, something different, an emotional connection?”
Adding a Little Disney+ Into the Mix
Whether it’s a spooky encounter with a transformed Jack Russell from Werewolf By Night during Halloween, or seeing Hawkeye and Kate Bishop take on the Tracksuit mafia for the holidays, the Marvel original series heroes on Disney+ have seen a lot of action at Avengers Campus. You never know who you’ll run into as various shows air. When discussing what the curve is like to tap in those characters into the parks, Serna revealed, “Some of the times they surprise us by certain things that come in very last minute that we weren’t aware of. And then we sort of talk together quickly to figure out, is there something we can do there? The team at the studios and the Disney+ group are very aware now that we all want to accomplish this goal of having something that’s relevant immediately.” This has resulted in new heroes and villains emerging with increased frequency — and they’ve also been found appearing exclusively at special events, like Agatha Harkness at Oogie Boogie Bash.
“They’re coming to us a lot earlier now. When we first started, it was a little bit of, ‘Oh yeah, sure, we could do a thing,’ but now they’re jumping at us and saying, ‘Oh, hey, in a few months, here’s this’. So we have a pretty big timeline. We have the whole next year mapped out for ourselves of our expectations,” Sarna teased. “And the Disneyland Resort has been really great about embracing that as a thing and jumping in and saying, ‘How do we continue to do this? How do we find ways to make this happen, and how do we make those experiences unique so it’s not just a character appearing?’”
Lord M’Baku Has Arrived
One of the most clever additions — and my personal favourite addition (not just because Wintson Duke and I manifested it years ago) — is M’Baku making his debut in the parks. And he gets a whole experience because he is a whole experience. Serna agreed, “I loved M’Baku in first film. We had brought in General Okoye and the Dora Milaje and I thought, what’s a balance to that? What kind of energy is different? And M’Baku was such a giant figure in the first film,” Sarna said. “I saw the movie and went, ‘Oh, I see why they really were on board with it.’ Yeah, but the excitement around that was really from me saying, ‘How can we bring something different?’ I loved his humour. I love the spirit of what the Jabari are about. They are a tribe that is more about organic things and not about Vibranium and futurism. [They’re] really about digging down, [and are more] personal and grounded, which [is] very different than the rest of the Wakandan stories.”
A New Mentor
“The experience will give you [an understanding of] the [importance of the] Jabari tribe,” Sarna explained. “Whereas, what I say [about] the Dora Milaje experience is about how you have inner strength as an individual. The Jabari are more about how are you stronger as a group of people. How is a family a tribe? How does that make you powerful, and how does that group aspect make you sort of a superhero in your own way?”
“The way we look at Avengers Campus, the multiverse is a big part of what we think about. Where the films are headed is exciting to us because anything can happen. The three Spider-Men may converge in one world. We look at that as an opportunity for us, and I do think what we really want is Avengers Campus to be a surprising place, because that’s the world from the comic books and the movies, [where] heroic things happen and terrible things happen. They save the world one day and the next day they just have shawarma. I think that’s the important thing, giving that diversity of experience and character. So just know that we have cool things planned. Maybe more to come. We’re not stopping. We’re just getting started.”
Flavours of Wakanda
After our conversation with Sarna, we were able to explore the campus and adjoining areas where we could try African food inspired by Wakanda. (And yes, there was Peri Peri chicken on the menu, which is already a favourite of mine, and it was perfectly seasoned.)
I’d never had Maafe, and was pleasantly surprised at the warm savoury soup filed with ground peanut and mixed with hearty tomatoes and sweet potatoes. The colourful Dawa butterfly pea tea lemonade with ginger and vodka drink is definitely an “Instagram when you get it, but mix it before you drink it” situation, otherwise you’ll be getting bitter tea up top.
More Food and Merch
There’s also a roasted pork wrap that I didn’t get to try, along with a fun Coke holder in Wakandan that got hit with some Pym power — a major upgrade from the disposable Coke thermal detonators in Aurebesh over at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.
A Cup of Wakanda Forever
Here’s a look at more merch you can find while at the parks!
There’s an inclusive mix of items for all fans, including themed fashion accessories and clothes.
Black Panther Ears
And of course, Black Panther Disney ears.
It can get brisk at night this time of year at Disneyland, so keep an eye out for this blanket.
Costumes on Display at Avengers Super Store Stage 17
At Stage 17, you will be able to find all kinds of Marvel Studios franchise items not found in Avengers Campus — including movie and show merch, as well as seasonal items with cinematic displays.
Heart Shaped Herb
This doesn’t look very screen-accurate, but with a purple heart in the centre at least they tried?
Black Panther Fit
OK that jacket is cool.
Inspired by the Women of Wakanda
Anyone can add some glam to their Marvel fan wardrobe.
These keychains include heroes and villains.
Jewellery from Wakanda and Talokan
Fit for a king, queen, or god.
Baby’s First Black Panther Outfit
It’s too cute.
That’s what I think anytime I see a Marvel water bottle, I can’t help it. Now you will, too.
These Captain Marvel and Black Panther tree ornaments light up.
More Marvel Merry
Here we have Iron Man with a Snow(Iron)Man, which is on brand. And there’s Sam Wilson’s Cap, and Thor.
Protect the Snow Globe
This is a cute “Avengers, assemble!” moment.
Spidey All Alone
All we want is for Pete to find his way home.
Your Pet Can Join the Guardians of the Galaxy
At least for Christmas, with baby Groot and Rocket.
Baby Groot for the Baby
More adorable Marvel baby clothes.
Rocket and Groot Stocking
I can only imagine what Rocket would put in a stocking for Christmas.
Festive Baby Groot Tree
Perfect to get in the spirit by the time The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special hits Disney+ next week.
Want more Gizmodo news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water.
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