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Here's why Walt Disney World will likely never get a Marvel theme park

ALLIE GOULDING | Times Tower of Terror is seen at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 during the park’s 30th anniversary celebration in Orlando.
Published Jun. 14

Disneyland Resort in California is moving forward with its latest expansion: a land at California Adventure Park themed for the superheroes of Marvel comics and movies. Permits were approved this week for the project, which include a retail outlet, a microbrewery, a character meet-and-greet area and more.

Is Orlando next in line for a Marvel land?

Not quite.

A long-standing court case has kept the majority of classic Marvel characters, and even the Marvel name, away from any Disney theme park east of the Mississippi River.

In 2009, Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in cash and stock, so you'd think Florida's theme parks would be getting some of the same Marvel attractions opening in California and overseas.

But a case filed in the 1990s will likely continue to keep Marvel out of Disney's Orlando parks.

When Disney bought Marvel, it did not obtain all the licensing rights that Marvel had signed away before then. That's why X-Men remained a Fox movie property, and Spider-Man was still the property of Sony. And that's also why Disney does not have the rights to use the Marvel name and characters at Walt Disney World.

Universal Studios had already secured the rights to Marvel for its Orlando theme parks, and Disney CEO Bob Iger at the time acknowledged that Universal retained those rights as long as they continued to pay royalty checks to Marvel. And there's no sign of Universal giving up that golden ticket.

The movie deals are complicated, and there has been progress in recent years to bring X-Men back into Marvel's cinematic universe. Spider-Man is now one of the Avengers.

But the Florida theme parks remain Marvel-free.

The Universal Studios contract with Marvel for use of its characters in Universal theme parks pre-dates Disney's purchase of the brand. That contract gives Universal the rights to many Marvel characters including the Avengers, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and dozens of other characters. At Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, Marvel Super Hero Island is one of its most popular lands, with the Incredible Hulk Coaster and its stellar 3D ride the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

Neither company has confirmed it publicly, but speculation has been that Disney and Universal came to a legal understanding that allows Disney to use characters not currently referenced inside Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure for Walt Disney World attractions. That's why Disney is building a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster at Epcot, slated to open next year.

More: New attractions coming to theme parks in 2019

But Walt Disney World still can't use the brand name Marvel in promoting its theme park attractions. That's why there's a store in Disney Springs that sells Marvel merchandise, but it's called Super Hero Headquarters. (It also sells Star Wars swag.)

Disney can use its Marvel characters on the West coast, which allows Disneyland to open a new "Super Hero-themed" land at Disney California Adventure. That new land will get a Spider Man-themed ride, which Disney is billing as an "immersive, interactive experience."

So while there may be some signs of more Marvel characters showing up at Walt Disney World, don't expect a Marvel land any time soon.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn. Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

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