LAKE BUENA VISTA — Disney's Hollywood Studios will add Lightning McQueen's Race Academy next year, as well as a Mickey Mouse cartoon that puts visitors inside the animation. And Disney leaders called the new Star Wars First Order battle attraction coming next fall "the most epic attraction Disney has ever designed."
It's all part of the evolution of the 25-year-old park that was originally supposed to be a working film and TV studio. The "Hollywood East" idea never took off. Instead, Disney executives have envisioned a transformation of the park in recent years that will put visitors in immersive experiences.
The announcement came following the dedication of Toy Story Land Friday, with actor Tim Allen joining his alter ego Buzz Lightyear. Toy Story Land is designed to make visitors feel like they have shrunk to the size of toys to play in Andy's backyard.
Lightning McQueen's Racing Academy will be an "up-close experience" according to senior Vice President at Walt Disney Imagineering, Kathy Magnum. Visitors will train to become racers alongside the stars of Pixar's Cars franchise. The new show will be located near Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and also will feature Mater and Cruz Ramirez.
The new attraction is set to open "early next year," adding another animation franchise to the park, undergoing a major transformation with Toy Story Land, next year's Star Wars land and another new attraction, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.
Walt Disney World released an artist's image of Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway currently under construction at Hollywood Studios. It looks to be a dark ride with an animated Mickey and Minnie in their own car riding alongside your vehicle.
Senior creative director Charita Carter said the ride "is going to break the laws of physics and put you in the animated world."
The previously announced Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will sit on 14 acres and be "the most immersive world" created yet, said Scott Mallwitz, Walt Disney Engineering's executive creative director.
It will put riders in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance and also as a pilot of the Millennium Falcon in a changing interactive experience.
"Your actions have consequences and they follow you into the outpost," Mallwitz said.
A Star Wars land opens first in California at Disneyland in summer 2019, then in late fall 2019 at Walt Disney World in Orlando. A Star Wars-themed hotel will be "seamlessly connected" to the land, the company has said.
The setting of Galaxy's Edge is the planet of Batuu, and the village of Black Spire Outpost, the largest settlement on that planet.
"Off the beaten path, this outpost has become a haven for the galaxy's most colorful — and notorious — characters," Disney's Scott Trowbridge, supervisor of the project, wrote on the official Disney Parks Blog.
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"Widely known for the petrified remains of its once towering ancient trees, the spires now stand guard across the river valleys and plains and have long captured the imagination of travelers to this planet," he wrote. "To the first settlers, these petrified spires became more than just landmarks; they became the heart of the outpost itself."
The idea of creating interactive worlds has become a big trend in the theme park industry. The opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 showed movie fans would flock to such an experience. It brought an unprecedented 36 percent spike in attendance at Universal Orlando.