How the Disney-Marvel deal affects Universal Studios theme parks

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Disney’s acquisition of Marvel is expected to have no effect on Universal Studios Florida, where visitors ride on attractions themed to Spider-Man and pose for photos with the Incredible Hulk at the Islands of Adventure theme park.

“Our agreement with Marvel stands for as long as we follow the terms of our existing contract and for as long as we want there to be a Marvel Super Hero Island,” said Universal Studios Florida spokesman Tom Schroder.

Marvel Super Hero Island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, across town from Walt Disney World in Orlando, includes the Incredible Hulk roller-coaster and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man simulator ride as well walk-around characters such as Wolverine and Captain America.

Universal Studios Hollywood, which in the past featured a Marvel stage show, themed restaurant and walk-around characters, ended its relationship with the comic book company in 2007.

Around the world, Universal theme parks planned for Singapore (2010) and Dubai (2012) have no plans for Marvel attractions or characters, officials said. Universal Studios Japan has a Spider-Man ride similar to the Orlando attraction. Universal’s intellectual property rights are limited geographically to the use of the Marvel brand in Orlando and the Spider-Man brand in Japan.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger promised to honor existing agreements between rival theme parks and the comic book giant, but expects to “use Marvel where we can on Disney platforms and in Disney places.”

“Marvel characters have already proven to be strong in terms of theme park attraction and we believe there are a lot of opportunities around the world,” Iger told CNBC. “Not in every one of our parks, because there are some existing agreements that we obviously have to honor, but in a number of places for us to use the Marvel characters to basically help us grow our theme park business and better entertain people.”

The Marvel deal adds over 5,000 characters to Disney’s portfolio — including Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk.

Incorporating the Marvel superheroes into Disney’s fairy-tale cast of characters may seem like a storytelling leap, but the theme park giant has pulled off the feat before. Through the years, Disney theme parks have created shows, rides and attractions with third parties (”Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) and incorporated acquired properties (the Muppets, Winnie the Pooh, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”).

The massive Dubailand development may be the best place to glimpse Disney’s theme park future, where the 100-acre Marvel Superheroes theme park is expected to open in 2012. Off-site testing has already begun on three of the planned attractions: Flying with Spidey, Fantasticar and X-Men: Danger Room.


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