Plans for a waterpark and gym themed to Marvel superheroes have come to light thanks to the design agency involved with the project which is believed to have been under consideration before Disney bought the comic book company for $4 billion in 2009.
The agency tasked with developing the plans was Los Angeles-based Railton Entertainment Design (RED), one of the leading lights in its field. Its website reveals that the theme park / master planning projects it has worked on include a “Marvel Gym Concept” and a “Marvel Waterpark and Resort”.
The plans have come to light and they remain shrouded in secrecy as no further details are given about exactly when or where the attractions were due to appear.
Although there may not seem to be much of a connection between costumed characters and water rides or fitness equipment, there are ample opportunities for branding.
It’s easy to imagine workout machines which promise to make users look like The Hulk or slides where riders can join Marvel’s chrome-colored cosmic crimefighter, The Silver Surfer, on a twisting and turning ride across the galaxy. Creating these kind of back-stories is RED’s speciality
RED was formed in 2019 from the partnership between Disney Imagineering veteran Scott Ault and Jeremy Railton’s Entertainment Design Corporation (EDC), the wizards behind the overhead lighting display on Fremont Street in Las Vegas and the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Together Ault and Railton have more than five decades of experience in the themed entertainment industry and have won four Emmys as well as four Themed Entertainment Association awards. They have also worked with the biggest brands in entertainment including DreamWorks, Fox and Nickelodeon, as well as Disney.
RED gets involved at all stages of the design process, from blue sky concepts which remain on the drawing board right up to schematics of signed-off attractions. RED has even worked on both in the same city.
In 2003 the government in Dubai announced plans to build the world’s largest collection of theme parks as part of a plan to diversify from an oil-reliant economy to one that is driven by tourism. At an estimated cost of $64.3 billion, the Dubailand development was due to cover 107 square miles making it twice the size of Walt Disney
Fueled with Dubai’s profits from oil, the project came to an abrupt halt during the economic downturn when property sales slowed and the price of crude crashed by 35% to an average of $60.86 per barrel in 2009.
It brought the curtain down on much of Dubailand, including 20th Century Fox World, which was due to feature a park, hotels and an entertainment district themed to shows such as The Simpsons, Ice Age, Aliens, Titanic and Planet of the Apes. EDC designed and master planned the entire property which was later scaled back to fit in Dubai’s movie-themed MOTIONGATE park before it was replaced with a Lionsgate land. In contrast, one of EDC’s other projects in Dubai had a much happier ending.
DreamWorks’ Dubailand development was due to be its first ever theme park and was expected to feature lands themed to its hit computer animated movies like Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon. The studio had previously developed a Shrek 4D show for Universal’s parks which was so popular that its outpost in Orlando only recently replaced it with an attraction based on the Minions franchise.
DreamWorks had a grand plan of building an indoor park in Dubai with more elaborate sets than those you find in outdoor parks as there is no danger of them being damaged by the wind or bleached by the sun. It envisaged building a life-size dimly-lit version of Shrek’s swamp complete with thatched cottages and artificial moss covering fake wooden logs. The How To Train Your Dragon land was set to be adorned with fragile fake fir trees and rows of wooden huts with steeply sloping roofs in a classic Norwegian style.
Crucially, building the entire park indoors would enable the hulking ride buildings to be completely hidden by interior facades. This would ensure that the structures don’t spoil the immaculately-themed landscape as they often do in outdoor parks. Entrances to the rides could even be subtly and logically integrated into the facades in-keeping with the theme. Undeterred by the economic downturn, all of these features ended up in the 45,000 square meter indoor DreamWorks area at MOTIONGATE.
Its How To Train Your Dragon Dragon Gliders roller coaster opened in 2017 and still ranks as one of the most immersive and innovative rides anywhere in the world. It was designed by EDC, along with the surrounding land, Shrek’s swamp area and its flagship attraction which is accessed through an inconspicuous opening in a tree stump. The ride puts Universal’s 4D Shrek show to shame as it tells the ogre’s story through sets populated with life-size wooden puppets complete with mock strings attached to their arms.
Dubailand’s Marvel park enjoyed a similar fate. The original concept artwork for it showed that the lavish Iron Man land would be set inside a futuristic city with silvery monorail tracks snaking overhead whilst Thor’s home of Asgard would have soaring craggy spires. The economic downturn also led to this park being distilled into an indoor environment which was far from a walk in the park. Seasoned Floridian design experts Falcon’s Creative Group took on the challenge and Marvel City was born.
Despite its more confined setting, the concept art showed that Marvel City would still feature highly immersive attractions. The Hulk appeared to hurl a circular theater in one attraction whilst another seemed to use overhead domed screens to make it look like towering robots were reaching down towards the audience.
In the end, the park was scaled down further to a Marvel land in Dubai’s IMG Worlds of Adventure park which opened in 2016. Also designed by Falcon’s Creative Group, the land still packs a mighty punch and is home to the rotating 360 degree domed theater promised in the concept art as well as a simulated jet ride with super hero team the Avengers as they battle the evil robot Ultron.
Like the DreamWorks land at MOTIONGATE, IMG is indoors and the rides are hidden behind colorful facades of famous Marvel Comics landscapes. It adds to the anticipation as it’s hard to tell the scale of the attraction when the ride building can’t even be seen.
The land is themed to Marvel’s comics, rather than the blockbuster movies based on them, and the deal to license its Intellectual Property was done long before Disney bought the business. The plans for the waterpark and the gym are believed to date back to a similar time and there is no indication they are still under active consideration.
In fact, this seems highly unlikely as the integration of Marvel characters into attractions has been driven by Disney’s internal Imagineering design division, rather than external agencies, since it acquired the comic book company. However, this hasn’t limited its scope.
Disney was reportedly considering building a dedicated Marvel theme park to launch the franchise at Disneyland Paris. In the end, as we have reported, it opted instead to build a smaller Avengers Campus land in Paris with others springing up at Disneyland in California and Hong Kong.
Disney World in Orlando is a notable exception due to a deal done by Marvel back in 1994. Under this agreement, Marvel licensed its characters to media group MCA which owned the Universal Studios theme parks and was developing a new Orlando outpost called Islands of Adventure.
The agreement separates the US into two regions on either side of the Mississippi River and prevents other theme park operators to the east of it from using the same or related characters as those which appear in the Marvel Super Hero Island at Islands of Adventure. They include the Avengers so this contract has prevented their Campus from getting off the ground at nearby Disney World. It seems set to stay that way as Universal’s deal runs in perpetuity unless it decides to close Marvel Super Hero Island, stop making payments or if Marvel opts out by giving reasonable grounds that Universal is mishandling its IP.
In 1998 Universal Studios Hollywood even launched Marvel’s first themed restaurant which was run in partnership with Planet Hollywood. It closed after just 19 months when the themed restaurant bubble burst but it further suggests that the plans for a waterpark and gym may have been formulated around this time.
In this era Marvel signed a slew of licensing deals for its IP in a bid to compensate for declining comic book sales. The movie rights to many of its classic characters even ended up with different studios which is why Disney has had to sign agreements with them in order to produce its team-up films.
Although the Mouse has never launched a Marvel waterpark or gym, in 2021 it swung open the doors to the first-ever Marvel hotel. Called Disney’s Hotel New York – The Art of Marvel, it is located at Disneyland Paris and is home to the Metro Pool and Health Club. Along with the opening of Avengers Campus in July 2022, it helped to drive record revenue of $2.6 billion at Disneyland Paris last year as we revealed in the Sunday Times.
Disney’s agreement with the French government commits it to building a third theme park in Paris by 2036 and a waterpark could be more cost-effective than building a full-blown theme park. The parlous state of the resort’s finances in the 1990s put paid to plans for a tropical-themed waterpark leaving fans clamoring for a replacement.
The potential for profit hasn’t escaped the attention of other developers as waterparks themed to Columbia Pictures and DreamWorks opened in Thailand, and New Jersey respectively over the past three years. Likewise UFC has had great success licensing its brand to gyms which have expanded into 28 countries. A Marvel-themed rival would put Disney on the crest of that wave so if it is considering testing the water, now could be just the right time to do it.