Disney star Debby Ryan has shot an Aussie coming-of-age film called Rip Tide in Kiama

DEBBY Ryan credits Australia for playing a part in her transition from Disney teen star to Hollywood actor.

Having starred in TV series Jessie from 2011-15, the now 24-year-old is making a name for herself as an adult actor.

She shot Aussie coming-of-age film Rip Tide in Kiama on the South Coast at the end of last year, a few months after pleading guilty to misdemeanour charges over a DUI felony.

Disney actor Debby Ryan will star in a new Aussie film called Rip Tide. Picture: Supplied

“Being in Australia, there was so much more freedom,” Ryan told Confidential.

“(In the US) there was so much entitlement that I experienced to the point where it just scared me to leave the house and in Australia I had such freedom.

“Whether that (freedom) was the people or the fact I was in more isolated places, I was so out of context, wearing no make-up and my hair was bleached and falling out.

“I’d go for a surf at lunch and be hanging out with the crew and the cast there, I think it really gave time to my development and evolution, just having a little bit of space and being so far away.”

The likeable Aussie has 7.5 million Instagram followers. Picture: Supplied
Aussie actor Andrew Creer plays her love interest in the movie. Picture: Supplied

Ryan, who has 7.5 million Instagram followers, spoke to Confidential from Los Angeles to announce the release of Rip Tide’s trailer ahead of its September cinematic release.

She recently featured on Rolling Stones’ 25 Under 25 list of musicians, activists and actors changing the world and will soon be seen on the big screen with Melissa McCarthy in Life Of The Party. She will also star in Netflix series Insatiable.

Rip Tide tells the story of teenage model, Cora (Ryan), who is sent to Australia to spend time with her aunt after an embarrassing video goes viral back home in the States.

The story is about Debby’s character who moves to Australia but meanwhile an embarrassing video goes viral back home. Picture: Supplied

Aussie actor Andrew Creer plays love interest, Tom.

“Not only playing someone who is finding herself, figuring out who you are, I was doing that at the same time Cora was,” she said of the film.

“The culture (in Australia) with celebrity and fame is so different — people would say something and then go about their business.

“There was no screaming or grabbing or talking crap on the internet because I said hi but didn’t take a picture or I took a picture but I didn’t sign something or I signed something but I didn’t do a video.”


Disney to transform Disneyland Paris hotel with the Art of Marvel

Since Disney bought Marvel, the company has been trying to find places it can incorporate iconic characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Spider-Man at its theme parks around the world.

Now, the Art of Marvel will give the comic-book juggernaut a home at Disneyland Paris.

“We are going to create a hotel at Disneyland Paris that would make Tony Stark proud,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts at the D23 Expo last weekend in Anaheim, Calif.

The existing Disney’s Hotel New York will get a makeover that will at a minimum build out a large collection of iconic Marvel presentations in the hotel’s public space.

“Guests will be able to explore the Marvel universe through its comic art, films, superhero costumes and more all displayed in the style of a contemporary art gallery,” Chapek said.

The 565-room hotel currently has an art deco 1930s New York design. It’s located adjacent to Disney Village, which is a shopping and dining district similar to Disney Springs at Walt Disney World.

No timetable for the renovation was given or if the Marvel makeover would spill over into the rooms.

The announcement came amid dozens of other plans for Disney properties including the creation of a Star Wars-themed hotel at Walt Disney World.

Marvel’s presence at the Orlando theme park is limited because of an existing agreement with Universal Orlando to be the home for many Marvel characters east of the Mississippi River. One set of Marvel characters not part of that agreement, though, are those from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Chapek said an attraction based on that comic book and film franchise would be coming to Epcot.

Earlier this year, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride at Disney’s California Adventure park was transformed into a ride called Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! The Epcot attraction will be something different, Chapek said.

That new ride in California, though, was the first Marvel-based ride at a U.S. Disney park. The Iron Man Experience, Disney’s first Marvel-themed ride, also opened this year at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Walt Disney Co. purchased Marvel for a reported $4 billion in 2009 and has been rolling out Marvel-themed items to its properties where it can. Walt Disney World had an Iron Man-theme skin added to a monorail when “Iron Man 3” came out, and it had a very low-key meet-and-greet for Dr. Strange when that film came out last fall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Disney Cruise Line also has two ships with Marvel play spaces and features the Marvel Day at Sea on select voyages.


Disney’s New Space-Themed Restaurant Will Let You Dine Like an Astronaut

Disney plans to open a space-themed restaurant in the Epcot theme park in Florida.

Credit: Disney

Disney’s Epcot theme park in Florida is opening its first space-themed restaurant. Part of a multimillion-dollar series of upgrades to the 35-year-old park, the table-service eatery promises guests spectacular views designed to mimic the experience of supping under the stars.

“We know our guests love dining at Epcot, and the restaurants really are out of this world,” Walt Disney imagineer Tom Fitzgerald announced at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, over the weekend. “Now we’re about to create one that takes that literally.”

The restaurant will be located next to “Mission: Space,” a popular NASA-style space shuttle simulator that is currently closed for overhauls but is set to reopen in late summer.

Though the details about the menu items and opening dates are scant, the eatery will be in familiar hands. The House of Mouse has tapped Patina Restaurant Group — a Walt Disney World veteran that runs Tutto Italia Ristorante and Via Napoli at Epcot, as well as Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs — to helm the joint.


Mickey surprises kids with adoption day at Disney World


ORLANDO – Three years ago, Courtney Gilmour and her husband, Tom, became foster parents to Janielle, 12, and Elijah, 10.

“We knew quickly that we wanted to adopt them,” Courtney tells HUMANKIND. “But sometimes the system doesn’t work as fast as your heart works.”

Finally, in May 2017, the parents finalized the paper work to formally adopt the two siblings.

The Gilmours wanted to do something special to announce their commitment to their kids. They planned a trip to Disney World where they hoped to surprise Janielle and Elijah with big news.

When they arrived at the Magic Kingdom, Courtney tweeted a photo of her family and what she was up to.

Lots to celebrate!!!! #adoption #disney @WDWToday 1st time for our kids

Within minutes, Disney reached out, letting Courtney know that they would set up a dinner for the family to enjoy and hire a photographer to capture that special moment.

The Gilmours were unaware that Mr. Mickey Mouse himself was going to partake in the experience. After dinner, the iconic character joined the family, meeting the children and sharing some laughs.

As Janielle and Elijah were posing for pictures, a Disney employee held up the sign that Courtney had created for this moment: Your Adoption Day will be May 24th 2017.

When the siblings saw the sign, they were shocked.


Disney faces a lawsuit for the visual-effects in ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Walt Disney/Courtesy Everett Collection
Dan Stevens (left) and Emma Watson in Walt Disney’s live-action adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast.” Rearden is suing Disney over the entertainment giant’s use of facial-capture technology in the film.

A lawsuit against Walt Disney Co. has roped the entertainment giant into a long-running legal dispute over ownership rights to a visual-effects technology, potentially threatening the company’s ability to profit from the top-grossing movie so far this year.

Rearden LLC, a company controlled by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Perlman, on Monday sued Disney DIS, +0.92%  in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, alleging copyright, patent and trademark infringement, stemming from Disney’s use of a facial-capture technology in the March blockbuster “Beauty and the Beast,” as well as 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Rearden is seeking injunctions to stop Disney from selling or showing these movies until the two companies reach a deal.

The dispute centers on a technology called MOVA Contour. In “Beauty and the Beast,” it was used to turn actor Dan Stevens’ facial performance into that of the beast. In “Guardians” and “Age of Ultron,” it was used in the portrayal of the alien Thanos.


Kermit the Frog Performer and Disney Spar Over an Ugly ‘Muppet’ Firing

Steve Whitmire, who had been the voice of Kermit the Frog since Jim Henson’s death in 1990, breaks his silence about having been dismissed.CreditRaymond McCrea Jones for The New York Times

The longtime voice of Kermit the Frog squared off against executives at Disney on Monday over the company’s decision to fire him after almost three decades of bringing that beloved Muppet to life.

The performer, Steve Whitmire, broke his silence in a telephone interview on Monday, saying that Disney’s dismissal had amounted to “a betrayal” after a career devoted to carrying on the legacy of Jim Henson, the founder of the Muppets and the original voice of Kermit. Mr. Whitmire insisted that Disney gave him no warning before telling him last fall that he would be replaced for what he described as minor reasons, like his manner of communicating with executives.

“This is my life’s work,” said Mr. Whitmire, 58, who lives in the Atlanta area. “The only thing I’ve done my whole adult life, and it’s just been taken away from me. I just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t resolve this.”

Disney, which acquired the Muppets in 2004 from the Jim Henson Company, painted a wholly different picture, portraying Mr. Whitmire as hostile to co-workers and overly difficult in contract negotiations. Members of the Henson family said they supported the dismissal as well.

The war of words between Mr. Whitmire and Disney was startling, given the outward harmony of the Muppets brand and the fact that when prominent performers are fired, the two sides usually come to terms and agree not to disparage each other. In this case, both Mr. Whitmire and Disney executives say they are fighting to protect the reputation and legacy of a beloved brand.

Mr. Whitmire portrayed Kermit for 27 years in numerous films and television shows and took the puppet all over the world as the Muppets’ pop culture significance expanded: a commencement ceremony, late-night comedy shows and even an episode of “WWE Raw.” Now the actor’s career is in ruins, while the Muppet brand will try to recover with Matt Vogel, a veteran Henson puppeteer, taking over the role.

In a 45-minute interview on Monday, a rarity without a piece of felt on his hand, Mr. Whitmire said that last October he received a phone call from two top Muppets Studio executives, both of whom he declined to name, telling him that he was being let go.

The executives gave two reasons for the decision, Mr. Whitmire recalled.

“They were uncomfortable with the way I had handled giving notes to one of the top creative executives on the series,” Mr. Whitmire said, referring to “The Muppets,” the most recent television revival of the franchise, which aired on ABC for one season, ending in March 2016.

“Nobody was yelling and screaming or using inappropriate language or typing in capitals,” he said. “It was strictly that I was sending detailed notes. I don’t feel that I was, in any way, disrespectful by doing that.”

The second reason, he said, had to do with a small video shoot involving Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and an outside company, which Mr. Whitmire declined to name, that took place more than a year before the phone call. There was a contract dispute between the Screen Actors Guild, of which Mr. Whitmire is a member, and Disney over how much the performers behind the puppets should be paid. Eventually, the union advised Mr. Whitmire not to do the project. Mr. Whitmire agreed.

After the phone call with the Muppets Studio executives, Mr. Whitmire said he had a lawyer approach Disney executives afterward to propose adding a provision to future contracts saying he would never give creative feedback again or talk to the union again while a deal was being negotiated. Disney declined the offer, Mr. Whitmire said, and he soon found himself separated from his life’s work.

“I’ve been laying awake at night for nine months trying to empathize with a position of ending somebody’s career over issues that seem to me to be so easily solved,” Mr. Whitmire said.


The puppeteer Steve Whitmire performed as Kermit the Frog for 27 years before being let go in an acrimonious dispute with Disney. CreditTonya Wise/Invision, via Associated Press

Disney executives declined to discuss Mr. Whitmire’s characterization of the phone call but did offer their fullest explanation of why Mr. Whitmire was being replaced, charging that his issues went far beyond minor.

“The role of Kermit the Frog is an iconic one that is beloved by fans and we take our responsibility to protect the integrity of that character very seriously,” said Debbie McClellan, head of the Muppets Studio, a division of Disney. “We raised concerns about Steve’s repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years, and he consistently failed to address the feedback. The decision to part ways was a difficult one which was made in consultation with the Henson family and has their full support.”

Henson’s family, which still runs the Jim Henson Company, chose Mr. Whitmire to replace Henson as Kermit in 1990 after Henson unexpectedlydied of pneumonia at the age of 53. Some of those same family members say they supported the decision to replace Mr. Whitmire, though they are no longer involved with the Muppets.

“He played brinkmanship very aggressively in contract negotiations,” Lisa Henson, president of the Jim Henson Company, and Jim Henson’s daughter, said in a telephone interview.

Ms. Henson said Mr. Whitmire was adamantly opposed to having an understudy for his role, which presented problems when it came to what she called “B-level performances, such as a ribbon-cutting.” She said he was unwilling to appear on some of these occasions but also refused to develop an understudy and that he “blackballed young performers” by refusing to appear on the show with them.

Brian Henson, the company’s chairman and Jim Henson’s son, said that while Mr. Whitmire’s Kermit was “sometimes excellent, and always pretty good,” things changed when he was off set.

“He’d send emails and letters attacking everyone, attacking the writing and attacking the director,” he said.

Executives at Disney also helped arrange an interview for a Times reporter with a producer on a Muppets-related project who expressed the same criticisms as the Henson family. The producer declined to speak for attribution, however.

For Mr. Whitmire, who didn’t respond to the criticisms leveled by the Hensons or Disney, this is the end of a professional journey that has occupied his entire adult life. His bond with the Muppets began when, at age 10, he wrote a letter to Mr. Henson asking questions about puppetry around the same time “Sesame Street” had its premiere.

In 1978, two years after graduating from Berkmar High School in Lilburn, Ga., he joined Henson’s team on “The Muppet Show.” He was 19 and auditioned for Jane Henson, Henson’s wife, at an airport in Atlanta right before she was catching a flight. He was the youngest puppeteer on the show.

Now Mr. Whitmire must contemplate a future without Kermit, Ernie, Rizzo the Rat, Statler and the many other beloved Muppets that he brought to life for decades.

“Given the opportunity,” Mr. Whitmire said, “I’d step right back in.”


Disney showed us the inner workings of its Avatar robot and it’s just incredible

Back at the end of May, Disney opened an Avatar-themed area (Pandora: World of Avatar) within its Animal Kingdom park. Given that it’s only been open for a few weeks, most folks still haven’t been inside — but if you do go, do yourself a favor and take the time to check out the Na’vi River Journey ride. The end of the ride features an animatronic Na’vi (Avatar’s blue humanoid species), and it’s easily one of the finest examples of animatronics ever built.

At our TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics event in Boston this afternoon, we got a look at what’s going on inside.

When it’s all sealed up, the Na’vi Shaman looks like this:

But pull back the mask, and an incredible, beautifully complex array of robotics lays beneath:

Disney has been paving new ground with animatronics for decades now (The Tiki Room’s birds and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln namesake robo-president date back to 1963 and 1964, respectively), but the Na’vi Shaman takes things to a whole new level in terms of expressiveness, fluidity of motion and the ability to blow your mind.


Disney Hopes ‘Duck Tales’ Will Quack for a New Generation



Huey, Dewey and Louie have always had things pretty good. They are, after all, Disney characters. But they’ve never had it quite like this.

When “Duck Tales,” the long running syndicated adventure series Disney aired between 1987 and 1990, is revived on cable-network Disney XD on August 12, the troika of ducks – Donald Duck’s mischievous nephews who have been part of Disney lore since 1937  – they’ll have more personality than ever before. Huey is the first-born, by seconds, and as such is more responsible and reliable. Dewey is a typical middle child, always trying to get attention. And Louie, the last, is more comfortable flying – er, waddling – under the radar.

In years past, fans of the trio may have had a tougher time telling them apart. No longer. “We wanted to make sure it was more than ‘the red one,’ ‘the green one,’ ‘the blue one,’” said Matt Youngberg, executive producer of the new series.

Disney is, like many other kids’ media outlets, trying to mine its vast archives for characters and content that will please the current generation of video-watchers. Rather than go to tried-and-true programs that have part of the companies’ history since the 1960s and 1970s, big kids’ content purveyors are instead digging into stuff from the 80s, 90s  and 2000s to tempt a new cadre of young parents and their progeny. At Viacom’s Nickelodoeon, executives have readied a TV movie based on the 1996 TV series “Hey Arnold!”  Time Warner’s Cartoon Network has already launched a revival of the popular mid-2000s series “Ben 10.”

The task is in some ways harder than bringing a new original to market, said Marc Buhaj, senior vice president, programming and general manager of Disney XD. “You don’t get any points with your audience for producing a remake,” he said. “You’ve got that tricky thing of pleasing the fan base from yesteryear, but also delivering to today’s target audience.”

“Duck Tales” has a rich heritage. The series is based on the adventure comics of cartoonist Carl Barks, who created Duckberg,  a veritable Winesberg, Ohio, of four-color fowl friends for kids during the 1940s., 1950s and 1960s. Barks set up many new foils for Disney’s popular Donald, including the billionaire Scrooge McDuck and the chicken inventor Gyro Gearloose. But his stories took the characters beyond the silver-screen slapstick of Mickey Mouse and “Steamboat Willie.” In his tales, the trio of nephews often wound up on multi-part adventures that had them fend off villains like The Beagle Boys.

TV’s“Duck Tales” brought much of that on-the-page history to life. The series showed Scrooge and his triplet grand-nephews on treasure hunts, or attempting to keep the elder duck’s riches from being purloined. Newer characters came to the fore, like Webby, granddaughter of the nanny Mrs. Beakley, or Launchpad McQuack, who would later be featured in the series “Darkwing Duck.”

To ensure the program beckoned both older fans and newer viewers, producers early on decided to play up the element of family appeal. “We approached it from a family-sitcom standpoint, one in which the patriarch is a combination of Indiana Jones and Tony Stark,” said Francisco Angones, the series’ co-producer and story editor.  What’s more, Webby will be placed on more of an equal footing with the triplets.

And creators gave a decidedly bigger role to Donald Duck, who made only a slight appearance in the original.

Producers felt abandoning the quick-tempered character was wrong – particularly because they could cast him as a sort of single father who would be looking out for his nephews, even as his Uncle Scrooge tried to take them out for adventures. “It was too good of a family dynamic to pass up – this overprotective parent trying to keep his kids safe from this world-famous adventuring madman who swims in money and fights robots,” said Angones.

To get the word out, Disney has launched a range of digital promotions aimed to get fans playing with the ducks. An avatar creator related to the series has already launched on the Disney XD mobile app and the Disney LOL social-content site for kids. Viewers can take a selfie with their favorite Duckberg characters with “Duck Tales: Bill Me,” available on the Disney XD app. Donald is even slated to be integrated into the popular Angry Birds game.

Disney XD executives expect to complement the series with short-form content for social and digital venues. “I want to see active engagement with the characters in ‘Duck Tales’ on a daily basis,” said Buhaj, “and I think we want to see it happen with core kids, but also beyond.” Clearly, Disney will be listening to determine if the Duckberg clan can quack anew

New postage stamps celebrate Disney villains

USPS’s Disney stamps
 Image: USPS

Walt Disney Studios’ artists are being celebrated with a new stamp sheet of 10 Disney villains from the United States Postal Service. The announcement was made over the weekend at the D23 expo in Anaheim, California.

Disney was founded in 1923, and its Ink and Paint department helped create many of the studio’s classic films. “The Postal Service is highlighting the Disney villains and the pioneering spirit of the Ink and Paint Department that brought many of these characters to life,” said postmaster general Megan Brennan in a statement. “These Forever stamps are our way of saying Disney Villains will forever entertain us and serve as a tribute Disney’s artistry and storytelling skill.”

The stamp sheet.
 Image: USPS

The 10 villains featured by the USPS are: Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Honest John from Pinocchio, Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians, Captain Hook from Peter Pan, the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Lady Tremaine from Cinderella, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, the Queen from Snow White, Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, and Scar from The Lion King. The sheet of 20 stamps features each character against a blue backdrop and is available for $9.80.

The USPS also released a Batman stamp set earlier this year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the caped crusader.


Disney wants to build a Westworld for Star Wars fans

Disney / Lucasfilm

This weekend at its D23 Expo, Disney offered several new details about its themed expansion land Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. But it was a much briefer announcement, confirming rumors that the company was working on an immersive, themed hotel set in George Lucas’ universe, that offered perhaps the most intriguing hint of where the company sees its parks and resorts businesses going.

Basically, Disney wants to build a Westworld for Star Wars fans.

That sounds like a bit of hyperbole on its face, but as described by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Bob Chapek, the project amounts to almost exactly that. “We are working on our most experiential concept ever,” he told the crowd during a Saturday panel. “It combines a luxury resort with immersion in an authentic environment.”

In this case, that environment would be a Disney World hotel, designed to look like a massive starship, with views of outer space from every window. But it wouldn’t just be a place for lodging on the way to Galaxy’s Edge; it would be an area where guests could have actual interactive experiences as part of a narrative storyline. “It will invite you to live your own dedicated, multi-day adventure in a galaxy far, far away,” Chapek explained. Guests wouldn’t wear flip-flops and shorts; they’d wear Star Wars costumes. They wouldn’t deal with hotel employees; they’d interact with Star Wars creatures and droids. And over the course of their stay, the story would unfold around them through a series of story moments and interactions, letting them fall completely into a fictional world.

Disney / Lucasfilm

Sure, synthetic humans may not be involved, and Ed Harris probably wouldn’t be poking around looking for a maze. But on a conceptual level, it’s precisely the value proposition offered by the Delos corporation in HBO’s show. It sounds like the ultimate dream for any Star Wars geek or immersive entertainment fan, and while the project is still in development it’s easy to see how this kind of closed-loop entertainment environment fits neatly within the expertise Disney has spent decades building.

The company’s Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is already one giant ecosystem unto itself. Check into a Disney hotel, and guests are given a RFID-powered MagicBand that serves as room key, park ticket, ID, and credit card. Shuttles conveniently move visitors from location to location. For those happy to embrace that lifestyle during a visit, it’s a frictionless experience, making it all too easy to escape into the endless array of Disney parks, rides, and restaurants. The building blocks are already there for creating a resort that would let visitors step inside a fictional world and leave everything else behind — just add Star Wars and stir.

Immersive environments, in which visitors feel they can actually visit other worlds and have their own adventures, have become vital to the company’s parks and resorts strategy. It’s the central conceit behind the upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which will let visitors visit a distant space outpost — much like Disney’s new park Pandora lets guests visit the planet from Avatar, or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter allows fans to walk the streets of Hogsmeade. However, Galaxy’s Edge promises to one-up both of those parks by bringing character interactions and a sense of narrative into the mix, potentially turning a guest’s day into a series of linked cause-and-effect moments.

But despite the ambitious plans of Galaxy’s Edge, a theme park brings with it considerable logistical limitations in terms of throughput and audience size, both of which are often in direct opposition to the kind of personalized experiences that can make immersive entertainment so intriguing in the first place. When thousands of people are walking through a park, not every single person can realistically have — or will even want — the same level of engagement as the other. An immersive hotel, however, would be inherently easier to scale and tailor to the needs of different visitors, with far more opportunities for guests to encounters characters and story elements.

Earlier this year I got a sense of what it would be like to stay in that kind of environment during the Overlook Film Festival, which ran an immersive, horror-themed game over several days. That experience included everything from scavenger hunts in a nearby town to mysterious, 3AM hotel room visits from a recruiting cult, and while the genre was dramatically different from anything Disney would ever offer, it was an exhilarating example of the potential here. Living, sleeping, and eating inside a story is simply tremendous fun, and because people all respond and act differently, every experience becomes unique. With early surveys from Disney floating the idea that visitor adventures could stretch from the hotel, to Galaxy’s Edge, and back again, it’s clear there’s some ambitious ideas being considered that only a resort that operates at this kind of scale would be able to consider. Of course, it’s not going to be cheap, either: that same early survey floated a cost of around $1,000 per guest for a 2-night stay.

Disney / Lucasfilm

The immersive hotel concept isn’t being limited just to Star Wars, either. Chapek also announced that Hotel New York at Disneyland Paris will be getting a superhero makeover and turned into Hotel New York — The Art of Marvel. While details were slim, the hotel will allow guests to peruse superhero artwork, costumes, and props “in the style of a contemporary art gallery.” While that doesn’t have the allure of a multi-day adventure like the proposed Star Wars resort, it nevertheless demonstrates that the company is focused on monetizing its rich variety of intellectual property in every way possible. If theme parks are the inevitable future of franchise movies, then hotels, resorts, and every other facet of Disney’s empire are an opportunity as well.

If there’s one big-picture takeaway from D23 Expo this year, it’s that Disney is all-in on the concept of immersive entertainment, no matter the medium. From Star Wars augmented reality and Marvel VR, to Galaxy’s Edge and the immersive hotel concepts, the company is aggressively moving beyond the confines of traditional, passive media — and it has both the resources and the intellectual property to pull it off. But of all the different ideas discussed at the convention, the one that felt the most groundbreaking was the one that also sounded the simplest: visiting a spaceship where you can just live inside a Star Wars story, no headsets or clunky technology required.

The goal of immersive entertainment is to bring people into fictional worlds and situations; to give them agency and presence in a way that blurs the line between fiction and reality. As escape rooms and these newer, immersive parks have stoked audience interest, Westworldhas become the perfect metaphor at the perfect time, cleanly articulating the allure of losing oneself in a “real” adventure. The irony is that the show’s Old West setting seems hopelessly antiquated when compared to the kinds of stories audiences currently crave, and it will likely be a futuristic sci-fi fantasy that will first offer audiences the chance to explore that kind of totally immersive environment. But then again, Star Wars has always felt like a Western.


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