Can Disney turn its theme parks into ‘Avengers World’?

Avengers fans at the movie's premiere last month.

Walt Disney Co’s design team has increased its efforts to bring the Marvel superhero team “The Avengers” to the company’s theme parks after the film’s smashing success, the head of Disney’s parks unit said on Thursday.

Speaking as Disney unveiled the final attractions of a $1 billion investment to boost its laggard Disney California Adventure park, Tom Staggs said he intends to bring “The Avengers” characters to the Anaheim resort and other parks outside the United States.

“We were hard at work on attractions using Marvel characters previously, and that work has only intensified given (the film’s) great success,” Staggs, chairman of Disney’s parks and resorts division, told Reuters in an interview at the park’s Golden Vine Winery.

“The Avengers” has sold more than $1.3 billion worth of tickets around the world. Executives and Disney’s designers, called “imagineers,” are still working out how to bring characters like The Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America to the parks. “The setting has to be right, the story has to be right. That takes a fair amount of time,” Staggs said.

Disney is contractually restricted from bringing Marvel characters to its parks in Orlando, where they are licensed to Comcast Corp’s Universal Studios.

The new 12-acre Cars Land at California Adventure, based on the hit 2006 Pixar movie, and other expansions should help the company lift its profit margins in the parks business to the 20 percent range, Staggs said.

A decade ago, theme parks were the company’s most profitable unit, with operating margins of 18 percent. This year, margins slid below 13 percent as the economy sputtered and the company spent to overhaul the California park and expand elsewhere, according to Disney’s latest SEC filing.

Staggs said margins at the parks and resort divisions had improved in the past couple years. “As we look at our business going forward, there is no structural reasons we wouldn’t see our margins head back to the 20 percent targets,” he said.

The parks unit’s earnings have been on the upswing over the last year. For the six months that ended in March, operating income rose 26 percent to $775 million, accounting for 18 percent of the company’s total.

The parks’ importance extends beyond their direct money-making capacity. Rides, shows and strolling characters provide marketing muscle for Disney movies, TV shows and merchandise.

Disney California Adventure has suffered from poor attendance since its 2001 opening adjacent to the larger Disneyland in Anaheim. Just 6 million people visited in 2011, compared with 16 million at Disneyland next door, according to the Themed Entertainment Association trade group.

In remaking California Adventure, Disney added a moving shooting arcade ride based on Pixar’s “Toy Story” and a ride based on its “Monsters, Inc.” film, along with classic Disney elements including a “Little Mermaid” ride.

For Cars Land, Disney designers traveled along historic Route 66 and brought back ideas including foods such as dill pickle popcorn that is served at the park. The highlight is Radiator Springs Racers, a roller coaster-style ride in which convertibles speed past mountain and desert landscapes reminiscent of the film’s setting.

At a lavish opening ceremony this week, stars of Pixar movies and Disney-owned ABC’s “Modern Family” hit comedy walked the red carpet on the new Buena Vista Street, an area designed to look like the art deco Hollywood that Walt Disney saw when he arrived in the 1920s.

Staggs said the revamp would raise attendance and increase visitors’ time at the resort, but he declined to estimate by how much. “We’re thrilled with the creative result and also very confident in what it will do for the business,” he said.

Analyst Doug Creutz of Cowen & Co, who rates Disney “neutral,” said the uncertain economy remains a challenge for the parks that Disney will have to grapple with to boost attendance by a meaningful number.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

International

U.N. nuclear inquiry on Iran seen making slow…

The U.N. nuclear watchdog appears to have made only limited progress so far in getting Iran to answer questions about its suspected atomic bomb research, diplomatic sources said on Friday,…

National

Violence-weary Missouri town sees second night of calm

By Nick Carey and Carey GillamFERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - The violence-weary town of Ferguson, Missouri, saw a second straight evening of relative calm on Thursday…

National

Journalist James Foley's parents, after call with pope,…

The parents of James Foley, the American journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Iraq, on Friday called for prayer and support to free the remaining captives held by Islamic…

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

Movies

Michael Chiklis on his football past and 'When…

Michael Chiklis remembers playing football in high school and how that prepped him to play a coach in "When the Game Stands Tall."

NFL

3 things we learned about the Giants in…

The Giants claimed the Snoopy trophy in a battle of MetLife Stadium tenants Friday night. But more importantly, the offense finally showed some life in…

NFL

3 things we learned about the Jets in…

The Jets lost the Snoopy Bowl, 35-24, to the Giants, losing the trophy and local bragging rights.

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

Wellbeing

Asics is giving away free gear around NYC…

Asics wants to see you on the court - and in the stands for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday - by giving away free…

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…