This past Friday was the opening day of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. However, at the same time she was appearing on screen, visitors to Disneyland Resort’s California Adventure park in Anaheim, CA could see the debut of a new Black Panther in person, making her way through Avengers Campus.
At various points of the day, the new Black Panther could be found up above visitors, walking along the Avengers Headquarters found at the Campus, but she also was spotted simply moving amongst the guests, stopping to take photos and sign autographs for excited fans. And she’s not the only Wakanda Forever character you currently have the chance to interact with.
Since it opened in the summer of 2021, Avengers Campus has provided a lot of synergy with new MCU releases, including having the in person debuts of characters like Moon Knight, Mighty Thor, Ms. Marvel, and Werewolf By Night just as they are first being seen in their respective films, series, or specials. But Wakanda Forever has more tie-ins than any new MCU project since the theme park land opened, which Michael Serna (Executive Creative Director for Disney Live Entertainment) said was by design while speaking to press on opening day of the new experiences.
Serna noted that they had been looking at what they could do for Wakanda Forever essentially from the start. “As soon as the movie was announced, we thought ‘How are we going to integrate this?’, knowing that the Campus was already open, and this is going to really be our first really huge movie that we knew would be huge. So we really wanted to think about how our experiences that we currently had in the Campus were going to either work with [these characters], or we’d have to change them, etc.”
When it came to the specifics, Serna explained, “In the past six months is when we got more information on the film. We knew, obviously, who Black Panther was going to be; those sorts of things became clear to us. That allowed us to craft how we were going to approach this.”
As for their priorities, Serna said, “Obviously, [having] a new Black Panther and someone taking on that mantle was important to the film and it was gonna be important to us. The ability for us to deliver that to our guests is crucial, because we love to remain relevant, to be up to date here in the Campus and be fresh with what you’re seeing in the films and series. So we knew that was number one on our list. And then the rest of it was really exciting things we could add and that we find ways to make it even richer and continue to tell the Wakanda story, which we really love to tell in our Campus.”
There has been a Black Panther presence at Avengers Campus since it opened, both through appearances from T’Challa as Black Panther but also via the Dora Milaje, with Okoye and her troops featured in the Warriors of Wakanda presentation. The Dora continue to appear in this manner – I saw them during this same visit – but there is now yet another powerful figure from Wakanda at Avengers Campus via M’Baku, making his Disney Parks debut.
M’Baku appears during a presentation called The Way of the Jabari, and he drew quite an impressively large and cheering crowd as he made his way through Avengers Campus to the Quad at its center, where he explained the Jabari’s philosophy – and called upon volunteers to help him illustrate their connection to animals, in what turned out to be an especially fun and engaging performance from the cast member playing him.
Asked about bringing M’Baku to Avengers Campus, Serna admitted, with a grin, that it was very much a personal push he made, explaining, “I loved M’Baku in the first film. We had brought in general Okoye and the Dora Milaje and I thought ‘What’s a balance to that? What kind of energy is different?’ And M’Baku was such a giant figure in the first film. I basically went back to the studio and said, ‘So, what do you think about us doing this?’ And they said, ‘Yes, 100%.’ When I saw the movie, I went, ‘Ohhhh, I see why they really were on board with it.’”
Added Serna, “I love the humor and I love the spirit of what the Jibari are about. They are a tribe that is more about organic things and not about Vibranium and futurism and really about digging down personally and [staying] grounded, which is very different than the rest of the Wakandans.”
Serna said with this appearance “We wanted to get to the spirit of why the Jabari are the way they are. So it will give you some of that experience of what it is about the Jabari tribe and what is their importance. Whereas the Dorja Milaje experience is about how you have inner strength as an individual, the Jabari is more about how are you stronger as a group? How does a family and tribe make you powerful? And how does that group aspect make you sort of a superhero in your own way?”
PLENTY FOR EVERYONE
M’Baku continues an approach in Avengers Campus of having character appearances that aren’t just a standard meet and greet photo opp, which is the case for a large number of the heroes that appear there. Serna said from the start they felt that guests who love Marvel heroes, “wanted to train alongside them and take up with them and do things with the heroes, which is sort of a different approach for us.” The intent was, “to make sure that it was active and not a ‘show’ per se, or something where you’re watching from afar, but really being a part of it.”
The new Black Panther: Wakanda Forever offerings at the park arrive simultaneous to California Adventure’s annual Festival of Holidays celebration, which includes popular kiosks offering food inspired by a bevy of different cultures and locations. While technically not part of that event, there is a very Festival of Holidays type food kiosk also now open outside of Avengers Campus, in the Hollywood Backlot area of California Adventure, called Flavors of Wakanda. The offerings there include a very tasty peanut stew called Maafe and a peri-peri chicken dish (that one was just okay), along with themed beverages.
You’ll also find a Wakandan Roasted Pork Wrap at the Shawarma Palace stands in Avengers Campus, plus collectibles like a Shuri’s gauntlet drink holder and a mega-sized Wakandan-themed Coke can – it’s been enlarged by Pym Particles, naturally – at those food outlets. And that’s on top of all of the new Wakandan Forever merch for sale, including T-shirts, bags, and Mickey ears, because, come on, there’s no way there’s not going to be a bunch of new merchandise.
There is also an area designated as The Black Panther Celebration Garden, which features a large Panther statue head, along with pillars covered in writing of the Wakandan language. Serna gave us a bit of a hint as to what the four pillars surrounding the Panther head statue were, allowing us to realize they said T’Challa, Shuri, Ramonda, and T’Chaka, though there was plenty of other writing in the area still left to translate.
Serna admitted that there are times they need to act fast and move to incorporate something from the films or shows, though that’s becoming less of a concern of late. “Sometimes they surprise us with certain things that come in very last minute that we weren’t aware of and then we talk together quickly to figure out is there something we can do there? But the team at the studios and the Disney+ group are very aware now that we all want to kind of accomplish this goal of having something that’s relevant immediately. So they’re coming to us a lot earlier. When we first started, it was a little bit of ‘Oh, yeah, sure, we could do a thing…’ But now they’re jumping at us and saying, ‘Oh, hey, in a few months, here’s this.’”
Though he wouldn’t get specific on what might be in the works at Avengers Campus for upcoming MCU projects like The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, The Marvels, and Secret Invasion, Serna did say, “We have a pretty big timeline. We have the whole next year mapped out for ourselves.” (I did suggest to Serna that having Daredevil appear in his new gold and red costume from She-Hulk would be fun… Hey, you never know!)
Officially, the Wakanda Forever experiences will end after a limited run in early January, which is often the case with the new characters or experiences tied to new releases, though they also have the tendency to return, such as when Shang-Chi began popping up again earlier this year. Serna said they like to be malleable, looking at how some characters might stand out more in specific circumstances, such as during the evening (as was the case with Werewolf By Night during the Halloween season), or at a special event, such as the appearances by Agatha Harkness and a zombie Captain America at the Oogie Boogie Bash.
Avengers Campus – and indeed all the Marvel-based characters and experiences at Disney Parks and Disney Cruise Line – are designated as appearing in their own universe, which is reminiscent of the core MCU universe, but not that exact universe. This helps account, say, for how both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson can simultaneously appear as Captain America (and would potentially allow for T’Challa to still pop up as Black Panther).
Said Serna, “The way we look at Avengers Campus, the multiverse is a big part of what we think about. Where the films are headed is exciting to us because anything can happen — three Spider-Man may converge in one world! — and we look at that as an opportunity for us. And I do think what we really want is Avengers Campus to be a surprising place where it’s never expected that I show up one o’clock and a [specific] thing is going to happen. I show up at one o’clock and ten things might happen. We really want to make that kind of a fun surprise for our guests, because that’s the world from the comic books and the movies.”
The Black Panther: Wakanda Forever experiences and the Festival of Holidays are now underway at Disneyland Resort’s California Adventure park, concluding on January 8.
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