In a media conference recently with MoffettNathanson, Disney CEO Bob Iger talked about how Disney looks at investment in its theme parks. Iger talked about how Disney is looking to bring new Intellectual Property into the parks in the coming years as Disney looks to “turbocharge” its investment in the most profitable branch of the company.

Investing in the Theme Parks

In talking about his vision for the future of the theme parks, Iger started by talking about his return to the CEO position at the company. He said that he looked back at the return on invested capital (ROIC) at the theme parks over his tenure and noted how great IP-themed attractions and lands did for the company.

…I looked at the return on invested capital in our parks and resorts unit over, you know, my tenure really, and it was extraordinary. I asked about how much we were planning to invest over the next decade, and I realized that if we believe we’re going to basically turn things around from a free cash flow generation perspective, which we’ve done and we’re doing, then we have an opportunity to invest. Why not invest in the in the business that has the highest returns?
Bob Iger on investing in the theme parks

Zootopia in Shanghai Disneyland

Iger started by talking about the recently opened Zootopia land in Shanghai Disneyland. Iger said that the land has been immensely successful – noting that guest metrics are very good, including an awareness level of around 90% and foot traffic into the land of around 50% of the daily population visiting the park.

Now, Zootopia was the number one animated movie in China. So we decided, I don’t know, five years ago or so, in thinking about what we would invest in in Shanghai in terms of IP, why not lean into Zootopia, which is such a popular film? We built a huge land there, tremendous. And it’s the success is I can, I can’t really even describe it, but almost like 90% of the people who show up are aware that Zootopia is there. We built a big enough land, so we’re serving I think, about 50% of the people who visit actually go through Zootopia land.
Bob Iger on Zootopia in Shanghai Disneyland

Moana, Toy Story, Star Wars

Turning to the future of the theme parks and how Disney will utilize the content flywheel that includes the movie studios, the Disney+ streaming service, and the theme parks, Iger turned to more recent IPs to foreshadow how Disney will invest moving forward.

The top property that Iger called out was Moana, which he said Disney is starting to “lean into” in terms of bringing Moana stories to the theme parks. Of course, the Journey of Water attraction debuted last year at EPCOT, and there have previously been plans to bring Moana to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but those have seemingly been scrapped.

That said, the rumor mill is starting to mention Moana more and more, with Magic Kingdom reportedly being targeted as the next destination for the water ride previously teased in Blue Sky concept art for DinoLand USA at Animal Kingdom.

If you look at the films that we have coming up, which include Moana in November, where we’re starting to lean into investment in the parks for that IP – [Moana] also happened to have been the number one streamed movie in America, across all streaming platforms last year, and the film came out in 2016. Obviously, we’re leaning in more to Star Wars. We have a Mandalorian film, the end of ’26. We have a Toy Story film, Toy Story 5 coming up, and [the theme parks have a] Toy Story presence, in I think, I believe every one of our locations around the world, although I got to remember where there’s one in Tokyo, but I know Hong Kong, Paris, Orlando and Anaheim. And so if we get things right film-wise, and I feel really good about where we are, then that should start to pay off more in terms of combining it with the turbocharge concept that I described at the Parks.
Bob Iger on IPs for the theme parks

Don’t Bet on Original Stories

Iger mirrored something that has been said for years (including by former Parks Chairman and eventual CEO Bob Chapek), but that bears repeating: Disney is going to really lean into IPs from their content flywheel when developing attractions and lands for the theme parks.

We have to look no further than last year’s MoffittNathanson conference, and comments from former CFO Christine McCarthy. In 2023, McCarthy said that Disney would leverage data from Disney+ to inform future IP investment in the theme parks.

Here’s what Iger had to say today, noting that the future of theme parks is not original storytelling, but the mining of IP (and that it’s been that way for a while):

…if you analyze carefully how we achieve those returns on invested capital in the parks, it was all about the IP. So, for quite a long time, new attractions and lands at the parks were based on essentially either very old IP or no IP, you know just an attraction. Starting really with Cars Land and Toy Story and a few others, I can’t remember this all the specifics, we decided that almost all of our investment in the parks in terms of attractions and lands would be using that IP and it’s very, very clear what that delivered. 
Bob Iger on using IP for the future of theme parks

Of course, it has been quite some time since Disney opened an original attraction with no ties to Intellectual Property from Disney’s vast catalog. Beyond that, it’s interesting that Iger lumps together “very old IP” in with no IP at all when discussing return on invested capital. The next big opening for Disney theme parks is Fantasy Springs, which has a very old IP in Peter Pan, but also some “newer” IPs like Frozen and Tangled. Looking toward the future, Disney wants to lean into properties like Coco, Encanto, Moana, and more of the newer IPs that are pulling good streaming numbers, but are underutilized in the theme parks.

D23 Expo

In theory, the foggy statements about “turbocharging” the theme parks will become a bit more clear this August when the D23 Expo returns to Anaheim, bigger and better than ever before. Disney Parks fans should have the evening of August 10th circled on their calendars. That’s when Disney Experiences Chairman Josh D’Amaro will take the stage in front of thousands of fans to outline the near and distant future for theme parks around the world.

It’s expected that D’Amaro will have more to say about the Tropical Americas project at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Beyond Big Thunder Mountain project at Magic Kingdom. Additional projects at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are also possible.

As always, keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to bring you the latest news, photos, and info from around the Disney Parks!

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