Wakanda Forever Characters Bring New Life to Disney California Adventure’s Avengers CampusPhotos courtesy of Disney Travel Features Disneyland
The best thing about Avengers Campus, a Marvel-themed land at Disney California Adventure that opened in 2021, is how it regularly updates its character interactions. From the day it opened you’ve been able to see Spider-Man flipping through the air above, the Dora Milaje marching throughout the campus, and various Avengers keeping watch from the balcony surrounding their headquarters. Beyond those regular appearances, Disney often introduces characters from the latest Marvel movie or TV show, sometimes on the day of release. Every week during Loki’s run on Disney+ you could find a different variant wandering the park, and a Hawkeye-themed stunt show that debuted alongside the show last Christmas has returned as part of this year’s seasonal offerings. It’s a constant injection of new features and new life that keeps the minimally-designed space worth visiting.
This trend continued last Friday, with characters from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever making their debut in the park. These “Heroic Experiences,” as Disney calls them, focus on two of the movie’s characters: M’Baku, the leader of the mountain-dwelling Jabari Clan, who’s played memorably in the movies by Winston Duke; and the new Black Panther herself, whose real identity the park is being somewhat coy about. M’Baku’s arrival is a no-brainer, as he’s one of the more prominent and popular characters to return in the sequel; in the park he oversees “The Way of the Jabari” show, which happens periodically throughout the day, and relays the history and customs of his people through drums and call-and-response chants. The other character making its debut is shrouded in a bit more mystery than M’Baku, and its presence reveals some interesting things about how Disney’s theme parks handle what could be considered a “spoiler” from a brand new movie.
The fact that the new Black Panther is a woman isn’t much of a spoiler at this point. The first teaser trailer hinted at it, and the movie’s official trailer officially confirmed it. And if you’ve followed the development of the sequel, which was somewhat tumultuous in the wake of star Chadwick Boseman’s unexpected death, you probably read rumors about the returning character most likely to take up the hero’s mantle. All of the movie’s marketing has avoided saying which specific character becomes the new Panther, though, and in a series with so many strong, capable women, there are multiple options that would make sense.
When the new Black Panther made her debut at Avengers Campus on Nov. 11—the official opening date of Wakanda Forever—the Dora Milaje warriors that announced her arrival never mentioned who was under the mask. The Panther herself didn’t betray any hint of her real identity. The fact that the new Black Panther is a woman might’ve been something of a spoiler to any park goers who hadn’t seen the latest ads, but the specific identity would have absolutely been a spoiler to anybody who hadn’t yet seen a movie that had just started playing in theaters the night before. Regardless of how you feel about spoilers—I personally find the internet’s uptight hatred of them to be kind of embarrassing—it seems Disney does try to avoid them in its theme parks, if that doesn’t get in the way of advertising whatever new movie or show they want people to watch.
The arrival of M’Baku and the Black Panther reinforces something about Avengers Campus that’s been true since it opened: the character interactions, or “heroic experiences,” are the best thing about the land. The concept of Avengers Campus (which also has an outpost at Disneyland Paris and will be opening soon at Hong Kong Disneyland) is that the superhero group has opened a west coast headquarters that doubles as the home of a tech research facility for gifted or superpowered teenagers. It’s a campus in two ways, part college and part corporate office, and it’s exactly as exciting and imaginative in its design as that sounds: i.e., not at all. It’s one of the blandest, most nondescript places Disney has ever built in a theme park, but it also fits its campus theme to a T, so you almost have to admire how low they aimed with this one. (A friend who was with me at the park last week said Avengers Campus looked like every office building he’s ever worked in.) The land’s one original ride, Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, is a bust, and its only other ride, Guardians of the Galaxy—Mission: Breakout, is a lot of fun, but also just a reskinned version of the old Tower of Terror ride that has been in the park since 2004. (A recently announced ride is coming to the land in the future, and it seems like it should fill Avengers Campus’s major E ticket attraction hole.) Despite Marvel’s massive popularity, and the promise of a theme park land based on its characters and locations, Avengers Campus has always felt intentionally undercooked.
The characters are what bring this land life. Random encounters with the Dora Milaje and the Avengers, or the Dr. Strange magic show that happens throughout the day, provide what spark Avengers Campus has. And by regularly cycling characters in and out, like these new faces from Wakanda, Disney keeps it fresh and exciting for regular guests. If you aren’t interested in seeing these characters in action in real life, the arrival of the new Black Panther might not mean much to you. But experiences like this are the best thing about Avengers Campus, and the main reason anybody who likes the MCU should visit.
Characters from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever can be found in Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort every day until Jan. 8, 2023.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.