Disney Imagineers may be planning pop-up experiences in a dead mall near you

click to enlarge A background photo on the Walt Disney Imagineering website showing what is believed to be a Spaceship Earth brainstorming design session - Image via Disney
Image via Disney
A background photo on the Walt Disney Imagineering website showing what is believed to be a Spaceship Earth brainstorming design session
After a year where many people were unable to visit Disney, the Mouse might be looking at ways to visit them. In recent weeks, a new division within Imagineering seems to have emerged with indications that it focuses on unique Disney-filled experiences far away from the existing resorts.

Walt Disney Imagineering President Bob Weiss has seen his title change in recent weeks on both the official Disney website and his LinkedIn. Along with his previous roles, he is now overseeing “New Experience Development,” which he explains as “leading a multidisciplinary team focused on exploring, developing and bringing to market groundbreaking ideas.”

While filled with buzzwords that Disney seems to love, the definition doesn’t give much of what exactly this new role entails. Within the past week, industry insider Jim Hill, Brayden Holness of Mickey Views, and Jack Kendall of DSNY Newscast have all independently reported they are hearing this new division is focused on bringing Disney resorts-style magic to other locations on a temporary basis. While not confirmed by Disney, these reports align with other long-standing rumors surrounding Disney’s future marketing efforts.

Holness and Kendall signaled that the new division was happening ahead of last month’s LinkedIn and Disney’s website changes. Along with Weiss, Holness has pointed to Zach Riddley, the Imagineer now overseeing Epcot’s overhaul and many other projects around Disney World, as a potential Imagineer for this new division.

According to the rumors, New Experience Development is tasked with developing pop-up experiences with a heavy retail presence. Due to the infancy of the division, specific concepts have yet to be fleshed out. But it looks as though this new division is a reaction to similar concepts that multiple competitors have rolled out in recent years. These will be far larger in scale than the Toy Story pop-up that came to Disney Springs in 2019.
click to enlarge A small Toy Story themed pop-up experience at Disney Springs - Image via Orlando Tourism Report
Image via Orlando Tourism Report
A small Toy Story themed pop-up experience at Disney Springs
Netflix has seen success with two pop-up experiences. A 2018 one in LA explored multiple Netflix brands, including GLOW, Stranger Things, and The Crown. More recently, the company held a drive-in pop-up experience focused on Stranger Things.

Films including Alita: Battle Angel and Blade Runner 2049, have offered fans fully fleshed out themed lands to explore. Alita: Battle Angel was one of the last films produced by Twentieth Century Fox before the merger with Disney.

One of the most similar concepts to what Disney might be planning is by one of their closest partners. In May of 2018, Universal announced a partnership with Feld Entertainment to development a new pop-up experience themed around DreamWorks’ Trolls film franchise. The Trolls experience included many concepts rumored to be part of a Trolls-themed land for a Universal park, including a kid-friendly hair salon similar to Disney’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
click to enlarge Disney Imagineers may be planning pop-up experiences in a dead mall near you
Image via DreamWorks Trolls The Experience
Feld Entertainment is best known for its arena shows, including Disney on Ice and Marvel Universe Live. The Tampa Bay-based production company also produces other large arena shows, including Monster Jam and Jurassic World Live Tour. Numerous rumors of Disney buying out Feld popped up in the middle of the last decade but have since subsided.

Disney has tested pop-up experiences in Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore. The Singapore event, which took along the Orchard Road commercial corridor, was known as Disney Magical Moments. This is potentially a name that could also be seen on other upcoming pop-up events.
Disney Magical Moments at Singapore's Orchard Road - Image via karenhktan | Instagram
Image via karenhktan | Instagram
Disney Magical Moments at Singapore's Orchard Road
With buying habits quickly change, many retail centers around the nation are struggling. Disney itself has begun scaling back the number of Disney stores it operates. Many mall operators have turned to temporary pop-up experiences, like the ones Disney is now rumored to be developing, as a solution to draw crowds back to the malls. This is similar to the plan that Feld looks to be using with its Trolls pop-up experience, which debuted in a former retail store in New York managed by one of the nation’s largest mall operators.

As traditional marketing loses its grip, Disney will need to find new ways to hype its latest blockbuster franchises. If this new department in Imagineering is successful, that may soon involve visiting a mall near you.

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