Disney offers a possible rare sneak peek into the future of its parks

January 7, 2022, 5:57 PM UTC

While COVID-19 has separated visitors to Disney theme parks from their favorite characters, a new patent filing by the company is offering some hints on ways they could get closer again. 

Disney was granted a patent for technology that would enable it to project moving 3D images onto real-world objects (such as the wall of a building) to interact with park guests. Rather than the current 3D projections on water, which it offers in the Fantasmic show at Disneyland, or the nightly fireworks show on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, this technology would be used on more of a one-to-one basis with guests. 

Imagine, for instance, Mickey Mouse popping out from around the corner as you wait in a ride queue to say “Hi Pal!”—or playing a game of hide and seek with Goofy as you explore the park.

People wouldn’t have to wear any special equipment to see the projections. Instead, they would be tracked via an app on their smartphone or the park’s popular MagicBand technology. From there, the “virtual world simulator” would project an image of a character in front of the guest, with hidden speakers possibly projecting the voice. 

Disney officials tell The Los Angeles Times that there is no immediate plan to use the technology. Disney typically rolls out new features in the parks slowly, giving its staff months or years to plan scenarios that will best enthrall guests. Companies also sometimes patent ideas with no plans to use them.

If this technology does eventually get used in parks (or on rides), it could be a cost-saving measure for the company, since animatronic robots wouldn’t have to be built, and could potentially affect the employment of actors who wear costumes and impersonate characters: It would give the images the ability to replicate actions from the cartoons that humans aren’t able to perform (think, for example, of Donald Duck’s gravity-defying temper tantrums when things don’t go his way). 

Disney has made several changes to its parks throughout the pandemic, and for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration. More are on the way, too, including a reworking of the Splash Mountain ride (transforming it from a Song of the South theme to The Princess and the Frog) and the opening, later this year, of Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser, a Star Wars–themed hotel that contains its own story. 

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