Kingdom Hearts, as the behemoth franchise that it has become, has delivered upon many stellar qualities to the world of gaming. The gameplay is impactful and charmingly simplistic. Anyone can pick it up and become engaged in the high energy combat system. The cast introduces us to characters that we know and love from classic Disney and Final Fantasy titles, while giving us an original main cast whom we can encourage and sympathize with.
The Disney Company has always been one to perform above and beyond to immerse its audience in breathtaking environment. The many Disney theme parks all over the world are the crowning examples of this magical immersion, and Kingdom Hearts is no exception. With such a massive fan base for the franchise, and a stupefying turnout for their resorts, one question has always stood a mystery.
Why we don’t see more of the Kingdom Hearts franchise within the Disney theme parks?
In my opinion, the real answer is simple. The issue has always been about title licensing. It’s important to remember that Disney is not simply one company; it is a parent company with hundreds of subsidiaries, some with their own subsidiaries. Disney Interactive, the branch that is credited for helping to bring the series to life with partner (and main developer), Square Enix, is one of these many sister companies. Infringement, the uncredited use of another’s intellectual property, can still occur between branches of the same company. As such, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Inc. cannot lawfully use any materials of Disney Interactive’s property without a contracted agreement. This is the same reason that seeing Star Wars or further Marvel properties in upcoming Kingdom Hearts titles, while possible, is still unlikely.
Oftentimes, licensing contracts for characters, and especially whole franchises, are risky moves for companies to make. Many are incredibly expensive and fail to promise adequate profit return. More on this later.
So, is that it? Is that the full stop on Kingdom Hearts being featured in the Disney theme parks?
Not only can it be done, but it has been done. Like how little glimmers of light shine through the darkness, there have been slivers of recognition for the franchise within the various resorts worldwide. In 2004, a promotional event was held in Disneyland for the release of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Information on the event is limited; yet, that same year, Kingdom Hearts characters made a special, licensed appearance at the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Guests could take pictures with a real costumed Sora, along with Royal Magician Donald and Knight Captain Goofy. Since then, Sora has not been used for another meet-and-greet, or any other public appearances. Donald and Goofy, in their Kingdom Hearts attire, went unseen for 9 years until the Kingdom Hearts Fan Event at the D23 Expo Japan in 2013.
Tokyo DisneySea also revealed a promotional statue for Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded in September 2010.
In 2013, the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX launch event took place in Anaheim, California. It was planned to be hosted at the Downtown Disney District just outside the Disneyland Resort parks; however, due to the unexpectedly high fan attendance, the location was changed last minute to the Anaheim Marriott Hotel.
In 2014, ahead of the release of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, Square Enix invited fans to be filmed at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, and Disneyland Paris for a launch trailer for the upcoming game. The project was titled “Inside the Kingdom, with Heart.”
A day before the release of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, Square Enix and fans returned to the Walt Disney Studios to host and attend the game’s launch showcase, which included an appearance by series director Tetsuya Nomura, executive producer Shinji Hashimoto, and composer Yoko Shimomura.
In Epcot at Walt Disney World, in the Japan pavilion of the World Showcase, its signature store, Mitsukoshi, has included limited Kingdom Hearts apparel and certain figures from Play Arts Kai in its lifetime.
A limited edition trading pin featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy surfaced in Disneyland USA during a Pin Event in June of 2011.
Other pins have been licensed by Disney as officially recognized by the vast Disney pin trading community. One such pin is the Kingdom Hearts inclusion in the limited edition digital 4-piece boxed set for the GenEARation D Event in 2015.
Two official Disney trading pins were included in the pre-orders for the 2.5 HD ReMIX and HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue collections.
In 2017, Donald and Goofy dressed in their reoccurring Kingdom Hearts outfits returned for a special cast celebration event in Walt Disney World’s Epcot. The event was closed to the public, though several photographs have surfaced with the same versions of these beloved characters used in their 2004 and 2013 appearances.
And funnily enough, only a few minutes after this article was published, a Kingdom Hearts Union x[Cross] fan event was announced to take place in Anaheim, California, at the House of Blues in Disney Way.
So why are these allowed to happen, but not, say, a Kingdom Hearts themed ear hat or a Roxas meet-and-greet? Well, the Re:Coded display was for promotional purposes in collaboration with both Disney Interactive and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Mitsukoshi is a privately owned company that is simply partnering with Disney. The Disneyland exclusive was a decent start, but as a limited edition pin, it lacked stable recognition. The promotional pins and events (at or near Disney Parks) have little to do with the theme parks themselves, though these tokens of acknowledgment are definitely worth mentioning. None of these examples really have any lasting effect of Kingdom Hearts as seen within the parks. It would be totally different if there was, say, a Disney collectible trading pin featuring a Kingdom Hearts character, exclusively, being sold regularly all over Walt Disney World property.
And then there was the “Organization Mickey” pin.
Some content from the original article has been revoked by the author due to information that contradicted it.
Not all of what connects these two worlds involves the Disney parks adopting the series.
One feature worth mentioning, that the fans have to look forward to, is the inclusion of Attraction Flow in the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III. Part of the combat system set to premiere in the highly anticipated numerical entry, Attraction Flow is a command feature that first appeared in the Kingdom Hearts III trailer at the D23 Expo in Japan, 2013. In a 2015 interview, series creator Tetsuya Nomura stated that Attraction Flow was inspired by Flowmotion, a combat system featured in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Attraction Flow appears to be an aid in battle similar to Command Style from Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep and Limits in Kingdom Hearts II. What makes Attraction Flow so unique is that the activated assistance in battle, under the correct conditions, are themed after Disney park attractions.
In the aforementioned trailer, Sora summons a Pirate Ship ride to attack a horde of Heartless, not unlike the pirate ship cars used for Peter Pan’s Flight featured in all major Disney theme parks worldwide (except for Hong Kong Disneyland).
A fight with the Rock Titan includes a battle atop a train entitled Big Magic Mountain, a reference to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad featured in Disneyland and Walt Disney World, as well as Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris under the name Big Thunder Mountain.
In the Kingdom Hearts III trailer featured at E3 2015, a teacup ride-based attack was added, a reference to the classic Disney attraction Mad Tea Party featured in all major Disney theme parks (except Shanghai Disneyland)
Each of the Attraction Flow vehicles also appear to resemble floats in the Main Street Electrical Parade, currently only in operation at Tokyo Disneyland.
Seeing more of Kingdom Hearts within the Disney theme parks is therefore far from an impossible dream.
In July 2017, the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, permanently closed the doors of DisneyQuest in Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney. DisneyQuest was an entertainment pavillion and indoor theme park specializing in video gaming. For an upfront payment, (like at any theme park) guests could experience interactive games, virtual reality games, and hundreds of arcade cabinets such as classic Pacman and Donkey Kong to the DisneyQuest exclusive, and Fix It Felix Jr., based on the Disney Animation Studios’s Wreck It Ralph. DisneyQuest stood as Disney’s testament to the world of video gaming, but after its unfortunate closure, the resort has been left with a distinct lack of appreciation for this rapidly expanding art medium with no current intention to fill it.
In Epcot at Walt Disney World, the Innoventions attraction is a constantly changing exposition on creativity and learning through the use of new and exciting technology. In a nutshell, the attraction would feature kiosks where guests could play Disney Interactive console games while new exhibits were being initialized. These gaming consoles were placeholders at best, only to take up blank space and to be removed when new exhibits were up and functional, hardly an adequate use of gaming as an attraction in itself. With these holes depicting the beauty of video gaming as an art form, one of which Disney has proved themselves capable of mastering, missing from their ever expanding list of attractions, there opens plenty of room for another to fill the gap, possibly one utilizing the beloved franchise of Kingdom Hearts.
It’s certainly worth noting that the Disney theme parks do not have an aversion to interactive gaming. Recently, parks such as Epcot and the Magic Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort have introduced more games that have guests touring the parks. Pirate’s Adventures in Magic Kingdom is a pirate themed scavenger hunt that has players following maps to collect treasures. The World Showcase at Epcot hosts an interactive game featuring Agent P from the Disney Channel original hit program, Phineas and Ferb, that utilizes the player’s smartphone. Disney parks all over the world issue the same formula for interactive gaming to give their guests the feeling of progression and contribution to their park story.
In February of 2012, the Magic Kingdom introduced a new breed of interactive gaming, one that could be played differently each time at the will of the guest. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom combines the draw of collecting cards in packs based around the most beloved of Disney characters with a real time role-playing game that has the player traversing the park searching for various portals. Guided by Merlin from The Sword in the Stone, the player is trusted with thwarting Hades, from Disney’s Hercules, from uniting other Disney villains such as Ursula, Jafar, and Chernabog (not unlike Maleficent’s plan from the first Kingdom Hearts title). The player does so by searching for portals with which to use the cards that they collect beforehand to call upon the powers of other Disney characters to fight the forces of evil. With such a story formula so close to the spirit of Kingdom Hearts, it’s not hard to see how the series isn’t far from the ideas of the attraction designers at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Another noteworthy similarity is the best selling young adult novel series Kingdom Keepers. Published by Disney Editions and written by American author Ridley Pearson, Kingdom Keepers follows the story of a group of teens who become trapped in a virtual simulation of the Disney theme parks. They meet a wide cast of characters and battle with famous Disney villains in order to keep them from taking control of the parks and the Disney empire as a whole. The main series includes eight instalments with a sequel series that includes three. Kingdom Keepers is a notorious seller, making the New York Times Bestselling list, and is heavily marketed around and within the theme parks themselves. Between the similar story and title, it is easy to see how Disney’s ideas circulating their theme parks gravitate toward the magic and whimsy that made Kingdom Hearts so endearing to all of us fans.
Considering the overwhelming popularity of both Kingdom Hearts as a Disney title and the Disney theme parks, how both should be connected is an apparent omission. Independent fan events such as Project: Magic Kingdom Hearts, RE: Magic Kingdom Hearts, and The Keybearers Alliance (formerly known as Disneyland of Departure) were organized gatherings of Kingdom Hearts fans at the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland California. The events took place during nights of Mickey’s Halloween Party for Disneyland in California and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party for Walt Disney World so that the fans could show their support with amazing and elaborate cosplay. The events were meant to bring fans together and to help raise awareness for our beloved series within the parks.
Movements like this are incredibly important. While they don’t all have to be organized groups of people, but simply involve wearing Kingdom Hearts apparel, jewelry, custom made ear hats, whatever you may have, it is a great way to show your support. It always brightens my day whenever I’m wearing my Sora crown necklace or one of my several Kingdom Hearts shirts and another fan reaches out to compliment in solidarity. I’ve even had Kingdom Hearts themed reactions from meeting characters like the princesses and villains. You can even directly voice your requests via guest surveys that you can take in any of the parks. Letting the many teams and directors behind the theme parks know what you want to see can significantly affect the probability of such requests happening. This is how these companies can know which licensing negotiations will pay off.
Make your voice heard and you too can make a difference.
While I would reserve hope for any Disney theme park attraction on the massive scale, such as a Kingdom Hearts ride or show, hope should be had for more acknowledgement to come. Character meet-and-greets, if only for more limited engagements, are a possibility, as are more merchandise like pins, Vinylmations, or plush figures in the Tsum Tsum collection. It will be a slow process, but a certain one, I believe, especially as the series progresses into the highly anticipated Kingdom Hearts III and well into titles following the conclusion of the Dark Seeker Saga.
The Disney theme parks have always been places where the magic of Disney can come to life. They tell stories, hold memories, and remain special places in our hearts. Kingdom Hearts, a Disney series centered around the theme of the magic and power inside one’s heart, deserves a chance to be further represented alongside the company’s other popular titles. As a lover of both the series and the Disney theme parks, I hope that we can see more of these two come together to give magic to the fans and introduce a wonderful story to those who would be new players.
Feel free to share your experiences as a Kingdom Hearts fan at the Disney Parks!
This article was written by Kameron King. Kameron has shared a great passion for Kingdom Hearts since the release of the first title, and an equal interest in Disney. He currently resides in Orlando where he works as a freelance fiction writer and regularly enjoys his favorite of the Disney parks, Walt Disney World.