Why everyone loves a villain (and the idea of a villain park)
In the years that followed, Disney Villains became an even greater part of the corporation's business, even if they failed to materialize concretely in the parks. Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as the self-described Mistress of Evil from Sleeping Beauty, made nearly $800 million in 2014. (Jolie recently said that a sequel was moving forward.) Additionally, plans are underway for a Cruella de Vil origin film to star Oscar-winner Emma Stone. On the Disney Channel, Descendants, a live-action made-for-TV movie about the children of famous Disney villains, was a ratings smash. The 2015 film got a sequel this past summer; more than 21 million people watched.
The villains continue to claim stakes in the parks, too, but in a different way than most had hoped. In 2013 a 13-hour Disney Villains event, entitled Villains Unleashed, was a sensation at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Guests waited for hours to get their one-on-one time with some of Disney's most fearsome foes. The following year a hard-ticket event (also called Villains Unleashed) returned to Disney's Hollywood Studios with even more evildoers, including obscure picks like Dr. Hämsterviel from Lilo & Stitch, Shan Yu from Mulan, Hector Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean, Bowler Hat Guy from Meet the Robinsons, and Constantine, Kermit the Frog's evil doppelgänger from Muppets Most Wanted.
Believers clinging to the Dark Kingdom urban legend will never hear Disney dispute the rumors because, as they say, no idea totally goes away at the company. If the Villains Mountain sounded familiar, it's because that's almost the exact layout and narrative of Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, the "mountain" coaster at Disney's Animal Kingdom, which opened on April 7, 2006. Ditto the idea of a nocturnal animal experience like the Night Kingdom eventually made its way to Animal Kingdom in the form of a nighttime safari. Instead of issuing statements on what won't happen, Disney will often pivot to something that is actually in the works. During my research for this piece, a former Imagineer told me that a Marvel-only theme park was developed, five separate attractions were designed around Brad Bird's The Incredibles, and at one point a dog-friendly version of the Magic Kingdom was in the works, complete with a castle made of bones. Who knows where those concepts will turn up next or what form they might take next.