There's a sadly good reason the international Disney parks get better attractions than in the U.S.

The new Fantasy Springs section of Tokyo Disneyland has gotten major pess and highlighted the reasons why the Asian Disney parks get so much better stuff than their U.S. counterparts!
Tokyo Disneyland New Year Parade 2024
Tokyo Disneyland New Year Parade 2024 / Tomohiro Ohsumi/GettyImages

Tokyo Disneyland just debuted the new Fantasy Springs section which is already stunning guests with the new Frozen, Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and Tangled rides. All three are getting great press for the fantastic effects, detail and feeling like wonderful Disney rides. It’s already making Fantasy Springs a stunning new addition to what was already considered one of the best Disney parks in the world. 

It brings up a question many Disney park fans have asked over the years: How is it that the international parks, especially Tokyo Disneyland, get much better stuff than in the U.S.? And can that change in the future?

When Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983, it was pretty much just a carbon copy of the Magic Kingdoms in Florida and California. They did have to make changes for Japanese culture, such as the Haunted Mansion being in Fantasyland to fit Japan’s fascination with ghost stories. Otherwise, it wasn’t too different.

That all changed when Disney Seas opened in 2001 and unleashed a wave of brand-new top rides. Journey to the Center of the Earth, the Sinbad boat ride, Aquatopia, and more were great new attractions. There were also shifts in how Disney rides are adapted, as Soarin is Fantastic Flight with more amazing views, and their Indiana Jones ride is an entertaining variation, too.

Tokyo has added more to each park in other fun turns, some needed by the culture. For example, the Tower of Terror doesn’t use the Twilight Zone theme as the show was never popular in Japan, so they crafted a different storyline.

It’s not just Japan, as Hong Kong and Shanghai boast of some rides that put anything in the U.S. to shame. Mystic Manor, Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, the new Zootopia ride, they’re all stellar. Tron Lightcycle Run was transplanted to Orlando but otherwise, so many of these are exclusive to overseas and sadly for good reasons they won’t make their way stateside. 

Why do the Asian parks get the better Disney stuff?

It always comes down to the simple fact that, technically, Disney doesn’t own Tokyo Disneyland. It’s really owned by the Oriental Land Company, which pays Disney license and royalty fees. Likewise, Hong Kong has the majority ownership of the Hong Kong government, while Shanghai is a partnership with the Shendi Group.

What this means is that Disney doesn’t foot the bill for new attractions, merely loans characters and thus those companies can pay a lot more for rides. Remember, Disney has to handle multiple theme parks, resorts, movies, TV shows and more so can’t focus as much as they’d like on the parks. The OLC and Shendi can and have proven how well they can do it. 

The Disney+ Imagineering documentary had several American Imagineers openly complaining about how it felt in the 2000s watching Tokyo being able to pull off some great rides while their own budgets were cut down. That remained an issue, especially during Bob Chapek’s infamous reign as boss, and it was a reason Disney rides in the U.S. felt so lacking. Unlike their American counterparts, the Japanese Imagineering team was given full push to spend how they wanted to make attractions work and Hong Kong was even bigger.

There’s a passion among Imagineers, even if it always has to be tempered by the realities of budgets. Once, Disney could let them run wild, but cash has been trickier to handle over the years. Yet it’s frustrating to see how the Asian parks can offer so much freedom in budgets and thus creativity while the U.S. parks seem stagnant. However, the chances of copying some successes over the overseas parks to the U.S. versions is tricky. 

Why some Asian Disney park rides will never come to the U.S.

There’s a strange irony in why Fantasy Springs exists in the first place. There’s been a growing concern among Disney fans about Disney putting too much IP and characters into the U.S. parks and something more original can be better. There’s a growing debate and a lot going on about whether there’s too much IP in the U.S. parks.

However, in Japan, there was a growing complaint of not enough actual Disney characters in Disney Seas. So, Disney answered that with a land based on nothing but characters. They don’t need that in the U.S. as they already have lands for Star Wars, Toy Story and more. 

There’s also the blunt fact that the OLC and Shendi Group want stuff that’s exclusive to their parks. The Tron Lightcycle Run was converted to WDW, but it’s harder to see other stuff coming over. Disney is in a delicate position with these partners as they rely on international revenue to help their coffers. So if these guys say they want a ride to stay only in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Tokyo, Disney is going to listen. 

It’s not just the rights issues, but also the logistics, as building something from the ground up is a lot easier than making over an existing ride. The Shanghai Pirates ride is stunning, but you’d need to not only totally take out the WDW or California versions but also demolish the buildings, which would require more work than most would be willing to put up with. Even Tokyo’s Peter Pan ride is larger than that of its American counterparts, so you can slap something there easily. 

The recent Disneyland Forward expansion proposal does hint at the possibility of versions of Frozen, Zootopia, or other rides coming over, and building them from scratch like this would be good. Yet even they will be curtailed by issues of budget and space, so likely not carbon copies of what’s abroad. Bob Iger has been promising more budget for theme parks in the future, so the hope is that things can improve in the U.S.

It’s not like Disney hasn’t been in this position before. The early 1980s were likewise rough for the company in terms of bad studio output and economics hurting Imagineering. It picked up when Michael Eisner took over to spark a bold new era for Imagineering and the parks. It can cycle back and let Disney once more dominate in some great theme park ideas. 

At the end of the day, it may be better for these international parks to have stuff that the U.S. parks don’t. At the same time, the U.S. parks have a few rides and attractions exclusive to them, such as Pandora or the Matterhorn. If anything, it’s good that each Disney park is different from others and special attractions drawing more guests in to stand out. Mystic Manor and other rides make U.S. guests want to fly overseas to enjoy these rides and make a Disney experience a bigger deal. 

It also shows how creativity and dreaming isn’t limited to just one culture and Imagineering shining better overseas. So as much as Disney park fans may want the same level of theme park genius as overseas, it can often be the tricky issues of budgets and partnerships that allow the Asian parks to feel so far ahead of what we get in the States.