So now that Kingdom Hearts III is (finally) going to be a thing, naturally fans of the franchise are working themselves into a lather speculating on which Disney (and/or Square, but, big surprise, I'm gonna focus on the Disney) properties will be tapped for new worlds to explore. With Disney in a media-buying frenzy of late, it seems like the sky's the limit. Pixar worlds! Marvel comics worlds! *FANGASM GASP* STAR WARS WORLDS!!!!! And of course, there are all the actual Disney productions that have been released and become popular--not just movies like Tangled and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, but also TV series like Phineas & Ferb and Gravity Falls. No lie, I've seen wishes for every one of those titles to be included in KH3.
To which I have to say: Whoa, guys. Like, slow down. No, slower. In fact, why not just stop altogether for a bit and hear me out?
There's a lot more to consider when suggesting a KH world than just how much you like the property it's based on or how much fun it would be to wail on its Heartless-infused villain. Some of the most popular suggestions simply wouldn't work, in my opinion. Here are the sorts of things that need to be taken into consideration:
1. Visual design. This is a shorthand way of saying the art style of the property in question has to fit into the range of art styles allowed for the KH franchise. It's a pretty broad range, accommodating everyone from Mickey Mouse to Jack Sparrow and passing through the Seven Dwarfs, Mulan, and Sephiroth on the way...but there are still limits. Those limits are why I cringe mightily at suggestions that P&F be included. I've never actually watched the show and can't comment on the content, but visually it's completely incompatible with the established design aesthetic of the game. There's no reasonable way for those guys to inhabit the same screen as Sora. And honestly? Port Royal was a stretch in KHII and I would prefer to avoid any more "live-action" worlds as well.
2. Thematic "feel." Without saying so in so many words, Disney has always given us the impression that their animated features were in some way part of the same universe. And it works, because they share a sense of continuity. Not literal, time-and-space continuity--the events of Sleeping Beauty are not part of the history of France as it appears in The Hunchback of Notre Dame--but what you might call philosophical continuity. The ideals and tone remain fairly consistent between films. No competing studio has ever quite captured this feel, which is why discerning audiences will never mistake a DreamWorks or Fox picture for a Disney one. Even Disney itself has trouble with it outside the medium of theatrical animation. And the KH franchise, at least initially, was designed to mesh with that continuity. It makes sense for the game's protagonists to pursue the same quest from Wonderland to Agrabah to the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs. It wouldn't make sense for them to pursue it all the way to Coruscant, because the Star Wars franchise runs on different themes.
3. Whatcha gonna call it? Kingdom Hearts doesn't take place in the real world, obviously, and even worlds which were part of the real world in their respective films--like Mulan's and Tarzan's worlds--are given new identities for the franchise. This is one of the reasons I have trouble wrapping my mind around a Marvel Comics world--the Marvel comics are all set in the modern world, or a close facsimile thereof. Spider-Man operates in Manhattan. Tony Stark lives in Malibu. Professor Xavier's School For the Gifted is located in upstate New York, and its star alumnus is from the Yukon or wherever. You can't plunk a mini-planet in the middle of the psychedelic void of interspace and call it Manhattan, even if you cover it with skyscrapers. This isn't an absolute deal-breaker, but if you think Disney should tap a franchise grounded in reality like that...better think of a cool, catchy, and appropriate alias for the setting.
4. Unique gameplay elements. This may actually be the most important point on the list. What does your proposed world bring to the table in terms of gameplay? It could be anything from a unique control scheme like the swimming in Atlantica, to a type of puzzle that the setting is particularly suited to, like the multi-story maze navigation in Agrabah. (My examples are all going to be from the first game because that's the only one I've played through myself.) Deep Jungle gave us vine-swinging and tree-surfing. Wonderland had the Bizarre Room, where you explored the same space in different orientations. The 100-Acre Wood offers danger-free minigames, making use of different skills than normal play. And so on. The experience of playing through each world is different from the experience of playing through every other world. If you can't think of a cool and unique mechanic or puzzle type or other feature to include as a central aspect of that world...it won't add anything to the game as a game.
With all that said, there are a few commonly suggested Disney and Pixar films that I think could be used to great effect in KHIII:
Tangled: It's part of the Disney Animated Canon, so points 1. and 2. are covered. The kingdom has its own name, Corona. As for gameplay--imagine what could be done with Rapunzel's hair! It could be a weapon, a grapnel, a tightrope. Entire puzzles could revolve around precision wrapping of her hair around obstacles in order to move them in just the right way.
The Incredibles: People seem to want Marvel mostly for superhero action, but the Pixar flick would be a much better choice. It's a little shaky on visual design and thematic feel, but no worse than some worlds that have already been included. It would really shine in gameplay with so many heroes to potentially choose from, and as far as naming goes, take your pick--Municiberg or Metroville? Or maybe the focus should be on Nomanisan Island, allowing even more unique aspects of gameplay in order to navigate the island's native hazards as well as Syndrome's (or another villain's) installations.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Honestly, I think everyone likes this one because Frollo is so badass singing "Hellfire" in the movie. But it could work in KH for one very simple reason: witchcraft. Our heroes are used to slinging spells at enemies left and right, but what if using magic would get them thrown in the medieval slammer faster than you can say "intercourse with devils"? It would make for an interesting gameplay challenge if you had access to all your spells but had to be very careful when and where you used them, lest Frollo find out you're a "witch"!
Treasure Planet: This one I like mostly because it fits so well with the setting of KH as it is. Interspace, the Etherium, what's the difference? The steampunk-y design aesthetic could make for fantastic level design, you could get a nifty puzzle out of finding the right settings for the map portal and--I was very pleased with myself for coming up with this--what if after you finish the level, the portal somehow gets installed on the gummi ship and becomes your warp function?
While I'm at it, here are a few worlds I almost never see mentioned that I think have potential:
Bambi: He was a summon in the first game, but it was a pretty pointless cameo. I think a Bambi-based world could be used for a themed set of mini-games based on the seasons. Hell, call the world "Seasonal Forest" or something. And if you really want to pack a punch in something small, have the mini-games start out light-hearted and get steadily more poignant as the seasons turn. Spring: Lead Bambi around to various things and creatures in the forest so he can learn their names. Summer: Hide and seek with Faline, race stags through the meadow. Autumn: Help Bambi and his mother find food. Winter: Bambi's been separated from his mother (uh-oh) and must navigate an ice and snow maze back to the thicket...cue heart-wrenching cutscene, followed by Sora wondering if he's partly to blame by being so helpful to the deer that they lost their healthy fear of humans... Are you bawling yet?
Fantasia: This is another one I envision mainly as a vehicle for mini-games rather than a standard world. It would work a little like the 100-Acre Wood, except that instead of collecting storybook pages in order to unlock the games, you would collect sheet music. Each minigame would revolve around one segment from Fantasia or Fantasia 2000, allowing for great variety in tones and moods. I'm not sure what the gameplay should involve, though--pretty much everyone hated the Atlantica rhythm game in KHII. Any ideas out there in Readerville?
Wreck-It Ralph: Honestly, this one seems like a no-brainer. I'm surprised there aren't more KH fans clamoring for it (or maybe there are, and I'm just out of the loop). Precedent for visiting a digital world was set with Space Paranoids in KHII, but Game Central Station (or whatever it would be called) has a lot more potential for fun gameplay and touching story elements. Imagine Sora having to learn the fine arts of tower climbing, kart racing, and Cy-Bug hunting from the film's stars, and then having to use all three in a final battle with some colossal, Heartless-fused Cy-bug rampaging around the power strip!
The Haunted Mansion: No, not the Eddie Murphy film...and not the Guillermo del Toro remake we're supposedly getting somewhere down the line. I'm talking about the source--the original theme park ride. I thought they were making a nod to it with that ramshackle manor in Twilight Town in KHII, but I want a full-scale world based on Gracey Manor, with guest disappearances by the Ghost Host, Madam Leota, and the Hitchhiking Ghosts. Disney tends not to treat its theme parks as marketable properties in their own right--more as vehicles for marketing other things--but hopefully Epic Mickey will have taught them better.
So which worlds will actually make it into the game? Well...ultimately, that will wind up being more of a marketing decision. It will depend on which IPs Disney wants to promote while the game is in development. We were all floored by the use of TRON in KHII, but in retrospect it was probably there to generate some advance buzz for TRON: Legacy. We'll just have to wait and see...and trust the developers to turn popularity into playability.