Insider's Update: Hippity, hoppity, Oswald's on his way (to Japan)
Published: April 5, 2014 at 5:24 PM
That's right: Easter is on 4/20 this year. I'll let you go with your own joke here.
If you're thinking: "Hey, I'd love to go visit a big animated rabbit at a Disney theme park, but I can see the Easter Bunny anywhere," (and who among us hasn't thought that? Put down your hands. That was a rhetorical question. Sheesh), Disney's now offering meet-and-greets with the original Disney animated character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Unfortunately for theme park fans in the United States, Oswald's appearing only at Tokyo DisneySea. As if there weren't already enough cool stuff at the World's Best Theme Park to make Disney fans everywhere else in the world wildly jealous.
Photo courtesy Disney
If you haven't heard the backstory (and since it's the weekend, I'll go ahead and tell it again), Oswald was Walt Disney's first commercially successful animated character. However, Oswald didn't belong to the Walt Disney Company because Walt created the character before there was a Walt Disney Company. Walt created Oswald when Walt was working as an animator for Universal Studios. (That's right, Walt got his start in the business with now arch-rival Universal.) So when Walt decided to go into business for himself, he created (the suspiciously similar looking) Mickey Mouse as his "star." For decades, Oswald remained the property of Universal Studios, even long after most people at Universal forgot that they owned Walt's creation.
Until 2006. That year, Universal's NBC network bought the rights to Sunday night games from the NFL, while Disney decided to move its Monday night series of games from ABC to ESPN. What does this have to do with Oswald? Gimme a sec. Broadcaster Al Michaels had been calling Monday Night Football on ABC for 20 years and wanted to go over to NBC to call the Sunday Night Football games, rather than move to cable on ESPN. But he was under contract to Disney/ABC and couldn't sign with NBC without Disney's permission. What could Disney get from NBCUniversal in return?
That's right: Oswald. So Universal traded the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to Disney for the rights to Al Michaels. True story.
Now that we've brought Universal into the conversation, let's note that Universal Studios Hollywood has brought its Waterworld stunt show back up from a major refurbishment. Universal has turned over the production of the show from its previous contractor to the same contractor who has been producing the shows at the Universal Studios theme parks in Singapore and Japan. We haven't seen the new version yet (we're planning to get over there this week), but initial reports say that Universal's added even more action to the show, which continues to provide the go-to example of how even a, uh, less-than-beloved movie can inspire a great theme park attraction. (Avatar skeptics, take note!)
Over in Orlando, Universal Orlando has matched Disney's parking price increase. It's $17 to park at Universal Orlando now, but at least you get covered parking in a garage for that price. (Well, if you arrive early enough to avoid the roof, you do.)
Finally, it seems that rumors kick up every few weeks about what's next on the chopping block for replacement at the Universal Orlando Resort. So we'd like to direct your attention to a post we ran last year detailing what's likely to stay and what's likely to go at Universal Orlando. If you're too lazy to click, here's the updated endangered attractions list:
In Universal Studios Florida:
- Fear Factor
- Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone
In Islands of Adventure:
- Lost Continent
- Toon Lagoon
If you're a fan of any of these attractions, go seem 'em soon, because they're likely to go away within the next several years. The only thing keeping these locations open now is the fact that, even with all that income from Harry Potter, Universal still can't do everything it'd like to do at once. Plus, a resort loses promotional value by debuting too many new things at the same time.
We know that Universal is building a fifth hotel on its Orlando property. And that a new King Kong attraction will go into the space between Jurassic Park and Toon Lagoon at Islands of Adventure. We know that Wet n' Wild will be redeveloped within the next few years. We also know that designers within Universal have thought about "blue sky" plans for a Potter phase three and a phase four, with a Forbidden Forest in the Lost Continent space and a Ministry of Magic next to Diagon Alley in USF. (*Update and clarification: Theme designers do blue sky concepts on lots of stuff all the time. But until permits are filed and contractors hired, these are just concepts, not plans.) I've heard Toon Lagoon's long been tipped as the site of a Lord of the Rings land, should Universal ever secure those rights. (And, in case you're wondering, Marvel is going nowhere until Disney puts enough zeros after a number on a check to pay for Universal to obtain the rights to another IP for that land and the money to retheme and expand its attractions.)
Universal needs a stronger collection of brands and characters to appeal to kids than the tired old IP in the Kidzone. Perhaps Universal will pour some resources into its Sprout channel and bring that branding to the Kidzone. Or, perhaps it will go in another direction in that area and maybe bring a copy of California's Super Silly Fun Land onto the site of the current Shrek theater, relying on the Minions to appeal to the kids. Either way, Kidzone as we know it is toast, long term. But any changes to that land, or the others on the endangered attractions list, likely will wait until the fifth hotel, the Kong project, and possibly Wet n' Wild, have been announced and, if not completed, at least moved a long way toward completion. That gives us plenty of time to talk about all the possibilities. ;^)