Theme Park Insider

Box office rewards Universal's faith in 'The Secret Life of Pets'

July 10, 2016, 11:04 PM · The Secret Life of Pets opened to a $100 million-plus weekend, affirming Universal's decision to give an early green light to theme park attractions based on the films.

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke confirmed to Wall Street analysts last month the company had begun designing and committed to building rides based on The Secret Life of Pets, before the film debuted to audiences. It's a risky move — committing tens of millions of (and potentially more than a hundred million) dollars to a franchise that the public has not yet seen. But committing early allowed Universal to a head start in development, so that the company can open a Secret Life of Pets ride within a year or two of its release, instead of having to wait many more years before its debut — running the risk that the movie loses its buzz in the meantime.

A quick open also allows a theme park attraction to serve as a bridge between an initial film in a franchise and its sequel — keeping that buzz going. Universal did this for DreamWorks Animation's Shrek franchise with the Shrek 4D show many years ago. Now, Universal has the potential to do the same for a more closely-held property — Illumination Entertainment's Secret Life of Pets. (Universal now is buying DreamWorks Animation, but when it developed the Shrek show, Universal was doing so under license from DreamWorks Animation.)

Of course, the risk is that a company commits to spending big bucks on a new franchise, only to see it bomb with audiences. But Universal believed in The Secret Life of Pets, and its initial box office — coupled with good reviews and strong word-of-mouth — suggests that Universal made the right call.

We don't yet know when these new attractions will open, or even when Universal will announce them officially. Given Universal's recent history with attraction announcements, construction will be well underway and perhaps even close to completion before Universal will send out the press releases confirming what everyone watching the industry will by then know. Even so, we might not have to wait too long. Universal's shown that it can move swiftly to develop and build theme park attractions... especially when it begins with a head start.

Replies (11)

July 11, 2016 at 12:49 AM · Sounds like Steve Burke has the intuition and gut of Walt Disney. Walt instinctively knew what was good, and wasn't afraid to act on it. When Walt's representative turned down Pepsi's offer to sponsor It's a Small World, because he thought it was impossible to create in a short time, Walt said "I'll make those decisions!"
July 11, 2016 at 1:26 AM · Children seem to love two things-toys and pets (or animals). The success of a certain franchise about the secret lives of toys may have given Universal some confidence in their decisions.
July 11, 2016 at 5:07 AM · Why is this really that surprising? Disney and Universal have been hedging bets on their new franchises for years. Dinosaur? It's Tough to Be a Bug? I knew Hopper as the jerk before the movie came out!

Lets not forget Splash Mountain, a ride based on a movie Disney would prefer you not to remember!

July 11, 2016 at 6:07 AM · I think It's Tough to Be a Bug probably would be a good example of betting early and not winning. That's the weakest of all Pixar franchises and one that's least deserving of a major attraction at this point.
July 11, 2016 at 6:17 AM · I actually think that the original intellectual properties that inspired T2BABug and Dinosaur are both remembered as far weaker than the rides/shows they inspired.
July 11, 2016 at 8:22 AM · I saw Pets this last weekend. I liked it but I didn't love it. I really ought to see it again, because the entire time I was watching, I was contemplating how the story would be told as a ride. I really hope the ride isn't a classic Fantasyland style retelling of the movie. I think it would be more fun to see a fresh adventure for these now established characters. Just no clue what that would be. It will be fun to see what develops.
July 11, 2016 at 9:18 AM · The Pets toys alone will carry the franchise. They've been selling the stuffed animals for months now. When the Secret Life of Pets ride opens in USH, kids will find the park more interesting to visit. I hope they at least include a Pets merry-go-around.

Disney should give on Dinosaurs. They failed to ignite interest from The Good Dinosaur and the original Dinosaur movie. Neither can garner the success of Jurassic franchise.

July 11, 2016 at 10:12 AM · Interesting to note that Pets took the record for opening weekend for an original IP (meaning no prior source material.) I'd say we're looking at the next Despicable Me franchise.

With regards to a Bug's Life, it should be worth noting that as a 4-D movie, It's Tough to be a Bug could have been easily swapped if the movie didn't work out. A dark ride would take more time to reconfigure.

July 11, 2016 at 11:10 AM · Universal has been running circles around Disney for years. Yet another good call by Mr. Burke.
July 11, 2016 at 1:56 PM · Universal took a gamble and it appears that it will pay off. Hopefully the ride will be a quality dark ride that appeals to all ages, as USH is really lacking in attractions that everyone can ride together.
July 11, 2016 at 6:48 PM · While it's interesting to see that Universal has so much faith in this movie, I still think they should wait just a little bit longer before finally putting their foot down and saying, "we're gonna make this a ride, no matter what." While Secret Life of Pets did have a strong opening weekend, I really think they need to wait to see how the movie performs for the rest of it's run in the theaters, and see how more and more people react to it. Batman v Superman did really well on it's opening weekend, but struggled in the weeks that followed. Granted, that was because that movie got bad word-of-mouth. So far, Secret Life of Pets has been getting favorable reviews, however I haven't heard anyone say that it was amazing or groundbreaking or that it left a lasting impression. When making an IP-based attraction, it's best to always choose one that people love and are willing to pay good money for. Every now and then you get an attraction that proves really successful despite being based on a severely hated movie like Waterworld or Splash Mountain, but they're a dime a dozen. It also helps if the movie could easily be translated into a theme park format. Even though I should probably see the film before making final judgements, nothing I've seen or heard from it screams theme park material. So while it is good that Universal is prepared to make a theme park ride out of it if it's successful, I personally think they should wait a bit before making that final decision.

That said, I do hope Secret Life of Pets is a big hit and Universal is able to make a successful attraction out of it. I really feel like they need this. One of the biggest reasons why I've always been more of a Disney fan than a Universal fan is because I feel like Disney pretty much appeals to almost every demographic, while Universal doesn't. Yes, most of Disney's stuff is geared towards kids, but they didn't leave out the adults. They've still got pretty extreme thrill rides like Mission Space Orange, RocknRollercoaster, and Dinosaur. Plus they've got other things that kids just can't appreciate, or at least not nearly as much as adults, like Impressions de France and the Food & Wine Festival. I feel that Universal only tries to appeal to my age group: 12-25 year olds. I guess it's awesome knowing that I'm in Universal's prime demographic (I'm 18), but what about everyone else? Universal seems to put all their creativity and effort into their big thrill rides: all their Hulks and their Dragons and their Mummies and their Spider-Men and their Transformers and their Forbidden Journies and their Escapes from Gringotts. Universal has very few attractions aimed towards kids, and only four of them (Shrek, Despicable Me, Popeye and Dudley Do-Right) could ever hope to match the aforementioned thrill rides in terms of quality. Other than that, your kids are left at the mercy of the amazing mediocrity that is Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone and Seuss Landing( Ok, it's not entirely maediocre. ET is pretty underrated and Seuss Landing has some pretty good theming overall). But what about adults? Well, sure, those who are under 60 could still enjoy Universal, but what about those who can't? "Hey, Grandpa, we're going to Universal! Sure you could only do like thirteen rides there, as opposed to Disney where you could probably do twenty-six, but hey at least you'll have fun sitting on a bench all day waiting for us!" So, yeah, Universal is definitely in dire need of more quality family-friendly rides. So hopefully Secret Life of Pets will be successful not only on the big screen but also in the theme parks; and hopefully this will mark the first of many great family-friendly Universal attractions.

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