By building on an existing franchise, parks can appeal to that franchises' fan base while avoid the hard work of introducing and building affinity for a new set of characters. Working with an existing IP gives a theme park a "head start" on making all-important emotional connections with their audience, to help ensure those visitors not only will want to experience a new ride or land, but to come back and experience it again and again.
This isn't unique to theme parks, of course. Movie studios and other entertainment companies have learned this lesson, too, which is why we get so many sequels and reboots across all entertainment media these days. The drive for guaranteed profits makes business risk-averse, leading them to fall back upon proven creatives rather than taking the risk of trying something new... that might fail.
This isn't anything new in the theme park industry, either. Synergy — as the managers who spend more time with spreadsheets than walking the parks like to call it — has been part of this business ever since Walt Disney opened Disneyland in 1955. In my Orange County Register column this week, I look at the long history of cross-overs between movies and theme parks, starting with the opening of Disneyland itself.
Universal's amazing success with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has brought a lot of media attention back to the connection between movies and theme parks, but that connection's always been there. In fact, I'd argue that it's not just the Harry Potter movies that's driving the success of Universal's Wizarding World lands, it's Universal's ability to tap into the rich detail J.K. Rowling crafted into her books that's helped make those lands so successful, as well.
Theme parks have been mining books for inspiration for decades, too. Think of Universal's Seuss Landing. Or, going way back, Disney's Tom Sawyer Island. Yes, there were movies and TV shows attached to those franchises. But it's from the books that theme park visitors best know these properties, and it's against the standard of those books that they judge these attractions.
In some ways, books provide an even more ideal source of inspiration for theme park attractions than movies. Yes, a few directors craft work that demands the audience remain actively involved while watching, but so much of what comes out of Hollywood can be consumed passively — just watch the screen and soak in the filmmakers' vision. Reading books is different. It typically demands more active participation from the reader, to create a mental image and landscape to support the narrative on the page. That makes the reading experience a perfect complement for the more immersive and interactive attractions that theme parks are working to develop.
With Rowling's mastery of detail and backstory, Harry Potter might be the most theme park-friendly entertainment franchise ever conceived. But plenty of other books would make great theme park franchises, too. (And this is where I pause for thousands of you to say, "Lord of the Rings"....) I'd love to see someone try to create an interactive experience based upon Sherlock Holmes. When I was a kid, I would have held someone hostage for the chance to visit a Richard Scarry land. And, for heaven's sake, what's it going to take to get a Stephen King-themed year at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights?
I guess the lesson is... nothing's really new, and the "trends" we read and hear about in the theme park business are usually just a new spin on something we've been doing forever. But that doesn't mean those new spins around the same block can't be just as wonderful and fun as the first go-around. Which entertainment franchises would you like to see parks take on next?
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