Russell Meyer
Writer

Published: September 10, 2013 at 1:37 PM

Kids attractions are so impossibly difficult to keep current. There are very few franchises that have been able to last the test of time. The core Disney characters have lasted primarily because they have been driven into our skull by not only the parks, but the proliferation of the Disney Channel. However, even Disney is smart enough to know that you can't build multi-million dollar attractions around a relatively new franchise like Phineas and Ferb or Jake and the Neverland Pirates or Doc McStuffins. It's got to be something big that appeals to kids of today, yesterday, and tomorrow.

Honestly, I think this franchise is already in Universal's parks...Curious George. The program currently airs on PBS, and while the most recent big screen treatment didn't blow the doors off the box office, it's a long-lasting franchise that's still in the public conciousness. The way Universal currently treats this franchise is a travesty with a couple of play areas. Even something as simple as a Cat in the Hat-style ride would be a dramatic improvement.

The other franchise that is kinda overlooked here is Transformers. While Universal has invested millions into turning the Michael Bay movies into amazing rides, there are many cartoon incarnations of the "robots in disguise" that are specifically geared towards kids. There's really nothing preventing Universal from using those versions of the Transformers and creating kid-centric attractions. As a counterpoint, Universal could persue a deal with Mattel for the rights to Barbie that would satisfy the girl audience.

Another idea could be the various anime properties of the past 30+ years. While Disney owns the distribution rights to Miyazaki films, I don't think they actually own the IP or any other Japanese anime properties. There are hundreds of different anime franchises that don't necessarily have huge followings individually, but combined, they are very popular, especially overseas. NBC/Universal is already peripherily invested in this space through SyFy's "Heroes of CosPlay" show. Not only does the anime space include TV shows, but it extends into video games, which is a severely undertapped space in theme parks. Disney is trying to go backwards by developing games based on their theme parks, but adapting video game franchises along with other anime properties into a theme park could be very lucrative.

Jeff Elliott
Writer

Published: September 10, 2013 at 4:13 PM

I think the previous reply got it half right.

Barbie.

The other half is Super Mario & Friends.

Make it happen...

Anthony Murphy
Writer

Published: September 10, 2013 at 7:05 PM

I think the bigger shock is that Robert Niles doesn't have cable....

Anyway, I find it interesting that Universal seems to need something that Disney has in spades. Also, it works the other way (with thrill rides and "edgier characters").

Thats why I think Universal and Disney greatly compliment each other in the Orlando market. They both are in the Theme Park business, but their target audience seems to be a little spread out.

I think Sprout is the way to go or Nick Jr (if that is still viable)

98.227.60.180

Published: September 10, 2013 at 8:30 PM

I have two boys (DS9 and DS12) and about a half dozen nieces and nephews (ages 3 to 15). I also have some siblings who are quite younger than me (14 year age gap between me and my youngest sister) and I remember the things that I loved when I was a child (I am 39 now).

The "timeless" franchises that would be relevant and fun for kids for many decades to come seem to be:

* Dr. Seuss...which will always be cool and fun, no matter what year it is.

* Curious George...because every generation loves that little monkey's antics.

* Gnomes/Fairies...because you can always have an area with oversized flowers and leaves with a little village for gnomes, elves etc. and kids will love it.

When I was a kid, I loved Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, The Smurfs, and Care Bears. But those went away in the 90s. Some of them came back to some extent, but they aren't as big as they used to be. They will go away again, then come back again, but for whatever reason these brands do not have "evergreen" staying power.

If I was Universal, the smartest investment that could be made would be to theme the children's area to Curious George and Friends...and develop different cute animal buddies for him. They could then have a children's area that's themed to a jungle camp, with lots of fun things to do. It would be like Disney's Adventureland and could use lots of real plants and trees (which saves a lot of money because the Dr. Seuss style buildings and fake trees eat up a lot of cash considering how much repainting they constantly need).

The more visually stunning thing to do would be to make a big Dr. Seuss children's area that's separate from Seuss Landing, but thematically related. I'd make this "WhoVille", and have all the buildings have a child-size kind of feel for them (since the Whos are little guys). All this could be built in the shadow of Mount Crumpet, where there could be a Grinch Saved Christmas ride.

But, the maintenance cost of anything "Seuss" is probably outrageous, considering how quickly paint fades in Orlando's sun.

Jonah Sirota

Published: September 10, 2013 at 8:48 PM

I have a young kid and we don't have cable, we have Netflix. The options for kids' programming on Netflix are nearly limitless. As a parent, having access to quality shows without ads is awesome. Netflix knows this, and I swear they invest more heavily in deals for kids programming than anything else. It's a smart move, my son doesn't even know what cable is, but he does know Netflix, and someday he will be a paying customer.

Even without the trend away from cable, I don't think NBCUniversal can create theme park-level kids franchises through a cable network. The Disney Channel acts to support or reinforce brands created by blockbuster films, but as another commenter noted, original programming, even a show as successful as Phineas and Ferb, just does not create big enough properties to commit to a bricks-and-mortar attraction.

Sprout may grow some big-league kids properties, ones that jump to film, but not before they redo kidszone. One property that kids LOVE right now, and I don't know about the theme park rights, is Kung Fu Panda. Anyone know? And yes, the Curious George brand is alive and well.

TROY DAVIDSON

Published: September 11, 2013 at 6:52 AM

A Scooby Doo dark ride seems like it would be the perfect replacement for E.T. Scooby Doo is still on the air in some format and is appealing to multiple generations. I can see traveling in a "Mystery Machine" convertable van on a dark ride that shows the chaos with Scooby and the gang. This could be Universal's answer to Disney's Haunted Mansion. Scooby Doo's Mystery Mansion.....There would be alot of things to buy. Action figures, playsets, plush toys, t-shirts, even Scooby snacks for a treats, witches brew, and a Shaggy's sandwitch stand.
Ted Heumann

Published: September 12, 2013 at 9:03 AM

I think the smarter way to go here is two things.
First, stick to what you know. Universal is NOT Disney. They shouldn't try to be Disney. They should try and meet or exceed Disney's quality and theming, but Universal has always skewed a little older than Disney. I'm not saying that they should ignore the younger kids altogether, but that is not their "bread and butter".
Second, theming is important, BUT the theme itself is not THAT important. Think of ALL of the things at Disney that the actual theme doesn't matter (or that most people don't know is tied to an IP). Mr. Toads Wild Ride, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribean (pre movies), Haunted Mansion, etc. Make a good attraction that is highly themed and the theme itself doesn't matter that much. If Transformers was themed to "space travel" or generic robot battles, would it make the attraction any less good? My kids had fun at the recently closed Curious George area at Uni Hollywood, not because it was Curious George but because it was fun. Plus, it's the same EXACT area when it was themed to Nickoledeon. They only changed the cutouts.