Hollywood insiders say that Warner Bros. and Fox lead the field as top candidates to land Pixar. But neither company owns U.S. theme parks. Warner has a licensing deal with the Six Flags parks for use of its Looney Tunes characters, dating from the days when Warner owned Six Flags. But that agreement would not include any new Pixar characters, should Warner ink a deal with the animation studio.
Nor does Six Flags have the cash on hand to cut what logic dictates would be an expensive theme park licensing deal with Pixar.
Paramount owns a chain of theme parks, but none operate in major media markets and the studio itself lacks the promotional power that its rivals can offer Pixar, so is considered an unlikey candidate to be its new partner. Universal boasts an impressive line-up of parks in major tourist destinations, but its ongoing merger with NBC might keep its management from being able to cut a deal with Pixar now.
Cedar Fair has not cut licensing deals with movie studios in the past and shows no sign of doing so in the future. Busch also doesn't license outside characters, though one could excuse fans for wondering what might have been had Busch been able to team up with Pixar to use "Finding Nemo" at SeaWorld.
So who does that leave for Pixar to work with in developing new Pixar-themed attractions?
Disney will continue to host attractions based on the soon-to-be-former Pixar characters that Disney owns, including Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and It's Tough to Be a Bug. And the abscence of a distribution deal between the two companies certainly does not preclude them cutting a theme park licensing arrangement together. After all, one of Pixar's demands for a new distribution deal is that it retain the rights for additional licensing, including theme parks.
So will Disneyland and Walt Disney World continue to provide a home for new, as yet undeveloped Pixar characters? No one yet knows. But this week's collapse of the movie distribution talks between the two won't prevent that happening.
Regardless of libertarians' espousals of the "marketplace," individuals make business decisions. And they have emotions, likes and dislikes and often steer their companies based upon them. Sure, business leaders have a fiduciary reponsibility to their owners or shareholders. But managers can often easily justify personal decisions to themselves and their board as beneficial to stockholders.
Are Jobs and Lasseter acting this way? Many Eisner haters hope so. Cooler heads might doubt it. But no rational observer can deny that personal rapport will play a role in allowing various theme parks' corporate managers to make their case that a business relationship with their companies makes the most sense for Pixar and its management.
Which is why, at the very least, Jobs and Lasseter ain't gonna have to pick up a lunch check for a long, long time....
Go Warner Brothers!
For the three WBMWs, Six Flags has more rights to use WB characters and themes than they do at Six Flags. Six Flags can use some of the WB and Cartoon Network characters, but that is about it.
Warner Brothers started building the Movie World parks, but when the parks were partway finished Time/Warner decided it wanted out of the theme park industry and sold Six Flags to Premier, and that included all of their over-seas operations.
Universal has embraced 'The Mummy' and 'Van Helsing' as the themes for their newest attractions because they are Universal productions and thus eliminate the cost of licensing.
Of course, Universal might get a distribution deal on a future Pixar production. But if that is the case it is unlikely that the film would be relased until 2007. If they were to license characters -- the easiest form of licensing -- that means it wouldn't happen until 2006. If it was a full blown prototype attraction -- which takes three years to build -- you wouldn't see it until 2010.
Final note: Robert's original post is thoughtful, well-written and certainly steals the political wind from Roy Disney's claim that the loss of Pixar represents a reason to dump Mr. Eisner. When Pixar makes another film -- possiblly something called 'Gardening Tools,' where a little lost lawn mower must make his way to the backyard to reunite with his riding mower father -- they may find it difficult to find a sweeter theme park deal than the one offered to them by Michael Eisner's invitable successor: Howard Dean (insert Dean screaming).
There is no reason that Universal would need to cut the deal. They have plenty of options for theming that already have the Universal name on them. They could do it just to spite Disney, but that's not good business. A Pixar park is a giant stretch, unless its a park for kids under 12. That's a big financial disaster waiting to happen. I suppose you could go over to Europe and try Tussaud's, but that just isn't you know who....
Disney. When you think about it, there aren't too many other places that fit Pixar characters. Could you see "It's Tough to be a Bug" at Cedar Point?? The nature of Pixar films are gentle, and Disney is the king of gentle. Thats all well and good, but Disney isn't doing so well right now. Somebody wants a few people out. One can't assume too much, but I think the particular somebody has something to do with it. Disney is made for Pixar, but since Disney will continue to suck as long as Eisner is in the chair, I'm sure that when he is out, Pixar will be back.
(Full Disclosure - I am an employee of a Viacom Subsidiary)
But Universal is the logical choice. Screw Disney. Had Universal had Pixar in the first place, Buzz Lightyear could have been on the level of Men in Black. A Monsters Inc coaster works far better here than in Preschooler Land. The Wild West Stunt Show could have taken on a Woody's Roundup theme.
And there would be absolutely no threat of a show as cheesy as that Buzz thing going on now at Disneyland, or a threatened ride as awful as a Monsters Inc layover of Superstar Lame-o. And no horrendous Flik's Fun Fair. Yeah, we'd be without Tough, but I could live without another 4-D movie.
Creatively, Universal would provide an excellent alternative for Pixar. But who would be the point person representing NBC/Universal to make the call and negotiate with Steven Jobs? Who knows? Maybe the lure of Pixar encourages Universal to get its act together quickly, as not to let this opportunity escape.
But the more that comes out about the Disney/Pixar split, the more I am led to believe that the winner in this competition will be the company whose CEO makes Jobs feel most comfortable.
That last one makes me believe Fox is not a contender. Rupert Murdoch is almost as hated as Eisner. And Time Warner right now is more unstable than NBC Universal, and they are going through the transfer process!
Personally, I don't care who Pixar ends up with so long as they license out to a theme park company. But, I don't understand why there have been no talks with Universal. They have been the best studio overall for the past seven years or so, and have major marketing muscle. We'll see.
Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort