How much longer should Universal stick with Marvel and Toon Lagoon at Islands of Adventure?
ORLANDO, Florida - You can win with theming; you can lose with theming.
A great theme is bringing great success to Universal's Islands of Adventure this summer, as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has welcomed more than one million riders within its first two months of operation, winning this year's Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction, as well. Universal Orlando's scored a huge hit with its Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is driving attendance gains for the Universal Orlando Resort, even as arch-rival Walt Disney World deals with a year-over-year attendance decrease.
You'd face a tough challenge to name a stronger entertainment theme in 2010 than Harry Potter. This is the franchise that encouraged a generation of your people, derided for a short attention span, to read 800-page books cover-to-cover. The six Harry Potter films have, to date, grossed more than $5 billion worldwide.
But as some themes draw fans to parks, other themes lose traction over time.
On the other side of Islands of Adventure from Harry Potter, you can see this flip side of theming - twice.
Islands of Adventure's Marvel Super Hero Island continues to draw visitors for its outstanding Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride and Incredible Hulk roller coaster. Marvel's lost no popularity with its millions of fans across the country and around the world. So that's not the problem threatening this land.
The problem is... Marvel's now the property of arch-rival Disney, which last year bought the comic-book publisher and its characters. Universal's retains the rights to keep the Marvel characters in Islands of Adventure, but Disney's got the rights to the characters everywhere else.
And, according to several sources, Universal can't add any new Marvel characters to its land, beyond the ones it's using already. Nor can Marvel incorporate fresh designs and plot elements from new Marvel movies, books or comics. Simply, the land's stagnant, with little legal room for thematic or narrative improvement.
If we've learned anything about the theme park business over the years, it's that you have to stay fresh, renovating and updating attractions to keep them relevant to new generations of visitors. Even Disneyland's classic dark rides, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, have seen multiple changes and upgrades over the years. Creating revisions that work is tough enough without having to run your ideas past legal to make sure that you have the contractual right to do that.
Spider-Man remains one of the world's most engaging theme park attractions - a 4-D dark ride romp through Spidey's New York. But like many other rides developed a decade or more ago that us film technology, it needs an upgrade to high-definition. Today's 3-D shames the 3-D used for Spidey, whose images suffer in comparison to the sharp new Harry Potter images featured in Forbidden Journey.
Universal does have a fresh "2.0" version of its Spider-Man ride in the pipeline, though - but one based on the Transformers franchise, not Spider-Man. That ride will debut in Singapore next year, coming to Universal Studios Hollywood in 2012.
Could Universal bring Transformers to IOA as a replacement for Spider-Man? The Hulk coaster could be rethemed with relative ease, as could the other two rides in Marvel Super Hero Island - the Doctor Doom space shot ride and the Storm Force spinner.
Sure, all that could be done, I anticipate some of you saying, but why would Universal voluntarily surrender the rights to the Marvel characters, especially when they remain so popular?
Here's why: To elicit a multi-million dollar buy-out from Disney, that's why. Think about it: A top-to-bottom refurbishment of Marvel Super Hero Island, to another theme, one that would allow Universal the complete creative control it can't have with Marvel. And paid for by a budget funded entirely (or at least almost so) by the Walt Disney Company.
Tantalizing, isn't it?
A payday from Disney for the Orlando theme park rights to Marvel becomes even more compelling when you consider that Universal will need to renovate not one, but two lands in IOA. Around the bend from Marvel Super Hero Island stand an even more thematically-troubled land, Toon Lagoon.
Toon Lagoon's top two attractions, Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, remain popular with fans. Both enjoy a relatively strong history in television and movies, despite the lack of recent, successful works. But take a look at Toon Lagoon's main drag:
Comic strips. It's all comic strips - a medium that is dying as surely as the daily print newspapers which published these strips. Take a look at the characters in that photo. How many of them enjoy any traction with visitors under 20? Or 30? Or 40? Beetle Bailey? Hagar the Horrible? Shoe? Blondie?
Give me a break.
Theme park attractions can overcome weak or dying source material. Universal's Waterworld show connects with audiences more effectively than the Kevin Coaster flick it's based upon ever did. Disney's revived Brer Rabbit, et al, as characters in its Splash Mountain ride, even as it keeps their original source, Song of the South, buried in the Disney archives, with private promises never to release it again.
But can Universal do anything to revive a gallery of newspaper comic strips that haven't connected with anyone nearly a generation? And even if it could, should it try?
Dudley Do-Right needs some love: Too much of its flume isn't themed, and badly cries for some decor, even within its visually minimalist Jay Ward style. While I love Ward's work and the snarky humor of Dudley (the "Duck Crossing/Double Crossing" gag made me laugh just now, simply thinking about it), I could accept a new theme for this ride if it that's what it took to get Universal to fill in all the ride's empty spaces.
While Universal's done a reasonable job of maintaining the main walkways through Toon Lagoon, some of the areas off the main path need substantial renovation. Too many of the seats and tables in the land's eateries are chipped, scratched or broken. Universal's going to have to refresh this area if it is to protect the reputation that Harry Potter is building for this park.
But why throw good money after bad? Why renovate an area with a dying theme, when you could spend the money to change to a more engaging theme instead?
What would that theme be? That's a challenge for Universal Creative. As a theme park fan and critic, though, simply allow me to suggest that Universals going need to make a change here, because newspaper comic strip characters from generations ago aren't convincing anyone to visit the Universal Orlando Resort.
I understand why they did it, but when they took away the Nick Studios it broke my heart. When i think about it still i want to cry.
I got three words for you:
Toon Lagoon definitely needs to go and it needs to come back as another family centered land. I'm 15 and as much as I'd like another whiteknuckles thrill ride I recognize that the most lucrative demographic, families area little underrepresented at IOA with only one of the lands specifically focused on them. WWOHP has got their attention and a new family land could help keep it. Theres plenty of source material they could use such as video games. Theres a lot of unused space http://www.scribblemaps.com/maps/view/jyXPlKp5Rk
I may be wrong, but doesn't Universal's right to use Marvel characters in the parks have an expiry date? If so that would naturally give Disney an advantage in the fact they could hold out and develop a solid Marvel themed attraction/land whilst the contract runs down.
While I largely agree with Robert's view that the cartoon angle at Universal has lost touch with it's younger audience there's one nagging thought that won't go away.
I'm wondering what makes Robert believe Disney would be willing to "buy-out" the rights to the Marvel characters -- especially if it means that the money would be used to add attractions that would draw more people to a competitor's (for lack of a better word) theme park?
Disney needs the Orlando theme park rights to fully "activate" the Marvel characters - deploying them across all platforms: publishing, television, movies and theme parks.
Please correct me if I'm wrong but I thought that Disney passed up on Harry Potter because it felt that it wouldn't affect it's market share. No point investing if there's no profit to be made. Besides Universal will attract more visitors to Orlando if they have it so Disney will derive some fallout benefit from that.
Universal could score another huge success by grabbing up the only major large set of ever green characters that does connect with the younger crowd...the Nintendo character set. Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Donkey Kong, Bowser, Yoshi, et al, and use them to replace the Toon Lagoon section without having to completely wipe out and start over with what they already have. Redoing Spiderman with Transformers seems like a logical decision too.
Michael, Disney could fit a Marvel attraction at DHS. They could base it off of how the movie was made.
I argee with Robert N. Disney should buy them out early and move on. Universal is paying Disney.Marvel and I wouldn't like to pay my rival down the street. It's a win-win for everyone involved! They know they have an issue promoting too many girl things which is why they are re-thinking the plans for the new fantasyland projects.
AGREED! The clock is ticking for both those islands. No matter how great the rides are in each one... the writing is on the wall.
If I was Disney I would let Universal break the contract with Marvel instead of the reverse. Right now Disney is making money from Universal without having to put any money in marketing there products to the public.
It would be terrible if Universal gets rid of Marvel Island; if they get rid of Spiderman it would be like Disney getting rid of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Personally, I'm not sure what could replace Marvel Superhero Island. I have to admit that MSI is one of my favorite places in IOA (next to Potterland now, of course), and Spidey is indeed still an awesome ride, even if there's been advances. Simply put, Universal should have scooped up more theme park rights before Disney got their grubby mitts on everything Marvel to insure they could expand and refresh.
I would totally end Marvel and cut my losses if I am Universal. The guests have enough problems understanding how the rides can be at Universal, but the toys are at Disney. Transformers might do ok or perhaps a "Monster Island" harkening back to the old monsters of yesteryear.
Who owns Looney Tunes? Retheme the tune area with Looney Tunes if available. Give me Bugs over Mickey any day
I said pretty much the EXACT same thing (less words) regarding Marvel Island and Disney in the comment section on the Theme Park Boards under a topic about "The Next Attraction to Close at Universal" a couple of months ago. I still agree.
Loony Toons are at the Six Flags Parks so I highly doubt it.
I feel that the Marvel Superhero Island is still the thematic heart of Islands of Adventure. I know that there are probably tense negotiations behind the scenes every time that Disney considers marketing or expanding the Marvel properties into their own park, but I feel that they should adapt a live and let live attitude. Universal does a great job with Marvel, and their relationship should be allowed to continue.
I think the Mario, Lugie... ect... is a good idea!
Here's my 2 cents:
Don't be surprised to see the entire Marvel Superhero Island rethemed to Transformers in the near future. A Cybertron Island of sorts. Every attraction there can easily be switched out with the Transformers, and all those superheroes battling in the streets would become Autobots and Decepticons instead.
First, I don't think it would be a great business move to give Universal money to buy out something Disney owns already. Instead, Disney should use that money to build in their own parks. Eventually Universal will let go of whatever Marvel stuff they have left if they can't improve upon it..... and especially if Disney is compition because they are building the new Marvel attractions that Universal can't.
What about a Sci-Fi Island idea? It would not involve changing to much of the architecture in the area and you could then have Transformers into Spider-Man, a Star Trek themed Hulk coaster, and then some other sci-fi themes for Doom and Storm Force.
To the anonymous poster above re: trading out Marvel for DC. I would love to see the folks at Universal come up with new concepts using the DC characters, but Time Warner owns DC and uses the characters in their Six Flags parks, with whole areas in many parks themed (or as themed as you'll get from Six Flags) to Gotham City.
Popeye and Dudley could be re-themed very easily but, I don't know what would be good. Part of the fun of that area of the park is that its "light-hearted". Going scary wouldn't really work. Does Universal own the rights to any cartoon characters?
Maybe Universal can study the Sci-Fi City area at the Singapore Park and re theme Super Marvel Hero Island at IOA to that theme and improve upon it. I think that would be the easiest way to go. The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman (As much as I would hate to lose that attraction) could eventually be re themed into the Transformers attraction. I also like the idea posted earlier of using Nintendo characters to freshen up the Toon Lagoon area. I always wondered about how Universal would deal with the Disney's ownership of Marvel (ie. That part of IOA remaining stagnant, revenue going to Disney, etc.)
Maybe it is just me becuse I am (relatively speaking) a Disney purist, but I just don't think the Marvel chracters fit at Disney. They weren't created at Disney and I think it would have a sliver effect.
No Toon Lagoon is fine. When it opened the characters weren't familiar to that generation neither it wasn't a problem. Put it this way, if the rides have good stories and deliver people will ride. And that's what they've been doing for over 10 years now. Delivering. Toon Lagoon is a great themed island. I would hate to see it go. Retro is the new thing now anyway. The island will inspire young kids to look into such stories as Popeye and Dudley. They are fine. The land does need some work however.
Mark H there aren't a lot of characters that weren't created by Disney. So should Marvel be any different? You have Cinderella, Snow White, Pinnochio, The Jungle Book, Marry Poppins, and the list can go on.
Now that HP is the anchor of IOA, keeping marvels island is doing free advertising for Disney.
I'm gonna have to respectfully disagree that Marvel Characters fit in the Disney Parks. The comic books generally don't have a "Disney" feel to them... who am I kidding, they don't have a Disney feel at all! Wolverine is extremely violent if you get down to the depths of his character. Iron Man... make that Tony Stark is an alcoholic playboy. And Ghost Rider? I'm not sure you wanna touch that... I only mention these mainstream Marvel characters rather than more obscure ones like Longshot, Cloak & Dagger because they're recognizeable, yet have baggage that you don't want your 4 year old to read about. Not to mention that the majority of Marvel Heroines are drawn with "perfect" bodies in a more realistic manner than Disney Princesses.
In a way, I'm a Disney purist, too. On that note, with the exception of the Pixar films, nothing Disney has created has been "Disney-esque" in at least a decade. Disney's pop stars are irritating and largely talentless. In terms of technology, Disney hasn't had an American attraction rivaling Universal's newest creations since Tower of Terror. Disney has transformed their original characters, namely Mickey, Goofy, and Donald, into sappy, Brady Bunch types with gumdrop eyes and lollipop smiles.
I love the idea of turning Toon Lagoon into "Monster Island". You could incorporate themeing around the edges of the island (fog, creature bones, an animatronic kraken in the water) similar to King Kong's Skull Island. On the island you could have Dracula's Castle (3D dark ride), the Wolfman's Forest, the Creature's Black Lagoon water ride, even the Revenge of the Mummy and the Horror Make-up Show could be moved here (opening up space for new things at Universal Orlando). This would be a great Halloween Horror Nights hub as well. What do you think?
In my opinion, Universal Studios needs to completely overhaul Islands of Adventure & take advantage of the popularity of Harry Potter & the loss of Marvel.
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