The Force is Strong in Fantasy: Why Disney and Universal are Turning to Star Wars and Harry Potter
The changes happening this decade at the nation's top theme parks — including the ones run by Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld — reflect more than just ever-changing trends in entertainment. They reflect some profound cultural shifts in the United States — shifts that have been driven by major economic changes that started a generation ago and accelerated with the economic meltdown at the end of the previous decade.
In my Orange County Register column this week, I raise this issue as I answer the question why Star Wars Land is being added to Disneyland. We have written much here on Theme Park Insider about the difference between non-fiction and fictional themes in parks. My take has been that the non-fictional themes that were popular during the modernist era have fallen out of favor in today's post-modern era, when people have lost their optimism about the future thanks to the dreary economic outlook many families face today.
Consumers today want escapism in their entertainment: superheroes, wizards, and rebels fighting dystopian regimes. So Disney and Universal have reacted, forcing non-fiction-driven attractions from their parks in favor of ones that appeal to our desire to fantasize and escape our reality. That's why we are getting Frozen
's Arendelle in World Showcase at Epcot, and why Disneyland is trimming its Rivers of America to make way for Star Wars Land.
Among the major theme park companies, SeaWorld has been caught flat-footed, spending its time and resources defending its record against animal "rights" activists who probably won't be satisfied until private ownership of animals is banned, instead of developing the fantasy IP the public actually now wants instead.
You can read more in my OC Register column, or follow our stories from the Theme Park Insider archive, below.
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So true for SeaWorld. So sad to see that happen. I can't wait until Universal Studios Harry Potter opens Harry Pottter, and Disneyland opens Star Wars which, by the concept art, looks amazing
"Get me out of here" is right! Beam me up, Scotty, this planet stinks! ;)
"thanks to the dreary economic outlook many families face today."
Yeah. Unfortunately many people find Epcot to be a bit boring due to it's multitude of educational themes, even though some people (me!) loved that whole aspect since it made learning fun.
All the more reason for Epcot to adhere to its original mandate. That would make it offer something different.
The parks are charging more because they can. We keep paying it, although a larger segment of the population is being shut out. Eventually there will be a breaking point......hopefully a long way off.
My son and I ALWAYS skirt around the Star Wars section of DHS when we're there. Neither of us has any interest in Star Wars. We are NOT happy that Disney is increasing the amount of space dedicated to Star Wars.
@Denise Rambo I think Disney is just trying to appease the millions of Star Wars fanboys. You and your son may not like it, but there are some people who would be willing to a galaxy far far away for a chance to ride the Millenium Falcon.
Denise, I have heard of several people who refuse to visit the Harry Potter stuff at Universal for various reasons - there are always the outliers (no offense intended). But do you really think Universal is sad they made the choice to add said expansion to almost ALL of their theme parks? I'll wager the answer is an emphatic "no"!
Thanks for the great article(s) - here and at the OC Register! And while I hope for the 2.0 version of Rivers of America as you mentioned prior, Robert: shorter but not lesser (in fact I am hoping for shorter but plussed), I will patiently await to see how it all turns out. And while I appreciate the capacity to see Disneyland (and Universal and Sea World) as changing due to the postmodern era in which we live, Disney's hyper-real simulacrum epitomizes postmodernity and therefore it must change accordingly. If Sea World can figure out its next game plan, awesome! Until then, I will stick to Universal and Disney, albeit less than I did years ago, before the crowds were year-round, the quiet corners harder to come by, and the price tags for magic and fantasy became "out of this world."
Regardless of how someone feels about Star Wars (or Harry Potter), why skip an area with good rides? I know plenty of people who have zero interest in Potter, but still queue up for Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts.
There is a place for some "non-fiction" in theme parks. But, for the most part, theme parks are about escapism and fantasy.
Ms Rambo writes: "We are NOT happy that Disney is increasing the amount of space dedicated to Star Wars."
I think it is not only that "optimism" is lost but also we have so much access to information nowadays that there is no need for a park to show us how the world works or how animals behave... We can find almost anything online so the interest diminishes...
I also agree with James, I have zero interest in Transformers, Star Wars or Terminator (I don't like action movies for the most part) but I LOVE theme parks and rides so I ride them anyway... (only problem is simulators make me sick so I only ride them once in a while LOL!)
The best Disney attractions are still the classics: Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, etc. The new Star Wars and Avatar attractions will go down in history as major disappointments.
Star Wars has deserved a true theme park experience for a long time, not just a single ride. We might have had one a long time ago if a certain CEO hadn't messed up relationships with the deciding person. They could build a whole park for Star Wars and it would be packed out. I cant think of one IP that has had as many books written about it as SW: extended universe. Yes they are not canon anymore but that just means we get a whole new set of stories about our favorite subject.
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