Theme Park of the Day: Tokyo Disneyland

DreamWorks Animation officially joins the Universal Studios family

August 23, 2016, 1:32 PM · Universal Studios owner Comcast has closed its deal to acquire DreamWorks Animation, officially making Kung Fu Panda, Toothless the dragon, and the Madagascar crew part of the Universal family.

Universal welcomed the DreamWorks Animation characters with a tweet:

First thought? Universal Studios Hollywood has a Toothless character ready to go? We need this meet-and-greet in the parks, right away!

Of course, it might not be that simple. As theme park fans learned when Disney bought Marvel, theme park rights to specific characters don't automatically switch upon a change in ownership. Universal's long owned the theme park rights in all its markets to the Shrek franchise, and Universal devotes an entire land in Universal Studios Singapore to Madagascar. But the park hasn't featured DreamWorks Animation's other big franchises: Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. The SeaWorld Parks recently held the US theme park rights to the Madagascar characters, but that deal appears to have expired. In the Middle East, the theme park rights belong to the new Motiongate Dubai park, which will include an indoor DreamWorks Animation land when that park opens October 31.

But in the United States, with no other parks currently using Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, or How to Train Your Dragon, Universal would appear to have a clear path forward to bring these characters into Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood. DreamWorks Animation will become part of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, along with Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment, Universal's other animation studio, best known for the Minions. Universal is expected to take over the distribution of DreamWorks Animation films, which has been handled by Fox since 2013.

So what should Universal do next in the parks with these DreamWorks franchises? (In addition to setting up that Toothless meet-and-greet, of course.) I love the Madagascar land at Universal Studios Singapore, but industry gossip about troubles with the development of its centerpiece indoor boat ride suggests that Universal won't be in any hurry to clone that ride elsewhere. Plus, How to Train Your Dragon and the The Croods appear to be the hotter franchises at the moment, with sequels under development at the studio. And with Universal committed to a The Secret Life of Pets attraction and a new Nintendo-themed land, one can wonder where DreamWorks Animation franchises fit on Universal Creative's increasingly crowded development schedule.

Replies (34)

August 23, 2016 at 1:43 PM · I would be surprised if we see anything major done anytime soon, but it would be cool to add some in park costume characters and perhaps an additional float or two to the day time parade at USF.
August 23, 2016 at 1:44 PM · This is beyond fantastic. I love both the How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda franchises. Hope they bring a ton of meet-and-greets and rides to go along with this. Yet another reason to trek from North Dakota to Florida but well worth it!
Cole Short
August 23, 2016 at 2:26 PM · I agree with Rob. The daytime parade is a bit sad and would benefit from new characters.
August 23, 2016 at 2:31 PM · They need a DreamWorks Land. A place to get all your DreamWorks characters. Each film property should have a mini-land devoted to the themed environment. Madagascar should be Africa. Kung Fu Panda should be China. Shrek and Dragon can be an imaginary English Medieval land.
August 23, 2016 at 3:00 PM · Any word on a deal with Nintendo I keep on hearing about? I would love to see a Mario Bros land!
August 23, 2016 at 3:21 PM · Anon mouse, I agree it makes sense to strike while the iron is hot, would not take much to make a how to train your dragon roller coaster or simulator ride, a Kung fu panda stage show and a Madagascar animal show of some sorts, just ideas.
August 23, 2016 at 3:27 PM · Great news. With Dreamworks and Nintendo available (not to mention Universals live action films) it seems like Universal has plenty of inspiration for their theme parks in the coming decades after they are finished with Harry Potter.
August 23, 2016 at 3:33 PM · So does this mean the rumored third gate will finally be built in Orlando? They could do so much with Dreamworks and Nintendo.
August 23, 2016 at 3:36 PM · Robert, can we infer anything from this addition and the Nintendo franchise in terms of opening up a third gate? Or is to early to speculate.
August 23, 2016 at 3:39 PM · I love this. A Kung Fu Panda meet & greet would be nice to have. Does this mean the rumored 3rd gate is now closer to becoming a reality in Orlando? Universal can do so much with Dreamworks and Nintendo.
August 23, 2016 at 4:04 PM · Anon Mouse I love your idea! I think it would be great fun to see the countries as shown in the movies along with rides based on the escape sequences or funniest moments in the movies.
August 23, 2016 at 4:36 PM · This is great news. Toothless should be their Mickey Mouse. This is another major step in competing with them. Popular and beloved aren't often the same things. Potter is beloved. Toothless and Kung Fu Panda are beloved and worthy to compete with the best Disney has. Dragon had a traveling stage show with flying dragons so that could be a quick fix stage show if they wanted.
August 23, 2016 at 5:00 PM · Australian theme park Dreamworld currently has a whole "Dreamworks Experience" land which includes rides themed to Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar. Check out their website
August 23, 2016 at 5:37 PM · I think that their first move should be to improve their parade with mora characters and floats.
August 23, 2016 at 7:31 PM · Combine all the franchises into one ride in vain of the Hannah Barbera/ Jimmy Neutron simulator. Replace Shrek 4D instead of Minion Mayhem. Nobody goes on Shrek anymore.

I've been begging for them to bring the HTTYD theatre show into the parks forever.

August 23, 2016 at 7:53 PM · Personally, I'd like it if Universal ditched Nintendo in favor of Dreamworks as their next big project (not because I dislike Nintendo, but because Dreamworks seems like a much better fit for the parks), but since we know that probably won't happen I hope Universal will begin work to fast track some Dreamworks attractions into the parks. Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon in particular need to be in the parks as soon as possible, and both could be used as excellent replacements for Universal's dated kids areas in Florida (and for the missing kids area in California). Even if the area doesn't have an E-ticket level attraction, a Dreamworks land of some sort needs to be built soon before the existing franchises lose popularity.
August 23, 2016 at 10:23 PM · First, the third Universal theme park in Orlando is not a rumor. It is a fact. It will appear in the newly acquired land south of the current resort in around 2021-2022.

Second, Nintendoland is also a fact. It will be replacing the Kidzone area in the Studios park in 2020. Rides based on Mario Kart, Donkey Kong and Yoshi's Island are currently planned for it.

Lastly, while plans for Dreamworks are still in their infancy, all signs seem to suggest a dedicated land to their characters at the aforementioned third park akin to what Anon Mouse above described.

August 23, 2016 at 10:28 PM · Queue the new lineup of (sigh) screen-based simulators...
August 23, 2016 at 11:08 PM · @Still a fan

Hopefully not. These franchises are perfect for dark rides, but then again, so is Despicable Me and Simpsons. We'll have to wait and see.

August 23, 2016 at 11:58 PM · Maybe Merlin-owned parks might be a problem since there is some kind of deal between Dreamworks and Merlin, so there are now a Kung Fu Panda Academy in Gardaland (Italy) and a How to train your Dragon area in Heide Park (Germany). Don't know if Merlin has relevant properties in the US (not counting Legolands)
August 24, 2016 at 2:03 AM · Cool.
August 24, 2016 at 2:40 AM · "Queue the new lineup of (sigh) screen-based simulators..."

Ugh! Universal has exactly two simulators in their parks, Simpson's and Despicable Me, with a third on the way, Jimmy Fallon.

Disney on the other hand currently has three, Soarin, Star Tours and Mission Space, with two more on the way, Avatar and Millenium Falcon.

If a ride actually travels through an actual ride path, it is not a simulator whether there are screens or not. A simulator simulates travel. It doesn't actually go anywhere. Thusly, Spider-Man or Toy Story or Harry Potter or Nemo or King Kong or Universe of Energy or whatever are not simulators just because they utilize screens. They are dark rides.

August 24, 2016 at 4:25 AM · Could toothless replace the dragon challenge? Two hits with one stone as hogsmeade would become the same everywhere in the world. Just saying...
August 24, 2016 at 6:11 AM · I've only been to Universal once, and am planning a return trip this September - with my husband, who played Shrek to my Fiona while we fell in love. I have been quietly lamenting the fact that the best photo op we'll have is at the airport (and we're driving this time). Would love, love, love a character greet with those two...
August 24, 2016 at 6:49 AM · Any word on what this means for Merlin's plans? When they opened Shrek Adventures in London they reckoned they'd be doing another 15 - 20 DreamWorks "destinations" around the world. But it's all gone a bit quiet.
August 24, 2016 at 9:23 AM · You know, I get real tired of the same old "Universal uses too much screens" debate. How come no one complains that Cedar Fair parks are all coasters? Companies will do what is best for their bottom line and clearly, with annual attendance gains, Universal is doing something right, for better or for worse.
August 24, 2016 at 10:40 AM · It has been said by various insiders that Universal will be doing ton's of Animatronics in Nintendo Land and The Secret Life of Pet's ride's. Screens when used properly (Gringott's Ride) can transport guest to places not possible with traditional props. When Avatar Land and Star War's land opens you can bet there will be lot's of screens. Since Disney World has not opened ANY E-ticket's in Orlando in the past 10 years, we have not idea what they MAY have done.....Screen's is a bet though.
August 24, 2016 at 7:46 PM · Disney will use screens with animatronics. Have you seen Shanghai Pirates? It's a combination of both without 3D.
August 24, 2016 at 10:37 PM · Whatever definitions you use, the fact is that Universal has given us far too many of the same kind of attractions for the past several years. Transformers, Simpsons, Minions, Gringott's and Skull Island have been added to a ride roster that already included Spider-Man, T2:3D, and Shrek 3D. That all adds up to screens, screens, and more screens. The Jimmy Fallon ride will be yet another variation on that, besides being a horrendous idea for a ride. Enough is enough. Are they allergic to real sets and animatronics?
August 25, 2016 at 2:48 AM · "Enough is enough."

Says who? You? The fact is that Universal keeps seeing attendance increases while Disney has been suffering tremendous crowd losses. The general public has clearly spoken and they like what Universal is doing. They've specialized in a more kinetic attraction that frankly can not be done with a slow moving boat ride.

Epcot at its inception was a collection of slow moving rides past sets and animations. What did guests say about it? They called it boring and animatronic overload. Disney then slowly got rid of that type of ride. For better or for worse, that has led to park we have today.

"Are they allergic to real sets and animatronics?"

You do realize that Skull Island has a number of animatronics, right?

August 25, 2016 at 9:09 AM · Animatronics from Universal: Gringott's Ride and Bank-Goblin's, Forbidden Journey-Sorting Hat, Spider's, Dementor's, Dragon, Jurassic Park-Dino's and T-Rex, Men in Black-Multiple Aliens, Shreck; in pre-show, Hogwarts's Express-Caged Owl, Cat in Hat, Kong-Witch in queue, of course the massive Kong at the end. Universal may not have "boat loads" of Animatronics' but they are there. Not to mention all the moving props in the Harry Potter Lands. I love Disney and used to be a pass holder for many years, but at this point in the game I'm just more excited for what Universal is cranking out. The 3D is getting to be a bit of a crutch, but I think Universal Creative is aware of that and there going to do practical set's with Nintendo and Life of Pet's rides.
August 25, 2016 at 10:47 AM · Again, Universal created an animatronic-filled indoor boat ride based on Madagascar. It opened late in Singapore, and Universal people I've spoken with about it still seemed scarred by the experience of getting it open. But I think it'd be a HUGE hit if it ever came to Orlando. It's a fun ride:

August 25, 2016 at 3:11 PM · It remains to be seen whether they get away from their 3D crutch. Forbidden Journey was a step in the right direction, and an amazing ride. But after that, every new attraction was 3D/4D. I enjoy those attractions, and I visit both companies' parks, but I feel that variety is the spice of theme parks. Disney offers much more variety.

Kong has a number of AAs. Sure, and that number is two. The rest of the ride is Kong 360 3D transplanted to the East Coast. What a missed opportunity. This could have been one of the greatest rides in Orlando.

P.S.: How come they never used the Kuka Arm again?

August 26, 2016 at 2:53 PM · A third gate with Nintendo and dream works is a great ideaaaa, they could do a whole Shrek land and change the 4D show with something else at universal (maybe secret life of pets?) A whole Zelda land, Super Mario land and a futuristic like land with metroid, F zero and other Sci-Fi Nintendo properties , you can also have an incredible flying like attraction with how to train you're dragon, and like a kun fu panda restaurant with a meet and greet for sure.

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