Halloween events revive the great theme park IP debate
The "IP vs. original theme" debate has been raging for years within the theme park fan community and probably won't fade anytime soon. Part of what can make this debate so heated is that individual parks open major new attractions so infrequently. That means the "original theme vs. IP" debate is driven more by hypothetical arguments than a steady stream of new attractions of both types that fans can judge, side-by-side.
...Except for Halloween. In my Orange County Register column this week, I write about my trip last week to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights and how it provided a welcomed opportunity to judge how designers handle a bunch of original and IP attractions at once.
If you read my review of HHN27, you might remember that two of my top three houses at the event were based on original themes. Five of this year's Halloween Horror Nights houses in Orlando are based on IP, while four are based on original themes.
For me, too much IP actually can hurt an attraction. I knocked two of the IP-based houses at Halloween Horror Nights — The Horrors of Blumhouse and American Horror Story — for each cramming three different productions into one house. For me, that made going through those houses feel more like watching movie trailers than experiencing an actual film.
Part of what makes a theme park attraction unique in entertainment — and powerful — is the opportunity it provides visitors to immerse themselves in a physical environment that recreates a theme. Whipping us along from one theme to another undermines that immersion (even if the experiences are from the same "brand.") We need time to appreciate each experience.
I am encouraged to see that the source of a particular theme doesn't matter as much as the execution of the idea in elevating an attraction to top levels of quality. Great IP can inspire great attractions. Original themes can inspire great attractions. Heck, even crap IP can inspire great attractions. (Quick: Who did the better job in going above and beyond with an IP: Universal with Waterworld or Disney with Avatar? Discuss.)
This year's new Halloween houses remind us that talented themed entertainment designers can create engaging attractions based on original ideas, as well as on IP. So, to me, the answer to the original themes vs. IP debate remains... "it all depends upon what you do with it."
Read Robert's column:
Originals.... every time. Don't get me wrong -- USF has done some great things with IPs over the years. They knocked Halloween out of the park a couple of years ago, not to mention their incredible treatment of American Werewolf in London. But, overall, I think the original ideas work better as houses. As I've mentioned before, HHN 21's Nightingales was the best house I've ever been in, no question.
This is a hard one.
It's also worth noting Halloween Horror Nights has done an excellent job with mazes based on terrible IP in the past (I could make a long list of great houses based on awful films). Having not been to this year's event yet, I've got nothing to add on this year's group of mazes, but I'll say I've been happy with some of the "remix" houses in past years (Saw especially benefits from this approach). I think it just depends on the IP and the approach.
Jacob is right - La Llorna was another great one. I remembered the house, just couldn't remember the name :-)
I like a mix of IP and original. Keeps things interesting by creating environments you are familiar with whilst leaving room for creativity with original stuff.
The debate for theme parks in general is silly. People want to see familiar characters in rides and attractions, thus DISNEY in the name of a theme park suggest familiar themes. Halloween is an entirely different situation. How scary will it be to relive the exact scenes you already seen? They have to be extra creative to work around overdone scenes. The debate is over since the biggest markets for these attractions continue to have record attendance. USH focus on IP while Knott's has original haunts. Pick your poison.
It's also worth noting that Knott's has "original haunts" that are... you know, not THAT original. These might not be based on hit movies, but they are exceptionally familiar concepts. So... let's keep in mind, that even at Universal we're looking at tropes and ideas we've seen time and again.
>>>People want to see familiar characters in rides and attractions, thus DISNEY in the name of a theme park suggest familiar themes
HHN ROCKS because they have BOTH!
Pretty much these classics are changing with the times. Jack Sparrow in Pirates, Nightmare before Christmas in Haunted Mansion, and Moana is rumored to be added to DisneyWorld's Tiki Room. Small World in Disneyland already have Disney characters insert in some scenes. Space Mountain had Star Wars. Jungle Cruise getting movie tie-ins? That's what Dwayne Johnson The Rock said.
For haunts I prefer IP's as I want to be part of a movie/ show for an evening. Original ones can still be scary but tend to mostly be derivative of familiar IP's.
There is something about walking through the scene's of your favourit movies. But only if it's done like being in that movie (not like Star Wars Land or Avatar is done by Disney).
My love of theme parks started with original content. Figment from Journey Into Imagination at Epcot is the sole reason I fell in love with Disney back in the early 80s. Henry Mystic and Albert from Mystic Manor, The TimeKeeper, Cranium Command, The Tiki Room...none of them existed outside the park before their premiers and that's what I loved about Disney. Of course I understand that times and demands change to remain competitive and that's progress. My heart will always bind to original characters that I meet face to face for the first time instead of my local theater.
I'd say that it's even difficult to compare for haunted attractions. So many mazes and haunted houses use recognizable conceits, that while they may not be referencing a specific IP, they're still presenting the familiar. Dead Waters, considered one of the best HHN mazes this year, is a rehash of a scare zone from previous events, and pulls from known myths and legends. Universal didn't have to pay a writer, producer, or film/TV company to present it, but it's still showing guests something they've probably seen before - so does that actually make it original??? Same goes for the "generic" theming we see at theme parks around the world. We all know what a "Western/Frontier" area should look like, and while a park may not cite Tombstone, Wild Wild West, or The Good The Bad and The Ugly, guests know what such a land should look like and what to expect. The same goes for the alien world of Avatar. Certainly, there are some cues the Imagineers used from Cameron's film, but they could have just as easily came up some similar generic concepts and presented it as "Panschnizzle, the Wizzle of Fizzle", with pretty much the same result.
I would like to suggest a different angle. Because we are talking about original content vs IP what about original "concept?" I have grown tired of the maze, conga line concept. Years ago Howl O Scream created something called the Alone House. Does anyone remember that? You paid separately for the opportunity to go through a haunted attraction alone or with 3 friends. The actors focused their entire attention on you! I went and thought it was great. We need USF & Busch Gardens to do MORE "conceptually" driven experiences. I suggest creating a few of these in addition to the mazes and you can service the big crowds and those who really need something extra. I visited an attraction in Atlanta a few yrs back called the Zombie Apocalypse. It was an entire Motel turned into a fright fest. There are youtube videos. This was a million percent better than anything the big parks have. If USF & BG are serious about scaring folks they will find a way to think outside the "box."
There's an integral place for both, unquestionably. I love the IPs as there is an instant connection - AHS, Texas Chainsaw, Halloween & Halloween II were unbelievable but I have also loved The Body Collectors appearances and the most unnerving of them all, Dollhouse of the Damned from 2014. It has only been since 2012 that Universal has incorporated a strong proportion of IPs so the emphasis of IPs is a very recent one. The reality is that the IPs sell! AHS and The Shining this year are an advertising dream. From the reports I have read to date, the originals seem to be the strongest set Universal has created for a while so I am especially looking forward to Scarecrow and Dead Waters as they have been "universally" applauded in every review.
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