Shrek 4-D is closing today at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. That means, starting tomorrow, there no longer will be any Shrek-themed attractions at Universal's theme parks in the United States.
This iconic animation franchise deserves better than that. The original Shrek won the inaugural Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It remains the highest-grossing animation franchise in history, according to Box Office Mojo. When it opened in May 2003 at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida, it became the first modern animation franchise to hit big with audiences at a Universal theme park. Before that, Universal's big animated characters were Woody Woodpecker and Curious George - two characters that hadn't resonated with a mass market of fans in decades.
I reviewed Shrek 4-D's Hollywood opening for the Los Angeles Times. (The link remains available!) I noted that "(t)he original 'Shrek' ridiculed the shallowness of Disney’s animated fairy tales and the sterility of its theme parks. Shrek 4-D doesn’t directly attack Disney’s parks, but it does land its punch by being far more entertaining than anything a Disney park has opened in years."
While I loved the show, I am not writing today to argue that it should remain open. As Shrek 4-D served as a narrative bridge between the original Shrek and its 2004 sequel, Shrek 4-D also should have worked as a bridge between Shrek as a film franchise and a future as an enduring theme park blockbuster.
But a well-deserved Shrek dark ride never came. Well, at least not in a Universal Studios theme park. Motiongate Dubai built Shrek's Merry Fairy Tale Journey in its indoor DreamWorks land, but Universal's most extensive use of Shrek went into Universal Studios Singapore, which includes a Far, Far Away land inspired by the destination of the same name in Shrek 2. Yet the castle at the heart of that land still features the same Shrek 4-D show from Universal's other theme parks. A Vekoma Junior Coaster (Enchanted Airways) and a Zamperla Multidimensional Coaster (Puss In Boots' Giant Journey) complete the land, but neither star the star of the franchise - Shrek.
Universal originally obtained the theme park rights to Shrek under license from DreamWorks SKG. But NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation in 2016, which brought Shrek fully into the Universal family. Now there's no legal reason to limit Shrek's use at Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood. There's only a business case to be made for why Universal should invest in keeping this franchise active within its U.S. theme parks.
I think that Shrek's history and enduring fanbase make that case. Shrek deserves more within the parks than meet and greets and parade units. A witty, sharp and well-told Shrek dark ride or immersive experience could help NBCUniversal protect and expand the value of its top animation franchise, even as other DreamWorks and Illumination animated franchises continue to build value. This is not a zero-sum game. Universal's theme parks need a broad line-up of popular animated franchises to counter the ever-expanding Disney line-up. Universal should not send Shrek to the sidelines as it builds up the Minions and other franchises. It needs to keep Shrek in the game.
As for the Minions, they are slated to take Shrek's place in Universal Studios Florida. Universal Orlando has been tweeting photos of bananas in various places around the park this weekend, tipping an imminent announcement of the new Minions attraction that is expected to go in where Shrek 4-D now plays. As Universal Creative moves forward with that attraction, I hope that someone in the organization has been charged with envisioning the next chapter in Shrek's adventures at Universal Orlando.
Space remains available within both Universal Studios Florida and the upcoming Epic Universe theme parks that could provide Shrek with a new home in Florida. Yes, Shrek 4-D played for too long in the parks. And DreamWorks oversaturated the market for Shrek with too many sequels a decade years ago. But Shrek remains a beloved and important entertainment franchise. It is part of Universal's brand identity. As such, Shrek deserves a better and more prominent role at the Universal Orlando Resort.
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