Which Theme Parks Will Pixar Call Home?

We break down the options for Pixar, as it looks to cut new deals for movie distribution and theme park licensing.

From Robert Niles
Posted January 30, 2004 at 5:22 PM
Now that Pixar Animation Studios has decided against extending its movie distribution deal with the Walt Disney Company, theme park fans are left to wonder where they'll be able to go to see their favorite Pixar characters.

Hollywood insiders say that Warner Bros. and Fox lead the field as top candidates to land Pixar. But neither company owns U.S. theme parks. Warner has a licensing deal with the Six Flags parks for use of its Looney Tunes characters, dating from the days when Warner owned Six Flags. But that agreement would not include any new Pixar characters, should Warner ink a deal with the animation studio.

Nor does Six Flags have the cash on hand to cut what logic dictates would be an expensive theme park licensing deal with Pixar.

Paramount owns a chain of theme parks, but none operate in major media markets and the studio itself lacks the promotional power that its rivals can offer Pixar, so is considered an unlikey candidate to be its new partner. Universal boasts an impressive line-up of parks in major tourist destinations, but its ongoing merger with NBC might keep its management from being able to cut a deal with Pixar now.

Cedar Fair has not cut licensing deals with movie studios in the past and shows no sign of doing so in the future. Busch also doesn't license outside characters, though one could excuse fans for wondering what might have been had Busch been able to team up with Pixar to use "Finding Nemo" at SeaWorld.

So who does that leave for Pixar to work with in developing new Pixar-themed attractions?


Disney will continue to host attractions based on the soon-to-be-former Pixar characters that Disney owns, including Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and It's Tough to Be a Bug. And the abscence of a distribution deal between the two companies certainly does not preclude them cutting a theme park licensing arrangement together. After all, one of Pixar's demands for a new distribution deal is that it retain the rights for additional licensing, including theme parks.

So will Disneyland and Walt Disney World continue to provide a home for new, as yet undeveloped Pixar characters? No one yet knows. But this week's collapse of the movie distribution talks between the two won't prevent that happening.

From Mr. D. T.
Posted January 30, 2004 at 5:33 PM
What's gonna happen to the Living Seas???? The characters of Finding Nemo are already there? Sheesh, bring it back to the way it was already, and get the sea cabs rolling.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted January 30, 2004 at 7:46 PM
Universal may not now be pushing for a licensing deal w/Pixar. But that can easily change between now and the time Pixar has completed the last 2 movies they owe disney under the current contract. Once that is done Pixar can look into deals to get their characters into theme parks, and while Busch/Cedar Fair/Universal dont have deals now, its hard to say what may look to them as great marketing deals in several years. A company like A & B could easily like to have a new set of characters to put in their parks, be it SW or BGT/BGW. Would be easy to use as part of a campaign to get kids/families into their parks and the same would go for Universal.

From Robert Niles
Posted January 30, 2004 at 8:34 PM
I don't for a moment discount the conspiracy theory that Steve Jobs and John Lasseter made their announcement the same week that Roy Disney called for Eisner's ouster in an effort to knife Eisner in the back. I don't subscribe to it either, but I will not discount it.

Regardless of libertarians' espousals of the "marketplace," individuals make business decisions. And they have emotions, likes and dislikes and often steer their companies based upon them. Sure, business leaders have a fiduciary reponsibility to their owners or shareholders. But managers can often easily justify personal decisions to themselves and their board as beneficial to stockholders.

Are Jobs and Lasseter acting this way? Many Eisner haters hope so. Cooler heads might doubt it. But no rational observer can deny that personal rapport will play a role in allowing various theme parks' corporate managers to make their case that a business relationship with their companies makes the most sense for Pixar and its management.

Which is why, at the very least, Jobs and Lasseter ain't gonna have to pick up a lunch check for a long, long time....

From James Tacey
Posted January 30, 2004 at 10:47 PM
Well I for one hope that Warner Brothers sign the deal so Movieworld in Australia can use the Pixar characters. Warner Brothers is 50% owner of Movieworld with Village Roadshow owning the other 50%, and we've already been granted Harry Potter and Matrix attractions.

Go Warner Brothers!

From Carey Lynn Holtsclaw
Posted January 31, 2004 at 12:44 AM
Actually, Six Flags owns ALL of the Warner Brothers Parks.

For the three WBMWs, Six Flags has more rights to use WB characters and themes than they do at Six Flags. Six Flags can use some of the WB and Cartoon Network characters, but that is about it.

Warner Brothers started building the Movie World parks, but when the parks were partway finished Time/Warner decided it wanted out of the theme park industry and sold Six Flags to Premier, and that included all of their over-seas operations.

From James Tacey
Posted January 31, 2004 at 5:36 AM
The German and Spain parks are owned (operated?) by Six Flags, but Movieworld in Australia is still owned by Warner Brothers, as is Seaworld and Wet 'n' Wild in Australia.


From TH Creative
Posted January 31, 2004 at 7:16 AM
Speaking from an insider's perspective I would say a Pixar/Universal theme park partnership would be something of a long shot. One of the easiest ways to reduce the cost of building an attraction is to eliminate the licensing fees.

Universal has embraced 'The Mummy' and 'Van Helsing' as the themes for their newest attractions because they are Universal productions and thus eliminate the cost of licensing.

Of course, Universal might get a distribution deal on a future Pixar production. But if that is the case it is unlikely that the film would be relased until 2007. If they were to license characters -- the easiest form of licensing -- that means it wouldn't happen until 2006. If it was a full blown prototype attraction -- which takes three years to build -- you wouldn't see it until 2010.

Final note: Robert's original post is thoughtful, well-written and certainly steals the political wind from Roy Disney's claim that the loss of Pixar represents a reason to dump Mr. Eisner. When Pixar makes another film -- possiblly something called 'Gardening Tools,' where a little lost lawn mower must make his way to the backyard to reunite with his riding mower father -- they may find it difficult to find a sweeter theme park deal than the one offered to them by Michael Eisner's invitable successor: Howard Dean (insert Dean screaming).

From Derek Potter
Posted January 31, 2004 at 8:38 AM
As much as I hate to admit it, there are few better places for Pixar than Disney. Paramount could take a shot at it with Viacom's backing, but that deal would be a lot of money, and when you look at the many theming options that Paramount already has, the deal really isn't worth it. Six Flags is broke. Cedar Fair will have no interest because their current business model doesn't call for much theming, at least with movie characters. The price tag for Pixar won't fly with them. Busch could spend the money to compete in Florida, but again, that is a lot of money for a park that doesn't licence characters.

There is no reason that Universal would need to cut the deal. They have plenty of options for theming that already have the Universal name on them. They could do it just to spite Disney, but that's not good business. A Pixar park is a giant stretch, unless its a park for kids under 12. That's a big financial disaster waiting to happen. I suppose you could go over to Europe and try Tussaud's, but that just isn't you know who....

Disney. When you think about it, there aren't too many other places that fit Pixar characters. Could you see "It's Tough to be a Bug" at Cedar Point?? The nature of Pixar films are gentle, and Disney is the king of gentle. Thats all well and good, but Disney isn't doing so well right now. Somebody wants a few people out. One can't assume too much, but I think the particular somebody has something to do with it. Disney is made for Pixar, but since Disney will continue to suck as long as Eisner is in the chair, I'm sure that when he is out, Pixar will be back.

From Matthew Woodall
Posted February 2, 2004 at 12:41 AM
I think that Paramount could do an excellent job with Pixar's characters. I don't think that they would have the difficulties that Robert thinks they might. In addition to owning Paramount Studios and Parks, Viacom also owns CBS, Blockbuster Video, and has an outdoor advertising division. (they may also own Famous Players...but I'm not sure) Not only can they produce the films, they can also distribute them (If they own Famous Players), have world-premiere television events, rent them from their video stores, and advertise the whole thing on their own bilboards! The only problem is that the Pixar characters would be in direct competition with the Nickelodeon Characters, and that makes this an unlikely merger...though one I wouldn't mind seeing!

(Full Disclosure - I am an employee of a Viacom Subsidiary)

From Kevin Baxter
Posted February 2, 2004 at 4:25 AM
The only logical choices are Universal and Busch. And Busch DOES license characters, as their Sesame Place proves. Those Sesame Street characters were also making the rounds of BGTB late last year. So it isn't impossible.

But Universal is the logical choice. Screw Disney. Had Universal had Pixar in the first place, Buzz Lightyear could have been on the level of Men in Black. A Monsters Inc coaster works far better here than in Preschooler Land. The Wild West Stunt Show could have taken on a Woody's Roundup theme.
And there would be absolutely no threat of a show as cheesy as that Buzz thing going on now at Disneyland, or a threatened ride as awful as a Monsters Inc layover of Superstar Lame-o. And no horrendous Flik's Fun Fair. Yeah, we'd be without Tough, but I could live without another 4-D movie.

From Robert Niles
Posted February 2, 2004 at 10:00 AM
Forgot about the Sesame Street characters. Good point, Kevin. (Now why can't Busch get them into SeaWorld? Okay, that's another thread.)

Creatively, Universal would provide an excellent alternative for Pixar. But who would be the point person representing NBC/Universal to make the call and negotiate with Steven Jobs? Who knows? Maybe the lure of Pixar encourages Universal to get its act together quickly, as not to let this opportunity escape.

But the more that comes out about the Disney/Pixar split, the more I am led to believe that the winner in this competition will be the company whose CEO makes Jobs feel most comfortable.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted February 2, 2004 at 4:28 PM
This could be a lot like the whole Vivendi thing all over again. Experts believe this. Experts believe that. And Pixar goes and does something totally unexpected. Normally I would think it would come down to who offers the best deal, but all the deals here are going to be too similar since nobody can fight over stuff like who will own the films or the characters. It will come down to a few things: marketing might, percentages at box office and home video, TV airings and a relationship Steve Jobs can deal with.

That last one makes me believe Fox is not a contender. Rupert Murdoch is almost as hated as Eisner. And Time Warner right now is more unstable than NBC Universal, and they are going through the transfer process!

Personally, I don't care who Pixar ends up with so long as they license out to a theme park company. But, I don't understand why there have been no talks with Universal. They have been the best studio overall for the past seven years or so, and have major marketing muscle. We'll see.

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