Over the past decade or so, a trend in theme parks has become more and more common. These days, almost all new attractions created are based on modern intellectual properties. But this wasn’t always the case, and I would argue that it’s not always the best thing for the consumer. Yet it’s what’s being given to us, as it does admittedly sell more tickets and merchandise than less popular or unknown properties.
I can remember a time when theme park attractions would actually introduce me to unfamiliar content. One of the best examples in my memory is from the early years of Universal Studios Florida.
When I first went to Universal Studios Florida in the early ’90s, there were several different types of attractions for me. There were rides based on properties I loved, like The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera, E.T. Adventure and “Ghostbusters Spooktacular.” Then there were attractions where I’d heard of the property but never experienced the film, like Kongfrontation, and Earthquake: The Big One. And finally, there were attractions that I knew nothing about, like Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies.
It’s those latter examples that I’ve come to miss in the parks that, frankly, hold an important place in entertainment history. If it weren’t for Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies, I don’t know when I would have been introduced to such an important filmmaker. I can vividly remember going through the different rooms of the attraction, seeing scenes from “The Birds,” “Psycho,” and many more of Hitchcock’s films. This attraction made me so curious that I returned from my Florida vacation and went to Blockbuster Video to rent “Psycho.” I hadn’t heard of this movie before my recent trip and certainly had no idea about the surprise ending. It was exciting to be introduced to something new and be inspired to do further research on a subject I previously had known nothing about.
The same can be said for the characters that used to walk around some of the theme parks. Characters like Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Laurel & Hardy and so many other iconic staples of Hollywood that we no longer see today. As a kid, I didn’t know who all of these people were, but these theme park experiences were my introduction to them allowing me to learn something new.
If you look at what was once the flagship attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, The Great Movie Ride was full of films that I had never seen. But that didn’t make me enjoy the attraction any less; it made me curious. It made me want to check out “Casablanca” or “Singin’ in the Rain.”
So why did all of these older forms of entertainment disappear in the parks? The answer is pretty simple and obvious. The theme parks felt they could make more money from current, popular properties instead of the classics — and they were right. It makes complete sense from a business point of view.
But I do feel, as an audience member, we’re missing that possibility of discovering something brand new. If someone is visiting “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” or “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” for the first time, they’ve either already seen the movies or are completely aware of them and have made the decision not to see them. There’s no one walking into the Wizarding World and saying “Who’s Harry Potter?”
Now, I’m not saying that these fantastic lands and attractions shouldn’t exist. They’re wonderful and I love them as much as the next person. But why can’t they live beside some classic properties that perhaps guests haven’t heard about? Perhaps they’ll introduce them to something new. I think the real answer is because it won’t sell as much merchandise, and that’s a disappointing realization.
If you are like most theme park fans, you’re going to experience everything in the park regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the property. To go back to my earlier story, I certainly wasn’t running to the Hitchcock attraction for a man I’d never heard of, but I also wouldn’t let the day pass without checking that attraction off the glossy park map.
Many would argue that the theme parks are just giving consumers what they want. I would argue that much of the time, the consumer doesn’t know what they want until they are introduced to it. Overall, I would just like to see a bit more balance. I want those properties that I love and I want to be introduced to some things I never even knew existed. As long as it all fits into the theme of a particular theme park, I’m all for it.
But what do you think? Is this all just an old-man rant, or do you agree? Would you like to be introduced to something you may fall in love with at a park or are you happy with only current properties even if that means losing an introduction to classics along the way? Have you ever been introduced to something brand new from a theme park attraction?
Leave a comment and let me know. I’m curious to hear how other people feel about this subject.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your free gift of “America’s Hidden Mickeys: Lesser Known Disney Destinations Around the U.S.A.” at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.