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Guest Editorial: Theme parks need more classic, timeless content

by Jeff DePaoli

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.

theme parks

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.

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5 comments

Dan Seguin March 30, 2020 - 5:59 pm

I will never go back to universal anymore , we are getting older and there’s nothing for us anymore , we did like the old days , for all the place you said we all did it back then but now there’s not enough for the money you payed .

Disney something except for magic kingdom , MGM if you remove Star Wars what can we do ? For how much money ??? We do what 2-3 rides that’s about it …

It’s really a shamed too see those big parks charging lots of money for les and less thing to do for the 50 years +

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Bob March 30, 2020 - 6:38 pm

I have been saying for years that studios no longer make movies, they make deals. The movies that get made are just trailers for amusement park rides.

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Robyn Murov March 31, 2020 - 9:49 am

I do agree with you Jeff, it is a shame that theme parks are more concerned about the new, the modern and the thrilling, over the classics. Plus, all the “true Disney fans” as they claim they are, have forgotten the key reason why Walt built his parks: for a father to enjoy attractions TOGETHER with his daughters. And everyone also forgets that Walt was not a young man when he had his girls, he was in his late 30s/early 40s. So, he actually had the insight to build attractions that older adults could enjoy and get ‘a thrill’ without hurting themselves. That’s why, for space mountain and big thunder being “thrill rides”, they’re tamer than the thrills you will find at six flags. Universal was supposed to give people a behind the scenes look at a variety of movies, but, as you mentioned, they, just like Disney, would rather choose their current IPs over the classics.
But, there’s one point you made that, while I slightly understand where you’re coming from, it sadly doesn’t apply today and hasn’t for about 5-8 years: you said when you were young, you may not have been running toward the Hitchcock attraction, but you went because it was there and you wanted to experience everything. But in today’s world, with so many attractions to choose from, people would rather go to the attractions with themes they’re familiar with, than those they’re not. So, I don’t know how popular a Hitchcock attraction would actually be today, since people would probably run to the Galaxy’s edge or Harry Potter over the less known rides. Same reason why, near the end of its life, the Great Movie ride wasn’t as popular as it had been. And it had nothing to do with TCM being part of it, it was because kids didn’t know about those movies and they didn’t want to learn, they only cared about seeing frozen or riding the toy story rides. And I blame the parents. It is the parents job to introduce their kids to the classics, whether that’s Literature, music or movies. And it’s the parents job to fuel a child’s curiosity. But, if the parents don’t care about the classics, or they don’t show an interest in learning the histories of where their current interests have evolved from, then the kids won’t. And that’s the other reason classic attractions are being replaced, because no one is taking the time anymore to respect and bring interest to the classics.
Luckily, universal gave us a glimmer of hope over the holidays, in that ET commercial for Comcast. By bringing ET back and introducing him to a new generation, Universal gave ET a fighting chance to last for a few more years in Orlando’s park. That’s why I wanted Disney to do the same with Figment. They’ve done it halfway, using the little dragon in their festivals. But, the people still don’t know who Figment is or his backstory, and I don’t know if just seeing him on banners or merchandise creates enough interest for people to learn about him. If Disney were to make something, a short, a series, anything to provide his backstory, that all ages could watch together, then more people would be excited to go on his ride (and thus get people more willing to fight for an update to it).
So, I agree with you Jeff, and I feel for you, and for fans of the classics, like Dan, who want a balance of new, modern and thrilling alongside well themed, well detailed attractions that showcase the classics. Fingers crossed, Disney and universal will keep a few of the classics for years to come.

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Jamie Cerri March 31, 2020 - 11:34 am

In the biggest/fastest/newest world of theme park attendees today, it’s not going to happen. I personally lament the prevalence of the “fast pass”. Everyone is so focused on rushing from “ride” to “ride” that they don’t appreciate the theming of the queues and the rest of the park.

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Dark Rider March 31, 2020 - 12:32 pm

Time goes on. There ARE kids who don’t know Harry Potter yet. It is dated and will only get older. Classics should have been eternal, hopefully the will make a comeback somehow/someway. A mix of old and new Is the best way to go IMO, as you did, people can always go back home to experience older properties, creating new fans.(EU classic monsters!!) Older movies will get remade-( Kong, Ghostbusters, all those Disney remakes,etc ), and get rein-fused into the parks.

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