Ride on time

We look at the rise in popularity of licensed theme park attractions.
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“We see it as more of an ‘experience’ rather than a ‘ride’,” Howard Nelson, VP worldwide promotions at 20th Century Fox L&M, explains to Licensing.biz when discussing The Simpsons Ride, which can be found in Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios, Hollywood.

Riders are taken on a trip through Krustyland, with the ride featuring all-new animation – complete with the voices of the cast – projected on an 80 foot dome. The vehicles pitch, tilt, dip and twist, following the action on the screen. Unsurprisingly, it has been another staggering success for The Simpsons brand since it opened in 2008. And, with a ten-year deal, its popularity as an attraction is only likely to grow.

The number of brand owners choosing to move their property into the theme park arena has reached a new peak over the past year or so. Marvel, for example, currently owns a superhero island and rides at Universal Studios' parks in Florida, California and Japan, and is planning to open its first full theme park in Dubai by 2011.

Universal Studios Hollywood also includes Jurassic Park – The Ride, Shrek 4D and The Adventures of Curious George. And just last week, 4Kids and Mirage Studios revealed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4D Dark Ride for the new South Korean indoor theme park SciFanta, due to open in April 2011.

Theme park fever reached new highs, however, with the opening of Saw – The Ride at Thorpe Park back in March. Something of a media highlight – various celebs were pictured taking the first ride – the attraction is the first ever horror movie themed coaster and is based on one of the most popular horror film franchises of recent times, Saw. It tests riders with a series of terrifying challenges, the biggest of which is a ‘beyond vertical’ drop of 100 degrees from a particularly nerve-shredding height of 100 feet.

It sounds horrific. And is, predictably, incredibly popular with visitors. Thorpe Park is obviously delighted, as are Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures.

“The decision was made to contact Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures to theme our new rollercoaster around their Saw franchise as we had held focus groups with young adults to test whether a horror themed ride would prove popular,” explains a spokesperson for Thorpe Park.

“Results showed unequivocal support for the use of horror theming, and the general consensus was that a horror film IP would be a great addition.”

The creative for the ride was designed by Merlin Studios, with all parties working closely with Lionsgate to ensure the essence of the films was captured, but without distracting from the ride, and that the ‘traps’ worked in sync with the track layout for maximum visual effect and to enhance the overall ride experience.

Warner Bros is another film company aiming to extend the lifecycle of one of its brands – Harry Potter – with a move into this arena. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – due to open later this year – will be part of Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park at the Universal Orlando Resort. The themed land will allow visitors to experience some of the most iconic locations in the books and films including the village of Hogsmeade, the Forbidden Forest and Hogwarts. It’s a major project for Warner, especially considering the magnitude of the franchise.

“Our primary goal is to make sure this experience is an authentic extension of Harry Potter’s world as it is portrayed in the books and films,” says Stuart Craig, the production designer who has worked on bringing the character to life in all the movies to date and who is charged with making sure the land remains faithful to the look and feel of the Potter universe.

This was also a key consideration for Turner CN Enterprises when it was creating a fully branded Cartoon Network indoor theme park in Kuwait City, developed by Future Kids and due to launch within the next few months.

“The biggest challenge is not rushing in, but really evaluating and selecting the best fit partner for your brand,” offers VP Alan Fenwick.

The park is multi-character and is described by Fenwick as a “themed branded experience featuring over 20 dedicated character rides and attractions”. These include a Ben 10 rollercoaster, Dexter’s Laboratory soft play area and Billy & Mandy bumper cars. The park also includes a merchandise area and live stage show platform that will feature costume characters interacting with kids and show comperes.

“The theme park experience is a very natural brand development for the business and forms part of our strategic vision to grow our ‘TV plus’ offering. Themed attractions allow our channel audience to be truly immersed to an even greater extent. This is a key factor in instilling long-term brand loyalty.”

Hit Entertainment set up a special attractions division three years ago, following the success of Thomas Land in Fujiku Highland Park in Japan. The second Thomas Land opened last year at Drayton Manor in the UK, featuring 12 Thomas-themed rides. It has significantly increased the overall park attendance, with it attracting well over a million visitors in its first year of opening.

“Thomas Land is a natural extension of the brand as it offers young Thomas fans a fully immersive experience, different to reading a book, watching the television series or even seeing a live show,” says Teri Ruffley, general manager of attractions at Hit. “It is important to extend our brands into new areas, providing it is accomplished at the highest standards. Our brands are global and our formats are adapted for each brand as appropriate in each territory. For example, Barney is particularly popular in the Middle East, whereas Bob the Builder has a strong presence in Germany.

“From Thomas Land to Bob the Builder 4D, there is an enormous opportunity for Hit’s brands to extend into attraction formats.”

Both Turner’s Fenwick and Fox’s Nelson are in agreement that we are likely to see more brands moving into the theme park arena going forward; after all, there certainly seems to be a consumer appetite for them.

“I am convinced this will continue to be an exciting and long-term opportunity for a number of licences,” Fenwick concludes.


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