Worlds of Fun
From television and movies to massive entertainment venues, the theme park industry is a burgeoning business that attracts millions of visitors and generates enormous profits.
Text: JAVIER CORREA @javiercorreaM
PHOTO: universal studios
Robert Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, announced this past August that in 2016 construction would begin on two Star Wars-themed lands: one in Disneyland (California) and another in Walt Disney World, also known as the Magic Kingdom (Florida). Continuing the legendary sci-fi saga created by George Lucas in the 1970s, both parks will include features like the Mos Eisley cantina, an inter-galactic tavern where fans will rub elbows with droids and aliens from the movies. It’s a real boon for devotees of the franchise, which will add new characters with the anxiously awaited installment, The Force Awakens, set for release this December. Millions of people who have imagined hanging out with Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 are now waiting to hear the opening date, which has yet to be announced, but no one doubts that the new attractions will be hugely successful.
What Disney is attempting to do with Star Wars is no accident. It’s very much in keeping with other venues that aim to recreate “worlds” adored by a loyal and devoted fanbase. The theme parks go hand in hand with the development of pop culture, helping to expand and reproduce these fantasies. And best of all, they allow visitors to experience what had previously been confined to movies, television, books, video games or simply the imagination.
PHOTO: universal studios
There’s an astonishing feeling of realism for Harry Potter fans who walk down the famous Diagon Alley or Simpsons fans who explore Springfield at Universal Studios in Florida. Another surefire highlight is set to open in 2017, when Pandora – based on the film Avatar –opens in Disney World.
Theme parks are a tremendous boon for the entertainment industry and the countries in which they’re located. According to the 2014 Theme Index, a report produced by the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM, Disney’s Magic Kingdom alone welcomed 19 million visitors in 2014, exceeding the total number of people who traveled to Greece or South Korea last year.
That same study likewise reported that last year 223.5 million people visited the 25 most popular theme parks in the world, 4.1 percent more than in 2013. The top three parks are part of the Disney family: the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Tokyo and Disneyland. Ranking fifth is one of its competitors: Universal Studios Japan.
Despite not meeting the impressive figures of its counterparts in Asia and North America, Disneyland Paris has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe in recent years. Another venture with enormous potential is being developed by London Resort Company Holdings, thanks to a license from Paramount Pictures to build a theme park worth US$3.2 billion in southeast England.
The first of its kind in the UK, the 2,200-acre grounds promise an important difference from Disney and Universal: attractions based on British productions will be given the same degree of importance as Hollywood creations. As such, British series like Doctor Who and Sherlock will co-exist alongside Star Trek and The Godfather. This park should present serious competition for Disneyland Paris, and it’s slated to open in 2020.
If you had to make a selection of the theme park attractions that perfectly blend pop culture and adrenaline, you’d probably have to start with Men in Black: Alien Attack at Universal Studios, in Orlando, Florida.
PHOTO: universal studios
The ride pits you against other visitors in another vehicle with a clear objective: eliminate as many aliens as you can with powerful laser guns. Another thrilling example can be found at Universal Studios in Hollywood, California. Jurassic Park: The Ride features a terrifying 50-foot T-Rex and a 84-foot drop in a raft that leaves everyone soaked.
On the Islands of Adventures at Universal Studios Florida, you’ll find a ride called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, where fans are taken on a journey through Hogwarts Castle, join in a game of quidditch and come face to face with Dementors and the Whomping Willow.
If you’re looking for a more classic experience, Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida offers a great alternative with Expedition Everest. The attraction boasts the largest artificial mountain ever created by Disney. And the visitor-chasing Yeti is the largest animatronic creature the company has ever made, standing more than 23 feet tall.
The two entertainment companies that dominate the market – Walt Disney Attractions and Universal Parks and Resorts – have realized that theme parks present a lucrative and ingenious way to boost the profits of blockbuster movies.
For an example of this new reality, just take a look at mass media company Comcast (the company that owns Universal), which made US$773 million with its theme park division in the last quarter. Clearly, there’s real money in the business of “imaginary” worlds that people can actually visit.
phOTO: getty images
No wonder new competitors are getting involved in the industry. Faced with the lukewarm reception of the Wii U console and its foray into developing games for smartphones, Nintendo has announced that it will enter the theme-park business in association with Universal. Although the specifics are not yet clear, millions of fans of the Japanese company are planning to make the pilgrimage and it’s expected that Mario will be the star of the show.
Both Disney and Universal Studios are also eyeing investments in the Asian market. The United States continues to lead the world as the home of theme parks, but according to the 2014 report from the Themed Entertainment Association, this situation could change once Disney Shanghai opens in 2016 and Universal Studios Beijing debuts in 2019.
This much is clear: these brave new “worlds” of movies and television is where the real fun is. in