Theme Parks Increase Intellectual Property Lineup

| October 8, 2014 | 5 Replies

Buying ideas is a concept that has existed for quite some time.   Creating your own ideas can be an expensive proposition with the number of people needed to create the concept.  It can also take a long time to come up with the ideas.  Time and money to create your own ideas or you can simply buy ideas that currently exist for a price.

Over the years theme parks have been grappling with the notion of creating their own ideas versus ideas that are created by someone else which fit inside their parks.  These already created ideas are called ‘intellectual property’ or IP.  Very slowly theme park entities have increased their desire to purchase intellectual property and plop it inside their parks.  They’ve reached out to movie producers, movie studios, magazine companies, and even cartoon creators to produce shows, attractions, and experiences inside the theme parks.   Let’s take a quick look at both Disney and Universal and discuss how they handle the integration of intellectual property in their theme parks.


Disney Buys Franchises for Theme Park IP

In 2005, Disney welcomed new Disney CEO Bob Iger and the Disney era of purchasing corporations for their storytelling ideas.  Some Disney purists believe his philosophy of purchasing ideas started when Disney reacquired the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit right after he became CEO.  A smart move since Oswald was one of Walt Disney’s first animated cartoons.   However, this was only the tip of the Mickey ear.

Pixar Studios


In 2006 Disney went into the intellectual property business full force by purchasing Pixar Studios.  Most saw this acquisition as a match made in heaven.  Soon after, we saw an acceleration of Pixar movie characters, attractions, and experiences inside all of the Disney theme parks.  Today, Disney and Pixar have created a well-tuned cycle of creating movies and marketing them inside its theme parks with attractions and experiences you can’t find anywhere else.  It helps make the Pixar movies timeless and promotes the potential for sequel movies.

Marvel Comics


Fast forward to 2009 and Disney makes another major splash with the purchase of Marvel Comics.  With this purchase many Disney followers wondered how some of their superhero and comic line up would fit in with princesses and Pooh bears.   There were questions about how some of Marvel’s already existing agreements would allow Marvel characters and attractions to exist in Disney theme parks.   It’s safe to say the use of Marvel stories, characters and even merchandise have been extremely slow to show up in Disney theme parks.  We should expect a major push for superhero franchises inside Disney’s parks in the coming years.

Lucasfilm/Star Wars


On to 2012 and Disney made a purchase that sort of blind-sided us all: the purchase of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise.  Disney already had a relationship with Lucasfilm and George Lucas himself (the creator of Star Wars).  Disney had some of their intellectual property inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland in California.  There’s also 5 consecutive weekends a year devoted to Star Wars at Hollywood Studios with a theme park overlay of the hit movie franchise called Star Wars Weekends.  Now that Disney owns the entire Star Wars Empire, expect even more of an invasion in its theme parks.



Disney welcomed James Cameron and his Avatar property in 2012 purchasing the rights to place an Avatar-themed land inside Disney’s Animal Kingdom from Lightstorm entertainment.  The major announcement also included the rights for Disney to use the Avatar franchise inside any of its worldwide theme parks.  Additionally, James Cameron announced the creation of 3 more Avatar sequels to be released in 2016, 2017, and beyond.  The new Avatar land, the land of Pandora, will include new technology and materials never seen or used before.   This partnership came under a lot of scrutiny by Disney fans, but most of us have come to grips with a wait and see approach.  After all, James Cameron, Joe Rohde, and some of the most creative minds in the world are working on this project.

Universal Purchases Rights and Partners for IP

“Live the Adventure!”  When Universal built the arch leading into Islands of Adventure with those words on it they meant an adventure through intellectual property.   When Universal partnered with creative movie buff Steven Spielberg they opened up a world of possibilities with their theme parks.   Not only did Islands of Adventure devote an entire island to Jurassic Park, but they also used Spielberg’s creativity to theme the rest of the park.

If you stroll around Islands of Adventure you’ll find lands and attractions devoted to such intellectual properties like Marvel Comics (now owned by Disney), Dr. Seuss, Popeye, Jurassic Park, and more.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter


How could we discuss intellectual property in theme parks without discussing one of the biggest acquisitions to date?   When Universal partnered with J.K. Rowling she was clear that whatever the creative minds had in store for her Harry Potter series of books and movies had to be extremely authentic and detailed.

With the creation of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade in 2010 at Islands of Adventure and recently opened Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, the integration of intellectual property in theme parks has been taken to a new level.  Putting you in an environment even more immersive than what you see on the big screen is what Universal went after.   Most park-goers would agree that they’ve succeeded.

Universal has taken the idea of intellectual property from just one attraction to an entire land (or island).  When they buy intellectual property they’re thinking big.  Case in point, they took The Simpsons franchise from one attraction and turned it into an entire area of Universal Studios.  One attraction wasn’t enough.  They wanted to bring guests to Springfield (the setting for the Simpsons series).  It’s becoming the norm for Universal (and Disney for that matter) to put guests into a full 360-degree environment similar to what they see on TV or in the movies.

Halloween Horror Nights


Universal’s biggest event of the year that was designed to scare the wits out of you has increased its intellectual property lineup over the years.  It started out as one haunted house having intellectual property wrapped around it and we now see almost half of the haunted houses with some sort of IP associated with them.

Universal has turned to such franchises as Halloween, The Walking Dead, Face Off, and Dracula to become an overlay for their haunted houses throughout the Halloween Horror Nights experience.  We should expect the intellectual property lineup to increase in the future and continue to be incorporated into scare zones around the park.



As theme parks continue to grow their intellectual property portfolio visitors are given the option of which story they want to immerse themselves into.    Do they want to visit Springfield, Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, a galaxy far, far away, or soon Pandora?

As guests we see intellectual property in theme parks as a way for us to visit places we never thought possible.  Movies, cartoons, and comics come to life right in front of our eyes.

For the owners of the intellectual property they see it as a boost in additional revenue.  A way to promote their property so it continues to live and thrive for a long period of time.  In some ways you could look at these lands and attractions based on intellectual property as a museum or shrine where the IP is preserved for future years.  In some ways theme parks are becoming a hall of fame of sorts for intellectual property in the entertainment world.

Are you a fan of intellectual property in the theme parks or do you prefer the ideas to come from the theme park engineers and Imagineers from the ground up?   For me personally I like to see a mix of both, but lately it has seemed there’s been a trend towards third party ideas.  Despite this the creative minds in the theme parks still need to use their brilliance to create these lands and attractions.  Personally, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Some photos courtesy of the Disney Company

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Category: Disney World

  • Annette

    Liked the article.

  • Otto Tieleman

    In the case of Disney, ip’s made their rides shorter. There is a good reason for that. Take the original Journey into Imagination ride. They had to introduce Dreamfinder and then Figment and set up the whole world so it took them a good part of 3 minutes and a song to do that. I love that ride. The same for Haunted Mansion and Pirates where you need to make your own story.
    With the movie rides at Disney they show the movie in key scene’s. Everyone know the scene’s and the appropriate songs. It doesn’t add anything and is (imho) redundant.

    Furthermore Disney expands the area around the ride with more images of the property that are there to sell the characters but not the environment. Take the Ratatouille mini land that has rat fountains, rat statues, rat ornaments on France inspired architecture etc.

    Universal is taking the ip but expends on the story, The guests recognize the characters and their backstory but they expend that universe. You won’t find a souvenir cup with Potter on it in the pub but the brand of the brew like in real life creating a place where you can be in the same place as the wizards.
    I like Universals approach much better. If I want to see the story of the movie I watch the Blu-ray but in a theme park I expect a bit more creativity and have the story expended upon when it’s about an known ip. On the other hand I love original rides like Haunted Mansion a lot but I have the feeling that Disney won’t build these anymore in the US because they can sell more merchandising with ip’s.

  • Huntsman1230

    OMG When did Mickey Mouse get boobs??

  • DJCuba

    How was anyone “blindsided” by the Disney acquisition of Star Wars? They had a longer history together than Pixar. If any of these was a sure thing, it was Star Wars.

    • ADP1

      DJ – I was speaking more of the timing than of the actual purchase. No one saw it coming when it was announced. the purchase of Lucasfilm made perfect sense.