If you wonder where the theme parks of today are headed tomorrow, check out their newest attractions.
Or their announced ones.
And who doesn’t want to know their directions? It’s almost basic human nature.
So a look at coming attractions might indicate where Orlando’s two major theme parks are headed.
It should also help answer the question of which one will be the winner of future wars?
Disney or Universal? (More on that later but first what directions are they headed?).
Walt Disney World’s future: more emphasis on families.
Universal Orlando: ditto.
This may not be obvious when you skim over some of the bigger or more important announced additions to the two parks.
Many new attractions
Both have new attractions planned for next year and beyond.
Universal Orlando Resort is going to offer you a chance to visit Skull Island: Reign of Kong in 2016 and a new water park, Volcano Bay.
But what we will look at here are more major additions.
Walt Disney World, after all, has in the past been accused of lagging behind Universal Orlando when it comes to spending on new additions. Is that true?
As we have noted, both have additions.
But the major and attention-getting ones at Walt Disney World include “Star Wars” and “Avatar.”
On the one hand, Universal is offering “The Fast and the Furious,” and the Jimmy Fallon talk show.
Talk show host as thrill ride?
“Star Wars” is certainly not out of this world. But this was a film in 1977 that was aimed at 12-year-old boys…or didn’t you realize that?
And then consider Universal: “The Fast and the Furious?”
An action movie that first starred a bunch of unknown actors (though it did catch on, of course).
And the other major breakthrough: A follow-up theme park attraction for someone associated with a late night interviewer and comedian Johnny Carson?
A theme park ride based on evening talk show that follows the legendary talk show musings of Johnny Carson?
Doesn’t that sound like more of a move towards middle age couples who might rather stay at home in front of the TV rather than venture to a theme park?
And a ride based on a talk show? Sounds less than intriguing, doesn’t it?
Jimmy Fallon just a teenager before hosting talk show
And add this: Fallon grew up with no designs on the Tonight job (unlike O'Brien or Leno) and was just 17 years old when Carson retired
What is Universal thinking, anyway?
And what is Disney thinking as well?
Universal, known best in the past for its thrill rides with movie connections, has long been known for the youngest teenagers. They may be its biggest fans.
None of this is to overlook the family market that has been a given since Walt Disney World opened in Orlando in 1971, followed by what quickly became its major competitor, Universal.
In case you have not paid attention to one trend: young families and teenagers are far from the only ones going to theme parks these days.
Consider the adults
Nearly one-third of the people who attend the Disney resorts in Anaheim, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., are adults who come without children, according to one study.
This group even has an official name: “nonfamily guests.”’
Another couple of thousand or so every year (estimates only since Disney does not release figures of this type) are not here for the rides in Orlando but to get married.
Walt Disney himself once said that Disney’s success rested in part on creating “a believable world of dreams that appeals to all age groups.”
So this is all in keeping with the concept of family theme parks, right?
Well, maybe, let’s see.
Still, Disney’s long delayed and hardly secretive announcement of a new Star Wars Land seemed to obviously have widespread appeal to all age groups.
First movie was for the kids
This may be something of a surprise but the original Star Wars from 1977 was aimed at 12-14 year-olds. Who says?
George Lucas, of course.
Since then, of course, the films and the concept has had far wider appeal.
But history is important here.
At the ancient time of the first “Star Wars,” movies were aimed at either adults or kids.
Hollywood generally produced family movies that are considered dark by today’s kid-focused movie standards and juvenile by adult tastes.
But along came Star Wars to mix up the old standards.
Whew…hard to believe
The influence of Star Wars has been so well documented it is almost tough to believe all that is said about it.
A book called “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe” detailed this particular journey. It starts like this:
“In1973, a young filmmaker named George Lucas scribbled some notes for a far-fetched space-fantasy epic. Some forty years and $37 billion later, Star Wars–related products outnumber human beings, a growing stormtrooper army spans the globe, and Jediism has become a religion in its own right. Lucas’s creation has grown into far more than a cinematic classic; it is, quite simply, one of the most lucrative, influential, and interactive franchises of all time.”
A promotional piece for the book goes on:
“Since the first film’s release in 1977, Star Wars has conquered our culture with a sense of lightness and exuberance, while remaining serious enough to influence politics in far-flung countries and spread a spirituality that appeals to religious groups and atheists alike. “
But perhaps even more surprising is not only the adult love of the concept but it’s wide appeal to anyone young enough to talk and understand language.
A parenting group called “Circle of Moms” a while ago debated the right age for a child to see “Star Wars.”
There were differences of opinion on the right age, of course, but it was often very young. And not unusual for parents to say that despite the often comic-book violence of the movie, children as young as five were routinely exposed to it -- without noticeable harm.
At least one parent had a sense of humor about it all:
“My husband is THE biggest Star Wars fan and so our two boys were brought up on a steady diet of it! They regularly switch on the light sabre app on his mobile and know various pieces of incidental music (that have been hummed to them from birth!), have a picture book of The Empire Strikes Back and make X wings out of Duplo…The only thing that concerns me slightly is that my 3 year old prefers to be Darth Vader.... this tendency towards the 'dark side' is a little worrying!”
And what about Avatar and Pandora?
Pandora – The World of AVATAR is described as a “key part of the expansion of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and will feature awe-inspiring floating mountains, a nighttime jungle of bioluminescent plants as well as an amazing new attraction called AVATAR Flight of Passage.”
The e-ticket attraction will allow guests to experience what it’s like to fly with banshees, Disney says.
“We’re creating a transformational experience that you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” was the somewhat hyperbole comment made by Inagineer Joe Rohde.
It all starts with a canoe ride
Opening in 2017, the Na'vi River Journey is the land's second attraction, offering a D-Ticket class family river ride through Pandora's bioluminescent rainforest.
The river cruise will provide an alternative experience for those guests who may not wish to experience the land's more thrilling AVATAR Flight of Passage attraction.
Disney describes the new land as family friendly.
A preview of the ride starts this way:
“The adventure begins as guests set out in canoes and venture down a mysterious, sacred river hidden within the bioluminescent rainforest.”
Whatever else they might be, canoe rides in Orlando (unlike say the wild Snake River in the western United States) are smooth, tame rides that are pretty-much wave-free.
Family fun, for all ages
Remarked one respondent:
"The only people who don't like Avatar are the people who haven't seen it yet."
“I don't know one person who has watched the show and hated it.”
“I am 30 and have been something of an Avatar proselytizer to people in my age group since I got into the series. I have personally evangelized at least 9 people in my age group to this show. This show transcends age groups like Star Wars, and is an ideal universe for the adult geek crowd that likes properties like Star Wars and Lord of the Ring and Harry Potter and Marvel and DC and all those, but because this show was on Nickelodeon, it flew under the radars of a LOT of the audience that would have eaten Avatar up with a spoon. So every year, more and more new adult fans are discovering the show like some kind of hidden gem that was right in front of them all along.”
Fast and Furious
And how about “The Fast and the Furious?”
The franchise dates back to 2001. That’s when a group of young actors (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordanna Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez) essentially remade a somewhat neglected movie called “Point Break” with cars instead of surfing.
When “The Fast and the Furious” came out, no one could have imagined where it was headed.
That was the case because the age of the franchise was still new.
The first “Harry Potter” and first “Lord of the Rings” landed just that year.
“Iron Man” and the Marvel revolution were years away.
These days everyone would be signed to a multi-film contract, but Vin Diesel didn’t even show up for the first sequel. Nor did director Rob Cohen.
One recent reboot opened to $147.2 million in just three days. It earned five times what “The Shawshank Redemption” earned in its entire cinematic run.
So who can dispute its wide-ranging appeal?
And now we come to another new ride at Universal: “The Race through New York,” planned to open in 2017 starring Jimmy Fallon.
Wrote Jason Surrell, a creative director with Universal:
"Jimmy wanted a fun and hilarious adventure that was also a valentine to his hometown of New York City — and that's exactly what you're going to experience when Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon' opens at Universal Studios Florida in 2017."
Fallon himself likened his ride to the popular Harry Potter rides at Universal.
Just what the ride will be is not entirely clear but it does mimic the celebrity races that are popular in Fallon’s Tonight Show.
This all goes in keeping with Universal Studios Florida’s long association with placing guests in the middle of their favorite movies and television shows.
You’ll rocket through the streets—and skies—of New York City, from the deepest subway tunnels to the tallest skyscrapers. You will encounter colorful characters, famous landmarks and anything else that comes to Jimmy’s mind.
And “that is some weird, wild stuff,” said one observer.
Fallon fans come in all ages
One recent study found they were primarily men between the ages of 18 and 49 (many of them also bought tickets to “Star Wars”).
But that does not rule out older audiences. The median age for Fallon’s Late Night show was 49.8, according to Nielsen.
So all these major new theme park initiatives…
…Maybe a perfect fit, after all?
So let’s give credit to the efforts of both Disney and Universal.
But if this was a card game, Walt Disney World offering “Star Wars” and “Avatar” deserves aces over Universal’s competitive but falling short full house.
So Disney wins.
But what else does Universal have up its sleeve? ###