From Screen to Park: Storytelling Possibilities from Franchise-Based Theme Parks

Long exposure photo of the lights of a theme park ride blurring
Ed Farley

Why do studios create theme parks? You may think there is an obvious answer. A film is successful, capturing the hearts of many and creating a fanbase. It’s only natural to want to keep the profit flowing. From t-shirts to posters and mugs, a film can create money for years to come. Given enough time to sell these products, it might even become a brand, much like Disney’s Frozen, Universals’ Minions or Warner Brother’s Harry Potter adaptations. The next step that franchises may choose to follow is to turn their stories into a theme park. Ed Farley breaks down how franchises are turned into theme parks and how we as visitors enjoy them.

There’s an underlining reason behind why we want to engage with films after we watch them in the first place: the continued need for storytelling. For centuries, we have had the innate need to share our experiences and record them, creating histories and myths. Whether that be in cave paintings, manuscripts, or memoirs; film viewing and fan culture is the same.

Expressing what makes us human by interacting with the magic of dynamic storytelling

Our love for stories creates subcultures and trends, transforming into fan accounts, university societies, internet forums – even articles like this one. It’s fun to watch a film, and it’s fun to invite it into our homes by wearing something that represents our love.  It’s not just about spending money, but about expressing what makes us human by interacting with the magic of dynamic storytelling. Studios balance these two things, and it’s addressed in the theme park experience.

In 1955 after a string of wonder-inducing material, Walt Disney devised an experience that would further optimise studios connections to their audience. Creating rides based off identifiable properties made audiences integrate themselves in the material, making the life of a film span longer than any advert or theatre experience could. As of today, Disney now has 12 parks, spanning from Disney, Pixar, and Marvel.

Watching and living the films make you part of these stories, and now they’re part of yours

Following suit, other studios have done the same. Universal studios have 5 parks and resorts, and Warner Bros has 9. If you’re a movie watcher, there’s something everyone in a multitude of locations.

These parks manage to turn consumers into characters, agents of the fictional world. When you have a day out, you create happy memories that stick with you. In this age, not only will we be talking about what a good day we’ve had, we will also integrate the branding and properties into those memories, photographs, and videos, they themselves- turning into forms of merchandise. You’ll forever recall that one summer being at Disney world. You got to ride in a Toy Story rocket. You’ll recall the autumn at the Star Wars Park where you built a lightsaber. Watching and living the films make you part of these stories, and now they’re part of yours.

The future of how we experience these products will be changing too

It’s storytelling that can’t be created by words or a film screen because it’s done by your making. You can’t replicate the feeling of excitement when you experience the rides, nor can you replicate the feeling when you walk into the gates for the first time. Though many millions have felt it by going to these parks, the feeling is singularly yours. It’s real, and it’s physical, custom to your needs as a customer. You have free reign over what you ride and what you interact with, within the perimeter of the larger draw provided by the studio.

The process is reciprocal, with Disney working on a Haunted Mansion remake, based on the famous ride of the same name. Just a year ago they released the Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt lead Jungle Cruise, joining the ranks of the famous Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and its first ride-inspired 1997 film, The Tower of Terror.

As there’s more ways to engage with material, the future of how we experience these products will be changing too. Whatever will happen in the future, it’s a given that we will continue to love consuming movies, and the pursuits that will orbit around it.

Ed Farley

Featured image courtesy of Jason Chen via Unsplash.com. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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