Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy spoke at the SVB MoffettNathanson Technology, Media & Telecom Conference and provided some new insight on Disney’s future theme park plans.
McCarthy reiterated Disney’s plans to add existing intellectual property (IP) to Disney theme parks. McCarthy pointed at all of the data Disney collects through Disney+ and how Imagineers can “exploit” those trends in the theme parks.
This means it’s extremely unlikely to see a new attraction or area built in a Disney theme park that isn’t tied to an existing movie or character. Attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Expedition Everest probably wouldn’t get made under current Disney leadership because there’s no media tie-in.
McCarthy’s comments aren’t surprising as they match the direction Disney has been following for several years. See the inclusion of The Incredibles at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Moana at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, and more. Ironically, while Disney has pushed to add character theming in many locations, the overall theming around Disney properties has become more generic, more barren, and more bland.
This IP strategy matches the one frequently promoted by former Disney CEO Bob Chapek prior to his departure. Chapek was a big believer in stuffing IP into the parks, much to the chagrin of Disney fans and purists. Chapek touted the ‘synergy machine’ and how one segment of Disney has to promote/sell the other.
The idea of connecting Disney rides to existing movies and characters isn’t inherently flawed, but it is a bit misguided. It’s all about balance. It’s also about recognizing that Disney attractions can become their own IP, and this isn’t a one-way road. Consider the Haunted Mansion and how that ride, which wasn’t based on any specific movie, has taken on a life of its own. Or Pirates of the Caribbean and its cultural impact. Or even Jungle Cruise. Disney parks can be their own IP.
Disney needs to recognize that unique and original ideas in the parks aren’t a bad thing. In fact, Disney attractions can inspire media and create new beloved characters. They don’t always have to be based on what we’ve already seen.