Disney Attractions: IP vs. Non-IP

In case you've been living under a rock this week (or simply chosen to look the other way consideration the chaos - entirely understandable reaction), you'll be aware that Disney recently announced that their classic log flume attraction Splash Mountain will be rethemed to Disney's 49th animated feature film Princess and the Frog. Set after the movie's happily ever after climax, the attraction promises to send riders on a jazz-scored voyage down the bayou to come face to face with all the colourful characters of Disney's last 2D animated movie. I'm not here to get into my thoughts and feelings on this change - if you're interested in read about those I'd encourage you to head to this tweet I shared or this discussion topic on CoasterForce for those juicy details.

What I wanted to chat about today was the age old discussion of the BIG EVIL IP that Disney fans so often throw around as the reason why nothing is as good as the good ol' days anymore and is solely responsible for ruining everything we hold dear at our beloved Disney parks.  Something I've seen thrown around a lot in these recent discussions was around eye-rolling at yet another Disney IP being 'shoehorned' in where it wasn't warranted in lieu of a Disney original concept. I've long been an advocate of using IPs but I've never really gotten stuck into the discussion in great detail with regards to the Disney parks who are largely responsible for the idea of theming an attraction around an already existing intellectual property. So today I'm going to chat the good, the bad and the ugly with regards to the use of IP in Disney parks.

One thing Disney are often praised for and compared against when it comes to the use of IPs in the parks is their flair for original concepts and storytelling. From timeless classics like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean to modern takes like Mystic Manor and Tower of Terror at Tokyo Disneysea, Disney Imagineering certainly are the masters when it comes to whimsical world-building and engaging, immersive narratives that excite us during the ride and leave us craving to know more about these characters and setups post-offload. And I understand the frustrating feelings many fans share that opting for an IP led attraction essentially robs us of the potential for another amazing Disney original concept that could tell new stories, develop the universe of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers or do something completely different altogether.

As Disney fans, how many times have we watched a favourite Disney classic movie and excitedly discussed how we'd love to see this brought to life as a Disney parks attraction. We're all gagging for a Monsters Inc. suspended flying door ride, or a roller coaster that starts with Yzma yelling PULL THE LEVER KRONK! As much as we yearn for the original concepts that we so love from Disney, the nostalgic among us who grew up both watching these movies and being obsessed with the parks have fantasised about seeing our favourite scenes actualised and immortalised as Disney attractions. Plus then you get the nostalgia-factor - as much as I adore Pirates and Haunted Mansion, as a lifelong Beauty and the Beast fan getting to meet Lumiere in Enchanted Tales with Belle had me on the verge of tears and that's something an original IP cannot hope to replicate as it takes years of re-riding to build up that adoration and affiliation. Not that I don't adore Albert the monkey from Mystic Manor but it's not the same as I don't have childhood memories of him like I do characters from the animated classic archive.

Another argument I see thrown around is that IPs are restrictive. With an original idea, the world is your oyster and Imagineers can literally create to their heart's content, unrestricted by an existing IP with existing characters, worlds, music and storylines. Which means it's blue sky sailing when conceptualising what the attraction might be and the journey riders might go on - there's quite literally no pre-existing content that might hinder that creative process which it could be argued leads to more exciting and memorable attractions. With that of course comes the task of having to build the world and the characters and adventures that inhibit it from scratch but if there's anybody on earth who can nail such a challenge it's the Imagineers.

One of the main reasons Disney choose to err of the side of the IP is one simple thing - IPs tend to have existing fanbases who are looking for new and exciting ways to engage with characters and franchises they already love - and that means MONEY! Fans sometimes seem to forget that underneath the fuzzy, nostalgic, mouse-ear adorned exterior is a cold-hearted business who drive and decision making is propelled by one thing - cold, hard cash. And if you weigh up the two options of IP vs. non-IP, you'd place your bets on the one people already care about being the one that's going to bring home the bacon, and in these strange and unprecedented times you'd forgive businesses for wanting to go with the lower risk option. It doesn't always pay off of course, look at the likes of Galaxy's Edge that was met with lacklustre reception from a fanbase as huge as Star Wars', but logistically it makes sense.

When Disneyland first opened there were a handful of IP attractions, but these were almost exclusively in Fantasyland and were based upon movies and franchises that were already nostalgic to many park goers. Fast forward to 2020 and I can understand why Disneyland park purists are upset that the movie IPs have seeped into every corner of every park across the world. It could be argued that Disney's parks seem to serve more as an extension of their existing catalog and offer a synergetic way of expanding Disney's many brand universes in order to touch as many corners of the market as possible, as opposed to existing in their own 'park' bubble. And whilst I would agree that is true, successful synergetic rollouts mean more profits and more profits means more expansions and developments for the parks in the future so it's swings and roundabouts.

Just because it's based on an IP, doesn't mean it's not an original story or adventure or idea. Actually, thinking about it Disney tend to veer away from the 'book report' style attractions like Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid and instead tend to plump for unique experiences utilising familiar characters and songs etc, much like what is being proposed for the updated Splash Mountain. And honestly I think this is the best of both worlds - Imagineers get to be creative coming up with amazing worlds for us to experience in exciting and innovative ways whilst still ticking the fan service box by delivering the memorable moments with characters and worlds fans are already in love with!

Ultimately their are virtues and downfalls for both sides of the fence, but I'm sure we can all agree that Imagineers very rarely deliver a real stinker whether IP or no, so I think we should be assured that we're in very safe hands when it comes to the Splash Mountain reimagining! What do you think? Do you prefer IP-lead attractions or original concepts when it comes to Disney attractions? Let me know in the comments and let's have it out!

Talk later xoxo,