We’ve touched on the history of IP usage and how it has become such a pervasive part of theme park design and production today. We also talked about how without a story, IP is nothing more than a shell of an idea.
That of course still leaves the question: What is the best way to work with IP? What makes (or breaks) an IP-based attraction?
First and foremost, the core of the property has to be identified. What is it that makes that film or story unique? What is it that has made it as successful as it has become? And while these considerations are important, they goes well beyond material choices or visual style. As an example, Harry Potter is a story that is based around magic, of course. But it is also a story about growing up, finding yourself, and becoming the person you want to be. Each film is filled with mystery and adventure, with the sense of a larger universe that can only be glimpsed by humble muggles like us. This might inspire us to create a unique attraction, which takes us on an adventure with Harry, where surprises are around each corner, with a magical ride system that defies category. All of these attributes are found in the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. A Harry Potter roller coaster, while maybe exciting, wouldn’t have nearly the same connection to the property.
Yet it’s not enough to simply re-create a storyline or moment from a famous film or television show. Any successful IP-based attraction looks beyond the original source material and creates unique moments and narratives that feel perfectly suited to the world, while taking the adventure to places it has never been before. We see this in Forbidden Journey, which is not based on any specific movie in the franchise. Or in Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!, which features all of the characters of the films, but in an all-new adventure, which has never been seen before. Another way to think about it is that if there is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, then the attraction should be considered a hypothetical adventure from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.5. It has to bring something new to the table, which still seamlessly fitting into the existing narrative.
But the most important element when leveraging an IP in a theme park, by far, is placing guests directly into the story. This is something that no television show or film can do, and is where theme parks and attractions excel. These rides, when done well, become the ultimate form of escapist entertainment. When visiting a theme park, we don’t want to be reminded that we’re in Orlando, or California, or wherever we are physically. We want to pretend we’re Pirates on Tortuga, or new recruits to the Ghostbusters, or explorers on Skull Island. A well designed and inspired IP-based attraction literally put guests in the action, where they are able to create a brand new story, one that features all their favorite characters, settings, and events. But with one all-important addition: themselves.