20 July 2017 // Thoughts

Pop Culture Shorthand Part 2 – Why IP?

Last week, we re-capped some of the bigger IP-based projects of the past several years, and how the “IP movement” is only gaining ground.

But why such an obsession with IP-based attractions? What has changed? Some of the most classic attractions of the original Disneyland were all new ideas, featuring new characters and situations. There was no Jungle Cruise film, or Haunted Mansion television show, or Pirates of the Caribbean video game. (Of course, Pirates has ironically inspired a series of films, which then inspired changes in the existing attractions, and heavily influenced the newest incarnation of the ride at Shanghai Disney, making in now a ride based on IP!)

The reason for this leveraging of IP is to take advantage of the aspect that all films and television shows have in common with the best theme park attractions:


Nearly every project starts first and foremost with the story. If it’s a branded experience, a science museum, or yes, a theme park, story and narrative come first. Human beings have always been storytellers, whether it’s sitting around a campfire, writing it down in a book, or watching it on screen. Or, in the case of theme parks, riding it.

But a narrative is hard to build, especially in the span of a three-to five-minute ride experience. In a theme park, you don’t have the luxury of a two-hour film to introduce characters, settings, and plot elements. But we know that these are vastly important to create an investment in our audience, and to give each attraction real stakes, in the end creating a more immersive and exciting experience.

The classic way to introduce these story elements is the pre-show. Every modern attraction has a pre-show of some kind, even non-theme park locations, such as the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

Even non-theme park attractions can leverage a pre-show to introduce a narrative, such as the World of Coca-Cola, which has an introductory space that includes artifact displays, a live docent, and an animated film.

But when using film or television based IPs, in a way that previous media can act as your pre-pre-show. Guests enter your attraction already knowing the characters, and the setting, and maybe the basic plot. They know to cheer for Harry Potter, or to be frightened by King Kong, or to help Superman fight Lex Luthor. This has become part of our “Pop Culture Shorthand”, and allows each attraction to embrace, and even leverage, those previous experiences, and all the emotion they bring with them.

So you’ve got your IP and your story? Where do you go from here? Next week, we’ll close the series with how to leverage your IP assets to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

Feature image by xiquinhosilva – https://www.flickr.com/photos/xiquinho/32255576783/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57677266