British theme parks are on a roll(ercoaster)
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Wednesday 31 October 2012
The Sheriff of Nottingham once (allegedly) outlawed Robin Hood for the forcible redistribution of wealth; now Nottinghamshire County Council intends to spend £13m using his name to enrich the local area. The Council has announced plans to build an amusement park in Sherwood Forest, Discover Robin Hood, which it hopes will attract major investment.
The park – featuring activities such as archery, falconry, jousting and wild food cookery – will be developed by Discovery Attractions, which has also worked with Madame Tussauds and Alton Towers. Rob Gray, the firm's marketing director, described Robin Hood as "a global brand that deserves to be celebrated".
Just as the movie industry now leans on pre-existing narratives for its biggest releases – superheroes, videogames, fairytales, rides – so the theme-park industry is increasingly adorned with familiar names.
Earlier this month, Paramount Studios revealed plans for a £2bn theme park in Kent, to compete with the Disneyland Paris. It would, developers claim, create 27,000 jobs. It would also be packed with themed rides based on its cinema hits, which include Transformers, Star Trek, Titanic and the Indiana Jones series.
The Paramount park conforms to a traditional model – pioneered by Disney and Universal Studios – of a park owned and operated by a brand. Now, however, say experts, savvy but small-brand owners are partnering with existing parks to produce attractions that benefit the brand and the venue. Paulton's Park in Hampshire, for instance, claims its attendance has doubled to one million visitors per year since the addition of Peppa Pig World in 2011, forcing Paulton's to the top of the first division of British theme parks. Blackpool Pleasure Beach has benefited from its Nickelodeon Land attraction last year, and recently announced that it would launch Wallace and Gromit's Thrill-O-Matic ride in 2013.
It used to be that the theme park itself was the brand, still the case for the likes of Thorpe Park, Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures: all run by Merlin, the world's second biggest operator after Disney. One of Merlin's biggest attractions, however, is Legoland Windsor. Drayton Manor in Staffordshire's biggest draw is Thomas Land, a Thomas and the Tank Engine-themed zone, while this year saw the opening of the UK's first official Angry Birds play area at Sundown Adventureland in Nottinghamshire.
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