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The 7 Biggest Disney Franchises at Theme Parks

When you think about franchises, a Disney property is likely to spring to mind. Since the first Mickey Mouse cartoons in the 1920s, Walt Disney and his disciples have understood the importance of intellectual property.

Uncle Walt learned this the hard way when he lost the rights to his own creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. When he built the world’s first theme park, he emphasized Disney properties with many of the rides that are still open today. And this thought leads to a question. Which franchises are the most important in Disney theme park history? Read on to find out.

Cars

Image: DisneyWhen Cars opened in movie theaters in 2006, it had modest ambitions. Pixar created a tender, melancholy story that reminisced about the era when all roads led to Highway 66. But they did something smart. They made the stars of the movie marketable.

Lightning McQueen is a race car with eyes, a thought that may haunt my dreams, but it’s also one that has a certain business savvy. Toy cars have always dominated the children’s merchandise market. Adding human traits to the vehicles gave kids a stronger connection. And the result is more than $10 billion in merchandise revenue over the years, a staggering number only surpassed by Star Wars.

Once Cars proved its strength in toy sales, Disney sagely introduced it at a theme park. In fact, they used the Toys license to reinvigorate Disney California Adventure. Imagineers constructed an entire mountain range based on the look of Radiator Springs. Then, they added an E-ticket attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, that quickly became one of the most popular rides at Disneyland Resort.

In one fell swoop, the Cars franchise reversed the fortune of Disney California Adventure.

Davy Crockett

Image: DisneyDisney fans who don’t know their history are at a loss when I mention Davy Crockett. Those who do are nodding knowingly, though. During the earliest days of Disneyland, Walt Disney was broke. He spent all of his money in creating the Happiest Place on Earth.

Once the park was open, revenue from the various attractions, merchandise, and snacks went straight to adding more amenities. This process would have moved at a glacial pace if not for an unexpected windfall.

The year before Disneyland opened, a live action television series based on the life of Davy Crockett aired on ABC. It was really more of a series of five standalone one-hour television movies than a cohesive biography. Fans didn’t care. The program became a sensation the likes of which Disney wouldn’t see again for nearly 60 years.

When Disneyland debuted to the public, fans clamored for all things Davy Crockett. The namesake canoes proved wildly popular, and the shooting range was a mob scene for the body of three years. Park officials later added Mike Fink Keel Boats to give guests another way to celebrate the franchise.

Overall, Disney earned a fortune from the Davy Crockett brand. During the height of this crazy, The Smithsonian reports that the park sold more than 5,000 coonskin hats daily! This one largely forgotten is primarily responsible for Disneyland surviving its early years.

Frozen

Image: DisneyApproximately 60 years later, the Davy Crockett phenomenon repeated itself in an unexpected way. When Frozen entered theaters in 2013, it had modest expectations due to the lackluster performances of other recent Disney animated movies, particularly compared to their sibling brand, Pixar. Also, the first trailer for the film hid its intent, instead showing an adorable sequence between a snowman and a reindeer.

Once Frozen became the buzz hit of the 2013 holiday season, Disney executives understood what they had on their hands. It wasn’t until 2014 that they fully appreciated the Frozen fever, though. A singalong show of the film became incredibly successful, and all Anna and Elsa character greetings became the longest lines at Disney theme parks.

Eventually, Disney re-themed part of the Norway Pavilion, previously based on, you know, Norway, as a real-life Arendelle complete with two attractions. Guests can meet the two members of the royal family at their Sommerhus or experience the brilliance of Frozen Ever After, a repurposing of the former Maelstrom.

Frozen has also become an integral part of other Disney theme parks. Hong Kong Disneyland is currently developing their own version of the attraction. Simultaneously, Tokyo DisneySea and Walt Disney Studios Park are constructing themed areas based on Frozen. They’re both called Arendelle: The World of Frozen.

At this moment, I think it’s fair to say that Frozen is the second-most important intellectual property in the entire Disney library, at least from a theme park perspective.

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