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3. Nintendo

Image: Nintendo

By the mid-2010s, the "Content Wars" were upon us as entertainment giants raced to acquire, consolidate, licence, and collect IPs and franchises to power their streaming-based futures. Disney gobbled up Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and Avatar; Universal retaliated with Harry Potter, The Simpsons, and DreamWorks. And at least at that moment, theme parks fans had to wonder... what's left?! Were there really any big-name, blockbuster, "theme-park-able" IPs that had not yet been spoken for?

Then, in 2015, Universal Parks announced that they'd officially partnered with Nintendo – a massive, jaw-dropping, unimaginable coup that armed Universal Creative with some of the most beloved, timeless, intergenerational IPs ever... a brand most people hadn't even considered as being on the game board! 

Image: Nintendo

When Super Nintendo World was officially announced for Universal Studios Japan in 2016, it's like the heavens opened. This is why they haven't closed KidZone yet. They were waiting for an idea this perfect. Super Nintendo World would've been an incredible addition to Universal Studios Florida, and draft site plans for its use of KidZone's real estate can be found across the Internet...

But then, plans shifted. At some point in the last decade, Universal apparently decided to go bigger with Universal's Epic Universe – an entire third gate with Super Nintendo World as its must-see Wizarding World equivalent. (Don't get us wrong – we wondered aloud in an Editorial whether Super Nintendo World should've stayed part of the Studios instead since it would've been a much-needed boost for the park and a great replacement for KidZone... Either way, this much is clear: Disney isn't scared of Epic Universe, and they probably should be.)

Image: Universal

So clearly, the Super Nintendo World we know of (with a Mario-themed Mushroom Kingdom and a Donkey Kong-themed jungle) won't be taking over KidZone since they're headed to Epic Universe. But that's not the only Nintendo property Universal Creative has to work with! Allegedly, The Legend of Zelda was once earmarked for the KidZone variant of Super Nintendo World...

Image: Nintendo

It's almost certain that bringing to life the fantasy realm of Hyrule with its castles, temples, villages, and creatures is somewhere down in the line in the Nintendo plans. (I mean, who wouldn't buy an interactive Ocarina?) However, Universal Studios Florida seems like the least likely space for it. The mythic adventure game clearly "vibes" better with Universal's Islands of Adventure (where Link could overtake the embattled Lost Continent). It's even more likely that a Zelda expansion would simply take shape on the expansion pad next to the existing Super Nintendo World at Epic Universe. 

So what other Nintendo properties might be sufficiently "theme-park-able" and lend themselves to a family-focus area? Maybe a Kirby land? A mix-and-match Super Smash Bros.-themed kids area? Rumors suggest that Universal Studios Japan is planning an Animal Crossing land, which could make good sense to duplicate in KidZone's place? And then, of course, there's the big one...

4. Pokèmon

Image: Nintendo / The Pokemon Company

When you think of Nintendo, Pokèmon is probably among the first and biggest brands to come to mind. Second only to Mario himself, Pokèmon is Nintendo's biggest franchise (and in fact, is bar none the highest-grossing media franchise ever, with $118 billion in revenue since it was created in 1996. For comparison, the second highest-grossing media franchise is Mickey & Friends, with about $83 billion in revenue.) Pokèmon is not only a global sensation; it's delightfully "theme-park-able," with guests becoming trainers who set off to villages, cities, and towns across the Pokèmon world collecting, battling, and trading creatures. 

However, Pokèmon is only partly owned by Nintendo. The other part falls to The Pokèmon Company, meaning that Universal's deal with Nintendo gets the studio only half way to being able to use Pokèmon in its parks.

Image: Nintendo / The Pokemon Company

The awesome news is, Universal has begun to work through that red tape. In 2001, Universal announced that they had indeed partnered with The Pokèmon Company to "jointly explore groundbreaking entertainment that will immerse guests into the world of Pokémon with innovative technology and creativity beginning in 2022". Even as 2022 closes out, we don't have many updates about what, exactly, their combined efforts will bring, but we do know that right now, the endeavor only applies to Universal Studios Japan. 

If all goes well and Universal is able to take Pokèmon and run with it, the franchise coming to the U.S. parks is practically assured. And if that happens, Universal will officially have the global theme park rights to a franchise that's earned about as much as Star Wars, Marvel, and Harry Potter combined. It's almost unfathomable to consider just how big Pokèmon would be.

Image: Nintendo / The Pokemon Company

And sure, it, too, could be wedged into the existing Super Nintendo World expansion pads at Epic Universe, or maybe used to replace Toon Lagoon at Islands of Adventure. But Pokèmon is so big, and so its own thing, it really deserves a complete, standalone land, and Universal Studios Florida is a park that could use that boost. (Plus, again, Pokèmon's very "cityscape" styling would match the park's existing lands – New York, Hollywood, London, Diagon Alley, Springfield, etc.)

Blue Sky...ish

DreamWorks... Illumination... Nintendo... Pokèmon... The sky really is the limit now that Universal has decided to begin clearing out the '90s clutter of its KidZone. Armed with Comcast's deep pockets and an acquired portfolio of incredible partnerships, IPs, and licensed brands, so much could happen here... 

Image: Google, overlay by Theme Park Tourist

But the space occupied by Woody Woodpecker's KidZone gets a lot smaller once you subtract E.T. Adventure and Animal Actors. Suddenly, the very large plot of land becomes one hemmed in by soundstages and amphitheaters – not exactly the opening act for an immersive, massively-scaled IP land. (Now if Universal had announced that E.T. Adventure and Animal Actors were closing, too, we might be onto something...)

Let's remember that Comcast is roundabout a billion dollars into building Universal's Epic Universe. That's no small chunk of change. Sure, both Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure will need continuous, ongoing support (lest Epic Universe merely cannibalize the existing parks instead of adding to Universal's draw). And yes, the clearing out of KidZone is a good sign that something fresh is coming to Universal Studios Florida...

But with all eyes (and budgets) focused on Epic Universe, it's entirely possible – even likely – that Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster becomes Marty's Madagascar Express, Fievel's Playland becomes Trolls Playland, "A Day In the Park with Barney" becomes Shrek & Donkey's Swamp Singalong, and Curious George Goes to Town becomes the Secret Life of Pets Soak City Adventure in a new DreamWorks Studio Zone. Obviously, that would be a let down after Universal's years of bar-setting immersive living lands... but frankly, it would be a fine, much-needed refresh of KidZone in its own right.

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