Disney's (NYSE:DIS) least visited theme park in Florida is doing a pretty good job of keeping things that way. The family entertainment giant will be closing The Magic of Animation at Disney's Hollywood Studios on July 12, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
It wasn't one of the biggest draws to the park, but it was certainly unique. The attraction celebrates the craft of animation, offering exhibits, character greeting areas, a short film on animation, and the cult fave Animation Station where guests are taught how to sketch iconic Disney characters. Animation Station offers a rare and free keepsake since guests can keep their character sketches.
Disney has been closing several attractions at the movie-themed park lately. The Studio Backlot Tour, American Idol Experience, and The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow have all been removed over the past year.
Something -- and likely something big -- will be taking the place of all of these shuttered attractions. You don't clear out that many diversions on the west end of the park without a master plan. The problem for now is that having fewer things to swallow up park guests makes wait times for the remaining attractions that much longer. Guests are getting an incomplete experience, and it's not a surprise that the park that until just a couple of years ago was Disney World's third most visited park has slipped to dead last at fourth.
Disney doesn't break down theme park attendance, but industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association does with annual tallies of turnstile clicks. It estimates that the park drew 10.3 million visitors last year, 2% ahead of the prior year. That's a big number, but sister park Magic Kingdom draws nearly twice as many park guests and its attendance grew twice as fast in 2014.
It's clear that something is on the way at Disney's Hollywood Studios. CEO Bob Iger almost let the cat out of the bag earlier this year during the media giant's annual shareholder meeting.
"We're doing some significant work there right now that I guess will result in a name change," he said before being held back by fellow executives. "We'll announce that we're changing the name, but we won't announce what we're changing it to. How's that?"
It's easy to guess that the park will be embracing its recently acquired Star Wars franchise with an announcement coming later this year ahead of the new Star Wars movie. There's also strong chatter about Star Wars being joined by Pixar and possibly some Marvel characters in a dramatic park makeover. It can't use four of Marvel's biggest properties. A licensing deal that Marvel struck with Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSK) Universal Orlando prevents the Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four from having a presence at Disney's Florida theme parks. It's an awkward situation that has probably resulted in beefy negotiations between the two rivals, but the successful emergence over the past year of Marvel characters including Guardians of the Galaxy and Daredevil offers potential.
It's probably not a coincidence that Disney has been closing down some of the attractions related to making movies. The backlot tour that highlighted special effects before a tram tour through movie props and design departments is gone. The tribute to Disney's roots in animation is going away. We've seen earlier attractions dedicated to sound effects and getting park guests into classic show scenes take dirt naps years ago. The park has been naturally evolving away from Tinseltown, but now the accelerating closures suggest something grander.
Iger has also announced that the park will change its name. Replacing "Hollywood" and "Studios" with either "Heroes" or even "Heroes and Villains" makes too much sense. It would also suggest an edgier repositioning of the park into a place that can house more thrill rides and Halloween events to take on Universal Orlando, its Marvel-hoarding rival that's been closing the attendance gap with Disney in recent years.
Disney's Hollywood Studios is dying, but only so something bigger and better will come to life.