My Theme Park, Totoro: Branded Entertainment on the Rise

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My Neighbor Totoro

Snap Quiz: Which of these two new theme park plans is real? A Japanese Studio Ghibli theme park based on the 1986 animation classic anime My Neighbor Totoro? Or China’s “The Messi Experience Park” based on the life of the Argentine star forward for the Barcelona football club? It’s a trick question, because the answer is both.

Coming to Nanjing, China in 2019, “The Messi Experience Park” promises a couple dozen attractions that will “enable visitors to immerse themselves [in] all things Messi.”

Visitors will be able to travel through the superstar’s career, share in the highlights and even, thanks to virtual reality, train with the man himself.  “Virtual Reality Messi” promises to be a highlight of the park. While we’re talking about theme parks and China, Nanjing is just 200 miles from Shanghai’s new Disneyland.

Barcelona’s Messi seems a bankable phenomenon for a theme park. But what happens when a tackle blows out his knee and ends his career? Investors in Japan are banking on a unique, but proven theme for a park: My Neighbor Totoro.

Based on the 1988 film, the park will be set in the world of the beloved character Totoro. The park has a head start as it’s located on the site of the 2005 World Expo, which already is home to a replica of the iconic house in the film The Disney of anime, Studio Ghibli already boasts a number of attractions in Japan.

In the past, it was park attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean that drove movie franchises. Now it’s the movies that are inspiring theme parks. Star Wars, Angry Birds, Guardians of the Galaxy, Cars and Avatar all have theme parks based on the respective films. SeaWorld Entertainment even recently announced a deal with Sesame Street-creator Sesame Workshop for a Sesame Place theme park extension by 2022.

Besides the Star Wars park, probably the most anticipated and notable theme park in recent memory is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida. And with Potter Park’s recent performance, it’s no wonder branded theme parks are en vogue.

Opened for $500 million in 2016, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is being credited with boosting attendance numbers at Universal Studios by a whopping 14% last year.

That is being called the largest attendance percentage increase for a  theme park worldwide. And that was in a year when most of the world’s largest theme parks reported flat attendance for the last two years.

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