Super Nintendo World Shows That Classic Theme Park Lands Are Becoming A Thing Of The Past

Entrance to Super Nintendo World
(Image credit: Universal Studios Hollywood)

When Disneyland opened in 1955, it set a template for the idea of what a theme park is meant to be. It wasn’t simply a collection of attractions within a border. These rides -- along with restaurants, gift shops, and everything else -- were designed to fit together in small groups, creating different lands. Nearly 70 years later, this concept is still largely in use today.

But today, something is a bit different. Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood, the newest theme park land to open, follows in a long line of theme park areas that don’t simply bring together similar ideas. Instead, they focus on a single intellectual property in order to try and bring it to life on a grand scale. From the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, every new theme park land for the last several years has been like this and, with this, it seems like the classic theme park land may be dead.

King Arthur's Carousel at Disneyland

(Image credit: Disneyland)

Classic Theme Park Lands Were Based Around Concepts, Not Specific Stories

Not every theme or amusement park even bothers to divide itself up into different areas or themes but, when Disneyland opened in 1955, it largely set the standard by which all future parks would be judged. The original Disneyland saw a variety of different attractions, some inspired directly by films, others by general concepts and themes found in the House of Mouse's projects.

This allowed various attractions from different properties, or even those not based on a specific property, to co-exist. It made sense to have Dumbo’s Flying Elephants close to the Snow White dark ride or the Jungle Cruise near Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. 

Tomorrowland had attractions that looked to the future, and Frontierland gave you a look at civilizations past. Nobody worried about the fact that Autopia was next to Space Mountain. As new attractions were added, a place was found for them and said location made sense. 

The Gringotts Dragon not going off at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

(Image credit: Dirk Libbey)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Started A Trend That Is Not Stopping

For the most part, this was how theme park lands generally worked for decades. There were certainly some minor exceptions. Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened with locales dedicated to Marvel Comics characters and even the world of Dr. Seuss, which certainly focused things a bit more than more general lands -- but the park had some of those too.

Things changed in a pretty big way in 2010, and Universal Orlando Resort was actually the place where it happened. When The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, we were given a brand new theme park land, with attractions, shops, and food -- all focused on a specific film franchise. This was the first time fans would see a theme park land so specific, but it wouldn’t be the last.

Since the Wizarding World opened at Universal Orlando, we’ve seen Disney answer back with several similar theme park lands. First, there was Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Later, the world marveled at the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which not only was designed to create a new planet in the galaxy far, far away but was also set at a particular point in time of the Skywalker Saga. Most recently, parkgoers were welcomed to Avengers Campus at both Disney California Adventure and Disneyland Paris. The area takes the Islands of Marvel concept from Universal and ups the ante by setting the land specifically inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rather than simply being a land full of various Marvel attractions.

And now, Universal Studios Hollywood has Super Nintendo World. The name is even something of a misnomer, as it would sound like its a land dedicated to multiple Nintendo properties. But there’s nothing Zelda or Metroid related to be found there, the whole land is a version of the Mushroom Kingdom from the Super Mario Bros. games.

Now, Super Nintendo World is amazing. I got to visit the new land, and it’s an incredible place that I love. It simply wouldn’t be the same pl if it didn’t go all-in on the Mushroom Kingdom aesthetic, but the fact that even a land about Nintendo is limiting itself to only one of the company's notable franchises shows that theme park lands that could bring multiple IPs together are not really being considered.

Elsa animatronic at Hong Kong Disneyland

(Image credit: Hong Kong Disneyland Resort)

Most Of What’s Coming From Theme Parks Sounds Like More Of The Same

And when we look at what’s coming from major theme parks in the future, nearly everything is more of the new normal -- entire theme park lands dedicated to single IPs at the exclusion of all else. Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland Paris are getting lands dedicated to Frozen, while Shanghai Disney Resort is getting one focused on Zootopia.  (And not only are the lands in development, but so are sequels to both films.)

Universal Orlando’s Epic Universe, the new theme park set to open in 2025, looks to be an entire theme park dedicated to only a few franchises. While little about the park has been officially confirmed, we know it will get its own Super Nintendo World. It’s also being reported it will see another Harry Potter-themed land, one dedicated to How To Train Your Dragon, and one dedicated to Universal Monsters, which allows for some flexibility but is still the equivalent of a Marvel land that focuses only on the MCU.

While we have few specifics about what Walt Disney World is planning for its next big additions, what we do know would seem to back this up. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is getting ready to replace the Dinoland U.S.A. area and, at last year’s D32 Expo, Parks Chief Josh D’Amaro floated two possible ideas for what could go there. These were a land dedicated to Zootopia (which would probably be similar to what’s happening in China) or one dedicated to Moana. In either case, it’s another single-IP project. 

At the same show, an expansion was teased for Magic Kingdom that could see a new land built there. Two of the three ideas that were floated were again single franchises, Coco and Encanto, in this case. However, there was a third that might make for an exception to this new rule.

Maleficent Dragon parade float at Magic Kingdom

(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

Could Disney Villains Change Things?

The third idea that was floated for the area being called “Beyond Thunder Mountain” was a land dedicated to Disney Villains. This is an interesting idea because it would break this trend of single IP theme park lands. Anything dedicated to Disney Villains as a general concept would need to include lots of characters, and that means creating multiple attractions, with each one dedicated to a different Disney story.

Of course, we have no idea if this land will happen, and honestly, based on the popularity of Super Nintendo World, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and the rest, it seems unlikely that we’re going to see a theme park build a modern version of Adventureland anytime soon.

These lands that only focus on one media property are pretty amazing in their own right. They allow for some incredible design ideas that we wouldn't get otherwise. But it would be nice to get a mix of elements, a land like Super Nintendo World followed by one that brings more variety into the park. Maybe that day will come again.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis.  Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.