• Are Universal Characters… Old?

Are Universal Characters… Old?

Luiz Alberto H.

Created: Apr 09, 2024

Last Updated: Apr 15, 2024

Are Universal Characters… Old?

Popeye. Doc. Brown. The Thing #1 and #2. Betty Boop. Scooby-Doo. Dora. Spongebob. Curious George. The Madagascar guys.

How many of those characters are you familiar with? They're all commonly found in Universal Orlando, whether in Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. I'll admit, I know most of them. I've heard of Betty Boop, but I'm not quite sure where she's from. The same goes for Curious George. I believe he's from an old cartoon aimed at toddlers or something similar.

The question still stands: Are Universal characters too old for today's audience to know or care about?

Disney doesn't need to worry about it

Before we dive into that question, let's address something important: getting older doesn't mean characters have to retire. Take Disney, for instance. Mickey and his pals have been around for nearly a century, yet they're still some of the most beloved and iconic figures in theme parks worldwide. I mean, who doesn't know Mickey Mouse? And it's not just him, the Disney princesses have also stood the test of time, captivating audiences long before they graced theme park attractions. Their timeless appeal goes beyond just movies and merchandise.

Chef Mickey's Disney world (5).webp
That's Mickey, haunting an article about Universal

It’s certainly not fair to compare the appeal of Disney characters with Universal, or basically any other company in the world, honestly. Disney struck it gold with a cast of characters that are synonymous with theme parks and entertainment, after all. Universal doesn’t have the same power as Disney when it comes with characters. Still, should Universal retire some of their older characters and invest in new ones?

A balancing act

I don’t know if a lot of teenagers nowadays even heard about Popeye. His cartoons were already pretty old when I was a teen way back in the 90s, but I did have fun watching him fight against Blutu. Woody Woodpecker is another character that had his very own roller coaster in Universal Studios, but apparently Universal decided to retire him and is bringing Dreamworks Land to the old Kids Zone there. I really love the Woody Woodpecker cartoons and think the animation is great up to this day, but it’s just not something that is a big success with kids nowadays, in an age of streaming and with so many modern cartoons available a la carte.  

Universal Studios Transformers character.webp

There are more characters that kids probably have no idea who they are, but they are nostalgic for adults. One example is Doc Brown. Even if we don’t ever get another Back to the Future movie (and we shouldn’t, the trilogy is perfect), he is there to remind you about the great movies with Christopher Lloyd and Michal J. Fox. The same could be said about Dr. Seuss and so many adults that grew up with his books and stories. What about E.T.? I don’t think teenagers nowadays know about this little guy, but a lot of adults grew up with the Steven Spielberg movie.

Looking to the future

Universal seems to be balancing modern characters with classics. Scooby-Doo, for example, feels too nostalgic to fade away. Yet, they're also introducing newer characters like Kung Fu Panda and Shrek. Kung Fu Panda is a hit with today's kids, while Shrek appeals more to young adults. However, Shrek remains a significant and powerful franchise, and there's always the possibility of Universal rebooting the movies to attract a new audience. 

Even Epic Universe is all about balancing IPs and characters. We have the Universal Monsters from classic movies like Frankenstein and Dracula, but we also get modern franchises like How to Train your Dragon and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal Studios minions land.jpg
Minion Land also brings modern characters to Universal

That’s not all: Universal hit the jackpot when they partnered with Nintendo and introduced Mario to their theme parks. This franchise isn't just a source of nostalgia for adults, it's also hugely popular among kids, thanks to amazing titles like Mario Kart, Smash Bros, Mario Wonder, and many more. In the grand scheme of things, Mario may even surpass Mickey in popularity, though Mickey still reigns supreme in the realm of theme parks.

With all that said, I don’t think Universal characters are old. In fact, I think Universal is getting younger with time, trying to attract a modern audience of children and teenagers. This doesn’t mean they need to get rid of classic characters that adults know and love. Let Doc. Brown yell “Great Scott”, let Scooby-Doo and Shaggy hang around and let Popeye eat his spinach.

There is room for everybody.

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