Niles: Universal calls on its Minions to win the family market from Disney

Niles: Universal calls on its Minions to win the family market from Disney

Have the Minions become bigger than Mickey?

Universal Studios seems to be trying its hardest to push its yellow mischief-makers to the head of the family entertainment business. Last week, Universal Studios Florida officially debuted its Minion Land, opening a new interactive attraction and an East Coast version of Minion Café next to its Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride.

The newly designated land sits at the front of Universal Studios Florida, sending a visual message about the importance of the Minions franchise to Universal at the moment. This is Universal’s answer to Disney’s Mickey Mouse and friends — not just a franchise, but icons meant to help define a theme park brand.

Universal Studios Hollywood has had a Minion area for nearly a decade, with its installation of the Despicable Me ride accompanied by a kiddie playland that name-checks the Super Silly Fun Land amusement park from the franchise’s original film. I appreciate that Universal chose not to duplicate a California seaside amusement park in Florida, but to call back to the Orlando-set Villain-Con from the 2015 “Minions” movie, instead.

Villain-Con Minion Blast is an interactive attraction that integrates with the resort’s app, much like the Mario Kart Bowser’s Challenge ride in Universal Studios Hollywood’s Super Nintendo World. That land won’t come to Orlando until 2025, so this new attraction provides video game fans who want more advanced functionality in an interactive attraction something to appease them until then. Personally, I was happy to play the game as a plain old shooting gallery, blasting everything in sight, rather than leaning into the tasks and reward levels available through the resort’s app.

I loved the new Minion Café as well, though years of covering theme parks have left me skeptical that park guests won’t soon demand that Universal replace its delightful edamame, Thai cucumbers and coconut blue rice side dishes with yet more fries or chips. The Minion-shaped mashed potato tots should stick around, however.

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Fun games and good food aren’t the only things helping Universal sell its Minions to theme park fans. Universal and the Minions retain a huge advantage over Disney’s icons among younger fans in that the Minions are movie stars, and Mickey Mouse isn’t anymore.

Disneyland has done right by the Mouse who started it all with the new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and refurbished Mickey’s Toontown. As a theme park fan, I love seeing Disney and Universal treat their top icons well with big investments in great new attractions.

But as a movie fan, I hate that Disney is leaving Mickey Mouse on the sidelines. Disney just called cut on Paul Rudish’s “The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse” shorts after a 10-year run. I would have loved to see that concept expanded for the big screen. Heck, after so many disappointments this summer, Disney needs all hands on deck as it searches for its next box office hit.

Universal has found a huge audience for the Minions’ slapstick. Maybe Disney ought to send Mickey back to theaters to reclaim some of that.