Tuesday, May 21, 2024

It’s a PEANUTS party

75 Years of Happiness and decades of success in branded entertainment

by Judith Rubin

The Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, first published in 1950, became the portal to a universe of utterly human and timeless characters, themes and stories that sparked imaginations and affection around the globe. PEANUTS™ today is a powerful family brand that thrives on many different platforms. In the attractions space, which includes Location-Based Entertainment (LBE), Peanuts has been innovative, influential, and busier than ever with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest of the gang delighting millions of guests across a wide range of venues including theme parks, science centers, museums and botanical gardens.

“We have so much in development right now,” says Craig Herman, VP, Global Brand Experiences at Peanuts Worldwide. With Craig Herman as our guide, we explored several new, existing, and reimagined Peanuts experiences around the world (see below) as the brand prepares to celebrate “75 Years of Happiness,” a 15-month celebration that will commence Oct 2024.

Even with many projects already in the pipeline, Peanuts is ready for more – much more. The possibilities for creating great Peanuts-themed guest experiences are well-nigh endless with a rich IP, an international audience, multigenerational appeal, today’s tools of immersive storytelling and a high level of interest in themed entertainment markets.

“We want to complement what we’re already doing in the market,” says Herman, who is looking forward to meeting and exchanging ideas with operators, developers, and producers this November at the IAAPA Expo in Orlando. “We’re here to make connections and explore potential partnerships for bringing the beloved characters to fans around the world through meaningful experiences and attractions.”

Theme parks

As Herman likes to say, “Peanuts lets a kid be a kid, and lets an adult be a kid again.” This makes theme parks an ideal setting. Peanuts partnerships with theme parks have been transformational, successful, and enduring – bringing the Peanuts magic to millions of guests and expanding revenue and merchandising opportunities for operators. The collaborations with Cedar Fair and Universal Studios Japan have stood for decades and established a leading model for IP-based experiences in themed entertainment venues.

Peanuts and Cedar Fair have been partners since the 1980s and are still going strong, engaging guests through immersive lands, rides, and family activities. “Cedar Fair has been our exclusive North America theme park partner for more than 40 years, bringing joy to families and creating lasting memories,” says Herman.

Two Cedar Fair properties – Knott’s Berry Farm (Buena Park, CA), and Kings Island (Mason, OH, near Cincinnati) – will introduce extensive upgrades to their Peanuts-themed “Camp Snoopy” areas in Spring 2024, perfectly timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Snoopy’s intrepid Beagle Scouts troop. “The Cedar Fair creative team brings years of exemplary theming experience to the redesign of these iconic parks and we’re very excited to collaborate on these two projects,” says Herman.

Knott’s Berry Farm is bringing new energy to Camp Snoopy. “With the renovation of the park’s Camp Snoopy area debuting in the Summer of 2024, there will be even more new rides and adventures to explore than ever before,” says Jon Storbeck, General Manager of Knott’s Berry Farm. Storbeck adds, “Camp Snoopy at Knott’s Berry Farm was the first area inside a theme park dedicated to young children. This area has delighted generations of families for over four decades, since the Knott family and Charles Schulz formed a trailblazing partnership in 1983, enabling kids and their families to step inside the world of his iconic Peanuts characters. All of us at Knott’s Berry Farm are thrilled for this collaboration and partnership with Peanuts Worldwide to continue into the future.”

Meanwhile, at Kings Island, General Manager Mike Koontz means business when he says, “Family fun is at the core of our business.” Kings Island is augmenting its kids’ play options and complementing its existing Planet Snoopy area by adding Camp Snoopy, to open in Spring 2024. “Being able to connect families by offering new ways to play using the iconic Peanuts brand enables us to create one-of-a-kind environments and experiences all in one place,” says Koontz.

Koontz continues, “The addition of Camp Snoopy within our award- winning kids’ area will offer an even bigger playground for parents, kids and the entire Peanuts gang. It’s a summer camp like no other, including a Peanuts-decorated, soapbox derby roller coaster race, plus an expansive interactive area with daily ‘camp-tivities’ hosted by Snoopy and friends that encourage kids to be free to explore, become a full-fledged member of the Beagle Scouts and enjoy outdoor fun and freedom within our park.”

Changing focus to Asia, Universal Studios Japan, in Osaka, is in talks now about revitalizing its Snoopy Studios attraction, a dedicated kids’ area that aligns with Universal movies and entertainment, with Snoopy in the director’s role. USJ has partnered with Peanuts for more than 20 years, bringing Snoopy and the gang to its guests through rides, experiences and events.

Peanuts in Orlando

“All Systems Are Go” at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is a unique, live theatrical production using Peanuts characters articulated as larger- than-life puppets to tell the story of space exploration and the relationship between NASA and Peanuts Worldwide. With performances three times a day, seven days a week, the show launched in April 2023 and continues through 2025. “With its STEAM-based content and immersive storytelling, the show is running at capacity, delighting fans old and new,” says Herman.

Gaylord Hotels has a tradition of presenting unique displays of themed ice carvings for the winter holidays at several Gaylord properties around the US. By way of a partnership between Marriott and Gaylord Hotels with Peanuts Worldwide, the annual Gaylord ICE! at the Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee, FL (near Orlando) will be themed to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It opens in November this year.

Pumpkins and our pal Snoopy

Open since 2020, Snoopy Garden was a first-of-its-kind themed greenspace, occupying 20 acres on JeJu Island in South Korea, combining Peanuts elements with the natural landscape and atmosphere. Its popularity and success have been such that a 30-acre, second-gate expansion is now underway to support longer visits and overnight stays. This includes a family- oriented resort complete with a variety of Peanuts sports-themed activities, a world-class hotel, camping, food, and retail. Projected opening: Summer 2025.

Pumpkin patches and botanical gardens are an ideal pairing, and in 2023 The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden held its 18th annual Autumn at the Arboretum (Sept. 15-Nov. 1). This marked the Arboretum’s second time partnering with Peanuts Worldwide, and the 2023 event was themed to “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” It featured the Peanuts gang, along with a Pumpkin Village of themed pumpkin houses and a maze for younger visitors. “A lot of Peanuts storylines lend themselves to seasonal events and attractions, and a pumpkin festival is a natural fit,” says Herman.

In the sports milieu, Peanuts Worldwide has partnered with award-winning production company Rockefeller Studios on Snoopy Sports – a brand new, multifaceted, interactive experience for all ages. Attendees will be selected to join a Peanuts character’s team to play Snoopy’s version of football, baseball, hockey, soccer and more. “The builds and theming look amazing,” says Herman. “This goes way beyond traditional mini-golf; the experience is fully immersive and designed for fans of all ages.”

Jonathan Rockefeller, President Rockefeller Productions, says, “We’re thrilled to give fans the chance to play ball with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Linus, Woodstock and other iconic Peanuts characters. Snoopy Sports is a one-of-a-kind experience that’s equal parts whimsical and thrilling. We can’t wait for friends and family to enjoy a day of playful competition inspired by our pal Snoopy.”

These collaborations build on the rich themes of activity, community and nature replete in Peanuts and suggest options for many more. “The strong emotional connection people have to Peanuts is what’s kept it relevant for 75 years,” says Herman. The universally relatable, evergreen brand that is Peanuts engages with the simplicity of its visuals, stories, characters and situations. It’s about children and other creatures interacting with one another and the world. There are sports, kite flying, holidays, space travel and sleeping under the stars. There are friendship, puppy love, pets, wildlife, family, music, school days and field trips. It’s a well that never runs dry.

Speaking of field trips, a major announcement will be forthcoming from Peanuts for a new attraction in the educational space for 2025. At this writing, Herman could only offer a teaser, indicating that it would be a first-of-its-kind for Peanuts, and that it would engage children with hands-on activities to stimulate creativity and imagination.

The power of branded entertainment

As it approaches 75 Years of Happiness, Peanuts is helping lead the way in branded experience – not only in terms of historic partnerships, but the newer generation of branded LBE taking shape over the past 5-10 years.

“What we’re doing in LBE and attractions demonstrates not only the popularity of Peanuts,” says Herman, “but how Peanuts is extending the brand to more immersive guest experiences that allow guests to step into the world of Charles Schulz. The ability to interact with characters – in the form of playspaces, themed attractions, interactive exhibits, Instagrammable moments – all drive quality guest experiences.”

The trend has been recognized by industry – it’s been highlighted for a number of years at the IAAPA Expo, and now fully embraced by Licensing International, which adopted an LBE theme for recent trade shows in Las Vegas and London. “LBE is the fastest growing category in the licensing world as more and more brands recognize the value of fan engagement,” says Herman.

“For Peanuts, it is vitally important to think strategically about experiential partnerships as we continue to grow this arm of the business,” says Herman. “It is important to connect with audiences on an emotional level, and to be able to support our award-winning consumer products program.” Peanuts continues to build a strong base in China, South Korea, and Taiwan while also looking to expand into the UK, Germany, Italy, France where the brand is extremely strong.

For more information or to set up a meeting, email [email protected].

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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