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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Oh Lordy, the Universal Orlando 'Lord of the Rings' rumor is back

Posted By on Tue, Jan 14, 2020 at 9:59 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD SPARKES/FLICKR
  • Photo by Chad Sparkes/Flickr
Since even before the release of the films in 2001, there have been rumors of Lord of Rings heading to an Orlando theme park. Over the years, the rumors have solidified around Universal being the leading contender for the blockbuster franchise, with the park mentioning Lord of the Rings in a guest survey as early as 2010. Now the story has popped yet again, and this time it has some interesting corresponding data that seems to back it up.

One of the leading sources of Universal rumors has been the well-respected Josh Young of Theme Park University. Earlier this month he shocked many when, after years of silence on the story, he announced that he had heard a Lord of the Rings attraction was possibly back in the cards for Universal. Like previously, it was still far from being a done deal.



According to Young, the concept has moved from being a land in the now-announced Epic Universe park to now being a replacement to the less than popular Toon Lagoon area at Islands of Adventure, where it will reimagine the Popeye’s themed raft ride, Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. Though the specific ride system has yet to be decided on, Young points to two options; one being an underwater rollercoaster-style track, while the other is a magnetic system similar to Shanghai’s Pirates of the Caribbean. He also notes that Universal Creative used a recent closure of Bluto’s to test some different styles of boats for the new attraction.

This isn’t the first time Bluto’s was rumored to be closing. Ahead of the new raptor-themed coaster now under construction in the Jurassic Park area, Universal Creative supposedly looked at potentially re-theming the Toon Lagoon ride to fit into the Jurassic Park theme next door, but ultimately decided not to move ahead with that plan. Around the same time, a dark ride that was rumored for Toon Lagoon was also quickly shelved.
click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY NEW LINE CINEMA
  • Photo courtesy New Line Cinema
Toon Lagoon remains one of the most dated sections of Islands of Adventure, so a new theme wouldn’t come as a surprise though some have questioned how relevant Lord of the Rings is today. Amazon is reportedly spending more than a billion dollars on an upcoming Game of Thrones-style television series. The films also remain popular despite their age. The television series and the movies take place within the same narrative universe, so their timelines will be separated by thousands of years.

It’s unclear which timeline the rumored Universal attraction would draw inspiration from. After years of negotiations, a 2017 lawsuit settlement finally opened up the ancillary licensing rights to the film version. This settlement – along with author J.R.R. Tolkien's estate being more willing to discuss future rights to his works – has finally allowed movement in many long-planned Lord of the Rings concepts, including the television series.

If Young is correct, this new Lord of the Rings ride would be the flagship attraction for a fully fleshed out Lord of the Rings land that would completely replace Toon Lagoon. The attraction would cause both Bluto’s and the Dudley Do-Right themed log flume ride to close. Despite their popularity, both attractions represent a different era of Universal, when budget concerns were much more of a focus than they are today. Also, while still enjoyable, the intellectual properties of the two attractions don’t draw guests in the same way that a Lord of the Rings attraction would.

It’s expected that, similar to the two Harry Potter lands at Universal, the new Lord of the Rings land would include fully themed experiences throughout, including walk-around characters, themed retail, and performance spaces.

The new Lord of the Rings land wouldn’t open until after Epic Universe, with Young estimating an opening date of 2025 at the earliest. This lines up with when Disney expects to have much of Epcot’s multi-phase reimagining to be wrapping up. Most fans are looking towards Epic Universe, but Universal understands it must continue to put new and exciting attractions into its two existing parks, if it hopes to keep guests returning. At Universal Studios Florida, the rumors have included new lands themed to Pokémon, Trolls, Despicable Me, and Star Trek. For Islands of Adventure, previous suggestions included Zelda and another expansion of Hogsmeade. The introduction of Lord of the Rings keeps the original literary theme of the park intact while also tapping into a brand-new fan base.

The Lord of the Rings project at Universal still looks to be very early in its planning, however, with plenty of time for anyone involved to pull the plug, especially if the upcoming Amazon series isn’t a runaway success, but if the stars align by mid-decade Orlando might just see one of the theme park industry’s oldest rumors finally be realized.

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