First joining the holiday line-up in 2016, Rudolph and Friends have proved to be very popular. Found at all three SeaWorld parks, both Busch Gardens parks, and Sesame Place, the Rudolph and Friends characters were featured in specialty dining, character meet-and-greets, and themed merchandise.
Despite 2018 only being the third year for the characters at the parks, Rudolph and Friends have already become an annual must-see for many guests.
“Generations of our guests have grown up with Rudolph and we are happy to continue the tradition at our popular holiday events,” said John Reilly, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s interim CEO. “We are always looking for ways to provide our guests with best-in-class experiences; Rudolph & Friends certainly help us do that with unique, interactive elements for the entire family.”
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Clarice, Bumble, the Abominable Snow Monster, and Yukon Cornelius are all included in the Christmas events. Originally airing in 1964, the holiday-themed stop-motion cartoon is one of the most recognizable Christmas brands in the world with the characters now appearing on multiple products and events beyond the annual screening of the film on CBS. Some have called the classic retelling of the Christmas story “the longest running and highest rated holiday television special of all time.”
The contract extension comes as a surprise. Since 2016, around the same time as SeaWorld’s first contract to use the intellectual property, NBC Universal purchased DreamWorks Animation, including the DreamWorks' Classics division. That division specialized in acquiring culturally significant but dated franchises such as Lassie, VeggieTales, Little Lulu, Lambchop, Where’s Waldo, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
The $3.8 billion purchase of DreamWorks was widely viewed by many as a way for Universal to be able to introduce beloved characters into their growing theme park division. Since their purchase, Universal has been quick to find ways to bring the DreamWorks library of characters into the parks, with many of the characters now seen throughout the Universal resorts, including in a new 4D attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. Not to mention they've been featured in segments of the nighttime show at Universal Studios Florida that debuted this summer. DreamWorks is also widely believed to be featured prominently in the yet-to-be-announced new theme park in Orlando. All of this comes as SeaWorld prepares to go all in on Rudolph.
The idea of having one local theme park owning an intellectual property that another local theme park retains the theme park rights to is nothing new, as anyone familiar the infamous Universal Marvel contract is well aware of. But the Rudolph contract is unique in that, unlike the Marvel contract, the newly announced five-year contract has taken place since the NBC Universal purchase. This is because NBC Universal doesn’t hold the licensing rights to the characters.
While NBC Universal does own the rights to the film, Character Arts is still the exclusive licensor of the Rudolph and Friends characters. From AT&T commercials to board games to a 4D movie, the 19-year-old Character Arts company has harnessed the power of Rudolph and Friends for years expanding the use of the characters well beyond the classic film. The only other notable brand Character Arts manages is the much less known anti-bullying focused Spookley the Square Pumpkin.
In past years, a special Christmas-themed orca show was also presented. That show, Shamu Christmas Miracles, has been confirmed for this year’s event at SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Antonio. But as the company moves away from entertainment style shows and from using the name Shamu to refer to the various orcas at the parks, it is unclear how many more years Shamu Christmas show will be offered. Previously, SeaWorld has stated that both Orlando and San Antonio will transition their orca shows to more educational style offerings sometime in 2019. The Shamu Christmas Miracles show is not listed for SeaWorld San Diego, where the orca shows moved to the more educational style offerings last year.
Sea of Trees nighttime light and fountain show. The annual ice-skating show is also returning to SeaWorld Orlando this year.
At Busch Gardens in Tampa, Rudolph and Friends will be part of Christmas Town, the park’s annual holiday event that includes massive Christmas light displays and live performances throughout the park.
The Christmas events at SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld Orlando, and Busch Gardens Tampa all kick off are included in regular park admission. SeaWorld San Antonio, Sesame Place, and Busch Gardens Williamsburg
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