OpEd: Why Disney Should Make a ‘Lord of the Rings’ Theme Park

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Credit: New Line Cinema

The Lord of the Rings is one of the most beloved and successful franchises in entertainment history, with six blockbuster films backing author J.R.R. Tolkien’s prolific Middle Earth novels. Though Middle Earth is as legendary as any Disney Park, why haven’t the theme Park giants added a Tolkien-inspired land to their resorts?

Space Mountain

Credit: Disney

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Director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies solidified Frodo Baggins and Gandalf as household names, and Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy only furthered the Middle Earth fandom. Tolkien’s work is so immersive that you almost feel like falling into his pages and escaping to Middle Earth.

While The Lord of the Rings is expanded in contemporary media with Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the classic tales of Frodo Baggin’s misadventures are still incredibly relevant. In fact, classic Lord of the Rings content and Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy have seen a resurgence in popularity following Amazon’s $1 billion series.

Lord of the Rings banner

Credit: New Line Cinema

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What’s with Florida?

Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings are the trinity of ultimate nerd fandoms, but only two of them have devoted themed experiences in Disney and Universal Studios theme parks. Nonetheless, with Middle Earth being expanded in nearly every way possible, one has to wonder when Tolkien fans will be able to visit Middle Earth in real life (other than flying to New Zealand!).

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter are groundbreaking adventures that transport Guests into fully immersive worlds. In one day, you can construct your lightsaber, commandeer Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, and build an R2-unit droid. But why haven’t we seen a real-life Middle Earth yet?

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf

Credit: New Line Cinema

It’s easy to dream up a Shire-themed land at the Walt Disney World Resort, but it’s as tough as destroying the One Ring to make it a reality.

The reason fans haven’t received a real-life Middle Earth based on Tolkien’s work boils down to two factors: franchise rights and money. Now, The Walt Disney Company is not afraid to take gambles when it comes to acquiring the theme Park rights, or the entirety of the IP rights, to very (very) profitable franchises and turning them into immersive experiences (such as James Cameron’s Avatar).

However, obtaining the theme Park rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit has been an ongoing battle with Tolkien’s estate. J.R.R. Tolkien was very reluctant to allow companies to touch his work, especially Disney. Everyone from Walt Disney to The Beatles aimed to take a shot at adapting Middle Earth into live-action or animated feature films, but the author opposed most who tried to obtain any rights from him.

Shire in 'The Lord of the Rings'

Credit: New Line Cinema

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Nonetheless, with the Universal Studios Orlando Resort adding Epic Universe to their catalog — the third gate in their Orlando, Florida Resort — it might be high time that Disney “plus” one of their theme parks with a LOTR land.

'The Lord of the Rings' Hobbits

Credit: New Line Cinema

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Welcome to Middle Earth

With our “blue sky” hats on (and assuming that Embracer Group would be willing to license any rights to The Walt Disney Company), let’s imagine that the Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios could be host to a Floridan Shire.

Guests visiting the Walt Disney World Resort would have the opportunity to step into Middle Earth and dine at the Green Dragon Inn while strolling through Bag-End and embarking on a thrilling attraction featuring Bilbo Baggins, the original dwarves, and Gandalf the Grey as they traverse the many lands of Tolkien’s world and encounter Smaug.

Going even a step further, those visiting this new land could have the opportunity to step into a new realm of magic, which many Guests are longing for at Disney Parks once more.

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn

Credit: New Line Cinema

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With Epic Universe beginning construction, Walt Disney Imagineering is undoubtely looking for methods of attracting more audiences and visitors to the Walt Disney World Resort as Universal creates an even more considerable temptation to leave the Mouse House behind while visiting Central Florida. Imagine Space Mountain, Cinderella Castle, Expedition Everest, Pirates of the Caribbean, and now a Middle Earth-themed land enticing Guests from across the globe to visit the Most Magical Place on Earth.

Though Universal Studios have reportedly been in discussions with the Tolkien Estate and The Saul Zaentz Company since the 1990s to acquire the theme Park rights to the Rings franchise, it’s clear that the Embracer Group (the new owners of Middle-earth Enterprises) has the sole power, like Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, to decide the fate of Middle Earth.

More about The Lord of the Rings

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s work has stood the test since The Hobbit‘s release nearly 100 years ago. The English writer’s mythical epics — The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) — are considered some of history’s most fantastic fantasy works. The tales of a Shire-bound Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and a forgotten king reclaiming his crown, Aragorn, found their way on nearly every college student’s shelves in the 1960s. Middle-Earth inspired Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, and Peter Jackson’s film adaptations blew Mordor out of the water.

The One Ring of Middle Earth

Credit: New Line Cinema

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With The Rings of Power taking place in the episodic Second Age of Middle Earth, Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power chronicles the construction of the One Ring worn by dark Lord Sauron under Mount Doom:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne in the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Credit: Amazon Studios

The near $1 billion series is set to focus on the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the historic alliance between Elves and Men (that transcended the entire franchise), the island of Númenor/Westernesse, as well as a look into Khazad‐dûm/Moria before the dwarven kingdom fell to hoards of goblins and the deadly Balrog/Durin’s Bane.

However, unfortunately, you won’t be seeing any of the legendary hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), Bilbo Baggins (Sir Ian Holm), Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan), Pippen Took (Billy Boyd), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gandalf the White (Sir Ian McKellen), Saruman (Sir Christopher Lee), Gollum (Andy Serkis), and more in Rings of Power.

Faramir and Boromir of 'The Lord of the Rings'

Credit: New Line Cinema

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Dark Lord Sauron is set to have a massive role in The Rings of Power. Still, the series features a relatively unknown cast of lead and supporting actors that are set to play some of the most formative names in Elrond (Robert Aramayo), Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien (Morfydd Clark), and Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur), replacing Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.

New characters like Dwarven Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete), silvan elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), and Cole (Maxim Baldry) have been created specifically for the series.

Showrunner Patrick McKay and writer JD Payne pen the tentative series with directors JA Bayona and Wayne Che Yip leading the Rings show set to debut on September 2, 2022.

Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are the writer’s and may not reflect the sentiments of Disney Fanatic as a whole.

About Alex Lue

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