Disney: Pleasing preschoolers is big business

Revamped theme park show designed to create longtime loyal customers


Many adults without young children may have never heard of "Doc McStuffins," an animated television show aimed at preschoolers that debuted on the cable channel Disney Junior in 2012. Another program, "Sophia the First," has only been on television since November.

Yet, both brand new characters now appear in "Disney Junior - Live On Stage," a musical puppet show at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park.

"I was impressed. I didn't expect to see anything related to 'Sophia,'" said Kelly Buckle, who attended one of the first performances of the newly revamped show Friday afternoon.

Buckle said she decided to bring her twin 2-year-old sons to Walt Disney World from New Jersey in large part because of the updated attraction, which also features characters from "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" and "Jake and the Neverland Pirates."

"This was one of the main reasons we came, to see this show, because the boys love these characters," said Buckle.

Dan Cockerell, vice president of Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park, cites company research, which shows families with children under 6-years-old are more likely than other guests to return to Central Florida and Walt Disney World.

"The moms are in charge," said Cockerell. "They're deciding where the family is going to go and what they're going to see."

A big part of Disney's business strategy is to appeal to these young families with the latest and trendiest characters, said company officials.

The challenge, according to Cockerell, is predicting what franchises will still be popular by the time a theme park attraction is developed. Many preschoolers' TV programs have a relatively short shelf life, and it can take years of planning to update a theme park show.

"Some of it is a little business savvy. Some of it is research. Some of it is just gut instinct," said Cockerell. "We're always looking for what the next big hit is going to be."

Disney's strategy appears to be working on some families. After the show, Jessica Morton, whose 5-year-old daughter is a huge fan of "Sophia the First," said she anticipates making another trip from Chicago to Central Florida.

"Oh, its very likely," said Morton. "We will be back. Definitely."

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