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David Koenig

Universal closing popular new shows as Disney pulls the plug on Atlantis TV series

Everyone who patted Universal Studios–Hollywood on the back this summer for adding new shows, while Disney continued cutting back, may want to hold their applause. As the summer winds down, Universal will permanently close several of its newest shows, despite their high popularity.

Promotional art  Universal Studios/Dreamworks
Promotional art
Universal Studios / Dreamworks

Within the coming weeks, Universal will drop the curtain on the World of Cinemagic in the Studio Center, the Shrek show at the Castle Theatre courtyard, and the Rugrats Magic Adventure show at the Panasonic Theatre. While Rugrats will close at the end of the summer, Cinemagic and Shrek might not even make it into August.

"All plans for the inside of the Castle Theatre have been canceled," admitted a manager. "The theater hasn't had a regular show since Beetlejuice closed a few years ago. No replacement shows planned to replace the other closures."

Attendance had been strong at Universal this year, at least until Disney's California Adventure launched a series of increasingly deep discounts and revived the Electrical Parade. Universal had padded its gate counts by taking a page from Disneyland's play book and selling cheap annual passes—evidently not realizing that per capita spending would plummet.

The Rugrats' Angelica will be magnificent no more…
The Rugrats' Angelica will be magnificent no more…

"The crowds are huge this summer, but it's all season passholders, which means no paid gate and low per/caps on food/drinks/souvenirs," the manager said. "But, we still have to run a lot of shows and fully staff the park to handle the large crowds. The DCA promotions and Electrical Parade are hurting us now, too."

Another Entertainment employee agreed: "The slow summer attendance at Universal Studios and at theme parks in general has forced management to take some pretty drastic steps. We knew the news would be bad when Entertainment Director Sam Hatcher was there with an HR rep at our daily Show Communication meeting. People were expecting the show would go to weekends, or hours would be cut, or something like that, which folks who had been there for some time were prepared for, because it had happened for the last Nickelodeon show. However, nobody was prepared to hear that a barely 1-year-old show that kids love and that continues to pack them in would be outright canceled. This was bad news for the full-time cast and crew, and ominous news for the theme park industry as a whole."

Cinemagic is on the lower lot Studio Center
Cinemagic is on the lower lot Studio Center

He continued: "It gives rise to a good deal of speculation. Will the Universal park go to weekends-only in the off season? What else might be cut? Will the park be phased out and the retail/dining complex of Citywalk stand alone? All these seem to be definite possibilities in the wake of what has just happened, and with attendance continuing to stay soft. Keep in mind, of course, that the Castle theater continues to sit empty, with no new show in sight, Wild West is still teetering on the verge of cancellation, leaving us with only Terminator 2 and a 6-year-old Kevin Costner stunt show. Ouch. I suppose the park could use a Dreamworks buyout right about now. The stale park could certainly benefit from some new content. Not to mention people."

The employee sighed, "The feeling around Universal, at least in the trenches, is 'build it and they will come.' I know this was one of Walt Disney's core philosophies. With the management seemingly looking towards bottom-line, short-term survival, we may end up with a gutted shell of a park that will cease to become a tourist destination… of course, there will always be Citywalk. What's happening up in the shady offices of Vivendi Universal? Are those secretive Frenchmen scheming to make USH a distant memory, even while expanding ruthlessly into all other strata of Western culture? The mind boggles."

Friday the 13th wasn't any kinder at the Disney Studios. That morning, Barry Blumberg, vice president of TV animation, announced to the crew of Team Atlantis, the TV show using characters from the movie Atlantis, that the show was being pulled. He explained that the movie had not done well enough and they felt an audience for the TV show wouldn't be there.

Indeed, not only has Atlantis proved disappointing at the box office, but merchandise sales have been abysmal. "The show had been in development for about a year and in production for several months, so I assume there will be a heck of a kill fee to actors and overseas production houses—but that's just speculation on my part," an onlooker predicted. "This comes on the heels of cutting off the last eight episodes of Teacher's Pet a few months ago."

Promotional art  Disney
Promotional art Disney

A source at Disney confirmed that the television series had been canceled and called a planned direct-to-video sequel "doubtful." He expects further layoffs to result.

The direct-to-video sequel was to be a bridge from the movie to the series, which was originally planned as 39 half-hour episodes. Although the project had been in development for about a year, it didn't really go into production until March, with the first storyboard completed in April. By the time production was halted, no episodes had been completed, but several were through preproduction (written, recorded, designed, storyboarded, directed) and had been shipped overseas for animation.

The concept for the show itself was that the people who found Atlantis were now on missions, sponsored by Whitmore, to investigate other "mysterious" happenings around the world. Think X-Files, not Scooby Doo.

The voice talent included several actors from the movie, including Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci) as Vinnie. A sound-alike played the Milo/Michael J. Fox role. The James Garner character and the Helga character weren't in the show.

"Aside from the characters, the show could have stood on its own—and it may have been pretty good. There appeared to be some pretty nice twists in the stories," commented one onlooker. "If this had been an 'original' show, it may have done well. It certainly could have been unique in American televised animation. It's more than likely that it would have never been initiated if it hadn't been for Atlantis in the first place. Unfortunately, that which created it also doomed it."

You can write to David atthis link..

Characters  Disney/Dreamworks/Viacom
Characters Disney/Dreamworks/Viacom


David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.

After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.

He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.

You can contact David here.


Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)


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