Halloween Horror Nights is in full swing at the Universal Orlando Resort, and many people are noticing a certain little carved pumpkin character popping up around the parks. Lil’ Boo can be spotted on more than a dozen pieces of official merchandise during this Halloween season—in addition to appearing as Easter eggs in scare zones, gift shops, and even promotional materials. But who is Lil’ Boo, and why should we care?
What started out as a fan-favorite jack-o-lantern last year, with fan-art and social media praise, has turned into a full on phenomenon in 2022. And while you can purchase official Universal-branded Lil’ Boo items at the parks, that’s not the only place you’ll find him—and it’s not where you’ll find the whole story.
It all started with a tweet about a cute little pumpkin outside of one of the haunted houses at last year’s Halloween Horror Nights event. It was early in the season, during Team Member previews, but it would set off a fan-frenzy that continues to this day.
The tweet from @TheConnorWeb may have pointed out the adorable little carved pumpkin, but it was a reply from the official Halloween Horror Nights Twitter account that named him, saying “That’s Lil’ Boo.”
We spoke about how this seemingly innocuous exchange escalated to full on fandom in a story about the history of Lil’ Boo last year. We interviewed the original creator of the adorable lil’ pumpkin, Emory Alvarado of Emory Arts, to learn how the little guy came to be.
Turns out this particular pumpkin was originally carved for a scare zone in 2017, and had likely been used as decoration in multiple areas since. It wasn’t until it was discovered in front of last year’s “Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin” haunted house that it took off though.
Emory told us about her motivation behind this particular design in an interview last year: “I actually got in trouble, because I was carving too little, because I was taking such detailed time… I think Lil’ Boo was birthed from my exasperation of carving so many pumpkins, because it wasn’t my first.”
It’s possible that something about this little guy’s trademark nervous face really resonated with people last year. Emory suggested that perhaps concerns about life during the pandemic had left us all as anxious as Lil’ Boo’s expression seemed to convey. For whatever reason, a new icon was born.
A year later, and Lil’ Boo has found a new home during this year’s Halloween event. He is now perched (quite high and out of guests’ reach) in the center of the entry archway, directly behind the large “Halloween Horror Nights” sign. It certainly feels that Universal is aware of his star-status now, and has placed him where he can personally welcome every guest to the event.
But it does not stop there. Lil’ Boo can be spotted as an Easter egg in graphics for the Sweet Revenge scare zone in the New York area of the park, as well as inside the Halloween Tribute Store. A larger, (somewhat frightening,) take on Lil’ Boo’s expression can be seen on a jack-o-lantern in the All Hallows Eve Boutique in Islands of Adventure.
Lil’ Boo also makes a few brief appearances at the end of this year’s lagoon show, “Ghoulish: A Halloween Tale,” during Halloween Horror Nights. And of course, one major change from last year to now… Lil’ Boo has official merchandise. Lots of it.
While last year saw countless renditions of Lil’ Boo in fan-created art, along with fan-made shirts, buttons, and more, this year is when Universal themselves has gotten into the Lil’ Boo merch game.
Anything and everything you can imagine slapping a Lil’ Boo face on you can find for sale at Universal Orlando right now. There are Lil’ Boo hats, purses, sipper cups, posters, window clings, glasses, ornaments, socks, buttons, earrings, and even a candle named “Lil’ Boo” that smells like pumpkin.
It seems to be paying off as well, as some of the Lil’ Boo branded items are flying off the shelves so fast they cannot be restocked fast enough to meet demand. Items like the hats, purses, and especially the sipper cups, have become hard to find day to day, despite some of them consistently being replenished.
Emory, the original creator of the Lil’ Boo pumpkin design, designs and offers her own brand of merchandise. Her version of LI’L BOO is different though, taking the character in a fresh new direction, and evolving him beyond simply a nervous expression. Her Li’l Boo has his own story—and a body.
According to reporting by Orlando Sentinel, Universal and Emory have entered into a licensing agreement that grants her permission to create and sell her own works of art and products featuring the character. Emory does not earn any profits from the official merchandise sold in the parks however.
In an unusual turn for the industry, the original artist for a theme park project, as well as the theme park itself, are able to both share their own takes on, and profit from, the same character, despite Universal technically owning its likeness outright.
As a self-proclaimed super fan of the concept of Lil’ Boo, I am personally invested in both versions of the lil’ guy. I have happily purchased several items from both Universal AND from Emory Arts, and I appreciate the subtle differences between them.
— Alicia Stella (@AliciaStella) December 18, 2021
Last year, Emory offered an illustrated book in the style of a children’s book entitled “The Chilling Tale of Li’l Boo.” It featured a sort of origin story for the character, which involved lore that incorporated characters from last year’s Wicked Growth haunted house, as well as Emory’s experience carving the pumpkin herself.
Emory says that a second edition of the beautifully illustrated book is forthcoming, as well as a sequel, which may be available as early as next year. Emory’s evolution of the character, taking it further than simply a meme to be shared on social media, speaks to her work as an artist.
You can currently purchase keychains, shirts, notebooks, and stickers featuring Emory’s variation of Li’l Boo from her online store. You can also purchase and print a stencil for carving your own Lil’ Boo pumpkin!
Plus, Emory has a kickstarter for the character’s first plush, which will also include an enamel pin. Her goal is to sell at least 500 of the exclusive plush character by September 25, 2022, and she said recently on social media that she’s a little over halfway there as of this writing.
It appears Universal may adopt the Lil’ Boo figure as a sort of annual icon for their Halloween offerings—with merchandise featuring his face now also available in Universal Studios Hollywood. Emory Arts will also continue to tell the story behind the character, and how he is growing up and evolving, just as we all are now in these uncertain times.
Now, the story doesn’t end there, as Emory was actually asked to carve a new Li’l Boo pumpkin prop to be displayed at the Cabana Bay Resort’s Halloween Horror Nights inspired overlay for the Swizzle Lounge. Unlike the original Lil’ Boo seen in the park, this modern version incorporates Emory’s signature tuft of hair made from his stem.
Could this signal the start of the two Boos co-existing at the Universal Resorts in more ways going forward? We will just have to wait and see.
You can learn more about Lil’ Boo’s meteoric rise to stardom in our original story from last Halloween. Check out our podcast interview with Emory from last year as well for more details. And don’t forget to order your Li’l Boo plush or other unique items from Emory Arts before it is too late.