Universal Orlando has officially announced that the former KidZone section of Universal Studios Florida will be home to a new land based on DreamWorks Animation. As we have previously reported, the company has confirmed that the new area will contain franchises like Shrek, Trolls, and Kung Fu Panda. But what types of experiences the new area contain, and when will it open?
Let’s go beyond today’s announcement, and dig into rumors and permits for the new DreamWorks land, in today’s news update! See the video version of this story for additional visuals.
The KidZone area of Universal Studios Florida officially closed back in January of this year, and without hesitation, work walls went up and demolition started. Universal didn’t announce what would be replacing the kid-centric area until today, when they shared:
“Next year, Universal Orlando Resort will debut an all-new themed land featuring DreamWorks Animation’s beloved animated characters. As guests step into this new land, their imaginations will run wild as they take in the vibrant colors, sights and sounds that surround them. They will share special moments with their favorite characters like Gabby from Gabby’s Dollhouse and explore themed, interactive play spaces and attractions that bring popular franchises like Shrek, Trolls and Kung Fu Panda to life in the most imaginatively fun ways.”
To make way for the new land, Fievel’s Playland, Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster, Curious George Goes to Town, DreamWorks Destination, and Shrek and Donkey’s Meet & Greet all closed. Fievel’s Playland was torn down completely, the Nuthouse Coaster will be repurposed for the new area, as well as the former Barney theater where DreamWorks Destination was.
The E.T. Adventure ride, Animal Actors show, KidZone Pizza Company, and SpongeBob StorePants have remained open, and will not be part of the new DreamWorks land.
A brand new steel structure has risen in the former Kids Zone section of Universal Studios! pic.twitter.com/ZTs1l3cHlv
— Theme Park Express (@ThemeParkExpres) July 19, 2023
Vertical construction on the area only began yesterday, as some framing was installed near the front of the new land, close to the E.T. ride. Currently, the entrance and exit to E.T. is being routed around work walls as the area is being reconfigured slightly.
Universal did not announce a specific opening time frame for the new DreamWorks land, only saying it would be coming next year. Construction permits for the new land, known as Project 540 in documents, show construction lasting from January 16, 2023, day work walls went up around the area, through March 29, 2024. That could put the opening of the new land as any time after that. Rumors suggest they may be targeting a Summer 2024 opening.
What kinds of attractions would this new DreamWorks land contain?
While the official announcement was light on details, it did confirm that properties like Shrek, Trolls, and Kung Fu Panda will be featured prominently. It has been rumored that the front section of the area, where Fievel’s Playland once stood, will become home to Shrek’s Swamp.
This Shrek-themed mini-land is expected to feature some themed playground elements, all surrounding the iconic home to Shrek and his family. It’s possible the new vertical construction in this area could even be for the tall tree stump of Shrek’s house.
The popular Shrek and Donkey meet and greet will find its new home here at the swamp. I wouldn’t be surprised to see new Shrek characters be added for additional meet-and-greets in this area as well, like from the acclaimed Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, for example.
Next will be the Trolls section of the land. Repurposing the leftover existing kiddie coaster from KidZone, this area will feature the Trollercoaster. In fact, this rumor may already have been proven true, as the rethemed coaster can be seen in an uncropped version of the official concept art shared by Universal.
In the top-right of the image below, it appears the red coaster track has been painted green and yellow, and the trains may even have been themed to something like the Caterbus as seen in the Trolls films. A small bit of the Shrek’s Swamp area can be spotted on the right of this image as well.
One section of the existing KidZone area that did not receive demolition permits, and was left virtually intact, is the former Barney theater. Rumors for what the theater will be used for range from keeping the DreamWorks Destination going, to installing a Trolls World Tour sing-along show.
Whether inside the theater, or in the theater courtyard, this area could also be used for character greetings for properties that are not receiving their own dedicated mini-land. The official press release mentions special meet-n-greets with “other characters like Gabby from Gabby’s Dollhouse” for example.
The last section of the new DreamWorks land will be based on Kung Fu Panda. In aerial photos we can see that not all of the former Curious George area was demolished, leading some to wonder if things like that Ball Factory and the water bucket dump may remain, but be rethemed to Kung Fu Panda.
One rumor, which has been backed up by a patent filed by the company, is for some type of interactive character experience. The patent shows an animated Panda on a projected surface with diagrams on how a human performer can control the cartoon character backstage using a puppeteering rig.
Today’s official announcement did say this will be an “Interactive New Land” after all, so maybe a real-time animated character will be one of the interactive elements.
Other rumors suggest there may even be purchasable interactive wearables that guests will be able to use around all of the areas. Whether that could be a wristband like Super Nintendo World’s Power-Up Bands, or something else entirely, is not yet known.
In prior years, when we first started hearing about a possible DreamWorks takeover of the KidZone land, there were rumors of a possible dark ride at the back of the area. A new indoor ride does not appear to be part of the plans at this time, but it’s always possible that one could be built in expansion space on the other side of the Simpsons ride, and connected to the DreamWorks area. If that were to happen, it would relocate some Halloween Horror Nights house locations though, and currently there are no reliable rumors of plans being ready for that.
One interesting aspect of today’s announcement, is that it seems that this new area will not be the only offering added in 2024. The official press release goes on to say:
“The new DreamWorks land, coming to Universal Studios Florida, is part of a collection of new entertainment experiences debuting at Universal Orlando Resort in 2024 and is a continuation of Universal’s commitment to rich storytelling that places guests of all ages in the most incredible and immersive environments.”
Since it refers to next year’s additions as “entertainment experiences,” perhaps they could be talking about the new parade replacing the now closed Superstar Parade, a new nighttime show replacing the former lagoon show, an Epic Universe Tribute Store rumored to be replacing the Legacy Store in CityWalk, and maybe even a new after-hours special ticketed event similar to Halloween Horror Nights but at a different time of year.
In the short term, we’re still waiting on an official opening date for Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast, which is currently operating in technical rehearsals.
Part of a complete Minion Land overhaul of much of Production Central, this new moving pathway interactive attraction is still working out the bugs, but we are expecting an official opening date to be announced in the coming weeks, most likely after its app pairing feature is available.
And don’t forget, Universal Destinations & Experiences is also working on another project featuring these DreamWorks characters. Work is expected to start soon on the Universal Kids amusement park in Frisco Texas later this year. We’ll have more news and rumors for that project in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
That’s all for now, but check out the video version of this story for additional visuals. See out recent queue walk-through video from Villain-Con Minion Blast. And stay tuned for more news and rumors for all of these projects in the coming weeks and months!
Subscribe to the news feed or enter your email address below to never miss an update. Official Concept Art: Universal Orlando Resort | Original Photos: Alicia Stella | Aerial Photos: Bioreconstruct | Other Images as Captioned