Where there’s a park there’s a mascot

Where there’s a park there’s a mascot

29 April 2020 Off By Facto Edizioni

/ by Valerio Mazzoli /

When you see them, they bring a smile to your face, no-one can resist wanting to take a photo with them, and they represent an essential marketing and retail resource for a leisure structure. They are of course mascots.

Valerio Mazzoli, theme park & attraction designer

One very important aspect for a theme park is the mascot. Looking back at the origins, Walt Disney created Disneyland as the ideal city for the typical American family to have fun, basing it above all on memories of his childhood and the characters and stories he created for cinema. Thus Mickey Mouse, the father of the Disney family, became the first official mascot in the history of theme parks. Following the success of Disneyland, other parks began to emerge all over the world, including in Europe: Germany, England, France, the Netherlands, Italy (Edenlandia in Naples, in 1965) and others. These theme parks also created their own mascots, naturally without an important story behind them as in the case of Disney: timid imitations of Disney, such as mouse caricatures or other figures relating to comics, both well-known and not. 

Over time, the need to identify the theme park with a mascot became an increasing need in terms of image and marketing, so as to be able to stand out from the various parks founded along the lines of Disneyland. 

Prezzemolo, Gardaland’s mascot as a guest star on ‘Super Flash’, TV show hosted by Mike Bongiorno in the Eighties.

In the 70s and 80s, I acquired experience in the USA working at Walt Disney Productions as a creative cartoonist for merchandising products relating to the parks sector. Later I moved to WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering), working on the Epcot and Disneyland Tokyo projects. There I learned the art of fantasy and creativity linked to theme parks, working as a creative for new attractions and as a sculptor for new characters in the Epcot project. An incredible experience that on returning to Italy I exploited at Gardaland, a new enterprise with big ambitions. One of the first tasks I was given was to develop a mascot for the theme park. Their idea was a butterfly. I immediately advised them against this choice, because it was not very adaptable to the development of attractions, it was not very impressive as a character and hard to exploit for merchandising. I thus created Prezzemolo the dragon. The entrance to the park was a castle, and a dragon would therefore fit in well as a mascot, as well as for developing themed attractions, and as a costumed character walking around the park to entertain children. They liked the idea, so I examined various applications for the character, including a costume that an actor could wear to take photos with children. I also took Prezzemolo the dragon on TV, on Channel 5, as a guest on ‘Super Flash’, a prime-time show hosted by Mike Bongiorno, the most famous presenter in the history of Italian TV and a dear friend of mine. For the show I had Disney USA send some mascot costumes – Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto – and they all danced with their new friend Prezzemolo against the backdrop of Disneyland Castle. The next day at Gardaland was utter chaos! Everyone wanted to meet Prezzemolo. The development of the mascot was thus the first major success at a European theme park! We immediately created an image gallery for Prezzemolo and a wide range of products. Since then, Prezzemolo has come a long way, also being transformed by a cartoonist, but always remains in my heart as Gardaland’s first big success. 

How then is a mascot created? When designing a theme park, if using a famous character (for example, from a cartoon) for the mascot, attractions, shows and so on, royalties need to paid to the copyright owners, and there are also many constraints relating to ownership of the brand. The alternative solution is to create your own mascot: a more difficult choice, but one that is more gratifying, as the theme park is then identified with its own brand and nothing else, and can also do whatever it wants freely. If the flagship character then becomes successful in its own right, the park gains prestige and a well-defined identity. Certainly it is not an easy task to develop a successful character: first of all it needs to be part of the theme park design, and there must be one or more attractions where it is the protagonist. Children should instantly love the character and feel like he or she is a friend, must be able to live their adventures through the attractions, books, comics and marketing in which the character is the focal point of the park. Clearly, the mascot must also be accompanied by a ‘family of characters’, so that stories, attractions, cartoons and merchandising products can be developed around it. The work must be planned carefully, with targeted marketing research. Today there is no theme park, FEC or waterpark of any size that does not have its own mascot: more or less original, more or less beautiful, but always pleasing to visitors, as they identify the positive feeling it conveys with the park. It is the symbol of the park, and taking home a stuffed animal, a pin or a mug with its image means taking home tangible emotions of that joyful day that can then be relived over time. I believe that the design and creation of a mascot is a very important and decisive stage in a successful project.

Taken from Games&Parks Industry April 2020, page 92

Valerio Mazzoli /  theme park & attraction designer / info@valeriomazzoli.com