Is SeaWorld the New Disney?

SeaWorld Entertainment has seen Disney cash in on its lucrative portfolio of entertainment properties, and now it appears to want in on the action.

The marine-life park operator is filing a trademark for Yonaguni as the name for an animated television series for children. 

A quick online search for Yonaguni shows that it's the westernmost inhabited island of Japan. It's also a breed of small horse that is native to Japan.

Is SeaWorld about to follow Disney's footsteps into animated character development, hoping that a potential hit with kids translates into theme park attractions, merchandising opportunities, and even costumed characters posing for snapshots?

"I hope we never lose sight of one thing -- that it was all started by a mouse," is one of Walt Disney's most popular quotes.

In other words, great things can happen with even the simplest of animated creatures. However, we can't assume that SeaWorld will even be successful as it tries to enter the Entertainment in its moniker.

Amusement park operators have been attempting to follow Disney for ages. Even the thrill-ride haven that's Six Flags tried to give it a go. I spent a day with then-CEO Mark Shapiro several years ago where he -- as a former Disney exec -- dreamed of one day rolling out original entertainment properties. The chain did eventually deliver a live stage show based around its own intellectual property, but it was never successful enough for the company to break ties with its licensing deals for Looney Tunes and DC Comics characters.

Rival Cedar Fair Entertainment  hasn't tried as hard as Six Flags did to drum up its own original characters, but it too is now run by a former Disney executive. This doesn't mean that Peanuts and the other licensed characters throughout the parks will be going away. It's apparently a lot easier to start with a mouse than to start with parks and try to bring in the mouse.

That may seem odd at first. Cedar Fair and Six Flags entertain tens of millions of guests a year. Wouldn't it be easy to introduce new characters? The companies have captive audiences spending hours in their parks. You can't buy that kind of exposure.

However, introducing a character and making it stick isn't easy outside of Disney's well-oiled machine. SeaWorld will have a whale of a challenge in trying to pull this off, but you can't blame it for trying. 

SeaWorld obviously is at least considering giving it a shot.  

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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