‘Walking right into the movie’: Exclusive peek at Universal Orlando’s new DreamWorks Land


We’re getting our first official look at the new DreamWorks Land coming to Universal Orlando Resort next month, in a video shared first with USA TODAY.

The new land officially opens June 14 at Universal Studios Florida. And while it will be open to all ages, it will be especially welcome among families with young children, who've missed dedicated play space in the park after Woody Woodpecker's KidZone's closing in Jan. 2023. (There are several kids areas at neighboring Universal Islands of Adventure.)

DreamWorks Land will feature a new Trolls-themed roller coaster and several interactive play areas, including a shaded space for the park’s youngest guests and multiple opportunities to get soaking wet. There will also be a live show with singing, dancing, special effects and tons of characters, as well as the chance to meet DreamWorks characters like Gabby of “Gabby’s Dollhouse” and characters from the “Shrek,” “Trolls” and “Kung Fu Panda” film franchises in person.

Two of the land’s creators spoke exclusively with USA TODAY in the resort’s first official interview on DreamWorks Land. Here’s what we learned from Dean Orion, who previously worked at DreamWorks and is now creative director of Universal Creative at Universal Orlando Resort, and Michael Vollman, executive vice president of Marketing at DreamWorks Animation, which is owned by Universal Pictures.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

This summer, Universal Orlando Resort will debut its new themed area, "DreamWorks Land."
This summer, Universal Orlando Resort will debut its new themed area, "DreamWorks Land."

USA TODAY: There’s been a DreamWorks’ presence across Universal parks for a while. How did the idea for this land get dreamed up?

Orion: The former KidZone – the area that we built DreamWorks Land in – was built with the original park, so it goes back 30 years. Parks, you know, they take a lot of wear and tear. They age. The IP (intellectual property) gets a little long in the tooth, and sometimes it's time to refresh. You know very well it takes some time to develop the concepts, ideas and then go through construction, everything, so here we are.

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Question: There hasn’t necessarily been a “Shrek” film in a while. “Trolls” and “Kung Fu Panda,” just had relatively recent films. How do you see the longevity of these characters and their ability to connect with guests now?

Vollman: We're very proud of our original movies and our franchises, and these are three of our best and biggest franchises.

One of the things that’s fantastic is you know Shrek’s been around. It’s 25 years old in 2026. It’s (still) massively popular, and it’s an immersive land. It’s perfect for stuff like this, as is “Trolls” and as is “Kung Fu Panda.” And while I didn’t have a new Shrek, I did have a new “Puss in Boots."

There's a timelessness to these characters, but then the closeness of our relationship between DreamWorks and the parks lets us make sure that they're able to be as up to speed and cutting edge as possible.

This summer, Universal Orlando Resort will debut its new themed area, "DreamWorks Land."
This summer, Universal Orlando Resort will debut its new themed area, "DreamWorks Land."

Question: We don't want to forget Gabby, right? Also I understand there’s an opportunity toward the front of the land where guests may be able to meet different characters, depending upon what might be newly released down the line.

Vollman: Talk about the ability to get characters from the zeitgeist into the parks. Dean and his team were fantastic. Gabby’s is a huge opportunity for us as a company. We're very proud of the show. Little kids are gonna be able to meet Gabby at a special kiosk that they put together right at the front door of the place. We're very excited about it.  Next to that is the rotating DreamWorks character place, so it'll be pretty much a constant photo opportunity.

Orion: Absolutely. Our challenge, designwise, was where do we put that because we have these three neighborhoods that each represent each one of the IPs. You don't want to stick another IP right in the middle of one of the others. We landed on this spot that's right behind the marquee, because it makes a lot of sense. There's the DreamWorks marquee, and now you can see all the characters right there and so that's where we have Gabby as well.

Question: Kids and families are used to experiencing these characters in 2-D, maybe in a character-meet-and-greet. But let’s talk about being able to be immersed in these lands and feel like they’re in these spaces.

Orion: The three-dimensional thing is quite something in all three areas, but probably the biggest and most striking example is Shrek’s cottage. When you see this structure, you're literally walking right into the movie screen. And we have the meet-and-greet where Shrek and Fiona are going to come out of the house and Donkey’s there chattering up a storm, it really is going to feel incredibly immersive.

This summer, Universal Orlando Resort will debut its new themed area, "DreamWorks Land."
This summer, Universal Orlando Resort will debut its new themed area, "DreamWorks Land."

Question: Can you tell me about the importance of having this space for families, for younger guests in this park? Not only with brands that they're familiar with on screen, but this place that’s dedicated to play in just their size.

Orion: That was a huge motivation here to create a really fun environment where kids can play freely. We've really consciously tried to put as much interactivity into the land as possible, and to really maximize the fun factor. So there are interactions that are digital. There are interactions that are physical. There are interactions with characters. There are interactions with water. There are animated figures, and there's just tons of shows. There's going to be shows with characters all day long, so it really is going to be just a great destination for families with younger people.

We actually built these huge shade mushrooms in Trolls to just create all this shade. We already had lots of trees, lots of seat walls and benches and stuff, so if Grandma and Grandpa come, they can sit and watch the kids play.

Question: How is the land made to be accessible for guests with disabilities?

Orion: We put a lot of thought and consideration into ADA accessibility, from the way things are designed. Our entire Shrek play structure has a big ramp that anybody in a wheelchair can get all the way up. There are double handrails. There are closed-captioned glasses. There are standards that we have in the parks. Everything has to go through those requirements.

Question: Is there anything you think guests shouldn’t miss? 

Vollman: The amount of work and love and care that's gone into the DreamWorks Imagination Celebration, I think this show is going to be something really special. We've got 30 years worth of iconic music to play with, 30 years of iconic characters. You get up and dance and clap and sing and have fun.

Orion: There's a lot of great music, and the dancers are fantastic. And there are big animated characters, There are puppets. There are effects. There are incredible media screens, and it’s in the round, so it's this really 360-degree immersive theater experience.

This summer, Universal Orlando Resort will debut its new themed area, "DreamWorks Land."
This summer, Universal Orlando Resort will debut its new themed area, "DreamWorks Land."

Question: Can you share any Easter eggs in the land?

Orion: There is a Woody Easter egg in the land, but I'm not going to say where it is. You'll have to come and find it for yourself.

In Shrek’s Swamp, you'll notice some footprints that might be from some ogres around. The outhouse gives you a nice little surprise when you go down the slide.

The interactive gong in Kung Fu Panda has a lot of surprise sounds that you might not expect.

One last thing: When we were working with the wardrobe team to design the wardrobe for the folks who operate the whole land, the idea came up of having DreamWorks on the back of the shirts, their jackets plus the moon boy logo. One of the things that I loved about working at DreamWorks is that the employees very often refer to themselves as DreamWorkers. It's just a really cool thing most people wouldn't know because it's very internal, and so I thought what a great way to honor them, if all the folks working in the land had DreamWorker on the back of their shirt. And so I asked Mike if that would be OK, and they all loved that idea too.

Question: How does it feel seeing all this come to life and knowing that guests are just a few weeks from experiencing the land for themselves?

Vollman: It’s like Christmas Eve, opening that present up. People are going to blown away. It's a lovely expression of three great sets of entertaining content. Having it come to life and to be able to run around inside, it's going to be joy.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Universal Orlando's new DreamWorks Land: Exclusive sneak peek