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Posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Dave!I am not a fan of the Universal Studios theme park. On either coast.

Don't get me wrong, it's an entertaining place with plenty of fun stuff to do... but every time I visit I'm forever comparing things to Disney and usually find Universal to be lacking. So many of the attractions seem to be inferior copies of Disney rides, and it's difficult for me to ever get past that. The only time I find myself wanting to visit is when they add something new. Like Revenge of The Mummy ride when I was last here in 2004. Three years later, and they've added The Simpsons Ride in both Orlando and California parks, so here I am again...

The Simpsons Ride
Can we go to Krustyland? Can we go to Krustyland? Can we go to Krustyland?

The arrival of The Simpsons to Universal Studios is bittersweet.

On one hand, I love The Simpsons. I have been a rabid fan since day one (when they were a part of The Tracy Ulman Show), and am amazed that the show continues to pump out quality episodes after 20 years (despite a nasty drop in cleverness that plagued the show for a few years back around the ninth season).

On the other hand, I am positively hating the fact that Universal Studios closed Back To The Future: The Ride in order to put the new ride in its place. I can honestly say that BTTF:TR is one of my all-time favorite theme park attractions, and it's killing me that it no longer exists. It is the single best attraction ever to grace Universal Studios, brilliantly placing the rider into the Back To The Future films in a way that has yet to be duplicated. It is one of the rare instances where Universal copied Disney (the Star Tours ride from Star Wars) and improved upon it in every way.

Back To The Future DeLorean
A sad reminder... the BTTF DeLorean put in the corner.

So... was The Simpsons Ride worth such a big loss?

Not really.

It's a good ride, but a deeply flawed and shallow imitation of Back To The Future: The Ride which preceded it.

For one thing, they didn't even bother to do a decent job of re-themeing the old BTTF:TR building. They literally just slapped some paint and a few facade pieces on and that's all. It's meant to be a reproduction of "Krustyland" (the them park de jour of The Simpsons' world) which is a genius concept, but pathetically implemented. The only unique feature is the giant "Krusty head" you walk through to enter the attraction. Everything else is just tacked-on lameness that screams "cheap-ass" from top to bottom.

Boring Simpsons Ride Queue
THIS is supposed to be "Krustyland"? Boring, boring, boring.

The otherwise boring queue area is made entertaining because they are playing classic moments from The Simpsons interspersed with Simpsons characters waiting in line with you on television screens. If you love The Simpsons, the newly produced cartoon footage alone is worth the trip (including a heartbreaking cameo by a Simpsonized "Doc Brown" from BTTF:TR complete with the voice of Christopher Lloyd!). They also have posters hanging up which are advertising other "Krustyland" attractions, but it's such a cheap attempt at "atmosphere" that I wondered why they bothered. I mean, seriously, POSTERS?!? Avitable put more effort into themeing his halloween party...

Krustyland Poster
Captain Dinosaur's Pirate Rip-Off, "The ride so old it should be extinct!"

Eventually you make your way into the "holding area" (which formerly held cool props from the Back To The Future movies and had the story set-up with Doc Brown and Biff for the attraction). They play more clever new animated Simpsons ride footage here to put you into the story while you wait, but it pales in comparison to the immersive experience of the "Institute of Future Technology" previously had. After the previous riders vacate, the doors open and you enter the ride itself. Not surprisingly, very little has been done to re-theme the old BTTF:TR eight-seater custom DeLoreans... just some paint and tacky add-ons to make it barely resemble some kind of carnival ride car. Very lame.

Once in your seat with seven of your closest friends, the car elevates into the IMAX dome theater and the show begins.

And here's where everything takes a nose-dive into theme park ride mediocrity.

The footage placing you "in the ride" with The Simpsons characters is NOT ANIMATED!! It's computer-rendered in 3-D and looks like shit. Serious shit. The vivid world of The Simpsons is reduced to a lame computer video game. The Simpsons were never created to be rendered in three dimensions, and simply don't look like The Simpsons when you do so. Especially characters like Lisa, Bart and Maggie with their spikey hair, which becomes pointy blobs that look awful...

Lisa Simpson in 2-D and 3-D
The Simpsons should never be rendered in 3-D, they don't work that way!
Nifty Lisa toy photo taken from Sërch's photo stream on Flickr.

Now, granted, from a technical standpoint it is far, far easier to do the ride in 3-D than painstakingly animate everything in traditional 2-D animation... BUT WTF?!? They could have first rendered the ride footage and used it as a guide to drawing out "real" Simpsons animation that would have made the ride so much better an experience. As it is, you start with traditional animation in the queue and holding areas, then have a glaring transition to rendered 3-D animation that destroys any hope of maintaining the illusion that you're actually in The Simpsons. FAIL!

So, to re-cap... what began as an utterly genius ride with a flawlessly themed experience in Back To The Future: The Ride has been diminished to a flagrant display of tacky cheapness that not for one minute makes you feel as though you are a part of The Simpsons universe. It's a travesty unparalleled in theme park history, and that's saying a lot (Country Bear Jamboree anybody?).

Oh well. Life goes on, I guess. If you're interested, Orlando United has an excellent write-up (with far better pictures).

But still... it's a darn shame that one of the few unique gems in Universal Studios is gone. What rides are we left with?

  • Shrek 4-D. Universal's answer to such Disney attractions as Honey, I Shrunk The Audience and It's Tough To Be A Bug and Muppet-Vision 3-D... except it makes NO SENSE. You enter King Farquad's "dungeon" where he then punishes you by... wait for it... making you enter a theater and watch a movie? WTF?!? The movie itself is not so bad (great dimensional effects) but the set-up is fantastically stupid.
  • E.T. Adventure. Blargh. It does a good job of getting you immersed in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, but is like 20 years old or something and is just lame now. The attraction finally closed at Universal Studios California, and I can't imagine it's going to be around much longer here.
  • Revenge of The Mummy. Universal's cheap mash-up of Disney's Indiana Jones Adventure and Space Mountain... except, again, the themeing is ridiculous. A horrendously rubbery "Imhotep" mummy hijacks your car and... I kid you not... sends you on a roller coaster ride to steal your soul. It's almost embarrassing when you compare it to either of the original Disney attractions that it's imitating, where the themeing immerses you completely.
  • Men In Black: Alien Attack. Yet another Disney rip-off, this time of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.
  • Terminator 2: 3-D Battle Across Time. Probably thanks to the involvement of James Cameron and the original actors from the Terminator films, this is actually a very good attraction that is good at immersing you into the near-future world of Cyberdine Systems and continuing the story from Terminator 2. A must-see for any fan of The Terminator, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and one of the few truly unique experiences at Universal Studios.
  • Jaws. Two words... Fake. Shark.
  • Disaster!: A Major Motion Picture Ride...Starring You! Well, kind of a ride, I guess. It's got Christopher Walken in it, so it can't be all bad, but feels like mostly filler for tying Universal Studios to the "movie studio" background of the park by "putting you in the movies." I generally hate audience participation crap like this, and Disaster! is no exception.

Now, to be fair, there are other attractions here... but it's mostly kiddie rides that I can't ride (Barney the purple dinosaur lives on!) and theatrical shows that aren't really rides at all (besides, they're badly dated... Twister? Blues Brothers? Fear Factor? Beetlejuice? Holy crap. Way to stay cutting-edge, people!) I guess Disney has a big advantage here, because their animated films are instant classics and pretty much timeless... but still. Surely there are newer properties they can pick to keep the park contemporary?

Well, if their future-plans are any indication, the answer would be "no." Looks like we are getting another Disney retread... this time a blatant rip-off of Disney's Hollywood Studios' Rockin' Roller Coaster: Starring Aerosmith called "Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit!" There's definitely innovation to the idea (near-miss encounters with other cars on the track and video recording so you can YouTube your ride) but could we please... please... get something fucking original for this park? Who is running this place that they just don't get it?

Rockit Rip-Off Poster

Luckily, Universal's sister-park, Islands of Adventure doesn't suffer the same failings that cripple Universal Studios. It's pretty much a coaster park and compares more to Six Flags than Disney. Rides are, for the most part, very well done (The Incredible Hulk Coaster is my favorite roller coaster ever!). Assured of drawing record crowds when it opens in 2010, Islands of Adventure will be home to a "theme park within a theme park" with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Oh great... another reason to come back in two years!


Categories: Travel 2008Click To It: Permalink
   

Comments

  1. Ouch! I must be a complete and total dork, because I enjoy all those rides and shows you just harpooned. Disney may be up to date and cutting edge, but economically, my family can get yearly passes to Universal’s parks for the price of a 2 day pass to Disney. I was also sad to dee BTTF:TR go…. I was kinda hoping they would just update it with different footage, but my kids had no idea what those movies were…. and I have sat them down to watch them before! *sigh*

  2. Avitable says:

    I think both parks (Universal and Disney) have horribly outdated rides that look like shit. Disney’s update to Pirates was horrible, and some of their older rides feel like a throwback to the 50s. Of course, once I’ve ridden a ride at any of the parks, I have no interest in riding it again, so the “replayability” for me is very limited. I’d much rather go to Sea World than to either park.

  3. kat says:

    I can honestly say that BTTF:TR is one of my all-time favorite theme park attractions, and it’s killing me that it no longer exists.

    totally agreed.

  4. ChillyWilly says:

    It’s been years… many years, since the last time I went to Universal. It was at their Calif location and it was fun, but I’ve not seen any of these new rides they have there. I am sad that I was never able to experience the BTTF ride. One of my all-time favorite movie triolgies and I missed a ride version that was top notch.

    The Simpsons ride concept sounds good, but it also sounds like they could have done a better job in many ways. The copycat syndrome hardly ever works and it just proves that Disney has the edge when it comes to overall experience on a thrill or theme ride.

  5. Finn says:

    I’m not a big fan of Universal either. Disney does so many things right that it’s hard for anyone to keep up. I agree about Islands of Adventure too. I PPH roller coasters so it’s perfect for me.

    I’m disappointed that the Simpsons didn’t deliver. And that Back To The Future is gone. :(

  6. Hilly Sue says:

    Soooo, I guess it’s a good thing we’re not going back today? ;)

  7. Miss Britt says:

    Islands of Adventure is much, much better than Universal Studios.

    Did you do the Jimmy Neutron ride? It is one of my favorite Universal Studios attractions, actually.

  8. Dave2 says:

    Oh, I’m going back! I love “Islands of Adventure,” and my room came with a free 7-day pass!

    I’m riding The Incredible Hulk Coaster a few more times, for sure!

  9. Sybil Law says:

    That really sucks. There is not much worse than turning a great idea into something so shitty.
    (I tried commenting here last night and it never posted. Grrr! Anyway, it was great to see you! Excellent review, though!)

  10. twinkie says:

    Oh noooooooooooooo!!!! The last time I went to Universal they were still building the Back to the Future ride and I vowed to go back to experience it and now you’re telling me it’s gone all gone along with any hopes of …

    *sigh*

    **Checks it off her bucket list**

  11. Sarah says:

    I’ve never been to Universal Studios in CA and since this weekend was my first time in FL I’ve never been to the one there either.

    Now I feel kind of lame.

  12. serap says:

    Oh my god… when I was 2 years old my Dad took a trip to the USA (without us!), and he brought me back a vinyl record of Country Bear Jamboree! I bloody loved that record and used to play it loads as a child (had no idea what it was all about, just liked singing and dancing along!). How funny that you’ve brought back that memory! I had forgotten all about its existence. Thank you Dave!

  13. Mooselet says:

    We went to Florida 6 weeks after 9/11 (planned months in advance) and so the parks were fairly empty. We went on BTTF 3 times in a row – the kids LOVED it. How sad it’s gone. And yes, not even my then-6 year old was scared of Jaws.

  14. whall says:

    You, my friend, suffer from Lofty Expectations Social Syndrome (LESS). Because of LESS, you get less out of life. Your high expectations make for a very unhappy existence.

    Think back on all the times you’ve been unhappy and disappointed. I know you have many; your blog is but a small fraction of the number of encounters you’ve had with the doldrums and lamenting of a specific experience. Each time, your expectations were too highly set.

    But consider this – let’s say you went into Universal Studios expecting… oh I don’t know… expecting that one of the rides forced you to go through the Tunnel of Love with Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter.

    But suddenly, upon purchasing your ticket, you instead get to ride the Simpsons Ride! WHEEEEE!

    Now think about how you’d feel after that. Your writeup would be fanTASTIC.

  15. Nicole says:

    I have to disagree with you on Back to the Future the Ride. I went to Universal Studios in 2005 and I thought it was hella lame. Plus the ride ripped out some of my hair when it got caught on my seat and jerked me around. HATED IT.

    But I will agree with you on the other points. Universal is lame. The best ride there was Men in Black just because it invited some interaction. I don’t plan on ever going back.

  16. Shash says:

    I worked on the Disaster! ride when it was Earthquake and it sucked royally then. I was there when they opened Jaws and I remember laughing because we couldn’t believe they were opening it as a ride; it seemed so unfinished.

    So are we meeting up tomorrow? I’m jacking up on meds to clear this migraine so I can be there. :)

    Shash

  17. I’ve never been to Universal, so I cannot agree or disagree with you. But? I am a Disney junkie. Gimme a hit!

  18. I went to Universal Studios in CA back in 1998. It was my first experience of an American amusement park so I thought It was really good actually. It was Halloween at the time so we went back again at night and the whole park had turned into scareville. We had such a good laugh and they had done a really good job of the horror mazes.

    My fave amusement park is Six Flags Magic Mountain in CA. Well at least it was until they closed it down.

  19. yellojkt says:

    But Disney/MGM is a total rip-off of Universal Studios. Last time I went to Universal Studios I paid extra for the two-park pass so I could avoid the lame rides.

    And the worst part of Universal: No shade anywhere. You just broil.

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