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...
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.
A sad reminder... the BTTF DeLorean put in the corner.
So... was The Simpsons Ride worth such a big loss?
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.
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...
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
The Simpsons should never be rendered in
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
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?
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?
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!