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Huffington Post -- Celebrate the start of The Simpsons' 25th season on television by touring Universal Studios Florida's Springfield, U.S.A.

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Huffington Post -- Celebrate the start of The Simpsons' 25th season on television by touring Universal Studios Florida's Springfield, U.S.A.

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Tonight The Simpsons officially kicks off its 25th season on Fox. Normally on an auspicious occasion like this, you're supposed to raise a glass. But since we're looking to pay tribute to the longest running prime time series in US television history, shouldn't that glass be filled with Duff Beer? Or -- at the very least -- Buzz Cola?

Well, if you'd like to toast Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart & Maggie with an authentic Simpsons-inspired beverage, then there's really only one place on the planet to go. And that's Universal Studios Florida. Which recently opened a full-scale, authentic recreation of Moe's Tavern as part of that theme park's Springfield, U.S.A. expansion project.

Photo by Jim Hill

"Ever since we first opened 'The Simpsons Ride' back in May of 2008, visitors to the Universal Orlando have been telling us that they really wanted to spend more time with these characters, that they wanted to do a deeper dive into the world of the Simpsons," said Mike West, an executive producer for Universal Creative (i.e., the arms of NBCUniversal that actually designs rides, shows and attractions for the Universal theme parks)."So a year or so back, we reached out to the folks at Fox & Gracie Films and told them that we were thinking of significantly expanding the Simpsons footprint at Universal Studios Florida. But the question then became what parts of this long-running animated series should we be adding to Universal Studios Florida?"

Mind you, there was method to Mike's madness when it came to getting Gracie Films & Fox involved in the Springfield, U.S.A. project. After all, no one knew more about this intellectual property than the actual creators of "The Simpsons," Matt GroeningJames L. Brooks. And West figured that the only way to make sure that this expansion area would appeal to serious Simpsons fans was to have Groening & Brooks' input on the project.

Photo by Jim Hill

"We flat-out asked them 'What do you guys feel are the really iconic locations & elements from the TV show that absolutely need to be part of this area?'," Mike continued. "And Matt & Jim really stepped up. They gave us input on everything from the proper colors to use for the exterior beams on Moe's Tavern to the proper placement & pose of our Chief Wiggums photo-op."

The "Simpsons" creatives were also very hands-on when it came to deciding which food & beverage items should be served in Springfield, U.S.A. Late last year, Groening and the writers of the show actually took part in a taste test to determine which Simpsons-themed items would exclusively be served in this theme park's new "Taste of Springfield" food court area.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

"And each of these food items was directly inspired by something that the Simpsons had seen or eaten on an episode of this TV show," explained Steven Jayson, the Executive Chef for the Universal Orlando Resort. "I think that my favorite moment during this entire  taste test was when one of the writers on the show spied the Clogger Burger, which is this really big, jumbo, double-patty sandwich with bacon. This writer pointed at that burger and said 'That's exactly how I envisioned it when I originally wrote that burger."

And that's exactly what West & Jayson were shooting for as they began working on the Springfield, U.S.A. project. A previously unobtained level of cartoon authenticity. They wanted to make the world of the Simpsons as real as possible for the millions of fans worldwide who have been watching this animated series for over two decades now and had been dreaming of someday getting the chance to visit their favorite Simpsons spots.

Photo by Jim Hill

"So we've deliberately put things into this part of Universal Studios Florida that only the hardcore fans of this animated series will appreciate," West continued. "Take -- for example -- those topiary versions of the Seven Duffs that we've got planted along Fast Food Boulevard near Duff Gardens. Casual viewers of the show probably won't remember these characters, who were introduced in an episode of the fourth season of The Simpsons where the writers were making fun of theme parks. But for the diehard Simpsons fans, as soon as they see those topiary versions of Surly, Tipsy, Queasy, Remorseful and  the rest of the Duffs, they immediately pull out their cell phones and start taking pictures."

But at the same time, Mike wanted to make sure that Springfield, U.S.A. would still appeal to those people who just have no idea who the Simpsons are ("You know. Those people who living in a cave on Pluto for the past two decades," West joked). Which is why Universal Creative made sure that this new waterfront expansion would provide Guests with  primo viewing spots for this theme park's new night-time lagoon show, Universal's Cinematic Spectacular.

Photo by Jim Hill

"You always have to keep things like that in mind when you're adding new areas to a theme park. Striking that balance between what will appeal to the truly hardcore fans of a particular intellectual property to then making sure that Guests who only have a cursory knowledge of a particular movie or TV show will still be able to enjoy the ride, show or attraction that you're building around that IP," Mike said.

Perhaps the best example of how West and his team struck this balance on the Springfield, U.S.A. project is the recently opened Kang & Kodos Twirl 'n' Hurl ride. Now for people who just have no idea who the Simpsons area, this waterfront attraction just appears to be your standard theme park spinner. But for fans of this long-running TV show, who know Kang & Kodos from their many appearances on the Simpsons' annual Treehouse of Horror Halloween shows ... To suddenly find themselves trapped in the tentacles of these two evil aliens who have repeatedly tried to enslave the citizens of Springfield is fun beyond imagining.

Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

"Back when we originally opened The Simpsons Ride back in 2008, I always hoped that we'd get the chance to revisit this world. Bring a bit more of the fun of The Simpsons' animated world out into our real world," West enthused. "But I never actually dreamed that we'd then be able to do something on this scale. Where our Guests could actually walk into a to Krusty Burger and order a Clogger. Or plop themselves on a stool at Moe's Tavern and then try & decide if they want to try a Duff, a Duff Light or a Duff Dry."

And given that Universal Studios Hollywood has its own Simpsons Ride (More importantly, given that much of the Upper Lot area directly adjacent to this theme park attraction has recently been torn down to make room for a mystery project that NBCUniversal isn't quite ready to talk about yet), is it possible that Universal's West Coast theme park may soon get a Springfield, U.S.A. of its own?

Construction fences shield  Universal Studios Hollywood visitors from the trio of  backhoes
that are knocking down a number of the buildings on the Upper Lot. Photo by Jim Hill

"Hey, anything's possible," Mike concluded. "We at Universal Creative feel that it's incumbent on us to keep things fresh for our Guests, that our theme parks stay culturally hip. And while the Simpsons aren't exactly new, they've been around for so long and are so beloved worldwide that we thought that it would be a natural to expand these characters' footprint in Florida. But as to whether same sort of thing is someday going to happen out in Hollywood, who can say?"

So long story short, folks: If you really want to lift a glass at Moe's Tavern tonight and then pay tribute to the official kick-off of The Simpsons 25th season on television, there's really only one place to go. And that's the recently completed Springfield, U.S.A. area at Universal Studios Florida.

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  • I think the Simpsons additions are really cute and I like them. But I think it's interesting to note that theme park fans really do hold Universal and Disney to two different standards. Take the statues of Chief Wiggum, the Duff beer guys, and Millhouse for instance: if Disney had statues like that of Disney characters out and about, people would crucify Disney for "going cheap" and just having them be statues and not moving or not being face characters. The "Springfield" that was built in Orlando doesn't really look like what was in the Simpsons cartoon...but it does have the feel of Simpsons locations (so it is "good enough"). But I remember people giving Disney a very hard time because Belle's village and Beast castle were not EXACTLY like in the movie.

    Sometimes I feel like Universal fans grade Universal on a big curve...while everything that Disney does is really put under the microscope. It feels like people are just so thrilled that Universal put time and money towards something, but Disney has to get everything perfect to be given any kudos at all.

    Just something I notice while reading all the fan boards.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: The Chief Wiggum, Duff Beer Guy and Milhouse are meant to be photo ops. Just like that statue of Goofy that's in front of the Town Square Theater in WDW's Magic Kingdom. And given that they're actually pretty good 3D recreations of these 2D characters as they're depicted on the "Simpsons" television show, I seriously doubt that if photo op characters of this quality popped up in the Disney Parks that anyone would get crucified and/or accuse the Mouse of going cheap.

    What I personally don't understand is why some Disney defenders feel the need to fall back to their knee-jerk position (i.e., if it's Universal, then it must be bad) when it comes to rides, shows and attractions at non-Disney theme parks that are obviously highly themed and entertaining? What is so difficult about admitting that Disney's direct competition in the Orlando area has been on kind of a hot streak lately?

    This whole "Universal gets graded on a curve" argument of yours, BradyNBradleysMom, doesn't hold much water. Especially when you compare the way that Universal treats its classic attractions (EX: "The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man." Which was already one of the most popular, most technologically innovative attractions at Islands of Adventure before Universal Creative opted to replace all of the film projectors in that building with Hi-Def digital projectors. What's more, they had brand-new CG animation created of the Marvel characters created to take advantage of these new Hi-Def projectors as well as reprogramming the Scoops that ran through this show building to deliver a better overall show experience) to the way Disney World now maintains even its newest attractions like "Ariel's Undersea Adventure: The Little Mermaid" (Have you seen the Scuttle Animatronic in the queue area of this New Fantasyland dark ride? That AA figure was in extremely rough shape the last time I visited that attraction with the paint of its eyelids completely scrapped off. Making Scuttle look more like a Terminator than Ariel's feathered friend).

    Not to be blunt here, BradyNBradleysMom, but when Disney does do something decent (EX: Cars Land for DCA), they do get kudos. What's bothering the Disney diehards these days is that even the general public is now becoming aware that Universal has seriously stepped up its game. And trust me on this, when Diagon Alley opens next June and people making direct comparisons between Universal's highly themed & innovative Hogwarts Express experience to New Fantasyland's Seven Dwarfs Mine Train kiddie coaster, it's going to get ugly.

    Which is why I really wish that Disney would get off the pot and start revealing details about Star Wars Land and James Cameron's World of Avatar already. Because (these days, anyway) Universal really does have the upper hand. At least when it comes to the now very public perception that "These days,  Universal spends money on attractions. Whereas Disney spends money on ways to get WDW visitors to spend more money. Like MagicBands."

  • Just makes me wish all the more that Disney built Muppet Studios at Disney-MGM.

  • Perhaps you can shed some light on this Jim...I have been wondering if Disney has been mum on Animal Kingdom's World of Pandora and the creation of an actual Star Wars themed land at Hollywood Studios becuase they are waiting to see what Universal Orlando's expansion is really like.  Are they keeping their cards close to their chest to see how great the Harry Potter expansion is?  So that, if Universal gets alot more buzz and bump than Disney expects, Disney could plus out their plans and THEN make an announcement?  In other words, avoid the problems of announcing an expansion like the New Fantasyland and then changing many of the primary elements halfway through.  What do you think Jim?  Is a Universal expansion success a better pathway for a plussed Star Wars land?  Thanks!

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