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"Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" is the latest step in Universal Studios Hollywood's reimagining of its Upper Lot

"Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" is the latest step in Universal Studios Hollywood's reimagining of its Upper Lot

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By now, you've probably already heard that Universal Studios Hollywood's version of "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" opened on Friday.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

And as you might expect, there was the usual hoopla ...


Gru is joined onstage by Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gier and Elsie Fisher, the three
talented young ladies who voiced Margo, Edith & Agnes in "Despicable Me"
and "Despicable Me 2." Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... that now comes with the opening of a brand-new theme park attraction ...


Universal Parks & Resort management, dignitaries & celebrities all gathered with Gru
around a detonator. Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... in the highly competitive Southern California market.


As a blizzard of Minion-yellow balloons, streamers and confetti descended on the crowd,
USH's version of "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" was officially declared open.
Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Now a lot of other sites would use this opening-of-this-new-USH-attraction as an opportunity to talk about the "Minion Mayhem" ride itself ...


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

But here at JHM ... Well, I'd prefer to use the debut of Universal Studios Hollywood's new "Despicable Me" -themed "land" as a way to talk about how Universal Creative has reimagining that theme park's Upper Lot area.

Because -- let's be honest here, folks -- while Universal Studios Hollywood does have a really strong entrance ...


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

... not to mention a retail corridor that does reinforce the idea that you're now entering a theme park which celebrates the movies ...


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

... but everything kind of fell apart as soon as you got to the end of Universal Studios Hollywood's retail corridor. Which was where the Upper Lot then turned in this confusing tangle of games, shops, attractions & restaurants.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

And the folks at Universal Creative knew this. But -- given that they'd previously had to rehab USH's Upper Lot area in a piecemeal fashion -- there was just no way that they could address the Upper Lot's visual confusion / guest flow issues in a comprehensive manner.

But all that changed in November of 2011 when Universal Park & Resorts managers revealed that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be coming to Hollywood in 2016.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

And since a goodly portion of the Upper Lot (not to mention the entire Gibson Amphitheatre) would have to be torn up / ripped down in order to accommodate J.K. Rowling's characters ... Well, Universal Creative took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redo much of the front half of its Southern California theme park. Put together a new master plan for the Upper Lot that would -- for once & for all -- address all of the visual confusion / guest flow issues that had previously existed in this corner of Universal Studios Hollywood.

The first portion of Universal Creative's new vision for USH's Upper Lot to come online was the Universal Plaza. The area first opened to the public back in August of 2013.


Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the Universal Plaza features many of the same design elements that the Guests had already seen as they passed through this theme park's entrance archway and then wandered up its retail corridor. Ah, but there's more to this architectural-celebration-of-Hollywood's-golden-age than meets the eye.

You see, right from the get-go, the Universal Plaza had been designed to be a multi-use space. So in September & October, it could be used as an over-flow queue area for Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... while in November & December, this exact same space could then be repurposed for Grinchmas. Giving USH visitors a place where they do holiday crafts ...


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... or attend the nightly lighting of this theme park's 60 foot-tall Grinchmas tree.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

During the hot summer months, Universal Plaza then converts into a massive water play area. Which gives kids a place to cool down while Mom & Dad go off and grab lunch at near-by counter service restaurants like the Snack Bar & Pink's.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

Mind you, one of the main reasons that Universal Creative was looking to rip out this tangle of shops, restaurants, games and attractions which one used to encounter when they arrived at the very heart of the Upper Lot was to ease guest flow through this area. Which is going to become especially crucial when this theme park's expanded Springfield, U.S.A. area opens in 2015. Not to mention when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter came online in 2016.

But you know what I like best about Universal Creative's been doing with that theme park's Upper Lot area. Whenever possible, they've been using this multi-million dollar redo as an excuse to do some placemaking.

Now please don't misunderstand. While I love what the folks down in Orlando did when the original "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" opened at Universal Studios Florida back in July of 2012 ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... because this attraction was located in that theme park's Production Central area right across the street from Shrek 4-D, there was only so much placemaking that Universal Creative could do. So they put some funny Minion-themed elements on the exterior of Soundstage 42 ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... not to mention some cute signage down at street level.


Photo by Nancy Stadler


Photo by Nancy Stadler

And I also have to give Universal Orlando's horticultural department props for planting some banana trees right next to "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" 's queue area.


Photo by Jim Hill

But that was pretty much all Universal Creative could do in Florida, given the time & the budget that they were working with. Whereas the team who was in charge of converting USH's "Terminator 2 - 3D" attraction ...


2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

... and that theme park's old Coke Soak area really went all out. They didn't just build Gru's house this time around. They decided to create a whole "Despicable Me" -themed neighborhood. Which starts with "Miss Hattie's Home for Girls," the orphanage where Margo, Edith & Agnes lived until Gru adopted them.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

If you actually make it out to Universal Studios Hollywood this week to check out "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" (Speaking of which, to accommodate the crowds that USH official anticipate will be coming to this theme park over April School Vacation Week, now through April 20th, both "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" & "Transformers - The Ride 3D" will open 30 minutes before the rest of the park), I urge you to walk down "Despicable Me" street and hammer on all the doorbells you see ...


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... so that you can then hear all of the fun audio clips that Universal Creative put together for this area.

Likewise as you exit "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" ...


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... and then find yourself in the gift shop ...


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... be sure and continue on outside. Where you'll then find that Universal Creative has turned USH's old Coke Soak area in a smallish sized version of Super Silly Fun Land.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

I really have to applaud Universal Creative for their attention to detail in this corner of that theme park. For Super Silly Fun Land apes the look at that seaside theme park which  Chris Meledandri & Co. created for that 2010 Illumination Entertainment release.


Copyright 2010 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved

Everything from the Silly Swirly ..


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... which is this bug-themed spinner ...


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... to this area's climbing structure ...


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... the water play area ...


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... even the shade structures ...


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... keep that silly cartoon bug look of the original film going. Best of all, if you wander over to Super Silly Fun Land's boardwalk gaming area ...


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... you can then relive one of the comic highpoints of the first "Despicable Me" movie and attempt to win a fluffy unicorn by trying your hand at "Space Killer."


Copyright 2010 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

One of the other smart differences between the Universal Orlando version of "Despicable Me Minion Mayhem" and the Universal Studios Hollywood version of this same attraction is the addition of Gru's Lab Cafe. Which is where parents can linger over their counter service lunch or dinner while the kids run off and explore Super Silly Fun Land.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

To be honest, there are lots of reasons to linger in Super Silly Fun Land. You could easily kill 15 minutes just trying find all of the Minions that Universal Creative has stashed in & around this part of that theme park. There are Minions standing guard ...


Beware of the fart gun. Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... Minions helping to safely operate this theme park's attractions ...


Ready for take-off. Photo by Shelly Valladolid

... Minions who are touching up Super Silly Fun Land's paint job.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

There are even Minions who are just goofing, enjoying a quick toasted marshmallows & banana break.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

"And why has Universal Creative loaded up USH's new 'Despicable Me' land with all sorts of detail instead of just building a straightforward clone of the USF version of this attraction?," you ask. Because Universal Creative learned a very valuable lesson when it opened the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure back in June of 2010. Which is that -- when you create a hyper-detailed environment which has far more than the average theme park guest can take in in a single glance -- they then slow down ...


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

... They linger. They loiter. In a theme park environment like this, these people are far more likely to visit shops and/or sit down and order a meal & a drink.


Less than seven months after The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal's
Islands of Adventure, this theme park within a theme park sold its millionth glass of
Butterbeer. Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

Which perhaps explains why the version of Springfield, U.S.A. ...


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

... which is currently under construction at Universal Studios Hollywood will be significantly larger & more elaborate than the Universal Studios Florida original.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

Which is why -- as you take a closer look at that concept art for USH's version of Fast Food Boulevard -- you're going to see details which only a true Simpsons fan would appreciate. Like Snake breaking out of the second floor of the Springfield Police Station as Eddie & Lou look on obviously at street level.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

Or how -- high up in the hills behind Moe's Tavern -- Mr. Burns has just released the hounds.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

"But why is Universal Creative extending the facades for USH's version of Fast Food Boulevard to such a great height?," you query.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

Ah, that's because the Universal Hollywood of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is being built right across the way. And the folks at Universal Creative are doing everything within their power to make sure that worlds of Harry & Homer don't visually intrude on one another.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

As for what rides, shows & attractions will be featured in the Hollywood version of The Wizarding World? ... Well, given that the opening of this new USH "land" is still more than two years away, Universal Creative is (understandably) being kind of close-mouthed for the moment.


Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

Though, from what I've been told from a few insiders, the Universal Hollywood version of the Wizarding World will have several aspects that will then make this new theme park "land" different from IOA's Hogsmeade, USF's Diagon Alley and even that version of the Wizarding World which is currently under construction at Universal Studios Japan.


Copyright Universal Studios. All rights reserved

So what do you folks think of what Universal Creative has been doing with the Upper Lot at Universal Studios Hollywood? Does this radically reimaging of the front-most portion of this theme park make it that much more likely that you'll visit USH the next time you're in Southern California?

Your thoughts?

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