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
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
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
Because -- let's be honest here, folks -- while Universal Studios Hollywood
does have a really strong entrance ...
Copyright 2014 Universal Studios. All rights
... not to mention a retail corridor that does reinforce the
idea that you're now entering a theme park which celebrates the movies ...
... 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.
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
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.
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
... while in November & December, this exact same space could then be
repurposed for Grinchmas. Giving USH visitors a place where they do holiday
Photo by Shelly Valladolid
... or attend the nightly lighting of this theme park's 60 foot-tall Grinchmas
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
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 ...
... not to mention some cute signage down at street level.
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.
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
... 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.
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
... 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" ...
... 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.
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 ..
... which is this bug-themed spinner ...
... to this area's climbing structure ...
... the water play area ...
... even the shade structures ...
... 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 ...
... 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."
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
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
Ready for take-off. Photo by
... Minions who are touching up Super Silly Fun Land's paint job.
There are even Minions who are just goofing, enjoying a quick toasted
marshmallows & banana break.
"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 ...
... 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,
... which is currently under construction at Universal
Studios Hollywood will be significantly larger & more elaborate than the
Universal Studios Florida original.
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.
Or how -- high up in the hills behind Moe's Tavern -- Mr. Burns
has just released the hounds.
"But why is Universal Creative extending the facades for USH's version of Fast Food Boulevard to such a great height?," you query.
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.
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.
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.
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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?