The Art of Attractions: Good Laughs Are Universal
There is nothing funny about COVID-19.
The pandemic has cast a pervasive pall and stoked fear and anxiety across the planet. But we aren’t just curling up in a ball. We are carrying on the best we can by turning to the things that bring us joy, affirm our lives, and help us muddle through somehow. Things such as laughter.
It may not be their sole—or even their primary—raison d’être, but parks and attractions can (and I would argue, should) be wonderful places to evoke silliness and mirth. Case in point: the Universal parks.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking. The Universal parks? The places where they’ve raised high-octane, in-your-face, take-your-breath-away, adrenaline-stoking thrills to an art form? Well, yes. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good out-of-nowhere, fiery, heat-emitting explosion (I’m looking at you, “Revenge of the Mummy’s” Imhotep) as much as the next park fan. But I also love the little things embedded throughout the parks that can make me blow Butterbeer out of my nose.
Sure, the motion simulator attraction “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” is loaded with laughs. But I think I may laugh even harder at the preshow antics of Gru and the hapless, banana-obsessed Minions.
Likewise, “The Simpsons Ride” features the trademark inanity of the long-running TV series—especially the preride safety video featuring Itchy and Scratchy. But have you ever boarded the UFOs on the nearby “Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl” at Universal Studios Florida? The vehicles have pun-filled names such as “Barf Simpson” and “Ronald Raygun.” And the characters keep up a nonstop barrage of nonsensical patter. “Aliens rule ... and drool!” says Kang (or is it Kodos?). “Any fun you may have had was purely accidental and should be forgotten immediately,” he intones at the end of the ride. The Simpsons-inspired Springfield land is jammed with knowing asides that get me grinning every time. Like the actual knock-down-the-cans midway game that includes a sign blatantly warning guests: “You can’t do it! Don’t even try!”
“Shrek 4-D” is great. I find the parody posters in the queue to be priceless. And funny.
Even “Halloween Horror Nights,” where it’s all about jump scares and blood-curdling screams, can be hilarious. While this autumn’s event was postponed until 2021, I’ll spend fall smiling over memories from last year’s “Ghostbusters” house. The maze struck the right tone of scary and silly. And the Penn & Teller-themed house that Universal presented a few years ago was riotously funny.
Until there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, laughter just may be the best medicine. As attraction operators and designers, it’s your civic duty to dispense funny stuff.
I’ll see you at the parks. It may not be apparent, but I’ll be the one guffawing under my face mask.
A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at TripSavvy.com (formerly About.com) since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.