In Moviedom – Universal Studios Florida: The Magic of Movies

I grew up in Orlando, Florida, and when you grow up in Orlando your familiarity with Central Florida’s various theme parks becomes such an ingrained part of your being that you tend to take it for granted.  Along with that familiarity comes the ability to reflexively make comparisons between the parks. Essentially, there are two groupings this comparison can fall into: Disney parks vs other Disney parks and any Disney park vs any non-Disney park. When I was very young, the “non-Disney” selections were easily inferior: you had Busch Gardens, Sea World, Circus World (later called Boardwalk and Baseball, which actually ruled), and Wet n’ Wild. Then, in 1990, Universal Studios came along and somewhat leveled the playing field.

Universal tried to be a lot of things; in addition to a Disney-dark-ride competitor it also wanted to be a functioning film studio, host live-action stage shows, and eventually serve as a television studio.  It ended up pulling off most of these things over the years, but it still felt like Disney’s younger brother. That’s as evident in this 75-minute promotional video from 1990 as it is anywhere else – a video that, if Disney had produced it, would have told a (hamfisted) story that involved TV and film actors and actresses from both the modern and golden-ages of the industry and cheesily pumped the viewer up to either visit that park or to be jealous of those who did.  Instead, what we get is a relatively dry video brochure that, in some ways, gives away most of the reasons to visit the park at all.

John Forsythe “hosts” this special, which starts out with a brief yet bland history of the opening of the park and threads that along several two to three minute pieces about each attraction in the park, up through the Terminator and Twister additions.

The dark/thrill rides like Kong and Jaws are predictably exciting, but Universal’s real point of distinction between them and the competition was their ‘behind the curtain’ attractions that showed how films and television were made.  The Alfred Hitchcock, Murder She Wrote (seriously!) and Monster Makeup shows were great examples of this approach, and as a kid who had an interest in TV production these were some of my favorite attractions in the park. This special kind of works as an anti-commercial for those attractions, squeezing all of the interesting material out and distilling it down so that experiencing the attractions themselves becomes unnecessary.  It literally spoils the ending of the Hitchcock and Monster Makeup shows. And, arguably, Murder She Wrote, too.

Universal’s form of “characters” walking the park were actually local actors playing key characters from popular movies and television. Lucy and Ricky, Beetlejuice, and the Ghostbusters could theoretically be seen wandering the streets of the park. They pulled these characters off with varying degrees of success.  For every Lucy and Ricky…

…you got a hippie, off model, Beetlejuice?

In what was probably five years of annual/bi-annual park attendance I never came across anhyone but this video makes it look like the park is pregnant with characters.

I get that this video is supposed to be a somewhat dry sell of the park in its attempt to sell the entire thing as a complete set, but that doesn’t change the fact that their chief competition, the park whose visitors they need to pull over to their side for just one day of their vacation, would have found a much more interesting way to accomplish this objective.  Still, it’s a neat look at where Universal was in the mid 1990s – it’s certainly a much more established and successful park today, and it’s in a much different place.  I’m sort of waiting for it to just become a full Minions park.

-ds