Universal Studios Hollywood Kubo Tour and First Signs of Halloween

Written by Dusty Sage. Posted in Features, Universal Hollywood

Tagged: , ,

Published on August 31, 2016 at 1:10 am with No Comments

Often overlooked by locals, Universal Studios Hollywood has really been on fire lately. The park looks and feels brand new. I was up in LA for a business meeting last week and popped into the park while waiting for traffic to die down. I’m so glad I did.

In this update, we’ll show you the fantastic Kubo tour, the first signs of Halloween Horror Nights, and take a quick romp through the park.  Plus, have you checked your Universal Annual Pass? They’ve JUST added extra available days. Are you ready for your close up? Action!

Getting There Is Half The Fun

When you park at Universal, you end up in one of many structures which surround the CityWalk shopping district. That makes the walk to the park a bit more interesting. There’s also a lot going on right now. Some new restaurants under construction and the major overhaul of the theater.

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The AMC is getting a major facelift. But it remains OPEN during construction.

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Universal has cracked the flow of theme park security. These permanent shade structures house dozens of metal detectors. Universal security checks your bags and then has you walk through the scanners. No need to wait in multiple lines. To get you to this point, they use a single switchback line and send you off to the next available security portal. It’s fast, efficient, and the staff even try to be friendly. This is a theme park after all and not airport security.

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Once in the park, you’ll find the new entry street has really transformed the first act of the park. The buildings evoke Hollywood’s golden age. The colors are fresh, gardens and hanging baskets brighten the streetscape, and physical props sell this as a themed entry point.

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It’s fairly late in the afternoon by the time I arrived last Thursday. But the waits aren’t bad.

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The new central plaza area gets a lot of use. Fountains are built into the pavement and provide an escape for kids on a hot day. The area is ringed by restaurants. This area serves double duty as flex-space and for events, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival and Seuss Christmas tree.

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Off to the side of the central plaza was this advertisement for Kubo and the Two Strings, the masterpiece stop-motion animated film that sadly underperformed this summer.

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They are promoting a Kubo exhibit that I was looking forward to seeing. The sign says THAT WAY . . . so off I go.

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From Coraline to Kubo: A Magical LAIKA Experience

Like many of you, I received a pass holder email telling me to come visit the Kubo tour at the park (even on a blackout date).  Unfortunately, my schedule just wasn’t cooperating.  Suddenly the stars aligned and I found myself waiting in a long line outside the Globe Theater on the Upper Lot of Universal Studios, just across from Despicable Me (the old Terminator building).  A line for a props tour? I thought it was strange that there would be a 40 minute wait for something that was neither a ride nor a show. But I’m SO glad I waited.

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I was shocked to find a long line for this exhibit.

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This was my view from the Kubo line.

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Universal has changed so much in just a few years.

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Back to the LAIKA tour, I’m next to go inside.

First, before you look at my photos below, take just a moment to watch this trailer of Kubo. It will give you an idea of how complex the film is and why I was so blown away by the exhibit.

When you make it inside the theater, you find that your tour is guided. Ah, the lines were starting to make sense. This was a metered experience with an experienced host.  And what a tour is was. The small group was lead through a series of rooms housing props, sets and videos from LAIKA’s amazing series of films “From Coraline to Kubo.” That includes Box Trolls and Paranorma. LAIKA is famous for their stop motion animation films.

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The lobby of the Globe was decorated with posters and even a store (more on that in a bit)

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LAIKA characters

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They told us that if we tweeted #KuboMovie and #ParanormanShoes we might win those ugly slippers. I want them.

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We met our guide.

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And off we went.

 

Stop motion is a labor intensive animation technique. Not only do the characters need to be built in such a way that they can be infinitely posable, but the sets do too. When you watch a LAIKA films, you’ll see the wind blowing through the trees, curtains rustle, and in the case of Kubo, tiny pieces of paper fly through the air, creating characters and set pieces of their own. It’s really quite stunning and beautiful to see how these films come together.

The tour started with the Coraline sets and characters, including a walk down a light tunnel. Next up was Paranorman, one of my favorite animated films. It’s dark and sinister but lovable at the same time. I suppose you could say that about all of the LAIKA films. They all have a dark whimsy about them.

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This house from Coraline is huge.

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I included this shot of the Paranorman house so you could get a sense of scale with the people on the side.

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So much detail.

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On to the Boxtrolls. This underappreciated film was up for an Academy Award. The story of a little boy being raised by trolls was perhaps too out there for audiences, but I was dazzled by the animation and really enjoyed this movie. It was great to see the sets up close.

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Then comes Kubo, which I had JUST seen in a 3D theater a couple nights before. In my opinion, Kubo is the single best animated film of the year and one of my new all-time favorites. It’s a sort of Japanese fairy tale about a boy with a divine heritage who must literally fight for his life as he finds his own inner strength and purpose. The tight story telling and deep character development is matched only by the stunning beauty of this gem of a film. Seeing the sets and characters up close and personal at Universal Studios was a dream, including the two story tall skeleton. Wow.

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These paper birds were hanging on strings in front of a beautifully lit Kubo sign on the back wall.

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It was just too tempting. I had to take a selfie. Folks were lining up to do the same.

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These are Kubo’s aunties. They aren’t nice. I don’t want to give anything away, but these two characters are wicked supernatural killers.

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This is one set. It’s so perfectly detailed that when the camera zooms in, it appears as though these characters are life sized. Really extraordinary.

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This ship takes up the better part of an entire room.

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The entire experience was built to museum quality, with stellar lighting, background visuals, item notes, sound and video vignettes.

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This skeleton was seriously impressive. He was nearly two stories tall.

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And all good experiences end in a gift shop. Although this was a small experience, it justified a small gift wall.  😉

 

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All that work for an experience designed to only last a month. Good job Universal.

Sadly, last weekend was the end of the run for this experience. However, I sincerely hope that they’ll take this show on the road, send it to a museum somewhere, or perhaps find a semi-permanent location for it somewhere at Universal Studios.

I can just imagine a LAIKA ride in the park. So much creativity and fantasy. Ahhhh, to dream.

Now, on with the show!

I had just enough time for a dusk studio tour.

Universal Studios Tram Tour

The nice thing about showing up to the studio late in the afternoon is that it’s often uncrowded. I walked straight onto a tram with no wait at all, though I was told that the tour had actually been quite busy earlier in the day.  The up side of a week-day tour is that there’s a lot of shooting going on in the lot. So you’ll see all sorts of filming and activity going on. The down side of a week-day tour is that there’s a lot of shooting going on in the lot. So you won’t be able to travel through areas where filming is going on.  It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. Plan accordingly.

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One of the amazing things about Universal is its location in the Hollywood Hills. As you head down to the Studio Tour, this is your view of the San Fernando Valley. All those beige buildings are the Warner Bros. Studio.

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A pair of sound stages are being built on the lower lot. We’ll see them up close in just a bit.

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They staff a greeter at the bottom of the escalators to welcome you to the Tour.

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Got here at just the right time. No wait!

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There was a lot of filming activity going on. The show “Superstore” was in production when our tram drove by (please excuse all the blurry photos).

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Those new sound stages I was pointing out . . . we are coming up on them ahead.

New ride? Nope. They are building the indoor/outdoor sets for Hairspray Live, a musical TV production.    Photo_2061

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But what we’ll see next is indeed an attraction in the making . . .

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On the lower lot, just behind the NYC street sets are two new structures. They are both future mazes for Halloween Horror Nights.

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This one is built like a suburban house in winter.

 

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Then up the hill we go to meet the great and powerful Kong.

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The Jurassic Park vehicles give way to a little Dino scene.

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One of my favorite parts of the tour is the flash flood scene . . .

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And just like that, we are in the wild west.

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And Murder She Wrote/JAWS

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But I was on the wrong side of the tram to capture the big shark.

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Oh no, this car can only mean a somewhat forced ending to the Studio Tour is ahead.

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A little bit of Christmas

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Followed by a little bit of horror. Norman, is that you?

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Just behind the Psycho house is the War of the Worlds Crash scene. You’ll see that some shipping containers have been set up between the house and the wreck. These are also for Halloween Horror Nights.

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A pathway has been constructed from the shipping containers through the wreckage.

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In previous years the “Terror Tram” would drop you off on the lower lot by the Bates Motel. Then you’d walk up by the Psycho house and through the War of the Worlds set. It looks like that is the plan this year as well.

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There are more shipping containers near the end of the experience. The tram picks you back up not far from here and takes you back to safety.

 

The tour wraps up with the Fast and the Furious. In the industry, this is known as an Immersion Tunnel attraction. That means that a screen wraps around the ride experience. While I think the visuals and acting on this attraction are a bit hokey, it is an exciting experience and a movie magic way of ending the tour.

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A wait time board stands at the exit of the tour. Take a moment to review the crowd patterns and head toward the least crowded section of the park. On the earlier wait board we showed you, the longest lines were on the lower lot at Transformers. However, that pattern flipped by the time I exited the tour, with Harry Potter on the upper lot having the longest wait.

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Wizarding World of Harry Potter

A boy’s got to eat, and there’s no better (or more fun) place to eat than the Three Broomsticks (Club 33 perhaps).  I’ve now tried everything on the menu and I really love it all. The ribs are great, the bangers and mash, shepherd pie, Sunday roast . . . but my favorite is the fish and chips. Really good. Of course, I wash the whole thing down with Butterbeer.  Had to eat fast because I wanted to ride the Forbidden Journey and the park was just 10 minutes from closing.

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The fire you see is from the last Waterworld show of the night. But it looks good behind Wizarding World. He Who Must Not Be Named must be back there stirring up trouble.

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Welcome to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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The Three Broomsticks! My new favorite theme park restaurant.

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EVERY employee in the Wizarding World is amazing. They are all playing a role. They are students, village folk, and wizards all.

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There are no shortage of places you can get a butterbeer in this land.

 

More than any other attraction, The Forbidden Journey of Harry Potter really rings my bells. The beautiful exterior, the amazing interior queue in Hogwarts Castle, and the industry-leading ride itself.

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There were just a few guests left in the queue. So I took my time walking through so I’d be the only person in each room. This is the upper exterior portion of the exterior queue just as the sun was setting.

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The moment you enter the castle, you know you are somewhere special.

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This is the normal lighting in the moving portrait gallery.

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Since I was all alone, I took another shot with a longer exposure.

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It’s dark and my little camera just can’t capture what’s up in the rafters.

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Since I’m the only one in the room . . . FLASH . . . DRAGON!!!

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Final shot before the ride. This is the loading platform with floating candles. In actuality, they make you check all of your things before riding, so I had to run back down to a locker first and then come back up to ride. But I really wanted to get queue photos for you guys. 

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Gift shop. Really good one too.

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The park is closing at this point. Time for a few glamor shots before we go.

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Hooray, Honeydukes candy shop is still open! Let’s take a look.

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And the walk out of the park. I have a hard time leaving theme parks. There’s always a mental game I play with myself figuring out little ways to delay the inevitable.

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This fountain at the front of the park is wonderful. The steam blowing off the top of it was really dramatic that night.

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To get back to the car, I’ll need to walk through CityWalk again, which is extra exciting at night. Photo_2301

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The old Sparky’s store has changed its format to offer mainly chocolate.

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The new Dongpo Kitchen Chinese restaurant is doing great business.

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Thanks for reading folks. I had such a great time at the park that I’ll be back again soon. In fact, Uni just sent an email to holders of some pass types letting them know that the number of dates available for the passes has expanded. So I should have more opportunity to take photos for you again soon.

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That’s a wrap folks. I’ll see you in the movies.

About Dusty Sage

Dusty is the founder and CEO of MiceChat.com. When he's not visiting theme parks and writing, editing or speaking about Disney and theme parks worldwide, Dusty stays busy as the Executive Director of both the Walt Disney Birthplace AND the Dick Van Dyke Foundation. He also runs O-Zell Soda (the company originally operated by Walt Disney's father and at which Walt once worked). If you've got news or photos to share with the MiceChat community, or would like to book Dusty for an upcoming event, please contact [email protected]

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