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Quietly last week, Universal Studios Florida launched some soft openings (here called Technical Rehearsals, a term that actually makes more sense in the Theater/Show context, if you think about it) for the Simpsons Ride.

The ride appears to be in fully functioning mode, though it's not on the maps yet or listed on the wait board. I suspect it will stay permanently open by now, perhaps as a rejoinder to Disney's upcoming preview of Toy Story Mania for annual passholders. Universal wants to engage in that endless one-upmanship with Disney, and the ride will undoubtedly be compared to Toy Story Mania, partly because both make use of midways at typical amusement parks, but mostly because they are both opening in mid-2008.


The walls are down and folks are streaming in.

I haven't seen Disney's offering yet, and as is my wont, I am skipping stories that reveal anything about the plot or what to expect. I prefer to experience things with no preconceived guidelines, and for this reason, I understand completely if people skip my review for fear of spoilers.

But no spoilers yet. Let's talk first about overall impressions. I came away impressed! Universal performed modestly with the new ride Disaster (which re-themed Earthquake) last year, and that's being charitable. OK, truth be told, I didn't like it much, despite the odd laugh or two. But the Simpsons Ride really delivers. It's got the comic verve of the TV show, the same audacity, the raciness, the irony and self-referential asides, the inside jokes, and, since this is the part that really counts, it just plain flat out entertains. It's funny. I won't say it's a riot every second, but there are so many jokes, many do work. The pace is frenetic and fast, both in terms of on-screen action (and thus car movements) as well as fast action for the jokes and sight gags.

The ride is essentially the same set up as Back to the Future: same giant IMAX type screen, same set of vehicles on multiple levels, same small rooms for the safety queue, and the same larger queue outside.


The queue ought to look familiar.

The movie itself is all computer generated animation. Did you find the CGI Disney characters in Philharmagic jarring? I did, the first time I saw it, but somehow I accept it more from the Simpsons. Maybe because we've seen it before, that episode when Homer went to a 3D "holodeck" universe and then our own universe.

I'm about to talk specifics now, which means those of you wishing to avoid spoilers should stop after the next paragraph. But a word of summary: this ride will definitely drive attendance to Universal-Orlando. I liked the Back to the Future ride and loved the Back to the Future movies, so whatever replaced it had faced an uphill battle when it came to my emotions.

The Simpsons, I'm happy to say, managed to overcome that handicap. It's a good addition, perhaps even a great addition, and that makes it all the harder to ever imagine not continuing to buy my Universal annual pass (or to visit Orlando and skip the Uni parks, if you're here for long enough).

SPOILERS AHEAD - CLICK TO SKIP

Let's look at the specifics. On first glance, the queue hasn't changed much. There are facade elements out front that are new, and designed to look like a midway.


There are no actual midway games.

We enter, in fact, through Krusty's mouth. The idea is that we are at Krustyland, and about to go on a ride. Specifically, the "All New Thrilltacular Upsy-Downsy Spins-Aroundsy Teen-Operated Thrill Ride." Don't let the name fool you. It's a roller coaster we are in line to go ride, ostensibly. (Stay with me here, people. In the real world without theme, we are going on a simulator.)


As you enter, you pass by those folks dressed like in a typical carnival ride. On purpose.

The queue is unchanged in layout from the Back to the Future days, though new paint everywhere sparkles.


I hope they can keep it looking this way!

The queue always had TV monitors, but they were the old tube kind; they have now been replaced by sleek and sexy flat-screen monitors, in high definition no less.

Cycling on the screen is a 45-minute loop of some of the great moments from the Simpsons cartoon. Specifically, those moments related to theme parks: Mt. Splashmore, a visit to the petting zoo, and of course Krustyland. (Sadly, there doesn't seem to be the footage of Efcot, the Disney send-up).


Fake attractions posters.

Interspersed in the nostalgia are new clips, obviously made for this ride, that are higher quality and refer to Krustyland more directly. But some of the old clips were pretty funny. The one with the biggest crowd reaction on both of my visits was Homer ooh'ing and ahh'ing over a progression of ever-cuter sheep, and when one sheep we've just seen tries to come back into the frame to cover up a more-cute sheep, Home slaps it on the face with his commanding "Out of the way, you!" Just about everyone chuckled.

Not having watched the show much in recent years (but as a regular in the early years), I wondered if this clip was more recent than the others. I didn't remember it, and the crowd's tittering would have made sense if they hadn't remembered it either (perhaps because they also have watched less of the show in recent years?)

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2008 Kevin Yee

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