Vote of the Week: Should Kong return to Orlando in animatronic or digital form?

February 14, 2014, 10:59 AM · Universal Studios Florida closed Kongfrontation in 2002 to free its show building for the construction of the Revenge of the Mummy ride, which opened in 2004 and remains one of the park's more popular rides. However, King Kong fans haven't forgotten the Big Ape, and many long for a Kong's return to the park.

Kongfrontation recreated and expanded the original King Kong Encounter from the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. That staged event on the park's backlot tram tour featured an encounter with a 30-foot-tall Kong animatronic, designed by Bob Gurr. (Yes, the Disney Legend who created ride vehicles for so many Disneyland attractions.) That version of Kong remained open for six years after the closure of the Orlando version, until a fire on the backlot in 2008 destroyed the attraction.

King Kong Encounter
The original, animatronic Kong at Universal Studios Hollywood. Photo courtesy Universal.

After Kong's demise, Universal Studios Hollywood decided to return Kong, but in digital form. Working with filmmaker Peter Jackson, who directed the 2005 film version of King Kong, USH opened King Kong 360-3D in 2010, in which Kong saves (well, most of) your tram from attacking dinosaurs on Skull Island.

King Kong 360-3D
The new, digital Kong. Illustration courtesy Universal.

Kong fans in Florida have remained jealous ever since. Over the years, designers at Universal Creative have thought about several ways to return Kong to Orlando. Rumors persist about converting the Disaster! attraction to an east-coast version of King Kong 360-3D, or building a new Kong animatronic on that site, on in a new Skull Island land in Islands of Adventure.

This week on the Theme Park Insider Discussion Forum, Daniel Etcheberry asked whether you'd like to see Kong return to Orlando in animatronic or digital form. That's such a great question, I thought we'd ask it for our Vote of the Week.

Let's consider the pros and cons of each medium. You can't experience Animatronics on a big screen at home, but they're expensive and tricky to maintain, especially in Kong's immense size. (See, Disney's Yeti.) Digital's more reliable and allows for much more narrative freedom, but the form's less unique and with rapid advances in digital technology, you'll have to budget for frequent projection updates to keep the images state-of-the-art. (USH's Kong already looks a little less sharp than the park's new Transformers ride.)

Please jump into the comments to make your best case for the return of Kong, in your preferred form. Or if you'd rather see Universal spend its money on something else, make that case in the comments, instead.

And allow me to offer one more reminder that we have a new Discussion Forum on Theme Park Insider, one where registered members no longer need to wait to have new threads approved. So please feel free to use this new board share your trip reports, ask questions about an upcoming trip, and share any news or rumors you pick up from the parks or around the Internet. As always, thank you for being part of the Theme Park Insider community!

Replies (20)

February 14, 2014 at 11:07 AM · I abstained as I think it should be a mix of both.
February 14, 2014 at 11:16 AM · What, like a digital Kong on Skull Island in IOA, then you ride a ship between the parks to visit the animatronic Kong in NY in USF? ;^)
February 14, 2014 at 11:24 AM · If I had my choice I would like to see a blending of both digital and animatronic. Use the digital to build to the real time interaction with the big guy.
February 14, 2014 at 11:39 AM · Why not both? Digital to make the experience longer and more in depth. Then a climax of a real size animatronic at the end! Why not have the best of both worlds? And of course maybe it'll inspire Disney to fix its giant ape too!
February 14, 2014 at 11:40 AM · This is an easy one. I'd vote for animatronic but hope for some digital backgrounds to merge the two like with the Dementors or the dragon in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I expect Universal to go all digital, though.
February 14, 2014 at 11:47 AM · I would have no issue with the (still-hypothetical) attraction utilizing projections and digital animation to some degree, but I’d be really, really disappointed if the ride ends up primarily screen-based. The Universal parks already have Spider-Man, Forbidden Journey, Transformers, Minion Mayhem, Gringotts (soon-to-be), and Simpsons as keystone rides that rely to a great extent on screens, and that’s not even counting the 3D shows like Shrek and T2. We could be getting to the point where all these simulator-style attractions start to feel less unique/more “same-y.”

Personally, I know I’d be far more impressed by a giant Kong AA than by an animated version. As you point out, if I want to see a digital Kong, I can throw in my blu-ray of the 2005 film tonight, but I can’t go anywhere to see a physical, AA Kong.

And I’ll admit, I’ve got a little bit of a personal bias: even though I think Spider-Man is the greatest ride of all time, I will always be more impressed by a ride that takes me through real sets and physical animatronics than by a simulator-type experience focused on moving me from screen to screen. Misguided though I may be, I just feel like one requires more effort to pull-off than the other, and is therefore more impressive to me.

February 14, 2014 at 12:01 PM · Please Universal no more video screens! They make some people sick and animatronics don't. With all the technology we have, animatronics should be easy to create. I have more faith in Universal on a big AA them I do Disney. I want Universal to create their own Haunted Mansion dark ride.
February 14, 2014 at 12:19 PM · I never cared for the King Kong movies whether old or remakes. Peter Jackson's remake was just horrible. Just unbelievable and unconvincing when compared with the terrific job he did with The Lord of the Rings and even now with The Hobbit.

The King Kong tram ride attraction was pretty good, but not repeatable. It's yet another simulator, which Universal seems to do quite well, but it gets old by repeated use. Thus, I recommend the animatronic ride that can have a limited storyline. They shouldn't necessarily use a huge animatronic. How about a combination of animatronics of humans, natives, monkeys, animals, and combined with King Kong parts, with a huge finale in digital form.

February 14, 2014 at 1:18 PM · I would love to see King Kong come back to Universal Orlando. While it would be great to have the big ape as a AA it would be near to impossible. Even Disney, the king of audio animatronics, couldn't build a huge complex AA (see the failed Yeti AA). A combination of digital and AA would be cool though.

I read another rumour that Universal is actually going to build it's own Snow White and the seven dwarfs mine train ride. The IP is in the public domain and supposedly they thought they could give it a great spin. It being Universal it's a bit more edgy then the Disney version. The concept video is already online and in this link ;-):

February 14, 2014 at 4:02 PM · First, I prefer animatronics. But here's three reasons I'm saying digital: first, I've ridden Kong at USH and it was quite good. Of course, it's just part of a much longer tram experience at a real working studio. But it was pretty neat, and the Kong portion is about as long as a roller coaster takes so I'm sure USO can find some way to make it work.

Second reason: I have awful memories of waiting in what felt like the world's longest, slowest moving line for King Kong at USO in the early 90s. What a let down. The ride seemed so short, Kong so fleeting, and really bad effects throughout.

Third, I don't think you can make an effective, show-worthy, consistent animatronic of that size, without making it into a joke. That's what USH had to do with the banana breath joke. Of course, joking is part of US's DNA.

February 14, 2014 at 4:40 PM · Here's the thing about giant AA's. Disney does have two operating large-scale animatronics. But they're both at Tokyo DisneySea, in the Sinbad and Journey to the Center of the Earth rides. Granted, Disney makes Oriental Land shell out a ton of money for upkeep, but TDS shows that large-scale animatronics can be done successfully under the right conditions. The trick is to recreate those conditions for any new project featuring a large-scale AA.
February 14, 2014 at 4:52 PM · I voted for digital. Universal should not spend too much money on a King Kong ride. Save the animatronics for rides that would use human sized figures. Maybe Universal could dream up more adult, more risquee versions of Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, etc. That would be worth seeing!
February 14, 2014 at 5:12 PM · For about six weeks I was an operations host at Kongfrontation. I actually "broke" the attraction once on Christmas day. And then I told a supervisor that I was not coming in on New Year's Day because I was going to a New Year's Eve party. I wasn't invited back.

In my spiel I adlibbed the phrase "Not good! This is not good!" before the Terminator thing opened at the park.

Happy memories.

February 14, 2014 at 10:03 PM · I'd like an AA version. It could be something like Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom where we see only glimpses of Kong until the big reveal at the end. Make it both inside and outside.
February 14, 2014 at 11:07 PM · Shirley they have that big AA ape stored in warehouse somewhere. I think they should drag him out and stage him as a meet & greet.
February 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM · Animatronic version.

Personally, I am getting tired of Universal rehashing the same exact ride technology over and over again.

February 17, 2014 at 2:43 AM · @Anthony Murphy
Personally, I am getting tired of Universal rehashing the same exact ride technology over and over again

Really? How about Disney:
Omnimover ride system: The Haunted Mansion, The Little Mermaid, Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters, Space Ship Earth, The Seas With Nemo.
4D movies: every park got 1.
Similar spinner: 2x Dombo, Space Orbiter, Magic Carpets of Aladdin,TriceraTop Spin.
A mountain with a boat/coaster ride: there are 4 (a fifth is opening).
Meet and greets (sure not a ride system but it replaced at least 1 attraction): 10.000 (or so it seems).
The list goes on. Universal at least has significant variations in every ride technology wise. But in the end I don't think it's about the ride system but the story that is told. Universal always gives a new spin to a known story expending on it's world and showing us something new. Disney rehashing a movie in 4 minutes with the same music and scene's, sure if you call that creative and diversity...

February 17, 2014 at 7:20 AM · Yes, it's not like there's a multitude of major ride systems to pull from. It's kind of coaster, screens or AA's. I really like AA's but they seem to have a bad break down rate on the attractions. So a combination of screens with maybe a few AA's may be the wisest choice.
February 17, 2014 at 8:05 AM · I was listening to an interview with Gary Godard about how you can't mix 3D projections and animatronics because they would look and move so differently that it would become distracting to the audience.

My opinion is that the larger the animatronics, the worse they get. Even if they could get a good AA Kong working 365 days a year, it would still be stationary unlike a digital image.

If the guest satisfaction ratings for Transformers is any indication, it will probably have the same 30 foot HD 3D screens.

February 17, 2014 at 2:07 PM · I think its impossible to build an E-ticket without digital technology like simulations and projections. So I voted for AAs assuming it'd be a blend. But I want a blend that focuses more on physical sets.

I'm a little tired of Motion simulators. If you're prone to motion sickness, it'll ruin your whole day. The only simulator ride that gives me problems is Mission Space in Epcot. But going to Universal with somebody prone to motion sickness drives me crazy. We can't do any of the popular or fun stuff.

I want physical sets accented with digital effects, instead of the opposite like we've been getting lately.

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