March 9, 2015, 6:30 AM ·
Theme park attractions can't all be Star Wars and Harry Potter. That is to say that not every ride or show introduced to elite parks around the world has the luxury of being based on a near-universally celebrated intellectual property (IP for short, you know – movies, TV shows, books and the characters and settings they contain). To respectfully disagree with The Lego Movie, when it comes to theme park IPs, not everything is awesome.
The standard-bearers for theme park greatness, Disney and Universal, have been fortunate to bank on IPs that have proven remarkably durable. Many of Walt Disney Studios' animated features remain rites of passage for youngsters. Snow White and Peter Pan remain relevant even thought their movies might have been released before the kids' grandparents were born. Universal can't claim that sort of longevity yet, although they've made smart moves by banking on Jurassic Park, The Simpsons and, of course, Potter, which still loom large on the pop culture landscape. Meanwhile, Disney's continued to stay current with Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Pixar.
But sometimes an attraction outperforms the source on which it was based. There's been talk of this lately, with Disney and Universal releasing details for park installations based on Avatar and King Kong, respectively. Despite forthcoming films in each franchise, will guests still care about Pandora and the giant ape when they come to the parks? They'll probably care enough... if the attractions are worthwhile.
That's because quality rides have sometimes outlived the relevance of their IPs, becoming more famous than the original inspirations. Sometimes brilliant attraction interpretations outmatch the corresponding IPs from the get-go. And sometimes, the world's best log flume comes from a movie that remains an un-releaseable embarrassment to its parent company.
Here are 10 attractions that are more fun to experience than their IPs.
The marquee attraction of DisneySea's Jules Verne-inspired port of call, Mysterious Island, is based loosely on the French author's adventure story (it keeps the giant mushrooms and underground sea but trades Professor Lidenbrock for Captain Nemo and dinosaurs for a lava monster). The 1864 novel remains a classic, but it can't quite compete with the glorious theming of this attraction, or the sensation of being spat out of Mount Prometheus.
The zany action/comedy blockbuster is bettered by this creatively executed shoot-'em-up, the largest Universal dark ride when it debuted in 2000. Between 120-plus animatronic figures (not just computer animation on screens), great Easter eggs (an alien Spielberg!) and a variety of endings (depending on your skills at being a galaxy defender), Men in Black is more fun than the movie... maybe all three of them.
How much more famous is this Fantasyland classic than the animated film from which it was derived? Type "Mr. Toad" into Google and it will assume you want to search for "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride." Although the attraction remains at only one Disney park, multiple generations have grown up with a better reference for this prototypical dark ride than the 1949 source material, much less the 1908 "The Wind in the Willows" novel.
For a sailor introduced the same year as the Great Stock Market Crash, Popeye has shown an amazing amount of staying power (must be all that spinach). Yet, most of the kiddos ready to board a Bilge Rat Barge are less excited about the greens-gulping hero than the idea of getting totally soaked in the Orlando heat. And that's exactly what happens on this top-notch river rafting adventure.
You might be surprised that an IP as continually beloved as Winnie the Pooh would make this list. Consider this: when Tokyo Disneyland first deployed game-changing trackless ride technology, they did it on what could have been a pretty straight-forward dark ride. Instead, Pooh's Hunny Hunt is one of the most enchanting, unpredictable and thoroughly immersive ride experiences ever stuffed with fluff.
5. Revenge of the Mummy Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore
Stephen Sommers breathed new life into the Universal monster with the 1999 film, but that special effects bonanza hasn't aged gracefully – certainly not in comparison to the ride it spawned. The hybrid of spooky dark ride and killer coaster is a thrilling combo, made even more impressive by the gargantuan theming in the Singapore edition.
Here's an instance in which an attraction predated the release of its IP. Dinosaur, then named Countdown to Extinction, debuted a full two years before Disney put out the computer-animated Dinosaur. But this movie tie-in never really needed its movie. While the EMV attraction is a scary, swerving thrill ride (and, arguably, Disney's most frightening attraction), the film is a forgettable Land Before Time retread with computer graphics that look prehistoric 15 years later.
Waterworld's reputation as a disaster of Hollywood excess has softened a bit in the past 20 years, but back in 1995, the idea of a Universal Studios attraction based on the Kevin Costner epic was borderline ridiculous. Yet this fantastic stunt show was able to take everything that's worthwhile about the film (amazing sets, action on land, sea, and air) and distill it into 16 minutes. That's 119 less than the movie, and the stunt show is a lot more fun.
The Waterworld math gets even better when applied to the Transformers film franchise and its accompanying ride. Instead of sitting through four (soon to be five) bloated movies festooned with soulless CGI, we get a perfect four and a half minutes of rock-'em, sock-'em robots. Plus, no Shia LaBeouf.
1. Splash Mountain Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland
Finally, the best example of turning a lump of IP coal into a theme park diamond. Disney Imagineering legend Tony Baxter shepherded a project that rescued the only redeemable aspects (the animated sequences, the songs) from 1946's stereotype-laden Song of the South, which hasn't been re-released by Disney in the U.S. since the Mountain had its first splash. The log flume/dark ride creates such a robust cartoon world, Splash Mountain renders its controversial IP superfluous.