The characters from Dreamworks Animation's popular franchise have taken over Universal Plaza through February 25 to celebrate the traditional Asian holiday. You will find Universal's Manadarin-speaking Megatron from Transformers outside the southern entrance to the plaza, and Minions in traditional Chinese dress near the eastern entry to celebrate the holiday. But the plaza itself is devoted to Po and the Furious Five from the Kung Fu Panda franchise, with nods to the holiday interspersed.
Banners around the plaza celebrate each of the astrological signs that denote each new year. (This is the year of the dog, ICYDK.) Blossoming cherry trees fill the middle of the plaza, with red slips for you to write a wish and hang from a branch, in a Lunar New Year tradition.
The land includes three Kung Fu Panda-themed attractions. Let's start with Mr. Ping's Noodle Shop, which is a character meet-and-greet and pop-up restaurant.
At the main window, you'll find Mr. Ping, greetings fans for photos. If you've met Donkey from Shrek at his waffle stand, it's the same drill here. Around the corner is the takeaway restaurant, which serves stir-fry "secret ingredient" noodles ($9.99 for beef, chicken, or tofu, and $10.49 for shrimp), chicken egg rolls ($4.99 for one), potstickers ($7.99 for four), and steamed barbecue pork buns ($7.99 for two).
Sure, we've all seen festival food stands before, with their standard industrial look behind the counter and scores of people hovering over trash cans to eat. But Universal has provided several tables, a counter, and abundant chairs for diners here. And it's made the effort to decorate the stand behind the counter, as well as out front.
The food's worth the time and money, too. My noodles looked ho-hum, but packed some unexpected spicy heat. The pork buns were tasty, but next to the more flavorful noodles, I wished that I had opted for the spicy soy sauce with the Bao, instead of the regular sauce I picked.
The biggest crowd in the land was gathered around the star of Kung Fu Panda, Po, who greets fans along wth Tigress throughout the day. Every hour, Po and several human King Fu assistants take the stage for a "Jedi Academy"-type training show, where they pull a few children from the audience to learn Kung Fu poses on stage.
Each kid gets a solo turn with Po, after which the child is presented with a Kung Fu Panda souvenir headband. (Somewhere, a Universal executive fist-pumped when the girl in full Hufflepuff house robes got her Kung Fu Panda headband.)
I wrapped my stay in the land with Feng the Palace Artist's Stand, an "Animation Academy"-style art lesson, where a palace apprentice talks you through the steps of drawing one of the Furious Five characters.
Knott's also is offering an animation class as part of its Peanuts festival, and I cannot endorse this local trend strongly enough. I adore these animation classes. They're low-tech but highly interactive, as they put the power to create a beloved character right into your hand. (And they provide a rare opportunity for a free, customized souvenir!)
I loved our instructor's shout-outs to his "teacher," a man who, the instructor said, had taught him "there are no mistakes in art, only happy accidents" and who also wore his hair in an Afro, just like our instructor. At the end of the class, as he was plussing his drawing of Viper, the instructor finished by adding a "happy little tree" in the corner.
A black man in a changshan, drawing cartoon characters and quoting Bob Ross? Happy Lunar New Year from Southern California. I love this place.Tweet
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