If there is a theme to Dreamworks Animation's hit Kung Fu Panda franchise, it is that nothing is as it seems. From cuddly animals to secret ingredients, Kung Fu Panda is a world of misdirection, where truth and adventure lie behind deceiving facades.
Thus it is with Universal Studios Hollywood's newest attraction, Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor's Quest, which follows our titular hero, Po, and his companions on a journey to deliver the MacGuffin-esque "Liquid of Limitless Power" to the Emperor.
I can hear your yawns. Another screen attraction from Universal? The park's new Dreamworks Theatre replaces the old Shrek 4-D theater with an impressive Mission Revival facade, but the rest of this set-up seems utterly conventional. It's another 4-D show, featuring a cartoon character on a contrived "quest," where surely something will go terribly wrong. Been there. Done that.
But this is Kung Fu Panda, and as I warned you, nothing is as it seems. The preshow opens with familiar characters, starting with the Magic Mirror from the previous Shrek 4-D production. A Who's Who of Dreamworks Animation stars introduce the show, and we're off into the theater. Nothing unusual here.
Look carefully at that theater when you sit down, though. Those curtains across the screen? The decoration around the proscenium and doorways? It's all an illusion — the prelude of an ambitious projection mapping production that will elevate this show far beyond any previous theme park 4-D production.
And let's talk about those "D"s, shall we? Universal is presenting The Emperor's Quest in 2-D — in wonderful 4K, projected via seven Christie 4D Boxer Cinema projectors, but in 2-D nevertheless. The comfortable, staggered and tiered seats in the theater will jiggle and shake, and spritzes of water will accent moments in the show. But what about that math?
If a 4-D show is a 3-D movie with an extra "D" for the in-theater effects, then what is this? A 2-D show with in-theater effects — doesn't 2 + 1 = 3, making this a... 3-D show? In 2-D?
Nothing is as it seems.
The first couple of minutes in the show proceed conventionally, as we sail down a raging stream and rumble across a tattered bridge, all the while shaking in our plush seats and enjoying the delightful original score by Germaine Franco. But when we reach the Emperor, and it seems that our story has ended, the production really begins.
With a smash of the Ming Hammer, we enter the spirit world, where the boundaries of the proscenium crumble to allow this production to play on three walls around the audience. Universal Creative's team makes deft use of projection mapping here, leaving just enough of the "structure" of the theater walls to provide a frame of reference to sell the illusion that we are spinning in this otherworldly realm. It's an amazing moment, unlike anything I've ever seen in a theme park theater show before. This is movie magic.
Universal opened its Dreamworks Theatre this morning with a ceremony hosted by Mr. Ping and featuring characters from several other Dreamworks franchises, including Madagascar, Trolls, and Shrek.
Park president Karen Irwin suggested that the theater will host productions featuring other Dreamworks franchises at some point in the future, but, for now, Po and his crew seem comfortably settled in their new home for a long run.
Well, at least it seems that way.Tweet
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