Diving deep into the detail of Warner Bros. World

July 26, 2018, 5:24 PM · Not since Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter has a theme park provided such detailed fan service as Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi delivers through its six themed lands. The creative team that designed this park, led by Thinkwell's Craig Hanna & Dave Cobb, has crafted immersive environments that effectively sell the illusion that you are standing in iconic locations such as Superman's Metropolis and the Roadrunner's American West... leaving you to forget that you're actually walking around inside a giant box in the Abu Dhabi desert.

Warner Bros. World is able to sustain this illusion because Thinkwell's design team has filled the park with detail that reflects and reinforces each land's IP. While casual visitors will enjoy the beautiful views and impressive facades throughout park, dedicated fans of each franchise will geek out discovering all the thoughtful details and Easter eggs on display.

The press event to which I was invited allowed me less than six hours walking around inside Warner Bros. World — not enough time for a geek like me to appreciate the full extent of detail within park, which might take multiple full-day visits. Fortunately, I spent about 90 minutes of those six hours walking around the park with Dave, who pointed out many of the details that I missed on my first lap.

Let's start with three examples of what I will call "ley lines" in the park's lands. Next the entrance of the Acme Co. factory in Cartoon Junction, you will see an Acme rocket, crashed into a window.

Acme rocket

But if you look in a straight line the opposite direction, you will see the path that the rocket took through neighboring buildings, leading back to a bundle of Acme rockets, minus the one now sitting in the factory window.

Good designers uses this technique to help remind visitors subconsciously that they are standing within a space bound by the laws of physics. Therefore, even thought it appears fantastic, it is real. (There's another great example in the exit gift shop of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean, which depicts the destructive flight of a cannonball.)

You'll find another exampled in Warner Bros' World's Gotham, up in the second-floor windows of the abandoned subway station building that's now the Hall of Doom. It's the charred damage of an explosive blast that carries across the land. But my favorite detail from this scene is the decapitated gargoyle next to the charred window.

Charred damage

Want to know what happened to that gargoyle's head? It's "for sale" in the Pawn Shop gift store across the street.

Gargoyle's head

And, oh yeah, the batarang that knocked it off is on display in the shop, too. The entire store is filled with the detritus of superhero battles, depicted in DC Comics and the land. The pawn shop's owner is making his bank by collecting the remains and selling them to fans. (The store IRL is selling T-shirts and other Batman-themed souvenirs. Again, not enough time to fully document!)

You don't always need to look up to see these design lines. In The Flintstones' Bedrock, you might notice a set of Mammoth tracks leading from the Warner Bros. Plaza entrance toward the Bedrock River Adventure flume ride. In the middle of the path, the tracks cross a planter. So what's posted next to those tracks inside the planter?

Mammoth crossing

My favorite attraction in the park was the Animayhem shooter ride, which is set within the Acme Co. building in the factory town of Cartoon Junction. Above the street, you can see the factory gate, emblazoned with the Acme motto, "Caveat Emptor."

Acme factory gate

Which is Latin for... "Buyer Beware."

The queue for Animayhem is a tour of "Mad Men"-inspired, mid-century-styled Acme design studio, where you find fan service gems such as the motivational slogan, "Quality is our #1 Dream!"

Quality is our #1 Dream!

And look what form the company has run out of on its paperwork table.

Missing release forms

Deep in the extended queue of the ride you will find the Acme Co.'s awards cabinet.

Acme Co.'s awards cabinet

Um... not much there except cobwebs, right? Well, there is this:

Caveat Emptor Award

It's the "Caveat Emptor Award" for "Achievements in Legalese"... and it is adorned with an asterisk. Brilliant.

Dave explained the unpublished history of Cartoon Junction. It's an old railway town, which made it an attractive site for the Acme factory, which would ship its defective products all over the country from here. The mansion at the end of the town was owned by the railway baron, who filled it with collectibles from around the world. He's long passed, and now the abandoned mansion is haunted museum, making it the perfect location for Scooby-Doo! The Museum of Mysteries

Cartoon Junction
This image courtesy Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi

The backstory for the Scooby Doo building reminded me of the story of Harrison Hightower and Tokyo DisneySea's Tower of Terror, BTW. But the Scooby-Doo ride is filled wit fan service, as it tracks the story beats and conventions of Scooby-Doo episodes, including a chase across a hallway, Shaggy looking for food, and finally pulling the mask of the perp while he complains about "you meddling kids." If you've never seen an episode of Scooby-Doo, you can appreciate the amusing dark ride. But if you are a fan, you can appreciate that the ride's designers have shown that they are fans who get what this franchise is all about, too.

One more detail in Cartoon Junction. Here's a billboard for another Acme product posted next to the portal into Gotham.

Batsuit

Here are three of many moments of fan service within Batman's hometown. A wanted poster for Joe Chill, who killed Batman's parents:

Wanted poster

Graffiti from the Court of Owls, who are "always watching."

Court of Owls

And the take a look at the domed roof on the abandoned subway station building that is now the Hall of Doom, the Legion of Doom's headquarters. If you watched the Super Friends animated TV series in the 1970s, you might recognize the homage to the Hall of Doom from that show.

Hall of Doom

Next door in Metropolis, the inside of the Hall of Justice will leave you feeling like you are standing within the Pantheon of gods.

Hall of Justice

The queue of the Justice League ride lies on the far side of the Superman statue. Within it you will find boards that explain who all these superheroes are, for visitors not familiar with the IP. But longtime fans might recognize what is revealed later in the queue, that the "villain" the superheroes are fighting in this trackless dark ride is Black Mercy, which first appeared in the Superman comics in 1985.

Black Mercy

Outside the Hall of Justice, note the paper for sale inside the news box on the street. It apparently references a moment within the ride (which I did not get to experience).

News box

And the directory for the office building (facade) next to the Hall of Justice includes names pulled from DC Comics, including Emil Hamilton, Starrware Industries, and Cale-Anderson Pharmaceuticals.

DC building directory

I didn't get a photo, but I also wanted to note Dave's backstory for why the Marvin the Martian and The Jetsons rides are located within the Roadrunner's Dynamite Gulch. The IRL reason is that these are carryovers from a sci-fi themed land that didn't make the cut in the design process, but that the developers nevertheless wanted to save. So how to explain their presence in the American West. Well, that part of the land is its "Area 51 1/2," the secret government facility to house the aliens and time travelers who crash landed here.

Nice. Even that loose end has been pulled tight.

In all, I couldn't find anything haphazard in Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. There was no surface unfinished (though two rides did remain incomplete in that they were not sufficiently tested to be open for the preview event.) Warner Bros. World offers a thematic consistency in its placemaking that I have not seen on a park-wide level since Tokyo DisneySea.

Right now, based on what I saw in my brief visit, I would place Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi among the top five theme parks in the world for consistently convincing placemaking in its lands, joining Tokyo DisneySea, Disneyland in California, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Universal's Islands of Adventure.

Replies (11)

July 26, 2018 at 6:53 PM

Thanks Robert! This is exactly what I was hoping for. Dave Cobb is a dear friend and everyone I know is so proud of him and his team for this amazing achievement. Your praise of it being in your top five says a lot about this park. I hope to get there some day. Sad it is so far away.

July 26, 2018 at 9:01 PM

Now I wish there was a WBW in the States.

July 26, 2018 at 10:38 PM

Scooby Doo ride is like a cut rate Mystic Manor. The animation was lifted directly from a decades old cartoon. It doesn’t work along side the practical effects that are adequate, but not spectacular. Flintstones was not used that well in the boat ride.

Not sure if the choices in these IP were carefully considered. The cinema show is mostly old clips in Hollywood golden age. Nice walk down memory lane, but the park seems designed for kids in their 60s to 80s.

July 26, 2018 at 10:49 PM

Anton M - have you been to the park or are you making assumptions based on videos you have seen on line?

July 26, 2018 at 11:30 PM

Scooby Doo IS cut-rate animation. That's the style and the vibe of the show. If WBWAD has used super-fluid, projection-face animatronics, that wouldn't have reflected the franchise. It's corny, and supposed to be. The ride reflects that, spot on, IMHO.

I'm going to disagree with Anton on the flume ride, too. because I think the use of The Flintstones was perfect. I only wish that I could have brought a videographer with a better camera rig to do the ride better justice.

As I said, I was rushing to get on as much as shoot as much as I could in the time we had in the park. I needed either more time or more people to bring you a full accounting of everything there, but I hope that what I have provided at least allows you a reasonable introduction to the park.

July 26, 2018 at 11:36 PM

Rob: Based on exactly what I written, what do you think?

July 27, 2018 at 3:34 AM

All this detail is thoughtful and clever, Clearly a MASSIVE amount of time and energy and considered planning went into the construction of this park. But I'm with Anton on this one. If Scooby Do is MEANT to look cheap then they've clearly achieved their aims but really? Are people that 'considered' that they'll appreciate the clever franchise-reflection going on or are they just going to think 'all that money and I got some mannequins and a tape recording?' I was genuinely shocked at the 'climax' footage of that ride and how much it reminded me of the sort of attractions I used to see about 25 years ago. I thought we'd moved on a bit from that. Maybe the two rides that Robert wasn't able to go on will impress more but from what I have seen, and indeed from what Robert has written so far, this looks like a place I'd take a young child for a day out. But would my wife and I consider it, even if it was elsewhere in the world? To be honest it's not screaming 'must do' at all.

July 27, 2018 at 6:20 AM

This is an interesting argument... It's a bit like the debate over Dinoland USA - which is packed full of details and Easter eggs that create a thorough, extensive narrative if you go looking for them. In attempting to create a corny, dino-infused roadside funfair with a back story, Disney got it spot on. But the question is how wise that attempt was to start with in a billion-dollar theme park.

The element that most intrigues me about this park is the lighting package. Seems like with an entirely-indoors park you could do some really dynamic stuff. Robert, did you happen to go any other photos/videos or information about the details in that? Some of the textural sky work in particular looks gorgeous.

July 27, 2018 at 9:41 AM

I'll again draw comparisons to Hard Rock Park. The park designers there had similar Easter Eggs and fine details all throughout the park to draw fans to look at the spaces in more fine detail. There were winks and nods throughout the park as there are here that require a more critical eye and deeper understanding of the source material. You can have the most detailed, perfectly designed theme park in the world, but it won't guarantee that it will be successful.

I do hope that WBMW can find success, but I think the proliferation of theme parks in the UAE is a serious problem. It's great for the industry to essentially get an incubator to test concepts and ideas in a real world environment with little regard for budget or success. However, the more parks that open in the region, the more likely the sector in the region will struggle. It's like the US housing bubble in 2008. Everything is great with creative designers and engineers flush with investor capital giving them the ability to virtually gold-plate everything. However, at some point someone has to be able to pay the bills to keep the power on.

5 years from now, though, where will these park be? Ferarri World has the first to market advantage along with a built in fan base thanks to its world record coaster. However, as the market continues to dilute with more and more parks, the growth of the consumer base cannot keep up, which will eventually lead to one or more of the parks finding the same fate as Hard Rock Park. Maybe fans will appreciate the details of WBMW over the more exotic themes of Motiongate, or maybe the shear thrill rides at Six Flags will have more staying power with the transient audiences likely to pass through the UAE parks. The bottom line is that there simply isn't enough interest in the region right now, and this "build it and they will come" mentality that the UAE has survived on for the past decade or so will eventually meet its match in the form of earnings statements. As theme park fans were saddened when Hard Rock Park changed to Freestyle Music Park and then shuttered altogether after fewer than 3 seasons of operation, the enthusiasm for a beautiful work of theme park genius like WBMW will eventually succumb to the laws of economics.

Let's face it, WBMW is not doing anything groudbreaking or revolutionary in the theme park business (and perhaps even less so than HRP, which utilized a unique set of IPs), so what is going to separate them business-wise to allow them to succeed in an ever-crowding, already over-saturated marketplace?

**To be honest, that Animayhem queue looks like a carbon copy of Spiderman at IOA with Wile E Coyote/Acme jokes filling in for Spiderman/Marvel jokes.

July 27, 2018 at 11:19 AM

Interesting debate going around but have to love the detail as it is great for fans of the properties and the care taken is a real step in the right direction.

July 28, 2018 at 1:58 AM

The Animayhem queue has much better finishing than the Spider-Man queue.

On the Hanna-Barbera stuff, I want to clatify that it doesn’t look cheap in person. It looks cheesy. Which is how it should, IMHO. Hotel Transylvania at Motiongate looked cheap, for comparison. But it was, given the much lower budget for that park.

Yas Island has substantial immediate advantages over Dubai Parks & Resorts, starting with a much more accessible location, adjacent to the Abu Dhabi airport. DPR is located halfway between the DBX and AUH airports, in the middle of nowhere. Yas Island also has F1 bringing a huge crowd in each year, as well as concert venues.

HRP was in the wrong market for a major theme park, and its management team was just arrogant about marketing. It was doomed from the get go. That’s not the case here.

What Yas Island does need is immediate hotel access to the parks and malls, as well as a convenient two-park ticket package. But I understand that is coming. It just needs to come ASAP.

This quarter is essentially functioning as a soft open as WBW awaits the cooler Q1 of FY2019, when it hopes its promotion and strong word of mouth from the summer couple with the better weather to bring more international visitors to the UAE and the park. I am much more confident that WBW can enjoy immediate success in its first year, as opposed to DBX, where I saw long-term potential, but little hope for that immediate success.

I agree that it is going to be tough for all three UAE theme park resorts to survive in the long term. But if one does fail, I think DPR or IMG are more likely candidates than Yas Island. Quality, location, and critical mass matter.

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