A: If those are my only choices I hereby withdraw from the democratic process. #whataboutthewho #whataboutlittlerichard #whataboutanybodyelse
Gun to my head, I’ll take the latter. The Beatles are Disneyland and the Stones are Los Angeles. Theme parks are fun but I’d rather live in a city.
The following article originally ran on Radar magazine’s website, Radar.com, in the summer of 2008, before they were purchased by National Enquirer and transformed into something more TMZ-ish. I don’t remember the headline it ran under, but this is (more or less) the complete unedited version of the piece. A few sections have been updated with pertinent developments since the time of publication.
June 1, 2008, saw a devastating fire rip through Universal Studios Hollywood, destroying a number of iconic film sets and several thousand copies of Universal films / television shows themselves. Among the casualties of this monumental blaze was the King Kong portion of the famed Universal Studios backlot tour. Now the only animatronic animals left to terrorize tourists are Bruce, the grumpy shark from Jaws who’s been baring his teeth since 1976, and that dinky Jurassic Park dinosaur what sprayed its toxic juices in Wayne Knight’s face.
Kong is the latest of in a long line of tragic theme park deaths, a sobering reminder that the coasters, trolleys, trams, robots, and motion simulators we’ve come to know and love are susceptible to all manner of bizarre and unstoppable expirations. Sometimes entire parks fall, leaving nothing more than piles of brick, wood, and painful memories. Come with us now as we look back on the deceased theme park attractions of yesteryear…
King Kong: Studio Tour, Universal Studios Hollywood, 1986-2008
Inspired by the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake of Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 classic, work on this seven ton, thirty foot tall animatronic King Kong began in 1985. One year later, the furry bastard made his helicopter-smashing, bridge-shaking debut, the first of his kind anywhere. Kong’s hefty presence rejuvenated Universal Studios tourism and provided the inspiration for an entirely new Universal park in Orlando, FL, the heart of which was a similar Kong attraction (see below). Who knew it would take little more than a blowtorch to dethrone California’s most beloved simian? That’s supposedly what caused the fire on June 1, 2008, that reduced King Kong to cinders and ash. Fire fighters claim the blaze spread rapidly due to water pressure issues and the failure of certain fire protection features which were introduced after a similar fire in 1990. Despite the massive popularity of King Kong, Universal Studios has announced they will not be rebuilding the giant monkey (who originally cost a staggering $6.5 million to construct) and will replace the burnt area with a new attraction.
Kongfrontation!: Universal Studios Florida, 1990-2002
Universal was looking to open some kind of facility in the Sunshine State as early as 1982. Fear of competing with Disney for that state’s tourism dollars, however, kept the company from moving too far ahead. That all changed after King Kong’s L.A. debut in 1986; the ape’s unprecedented popularity spurned Universal to get things into gear for an all-new Orlando park. Opening in 1990, Universal Studios Florida boasted an impressive array of rides and attractions, including Kongfrontation!, a bigger, better version of the original robot monkeyshine. Florida Kong not only had a bigger fake New York to terrorize, but he also had a distinct odor about him (the famous “banana breath” that he exhaled on riders). Kongfrontation! was USF’s lynchpin attraction, anchoring years of excitement and thrills within the theme park’s walls. Its popularity was constant, which is why the ride’s closure sans explanation in September of 2002 confused legions of Kong fans. Some have speculated maintenance / repair costs ended Kong’s Florida run, but rumors persist that the building that housed Kongfrontation! was on the verge of collapsing (much like Disney, Universal is technically its own town, exempt from the architecture codes of Orange County, FL).
Back to the Future: The Ride: Universal Studios Florida / Hollywood, 1991-2007
Kongfrontation! may have been the heart of Universal Studios Florida, but the park’s real triumph was Back to the Future: the Ride. A near-perfect marriage of movie and live experience, BTTFTR plopped guests into the middle of a thrilling motion simulated time traveling adventure starring Christopher Lloyd and Tom Wilson. Rocketing from the prehistoric era to the year 2015 in the DeLorean was every movie fan’s dream. Universal had the ingenuity to bring that dream to life; unfortunately, they didn’t have the chutzpah to tell Steven Spielberg who was in charge. The director was reluctant to let anyone else manage one of his most enduring properties, so he worked out a deal that retained ownership of Back to the Future: the Ride for his own Amblin Entertainment and named him a specific creative consultant. This allegedly made it very hard to improve the popular attraction as technology changed over the years; Spielberg had final say over anything Universal proposed, and as you can imagine he’s always been a pretty busy guy. With 2015 rapidly approaching, both parties got together a couple of years ago and decided it just wasn’t worth the hassle anymore. BTTFTR was given a loving send-off at both Universal locations before making way for the more contemporary “Simpsons” ride.