Take Mom to the Parks this Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day quickly approaching, you may be thinking of something special to do for her that weekend. For those of you who live in Florida, California, Texas, or the many other places where theme and amusement parks are located, then perhaps consider taking her to one of them for a day of magic, thrills, and enjoyment. I have many fond memories of hanging out with my mother in the theme parks, and thought that I would explore some different theme parks and outline some ideas that you may want to use if you decide to whisk your mom away for a day of excitement and adventure. Even before living in Florida, I grew up going to the parks, and some of my favorite memories are experiencing all the attractions with my family. Even when I go today (which is practically weekly), I often remember the ride and show experiences with my mom. As a little side note, the first time I saw Wishes: a Magical Gathering of Dreams fireworks spectacular at Magic Kingdom was when my mom moved me to Orlando. Perhaps your mom enjoys the familiar characters of Disney, maybe she loves the thrill of being chased by dinosaurs at Universal, the aquatic life of SeaWorld, or the intimate animal encounters of Busch Gardens. Whatever your mom likes, there is a plan for you! For those of you who may have lost your mom, my heart goes out to you; but, maybe there remains a mother-figure in your life that could use a special day. Since you may only be able to visit a theme park for one day, the following articles combine attractions or experiences that can easily be accomplished, even on a moderately busy day. Let’s hit the road and see what endearing adventures lie in waiting for you and your mom this Mother’s Day.

As this is a rather lengthy series articles, you can jump to a particular park by clicking on the one you want below, or simply scroll through browsing the headlines.

Universal Orlando

The first stop on our Mother’s Day theme park day is Universal Orlando Resort! You can start your day by grabbing some delicious pastries or breakfast sandwiches at the Beverly Hills Boulangerie, located near the entrance of Universal Studios. Don’t let the pretentious name deter you; this is a quick-service style restaurant that will provide you with a carb-filled fare and coffee to boost your energy. Next, walk along Hollywood Blvd for some star searching; you may run into Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, or Betty Boop. After sightseeing in Hollywood, your help is needed! E.T. must make it home to the Green Planet to save it. Stop by the E.T. Adventure to pickup a bike and take him home. Not all aliens are good guys. Your mom’s skills are needed by the MIB Agency to clean up the city streets and protect earth’s citizens at MIB: Alien Attack. After this close  encounter of the third kind, head back to Hollywood to learn about Universal’s horror film legacy and perhaps some scares along the way at the Horror Makeup Show.

By now, you and your mom are probably getting a little hungry, and there is no better place within the park to grab lunch than The Leaky Cauldron. After leaving the Horror Makeup Show, head directly across the lagoon to walk though the wall into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Here, your mom can be immersed in the nostalgia and magic of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Located near the entrance, on the left, is the famous Leaky Cauldron. You’ll find a better assortment of British favorites at this quick casual dining restaurant. Now that your energy is back up, make your way to Gringotts Bank because you are needed to help Harry and his friends escape capture by him who shall not be named. Climb aboard a mine cart and race through the bank’s underworld to retrieve a horcrux. If you happen to hear the wickedly talented Celestina Warbeck and her banshees performing when you exit Gringotts, don’t miss her jazz concert! After winding your way through Knockturn Alley, head over to Kings Cross Station to climb aboard the Hogwarts Express, destination Hogsmeade (park-hopper ticket required).

Once in Hogsmeade, head for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry because Harry, Ron, and Hermione require your assistance in defeating some dementors at Forbidden Journey. Before leaving Hogsmeade, be sure to stop by the Butterbeer cart. From flying on park benches to running from dinosaurs, your mom’s next stop should be Jurassic Park! From the time you walk under the iconic gates, become immersed in the epic franchise. Before setting out into the park, stop by the JP Discovery Center located in the replica of the original Visitors Center. There, you can adopt a baby Raptor, learn about genetic sequencing, or pickup some JP merchandise. You can take a memorable picture at the Raptor Encounter, one that the memories will never become extinct. Instead of the Jungle Explorers, hop aboard the river raft for a tour through the prehistoric park. You never know what you’ll encounter on the tour at the River Adventure! Leaving Isla Nublar, you and your mom need to sail over to Skull Island where you will come face to face with the Rein of Kong. Your expedition will take you deep into the heart of Skull Island where bugs are larger than life, giant worm-like creatures exist in the mercy waters, and dinosaurs still roam about. Just don’t forget who’s the king of the jungle.

Following the dark adventures of Skull Island and Jurassic Park, walk through the colorful, fun Toon Lagoon. If you and your mom enjoy water rides, there are two exciting ones right there: Popeye’s Barges and Rip Saw Falls. Rather hang with Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk? Then stop by Marvel Superhero Island for some web-slinging action at the Spider-Man 4D ride or volunteer to be turned into a Hulk at the exhilarating Incredible Hulk Coaster. Passing the Port of Entry at Islands of Adventure, prepare to be transported to the whimsical world of beloved Dr. Seuss. Here you’ll want to experience the nostalgia of The Cat in the Hat, stop by the Lorax to save the Truffula Trees, or take to the skies on the Seuss Train! By this time, you’re day is nearly over, but you’ve still likely got time for a few more attractions. Your next stop is New York City, but you need to make a stop in London at Kings Cross station. Make your may to the Hogsmeade Station on the other side of the Lost Continent. If you have time, though, you don’t want to miss the immersive spectacle of the special effects walk-through show at Poseidon’s Fury located in the heart of The Lost Continent. If time allows, and you want to grab a bite to eat for dinner, then check out Mythos, the highly rated restaurant, located directly across from Poseidon’s temple.

After the Hogwarts Express stops at Kings Cross, journey to the museum of antiquities, housing the treasures from a recent Egyptian excavation. At Revenge of the Mummy, you and you mom will be faced with a daring escape from Imhotep. Along the way, you’ll encounter treasures beyond your wildest imagination and ancient curses as well. What better way to end the night than to surprise your mom with studio audience tickets to an exclusive Universal Orlando taping of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon! No need to hail a cab or take the subway to 30 Rock, just walk a couple blocks from the museum. No conventional queue here, you and your mom will have the freedom to walk about the NBC Studios while waiting for Jimmy Fallon’s studio to open. During your wait, you can enjoy the musical offerings of The Ragtime Gals and even kick back and charge your phone. When Jimmy Fallon challenges you to a race, then you and your mom will Race Through New York in an attempt to beat Fallon for first place! On you way out of the park, you and your mom definitely need to stop by the Universal Studios globe for a photo to remember your world of adventure.

SeaWorld Orlando

Maybe movies just aren’t your mom’s thing. Perhaps she prefers close encounters of another kind. Then head west on the I-4 to SeaWorld Orlando for Mothers Day. With a balanced combination of aquatic animal encounters and some thrilling coasters, SeaWorld Orlando may be just the ticket for mom. Before heading into the park, you may want to grab breakfast outside because the breakfast food selections are rather anemic. Upon entering the park, stop by the giant SeaWorld Anniversary Celebration photo op to start your day out right. Next, want to feel what its like to fly through the waters of the ocean? Then your first stop should be Manta! This inverted coaster will give you the sensation that you are a manta ray smoothly and quickly gliding around the sea. When you exit Manta, spend some time in the aquarium to get up close and personal with hundreds of tropical fish including some stingrays.

After spending time with stingrays, take your mom on down to Key West for some dolphin viewing! For an extra special treat, check out the close encounter times where she can touch a dolphin. On the backside of the dolphin lagoon is the underwear viewing area. Perfect for watching the dolphins frolic in the water; you might even catch one smiling at you. Beyond the dolphin cove lies the Turtle Trek aquarium and 360-degree 3D theatre experience. Become a turtle and journey from your egg to the ocean, back to lay your eggs, and return to the ocean in this suspenseful film. Along the way, you’ll meet some manatees and other oceanlife too. By the time you’ve returned to the surface, it will likely be time to catch the new Dolphin Days show. Watch a trainers give you glimpse into their world of training, educating, and playing with the dolphins–you’ll catch some great tricks too!

Next, Journey to Atlantis in SeaWorld’s water ride that sends you on an adventure to the legendary lost city ending with a plunge into the deep blue sea. If your mom has a slight aversion to wear rides, just make sure you bring ponchos. You’re probably a little hungry at this point, but don’t grab lunch just yet–definitely grab a snack though.  From Atlantis to facing off with a mythological creature, head directly for Kraken. A more traditional coaster, Kraken includes drops loops and cobra rolls. When you’ve defeated the Kraken, head on over to cool off in Antarctica where you can follow a cute little penguin named Puff to meet all his friends and family on a moderately thrilling ride through icy caverns and chilly waters. From cute penguins to cute sea lions, the next part of your Mother’s Day with Mom is visiting with the seals located near Sea Lion and Otter stadium. Be sure not to miss Clyde and Seamore Sea Lion High comedy show.

Finally, time to eat! And you’re not just going to eat anywhere, but you’re going to take mom to Sharks Underwater Grill (make reservations ahead of time). Sharks provides an upscale dining atmosphere complete with Sharkquarium side tables, comprehensive menu including fish, steak, and more. The lobster bisque is incredibly good! Don’t forget to order a signature cocktail to accompany your meal. When you’ve finished dining, swim on down to the walkthrough aquarium. Here, you will be surrounded on three sides by a wide variety of fish and sharks. Upon exiting, you’re in the perfect place to experience SeaWorld’s newest coaster Mako! No inversions here, but the speed, drops, and smooth ride will have you wanting to ride it again. Excellent coaster experience!

With the day coming to a close, you want to head for Shamu Stadium for One Ocean, SeaWorld’s premiere show that is best viewed in the evening. Orcas (or Killer Whales) accompany you on an adventure including beautiful music, breathtaking colors, and outstanding trailed behaviors that highlight the magic of Orcas and even teach you a conservation message. After the show, if you have time, you can checkout the Wild Arctic attraction that puts you right in the middle of the excitement and danger of the the frozen wilderness. On your way out of the park, be sure to stop by the many merchandise shops. A percentage of SeaWorld’s profits go to fund not only theirs, but other conservation organizations and animal rescues around the world.

Walt Disney World

Has your mom ever dreamed of flying on an elephant, cruising through the jungle, or rocketing through space? Then make her “dreams come true” at the Walt Disney World Resort. Wish so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming. If you’re on a budget and can only spend one day–a’chem Mother’s Day–at the world’s premiere theme park destination, then you’ll find everything you need right here to create magical memories for mom this year. But which park? That is a toughie for sure. Each park offers something that the others do not. Hence why many opt for a park-hopper pass (a little pricy). When choosing one park at which to spend the day, then I typically recommend choosing either Magic Kingdom or Epcot. Don’t get me wrong, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are fun too; in fact, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is my favorite ride in the parks. But, my goal is to help you plan out a day that fits time and budget constraints. For purposes of this article, I am going to talk about Magic Kingdom; however, if your mom prefers a more educational experience, enjoys tasting wines, beers, and foods from around the world, and likes some innovative ride experiences, then Epcot would be the best pick. The new Soarin’ is dope!

After making your way to Magic Kingdom (MK) from the Transportation and Ticket Center on either the monorail or ferry, you just have to take a photo with your mother in front of the iconic train station. There is usually a PhotoPass photographer available to take your picture. Before venturing too far, visit a FastPass+ kiosk to make reservations for rides, character experiences, etc. Once on Main Street USA, you may want to visit Mickey and Minnie in Town Square Theatre before setting out into the park. Who doesn’t love waffles??? With a day of adventure ahead, be sure to boost your energy with a stop at Starbucks and the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. There, you can get Mickey Waffles with strawberries on top! So many shoppes! If your mom likes to browse the latest Disney merchandise, then she will likely find something she’ll love in one of the many shoppes along Main Street. Of course, it’s Mother’s Day, so be sure to buy her something. In order to make the most of your time, I do not suggest stopping at the shoppes until you are leaving the park. Before you go any further, you and your mom have to take pictures in front of one of the most recognizable castles in the world! So many wonderful locations from which to take pictures with Cinderella’s Castle in the background. From the castle hub, you can head anywhere!

I suggest first heading to Fantasyland to catch a ride on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train! Ordinarily, I like going in a circle in the parks, but this ride tends to have a very long line, and if you don’t have a FastPass+ reservation for it, then you want to hit it first. Here are a couple fun tips: (1) when in the standby queue, if you can get all the barrels of jewels spinning at the same time, then you might just catch a glimpse of Snow White dancing on the ceiling! (2) once on board the mine train, try to rock your cart left and right–so much fun! Following your visit with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, then head on over to Storybook Circus where you can take flight on the world’s most famous flying elephant. After Dumbo returns you safely to the ground, you’re going to continue your magical journey under the sea in Fantasyland with Ariel! Climb inside a clamshell and relive the magic of the movie that radically shifted Disney animated films. For a little pick me up, check out Gaston’s Tavern where you can get Disney’s answer to Butterbeer, Lafou’s Brew. If time allows, head next door to enjoy some Storytime with Belle and become part of the enchanting tale of Beauty and the Beast.

Walking around the back of the castle and to the right, you’ll want to choose between It’s a Small World After All or Peter Pan’s Flight. Both are so iconic that it is hard to choose, but I’m trying to get you through MK in one day. You’re probably glancing at your watch and wondering when lunchtime is, I suggest stopping by the Columbia Harbor House or Liberty Tree Tavern, both located near one another. Located in that same area of Liberty Square is The Haunted Mansion. They have 999 happy haunts, but there’s room for a thousand, any volunteers??? When nearing the exit of Mansion, be aware of hitchhiking ghosts, they might just follow you home. As you round the lagoon, you’ll make your way to Frontierland! This exciting wild west town is home to two iconic mountains: Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain. Won’t likely be time for both, so I suggest Thunder Mountain! From the wild west to jungles and pirate infested waters, you’re heading for Adventureland! Climb aboard if you dare, the Pirates of the Caribbean. Who knows? You might just spy the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow. If you make it out unscathed, then sail for the world famous Jungle Cruise! After cruising down so many of the most famous rivers on the planet, you are definitely in need of some dinner. Thankfully, there is a great place to grab some great food at the Skippers Canteen (I suggest reservations).

No Mother’s Day trip to Disney World would be complete without a visit to Tomorrowland! Skip across the hub to where there is always “a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of everyday.” Located in the back of Tomorrowland is Space Mountain! Prepare to rocket through space on this classic Disney coaster. Before heading back to the hub to catch the new Happily Ever After nighttime firework spectacular, you need to stop by the longest running stage show in the history of American theatre Carousel of Progress! Here you will witness the history of the American family and technology from the early 1900s to “present day” (1990s). I seldom miss experiencing Carousel on my many trips to the park. After the beautiful firework display over the castle, now’ time to hit the shoppes on Main Street! There is something for everyone, especially mom! Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most such as time spend with your mother, but never under estimate how much she’ll appreciate a souvenir from Mickey’s Emporium or Uptown Jewelers. I enjoy taking the ferry back to parking at night because of the cooler night air and breeze.

Busch Gardens Tampa

Feel the wilds of Africa calling your name? Does you mom like getting up close with lions, tigers, and kangaroos??? Then, take her to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for Mother’s Day! Only an hour away from Disney World, Busch Gardens Tampa boasts a fantastic assortment of intimate animal encounters and thrilling coasters. For an extra special treat, book a seat on the Serengeti Safari to feed giraffes. With many shows, rides, and animal encounters to choose from, a day at Busch Gardens will make for a memorable Mother’s Day. Due to limited breakfast options in the park, I suggest grabbing bite to eat at First Watch near USF to boost your energy! After entering the park, head for Adventure Photo to take a picture of you and your mom that can help you remember your adventure-filled day through Africa, Australia, and more. If you need an extra boost of caffein, then there is  a Starbucks located near the entrance of the park. Heading to the right, you’ll pass the Moroccan Palace, home of the Iceploration Show–come back later as you don’t want to miss it! The entrance of the first animal habitat you want to his is near the palace. Get ready to encounter gorillas in the Myombe Reserve. Meandering through the lush forests and exploring caverns, you’ll have the opportunity to get some rare glimpses of gorillas and other African animals.

Upon exiting the Myombe Reserve, head to the right to head back toward the Morocco area in order to make your way to Egypt! Egypt is home to three of Busch Gardens’ best coasters: Cheetah Hunt, Cobra’s Curse, and (my personal favorite) Montu. Each coaster offers a very different ride experience. On your way to Cheetah Hunt, you’ll get the opportunity to meet some cheetahs. Cheetah Hunt is a high speed more traditional coaster that gives you the feeling of being a cheetah racing through the Savana. After sprinting through the wild African plains, you’ll want to check out one of nature’s most mysterious and terrifying creatures the King Cobra. Hope in a spinning mine cart at Cobra’s Curse and ride the elevator to the top to come face to face with the King of Cobras himself. This entry level coaster is fun for the whole family, especially if you can get everyone spinning the cart. Oh yeah, it has an indoor queue too! Just up the hill from Cobra on of my favorite coasters period–Montu! A lengthy gravity defying inverted coaster, Montu constantly ranks as a top coaster from blogs and enthusiasts. Returning from your Egyptian exclusion, make your way to the Edge of Africa animal walkabout. There, you’ll have excellent views of the Serengeti and lots of photo opportunities. Along the way, you’ll see lions, giraffes, ostriches, hyenas, zebra, and more! You’ll feel as if you are right there with the animals. If you’re lucky, then you’ll find the lions right up next to the viewing area.

For an even closer experience, you can climb aboard the Serengeti Express for a steam train ride around the animal preserve! When you return to the Nairobi train station, you can head back toward the Moroccan Palace for Iceploration! This ice skating show is a treasure! Simply beautiful, and some humor as well. After backtracking a little to the ice palace, head back to the Cheetah Hunt area to dine at the Serengeti Overlook Restaurant. This 19th century themed restaurant, offers great views of the Serengeti and two dining options: table service and quick service. Once you’ve replenished your energy, take a stroll along the wooded path beyond the railroad tracks, and you’ll meander past the hippo and Nile crocodile viewing areas. Eventually the path will lead back to the Nairobi area. Take a right and head to see the elephants and onward to Pantopia! Pantopia is home to Falcon’s Fury, the midway area, Opening Night Critters show and a few other attractions. Depending on what your mom is most interested in, you can decide how to best use your time; but I recommend soaring through the sky like a falcon and watching the show. I find the scariest part of Falcon’s Fury is rising up and the comedy in the Opening Night Critters show is adorable!

Over the ridge from Pantopia lies the Congo! By now, you and your mom are probably roasting in the hot humid Florida weather and desire a fun way to cool off. Consider river rafting at Congo River Rapids! You’re liable to get soaking wet on this thrilling adventure through this mysterious river region of Africa. Deep in the jungles of Africa lie some mysterious creatures, but thankfully Busch Gardens has a journey to send you on to face off with Kumba! If you and you mom love looping coasters, then you’ll definitely enjoy Kumba. While waiting for the coaster, you’ll get to hear the roar of Kumba as it races by. Next door to Congo is Junglala, home the Bengal Tigers! Jungala offers a fabulous Bengal Tiger animal habitat with lot of different views. As you make your way through the jungle, you’ll find yourself in Stanleyville surrounded by great food options, a log flume, and you’ll encounter Sheikra! Complete with a freefall and inversions, this coaster is incredibly exciting. You’ll probably only have time for either the coaster or log flume.

With all the best rides out of the way, you and mom are probably ready to cool off and calm down. If you’re interested in feeding colorful birds in a large aviary, you and your mom will enjoy Lory Landing. You’ll need to walk through the Sesame Street area in order to get to your next destination: Australia! Best part of Australia is the Walkabout Way, home of kangaroos, wallabies, and other animals native to Australia. Finish off the day with a stroll past the flamingos and then you’re back where you began near Morocco. Stop by Adventure Photo to get photos printed to visually capture your memories from your trek across Africa, Australia, and beyond!

I hope I’ve been able to give you some exciting ideas of how to spend this Mother’s Day in the theme parks with your mom. There are so many other activities and experiences that I could not include; but I hope that I’ve been able to layout some solid ideas of how to make the most of your day in the parks with your mother. In addition to the regularly operating attractions, there are special brunches and uncharges on Mother’s Day that you may want to take advantage of. However, if you’re trying to do a theme park on a dime, then what I’ve laid out for you should fit the bill nicely! It’s not the money you spend on mom, but the TIME spent with her. THAT is what she will remember most.

And to my mom, Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for the memories. I love you!

 

“KONG: Skull Island” movie review

“Hold onto your butts;” Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment’s KONG: Skull Island is full body KONG with just a hint of story. Wait. Isn’t that a line from Jurassic Park??? Sure is. And guess who delivers it? None other than Samuel L. Jackson himself–reprising his famous line from one of the most iconic films in the American cinema library. It’s rather fitting since there are many shared elements between KONG and the Jurassic Park franchise. Both take place on an island and deal with science vs. nature and pit man against ancient creatures. King Kong is no stranger to most people, considering he’s been a fixture in the cinema and theme park universes respectively for many decades. From silver screen to Universal Studios, he remains an icon to which few “monster” movies compare. Although the previous KONG films followed a very similar narrative, this newest incarnation of the king of Skull Island takes a modified route to the classic story. It shares many of the same elements or themes with its predecessors, but through the echoes of the past comes a reimagined story. Diegetically, the film certainly suffers; furthermore, it attempts to integrate social commentary on war, Captain Ahab allegory, and conservation, but none of those themes are effectively carried out. Due to the enormous “King Kong” sized cast, there lacks any real connection to any of the characters and development is certainly obscure, if any at all. Films such as this one can sometimes run into the danger of waxing nostalgic too often and forgetting that audiences want a new movie (i.e. Star Wars: the Force Awakens); and like the aforementioned, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ KONG: Skull Island provides audiences with connections to past King Kong movies in a new approach, but ultimately crafts generic experience.

When an uncharted island shows up on U.S. satellites, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brookes (Corey Hawkins) approach a prominent senator, seeking clearance and funding for a mapping expedition and exploration of the mysterious island resembling a skull. Begrudgingly, the senator clears Randa’s MONARCH for one last mission before the U.S. pulls out of the south Pacific following the Vietnam War pull-out. Partnering with Colonel Packard’s (Samuel L. Jackson) military troop and attaching ex-British special forces Captain Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photo journalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to the group, the expedition lays out plans to penetrate the severe storms surrounding the island to explore the island. What the group encounters on Skull Island will give them nightmares for the rest of their respective lives. Beginning as a glorified mapping excursion, this expedition turns into a game of survival as the group makes its way across the island.

At the end of the day, this movie accomplishes what it set out to do: revive Kong, thrill people for a couple hours, and setup KONG v. Godzilla. Action-adventure films are typically not expected to contain brilliant writing, character development, and strategically placed themed and subtext. What I respect about this movie is that is unashamedly pretends not to be anything other than a larger than life adventure centered around one of cinema’s most iconic “monsters.” Clearly, there are attempts in the movie to include some deeper themes such as anti-war, nature/conservation, and even a little Moby Dick; but those themes appear to have been great thoughts that were not fully executed. That being said, there is clearly a Captain Ahab figure in the film and there are many similarities between King Kong and Moby Dick–size just being one of them. For fans of Jurassic Park you’ll appreciate not only Jackson’s “hold onto your butts” line at the beginning of the film, but also several similar scenes, camera angels, and even the helicopter entry onto the island. Lots of nostalgia, but not so much that it feels like you’ve seen it all before.

In many ways, Kong is bigger than ever, but hardly better than previous Kong films. Ironically, this same thing can be said about the former Kongfrontation attraction at Universal Studios Florida. Much like the new attraction Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal feels far more generic than its predecessor, today’s Kong lacks the magic and innovation that the original Kong did in 1933. Despite an attempt to successfully launch a series of “creature features,” the script and human characters certainly suffer. Little can be said about the dialog except that occasionally there are lines that move the story along instead of stating the obvious or predictable. The dialog is cumbersome and never seems to remain focussed very long. Of course, that is hard to do considering that Kong boasts an extremely large ensemble cast. At the forefront of the cast are Hiddleston, Larson, Jackson, Goodman, and Reilly’s respective characters. Of all the characters, John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow steels the screen about as often as Kong does. One might even be able to say that this is as much a John C. Reilly film as it is a Kong movie. Part of the magic of the previous Kong films, the 1933 version to be more specific, is the setting and characters themselves. Much like the new KONG attraction at Universal took physical sets, animatronics, real fire, etc and crafted a virtual 3D experience, the special effects artists and set designers did the same thing in KONG: Skull Island. The film comes across as less Kong and more Pacific Rim. In other words: generic.

KONG: Skull Island will certainly keep you entertained the whole time as action-adventure films are supposed to do. You’ll enjoy the fight scenes and the whole “creature feature” approach this film takes. If you’re looking for moments taken right out of the previous Kong movies, then you’ll mostly be satisfied. There are few scenes taken directly from the previous movies, but there are certainly allusions and nods to classic moments. You won’t spend much time with the natives nor will you get to witness the famous Empire State Building scene, but you’ll likely enjoy the film nevertheless. Just because a film takes a reimagined approach to a classic character that ultimately plays off as generic, doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to enjoy. For action junkies, there is plenty to grab your attention and hold it for the duration of the movie.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Fantastic Beasts: and Where to Find Them” movie review

fantasticbeasts_1Spellbinding! Return to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world in this fantastic film filled with phenomenal cinematic storytelling and mesmerizing magic. Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts boasts incredible talent on and off screen that is sure to strike both a nostalgic cord with audiences as well as renew a sense of wonder in this new epic tale preceding the events of Harry Potter by more than six decades. From the flawless editing to the character dynamics, this film is definitely one to look for in the technical categories during awards season. Fantastic Beasts is also the first time that fans of Rowling’s wizarding world will witness a film based on an original screenplay and not a work of literature. After watching this movie that essentially extends a wildly popular and successful film franchise, it is clear that ‘the magic awakens’ in a manner that is destined to thrill the dedicated fanbase and ignite the passion of new fans. Whereas the last time a franchise was ‘awakened,’ it felt like a mashup of that which had been heard and seen before, Fantastic Beasts provides audiences with completely new characters in a new city facing all new challenges in a world that echoes the past but is clearly a new fantastical frontier.

Many decades before Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort would cross wands, across the pond a whole new world of witches, wizards, and fantastic beasts is beckoning for adventure. While on a rather academic expedition to locate, identify, and protect magical creatures, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City to transport and collect the final creatures he needs to complete his zoologic study and publish his research. Unfortunately, this expedition is all but academic. After bumping into no-mag (no-maj/no magic) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) at the bank, Scamander mistakenly swaps briefcases with Jacob and unwittingly releases the magical creatures to roam about the big apple. With bizarrely unexplained events in the no-mag world causing people to pry into the magical world with risk of fully exposing it, Newt’s creatures become the target of the American magical congress. After bumping into an unlikely nemesis turned ally Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) and her adorable sister Queenie (Fine Frenzy), teaming up with Jacob, Newt and his friends must capture all the magical creatures and solve the mystery of what is actually reeking havoc in both the magical and no-mag worlds.

Before analyzing the film’s content, I think it’s best to step back and look at the larger picture here. This is the first time that one of Rowling’s wizarding movies is not based on one of her novels, plays, etc. Furthermore, this also makes the fourth time, for all intents and purposes, in recent years that a popular film franchise with a highly dedicated fanbase is being extended (on the front and/or backside). The other three being: Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and to a lesser extent Star Trek; yes, there are other popular franchises that are being added to, but they are mostly perpetually continual ones like MarvelDC, or the Scary Movies, etc. Although Fantastic Beasts was highly anticipated upon the initial teaser trailers and social media traffic, the elephant in the room was whether or not it would go by way of The Phantom Menace and Jurassic Park III or The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. Thankfully, this return to the wizarding world appears to be going by way of the latter! Still too early to tell if it will truly reignite a fandom in the way the extensions did for the Star Wars and Jurassic Park franchises respectively, but the storytelling is solid and refreshing. Extending a wildly popular but essentially complete franchise is a dangerous road to go down, but Fantastic Beasts is successful in its endeavor to return audiences and fans to a world of magic and adventure.

The first cinematic element you will notice in the movie is the editing, inclusive of special effects. The prologue sequence was an incredibly brilliant way to reintroduce the audience to the wizarding world. I thoroughly enjoyed the innovative approach to integrating the magical newspapers into the opening sequence following the prologue. Although I am not a fan of 3D movies–ordinarily–I imagine that this sequence would provide quite the high degree of spectacle if watching the 3D version (which I did not do). It would not be surprising if this film gives Rogue One a run for its money in the visual/sound effects, editing, and score categories during award season. One element I was specifically looking for was the use of practical effects, props, and animatronics since it’s a film about magical creatures. I watched an advanced screening of Allied immediately before watching Fantastic Beasts; so, be honest, I need to watch it again to locate and identify uses of practical effects or animatronics. But I believe that, to a small extent, some of the scenes including interactions between the human characters and creatures used animatronics. When animatronics and CGI are used in a film–especially in the fantasy/adventure or sci-fi genres–the result is authenticity and a realness that cannot be achieved otherwise.

Eddie Redmayne delivers an outstanding performance as Newt Scamander. Absolutely flawless. From the lack of eye contact to the facial twitches to the over-all manner in which he carried himself, Redmayne does an exceptional job of bringing this character to life. Not having any books to base his characteristics off of, it was important to provide audiences with a protagonist who was both entertaining to watch and find a place in the hearts of fans in two hours. Both were definitely accomplished. Joined by an amazing cast of chief and secondary supporting players, the brilliant direction of David Yates is seen in all the character dynamics throughout the movie. I greatly appreciate the lack of developed physical romance or attraction between Newt and Porpentina and instead the mild romantic subplot involve the sexy Queenie and lovable Jacob. The villains are nicely developed as well. Of course, the best part is not quite knowing who the villains are. Going into that in more detail will give away too much; however, there are many options for villains, anti-heroes, and allies so sometimes you will not be certain who’s an ally, villain, or anti-hero or someone who was thought to be a villain turn out to be a possible ally. Although there are definitely some predictable elements in the movie, there is sufficient enough unpredictability that it will keep you guessing and engrossed in the storytelling.

Prepare to be whisked away to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world! I cannot wait to see how Universal Orlando/Hollywood will integrate this new series into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter into their parks and resorts. The famous Harry Potter Studio Tour in England may have some new additions as well. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a delight for the whole family and is sure to generate new fans while appealing to and satisfying legacy ones.

“On Cinema and Theme Parks” (part 12 of 12)

My BookThe world of the business of media convergence is a fascinating and rapidly changing world! And, the convergence of cinema and theme parks is a dynamic example of how one form of media can be integrated into another in order to create a new experience for audiences around the world. Media conglomerates with theme park investments are often exploring what to do in order to remain competitive and increase the number of guests through the turnstiles. Sometimes this means using their own IPs to develop new rides or attractions, maybe an entire new park altogether, or perhaps striking a deal with another media company in order to use another’s IP as the source material for new attractions.

The opposite is also true. Media conglomerates with theme park interests may look to their own respective parks for the inspiration for the next movie. This was definitely the case with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean and is the case in the film Tomorrowland, in which an entire section of a park is the basis for a movie. It is all storytelling. But the stories being told take different shapes and are told through various means. And, even video game companies are getting in on the action. On May 7, 2015 Universal Parks and Resorts and Nintendo announced a first-ever partnership. Universal Parks and Resorts acquired the theme park rights from Nintendo to include the legacy video game company’s characters and games in new attractions and character meet and greets (BusinessWire, 2015).

At their respective roots, both movies and theme park attractions (and even entire parks themselves) tell stories. The medium through which they tell their stories is very different, but nevertheless helps to support one another. Media conglomerates have demonstrated this concept by taking existing movie/TV IPs and translating them into attractions and taking existing theme park attractions and translating them into movies. At its heart, the purpose of this study is to develop recommendations for media conglomerates when making decisions that are potentially worth millions of dollars, and could be a major success or a big flop.

Despite the more artistic or niche films still being amongst the individual favorites of the participants, the shared favorite movies were high concept and aimed at broad audiences, and typically fell into the science-fiction or fantasy/adventure genres. Specifically, the movie Jurassic Park and the Jurassic Park ride were cited numerous times. If an attraction were too disconnected from the story or plot of the movie, serving as the basis for the ride, then it appears to be received negatively. On the contrary, when a movie-based theme park attraction combines the best of the plot or characters, in a given movie, with a conventionally thrilling ride design, then it is received very well and enjoyed immensely.  Furthermore, the attraction needs to tell a story within the length of the ride from queue to exit. Fluid, coherent stories are driving forces behind the likability of an attraction or movie. Prompting the generation of emotional connections or responses from audiences/guests, in respect to the story of a movie or attraction, is key to creating reflections that will evoke nostalgic memories down the road; and thus, compel the audience member or park guest to experience the movie or ride again—perhaps with friends, family, or their children.

Well-executed themed design to support the story of a theme park attraction based on a movie is just as important as the story or intellectual property themselves respectively.  Story is the plot or sequence of events that take place during the ride experience (again, this is from the queue to the exit). Theme encompasses the building design, audiovisual elements, physical movement, and special effects during the attraction. The goal of an attraction or park area’s theme should be to completely immerse the park guest into the world being used as the basis or inspiration for the ride or section of the park. Everything from the employees to the restaurants to the surrounding buildings needs to work together to create an experiential degree that essentially transports the guest from the real world into the world of the park or ride. When developing themed areas of a park, designers need to be careful not to allow the outside world into what should amount to an escape from reality. Not that iconic brands or companies cannot be integrated into the theming of a park at all; but it needs to be more indirect, thus allowing the theme to continue and the story not be broken by outside invaders, so to speak.

The reason many attractions at movie-based theme parks were originally developed was to take Tom Gunning’s (1986) idea of the cinema of attractions and translate it literally. However, with the increasingly digital climate of movie making, the practical, analog effects and techniques that once made for the basis of attractions, are no longer foundation enough for successful attractions in today’s marketplace of themed entertainment ideas. Simply stated, it just isn’t exciting to watch an editor sit behind a computer creating digital effects. Despite the making of a movie just not being as secret or magical nowadays, it is still important for a movie-based theme park to hold onto its roots and work to creatively develop new ways of exhibiting this art that still mystifies to this day—just in different ways than it used to. For movie-based theme parks that exist on studio lots or house sound stages, it is imperative that studio tours continue and build areas that can be rented out for current productions. Even though many people know how movies are made presently, the art, skill, and magic of how similar effects and shot sequences were accomplished before the aid of computers (at least to the extent they are instrumental today) in classic movies has a place in the modern movie-based theme park. Hitchcock: the Art of Making Movies was cited as an example of this type of offering guests want to see alive in the parks.

The goal of a movie or theme park attraction is to generate some type of pleasurable experience in the movie patron or park guest. For both movies and themed parks, the idea needs to be to craft a story that will stimulate physiological and psychological/emotional responses from the audience/guests. A movie should contain a story or sequence of events that generate fear, affection, anxiousness, or levity in the bodies of the patrons. These responses are very much physiological. In the environment of a theme park attraction based off a given movie, these same physiological responses need to be generated by the use of movement and special or visual effects. When generating these physical responses, the patron or guest will instinctively develop psychological or emotional responses to accompany the complementary physiological response. Even if the physiological strain placed on the bodies is by all accounts a negative one, the park guest will most likely be compelled to experience it again and again because studies have shown an attraction to or affinity for sensations of pleasurable un-pleasures.

The principal idea behind this study is to create a predictable model for producers and designers. And, there has been a prolific amount of information to supply the evidence that creative designers, producers, and project managers need in order to make well-informed decisions in the beginning stages of the themed entertainment or motion picture production process. Developing a model for creative decision-making is not as simple as ‘include these things and your idea will be successful,’ as the creative process can be very subjective. However, with enough supporting evidences, a media conglomerate or other company with theme park investments can make decisions with sufficient empirical evidence pertaining to the projected success of an attraction or theme park. This study has outlined a model that is grounded in scholarly research, anecdotal evidence, and first-person focus groups and interviews.

For the complete study, head over to AMAZON and purchase the book. These 12 sections merely touch on some of the main points from the study but by no means take the place of reading the whole book. Hopefully these sections prompt a desire to experience the book/study in its entirety. It’s written to be enjoyed by anyone who loves movies and theme parks. What good is a study if it’s written of that only academics can understand. I have uncovered fascinating knowledge and insight into the craft of the relationship between cinema and themed entertainment that I want to share with the world.

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“On Cinema and Theme Parks” (part 6)

My Book

Successful movie-themed attractions (stage shows or rides) create an atmosphere that is often built upon a foundation consisting of confrontation and direct simulation rather than long, sustained narratives. Whether watching a show on a stage or experiencing a ride-like attraction, the park guest is subjected to a series of physical and/or emotional shocks throughout the abridged narrative. Physical movement is also a strong element in an effective and successful movie-themed attraction design. This creates the illusion that the audience member is not only watching the action or horror take place, but part of the story as well. Implementing the use of special effects such as lighting effect or water also improve the guest experience by bringing the narrative to life.

jurassic_park_river_adventureIn the contemporary theme park model, designers seek to create a relationship between the narrative and the audience (or park guest); this is what Geoff King (2000) refers to as “the cinema of attractions.” The park guests want to be transported from a world in which they are spectators to a world in which they are participants in the story. But, themed entertainment has come a long way from its inception into modern society. How the film theme has been fused with theme park attraction design has evolved over the decades to create the convergence and synergy that exists today. This is mostly due to the understanding of spectacle versus narrative. Although these two elements work seamlessly together in a themed attraction, they are not synonymous with one another. An excellent example of a horror/action film that is both spectacle and narrative, and furthermore, is both a film and a ride is Jurassic Park.

A similar example of the infusion of the aforementioned is Jaws. Just as the use of digital special effects (or visual effects) has evolved in film, the use has also evolved in theme parks. Digital (or visual) effects is a broad term, as it covers a range of possibilities that include computer-based or computer-generated effects (Wood, 2002). The “spectacle” of film and theme park rides possesses the ability to transform the narrative, thus adding an extra dimension to the story progression. However, ultimately within the full-spectrum of the elements that make up a film or ride based on a movie, spectacle is subordinate to narrative. Spectacle is needed to dazzle and simulate, but is essentially lifeless without the narrative. (Wood, 2002). Unlike a narrative, which can have great depth, spectacle “is often understood as a particular kind of extended special dimension…depthless, or as having an excess of surface…more image-full than mise-en-scene (meeze-on-syn) everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement, composition, blocking, and lighting] as it accumulates ever more details” (Wood, 2002, 373).

mise en sceneSpectacle should never be relied upon to carry a narrative, but should be considered a useful tool in enhancing the visceral experience of the narrative. Spectacle possesses the ability to be used to create a dynamic time and space through which the narrative expands and can sometimes be manipulated (Wood, 2002). Digital effects can be used to advance the story or comment on the relationship between characters and their respective environments. In terms of theme park attractions, specifically those based on movies, adding spectacle to the narrative of the ride serves to enhance the overall experience of the park guest. The use of spectacle enables the settings, events, and characters to come to life for the park guests experiencing the live movie-based narrative. Effectively used, the guests should feel as though they get transported from the real world to the world of the movie. Theme parks offer escapes from reality; this is also true of most movies. So, by utilizing the tangible benefits of both narrative and spectacle, the designers are successful in creating the illusion that the guest is either witnessing or part of the story.

University of Central Florida professor Andy Milman (2001) further explores this relationship between cinema and theme parks in his writings in the Journal of Tourism (2001). Exploring the infrastructure of the movies, theme parks, and the convergence of the two is a complex research area that is increasingly becoming more important as the movie studios turn to theme parks for revenue, and the theme parks depend on the movie studios for creative direction and expansive guest experiences. In the article Movie Induced Tourism, authors Roger Riley, Dwayne Baker, and Carlton S. Van Doren (1998) explain that movies provide both the objective and subjective material that capture peoples’ gaze and influence them to travel to the places depicted in movies.  The concept of traveling to locations where movies were made has a direct relationship with the concept of designing theme parks based on movies and showcasing the magic behind the movies (Riley et al, 1998). This concept can be seen in some of the most visited parks in the world. One of the goals of a studio like Warner Bros. is to get the fans of the Harry Potter books and movies to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida; and, by way of the flip side of the coin, one of the goals of the theme parks (mainly Disney and Universal) is to turn park guests into movie audience patrons (Milman, 2001).

You can always find out what you missed by buying my book on Amazon!

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