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crazy4wdw
04-24-2007, 05:27 AM
Universal Studios says welcome to The Simpsons in Orlando
Simpsons' virtual-reality trip to replace Back to the Future


Scott Powers | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted April 24, 2007

Where: Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood.

When: Spring 2008.

About the ride: Will use 80-foot-tall movie screens and motion-simulation vehicles from Back to the Future: The Ride to give visitors a virtual-reality trip through a cartoon theme park called "Krusty Land."

Don't have a cow, man: The world's most popular dysfunctional cartoon family is coming to Universal Studios.

A new ride based on The Simpsons is planned for Universal Studios both in Orlando and Hollywood. Universal Studios officials and The Simpsons producers Matt Groening and James L. Brooks are expected to announce a new partnership and theme-park ride today during a tourism convention in Anaheim, Calif.

The ride would go into Universal's recently closed Back to the Future: The Ride buildings in both parks, making it an instant signature attraction in each. It would open in the spring of 2008.

"The Simpsons are enormously popular. They line up with what Universal is all about -- fun, with a little bit of an edge," said Bill Davis, president of Universal Orlando Resort. "We're just thrilled and delighted to be with them."

The Simpsons, featuring Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson, is in its 18th season on Fox, making it the current longest-running sitcom on television. The cartoon, which originated as a comedy short within The Tracey Ullman Show, just celebrated its 20th anniversary. A feature-length The Simpsons Movie is due out July 27.

The ride will use the 80-foot-tall movie screens and motion-simulation vehicles from Back to the Future: The Ride, to give visitors a virtual-reality trip through a cartoon theme park called "Krusty Land" -- the domain of The Simpsons' TV clown.

"We'll be the first visitors in the new theme park, along with the Simpsons family," said Scott Trowbridge, vice president of Universal's Creative Studios, which designs rides. "Our adventure is set in the world of Krusty Land."

Other Simpsons elements, including costumed characters, also will come to Universal.

Jerry Aldrich, president of Amusement Industry Consulting in Orlando, said The Simpsons could offer Universal an ideal theme: one that's popular, story-driven, imaginative, long lasting -- and which can sell tons of T-shirts and toys.

"It's something that gets you some synergy," Aldrich said.

The Simpsons deal, detailed Monday to the Orlando Sentinel, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, should be Universal's biggest announcement in several years. Yet it could be overshadowed today at the travel industry's annual Pow Wow conference in California by something Universal is not talking about.

The industry is abuzz with rumors, recently fueled by Internet show-business sites and British tabloid newspapers, that Universal is planning another major development, involving J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of books and movies.

The Simpsons ride is big, but a Harry Potter deal would be enormous, said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, a management and consulting firm in Cincinnati.

During his recent trip to Europe, Speigel said everyone was talking about a possible Universal-Harry Potter deal, speculating on a large, multiattraction development or an entire themed land.

Earlier Internet chatter linked Walt Disney World to Harry Potter.

"When it does happen, it's going to be one of the biggest things ever to happen to a theme park," Speigel said. "The rumor we're hearing is a $500 million investment. I picked that up over in Europe. It's coming from people in the business."

Universal officials won't touch Harry Potter reports. Even if they had a deal, this is The Simpsons' time.

"We don't comment on rumors and speculation," Davis, the Universal president, said. "I'd leave it at that."

Certainly, Universal Orlando has something else planned. The company's annual financial statement reported plans to spend up to $120 million on improvements in 2007, three times as much as in either of the past two years. Speigel, the consulting-firm president, estimated that a retrofit of the Back to the Future building could cost as much as $30 million. That leaves up to $90 million.

Though Universal has opened new shows and small rides in the past two years, the last major new ride was Revenge of the Mummy, which opened in 2004. Meanwhile, attendance slipped, which company officials blamed on market factors. So a big, new The Simpsons ride does not signal any strategic changes, Davis said.

"Sometimes it takes us a little while to find the right brand fit. The Simpsons brand and our brand are a very nice, tight fit," Davis said.

Back to the Future: The Ride, based on the 1980s films starring Michael J. Fox, was widely considered the state-of-the-art simulator ride when it opened in 1991. Though it won a large, loyal fan base, the ride also drew critics for its jerky, jolting motion, especially after smoother simulator rides appeared. It was closed March 30.

For The Simpsons, the motion devices will be toned down to offer a smoother ride, and all elements will be brought up to current state of the art, said Trowbridge, vice president of Universal's Creative Studio for Universal Parks and Resorts. There are plenty of characters and story possibilities to drive the experience, he said.

"The Simpsons, the story, is about a family that copes with all manner of craziness, from the most bizarre and outlandish to the most mundane," Trowbridge said. Universal will not only be putting the Simpsons characters in the middle of an adventure, he said, "but we'll put our guests in there beside them."

IS HARRY POTTER NEXT?

Fans of Harry Potter, grab a broomstick! The latest buzz has Universal Studios vying for an attraction based on J.K. Rowling's series of books and films. "When it does happen, it's going to be one of the biggest things ever to happen to a theme park," one industry observer said. Universal isn't talking -- yet.

Scott Powers can be reached at spowers@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5441.