When you work at and especially in a theme park, you have to learn to let go. It’s a rare attraction — your Haunted Mansions, your It’s a Small Worlds — that can linger on for decade after decade with only the most minor changes. For your average theme park attraction, it’s eventually going to either get a brand new coat of paint and reemerge as something different, or get torn to the foundation to make room for something brand new. In either case, you’ll have diehards who scream bloody murder and long-time employees who’ll miss their home away from home, but the reality is that change is not just good, it’s essential for any park to survive. Nostalgia doesn’t do you any good if it’s not bringing folks through the turnstiles.
I’ve seen my fair share of attractions I’ve worked at shown the door. Alfred Hitchcock made way for Shrek, which I’ll admit bothered me some, because it was an attraction actually about making movies, and because come on, it’s Hitch vs. Shrek. Murder, She Wrote begat Hercules & Xena which eventually begat Transformers. Hanna-Barbera has gone through a couple of face lifts and now, as Minion Mayhem, is undoubtedly one of the most popular rides in the park. Triceratops Encounter, the attraction I opened for Islands of Adventure’s grand opening and of which I did a show for Spielberg himself, just went away. A shame, in that it was something that really tried to get across the grandeur of seeing dinosaurs that the film had. Island Skipper Tours went away as just something no one was really all that interested in. And while Jaws was probably my favorite time I had working at a ride, nothing was going to stand in the way of more Harry Potter.
Now this weekend sees the final bow of Disaster, which started life as Earthquake. That reimagining helped for a while, but you always got the feeling the writing was on the wall, especially once the wonder that is Diagon Alley opened right next to it. The fact is, people are much more savvy about how movies are made now than they were 25 years ago. The proliferation of bonus material on DVDs and Blu-rays means every film can explain how it was made, without having to buy theme park tickets to find out. That novelty of seeing “how it was made” has worn off, replaced by being put inside the movies themselves. Disaster tried to balance those two aspects, but it’s evolve or die, and if you’ve been anywhere near Universal property lately, it’s definitely evolve around here.
But the passing of Earthquake is pretty significant, because now it means that only the E.T. Adventure remains from the “Big 4” that opened the park (aside from Jaws and ‘Quake, Kongfrontation was replaced by Revenge of the Mummy, although the big guy is getting a major rebirth next year). In fact, other than E.T., only that old stalwart warhorse the Horror Make-Up Show remains from that opening lineup from 1990, the one that was there when I first started here that following February. And you know, I worked at both of those, so you probably don’t want to get too attached to them. I’m apparently the kiss of death.