Universal Pictures has a long association with horror movies, which helped established the firm as one of the leading production studios in the world. Fitting, then, that the company's theme park arm has specialized in producing enormous animatronic monsters over the years. Sadly, it seems that those days are largely over, with the majority of Universal's new rides focusing on digital effects projected onto screens, rather than full-scale animatronics. We hope that Universal returns to its roots and starts installing more stunning animatronic creations at its parks. In the meantime, though, let's admire five of its very best.
5. Hungarian Horntail (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey)
Image: Warner Bros
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey combines on-screen, digital effects with real-world physical effects to create a stunning ride experience. Early on in the attraction, riders witness an escaped dragon on a projection screen (it's Hagrid's new pet Hungarian Horntail). They then quickly swoop into the next set, a recreation of the bridge to Hogwarts, where an animatronic version of the creature blows "fire" at them (in reality, a mixture of fog effects and flickering lights).
4. Imhotep (Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride)
Image © Universal Orlando Resort
In the first scene of Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride at Universal Studios Florida, riders encounter Imhotep - the Mummy himself. The enormous animatronic figure stands at six feet eight inches tall, weighing 680 pounds. Inside is 1,000 feet of hydraulic tubing, enabling the figure to perform some 80 motions (and, incredibly, allowing it to theoretically lift around 2,500 pounds). Although it is capable of very natural-looking movement, it was intentionally adjusted not to be too lifelike so that guests would not mistake it for a human actor in a suit.
3. T-Rex (Jurassic Park - The Ride)
Image: Universal Orlando Resort
The finale of Universal Studios Hollywood's Jurassic Park - The Ride (known as Jurassic Park River Adventure at Islands of Adventure) is a 51-degree, 84-feet drop starting in the pitch dark. Riders hit a top speed of almost 50 miles an hour, with the boat generating a 40 foot wave at the bottom. Unusually, they'll probably be relieved to go over the drop. Towering over them at the top is an enormous animatronic T-Rex, which theatens to snap their heads off.
2. King Kong (Kongfrontation)
Image © Universal Orlando Resort
Kongfrontation was the headline ride at Universal Studios Florida when it opened in 1990, and it featured a suitably spectacular beast. Two Kong figures stood at an incredible 39-feet-tall, with an arm span of 54 feet. The first, encountered in the street, weighed 13,000 pounds. The second figure was slightly lighter and more agile at “just” 8,000 pounds. To accommodate these gigantic creatures, the soundstage show building was six stories high and covered an area of some 62,000 square feet.
1. Jaws (Jaws ride)
In Hollywood, Jaws’ great white shark lunges out of a lagoon at the Studio Tour’s trams. The Universal Studios Florida version of the experience was significantly expanded and enhanced. Riders would now board flimsy-looking boats, placing them in much greater jeopardy. And just as Kong lifted up riders’ tram cars, Jaws would actually grab the boats with his sharp teeth. Unfortunately, the Jaws ride proved to be a liability. It closed after just a few months, having cost some $30 million to build. It was completely rebuilt at a cost of a further $40 million, however, and proved to be an enduringly popular attraction until its removal in 2012 to make way for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. The ride featured fewer than seven fiberglass-and-steel great white sharks. At various points during the ride, these monsters surged from the water with a force equivalent to a 500-horsepower engine.
Learn the full story behind Universal Orlando!
To learn more about the history of the Universal Orlando Resort and how its attractions were created, check out Universal Orlando: The Unofficial Story
- the first book ever to document the resort's creation and evolution, from its debut to the present day. The book is available from Amazon.com
in paperback and Kindle formats.