A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man. The previous sentence is utter gibberish unless you’re a fan of The Simpsons and Springfield town founder, Jebediah Springfield aka Hans Sprungfeld. The ridiculousness of it encapsulates the most popular television series of our era. The Simpsons has aired almost 600 original episodes plus a movie. It also spawned several videogames as well as Tapped Out, one of the most lucrative freemium apps ever invented. Simply stated, The Simpsons and Springfield represent a seminal part of pop culture.
In 2007, in a time before Harry Potter became the face of Universal Studios Florida, the park attempted to recreate Springfield, the famous city in the ambiguous state, and one of the critical elements of its endeavor was to craft an attraction worthy of the most powerful television brand, The Simpsons. What they built is a loving tribute to the anchor program of the Fox Network over the past 27 seasons (and counting).
Whether you’re like me and can recite dialogue from hundreds of episodes or you’ve never seen the show, Universal Studios Florida and now Universal Studios Hollywood claim one of the most entertaining theme park attractions ever built. Let’s take this opportunity to go Behind the Ride once again. Here are four ways The Simpsons Ride excels in bringing the hilarity of Springfield and its residents to life.
The Experience: Celebrating the style of Krusty the Clown
The Trick: Making everything absolutely terrible
At The Simpsons Ride, the first thing you do is walk into the clown’s mouth. It’s a silly, loving tribute to the zany world of Springfield, and it’s displayed via 32 feet worth of Krusty’s head. The attraction is also a faithful recreation of a land referenced but never shown on the actual series, at least not until after the ride debuted at Universal Studios. The first display of Krustyland on the series didn’t occur until The Food Wife in November of 2011, more than three years after the ride debuted. Universal park planners had the freedom to design Krustyland the ride as they saw fit, albeit with input from writers and producers of The Simpsons.
Where did the idea of Krustyland come from? Krusty mentions his theme park in a sixth season episode entitled Round Springfield, and it’s…not the sort of dream destination you might expect. It seems that a few theme park tourists lost their heads in a most literal sense when they entered the Krustyland House of Knives. As usual, it’s a cut-rate product endorsed by a clown with startlingly low standards for all his merchandise. Since that’s the clown’s modus operandi, the creators of the ride follow the philosophy from start to finish.
Krustyland is a celebration of Krusty the Clown, whether he deserves it or not. The entry point is a cheeky take on the fast food restaurant gag of talking into the clown’s mouth. Monitors appear at key points in the line queue, and the point of each of them is to reinforce that the place you’re visiting is a deathtrap in every sense of the word.
Police Chief Clancy Wiggum is a frequent visitor as the on-duty law enforcement official, which sounds fantastic until he starts reciting information about what to do in case emergency. Apparently, you should dial 991, or maybe it’s 119. Eventually, he settles on his winning answer, which is 787. This entire turn of events leads itself to a simple question for fans of the show. How does Snake keep getting arrested if the police officers in town are this bad?
The Experience: every hero needs a villain
The Trick: The clown prince of villainy
The record-setting first season of The Simpsons exploded into pop culture, shocking basically everyone involved with the project. If they’d known The Simpsons would become such a blockbuster, they’d have prepared better for season two as well as merchandising, both of which were scarcely available during the body of 1990. The moment everyone appreciated that the series was something special was when Sideshow Bob revealed himself as the culprit behind the framing of Krusty the Clown.
That episode, Krusty Gets Busted, became the most popular Fox television program airing that week. More important, it introduced Sideshow Bob as the Moriarty of The Simpsons universe. He has since appeared in some fashion in more than 50 episodes. You can see the full list here as well as an almost too comprehensive list of his accomplishments. What’s germane to the conversation is that in video games, comic books, and other media, Sideshow Bob is always the primary villain for the Simpsons family. The Simpsons Ride is no different.
During the pre-show video introducing the upcoming motion simulator, guests enjoy a hilarious video of the proceedings. They learn the backstory for the attraction, which is that Krusty powers all his new ride with…nuclear power. In fact, the entire facility is a nuclear reactor. A “psychopathic killer” also happens to be skulking around. “For some reason,” he hates Krusty, which probably has something to do with all of Sideshow Bob’s time spent in jail for failed attempts on the lives of Krusty and Bart Simpson, the latter of whom he’s tried to kill about 15 times (eventually succeeding during Treehouse of Horror XXVI.)
Well, Sideshow Bob has escaped from prison for the umpteenth time, and he’s seeking revenge at Krustyland. When he notices a recently fired Barney walking out in a Scratchy costume, he brains the hapless drunk and infiltrates the theme park. Once inside, he holds Krusty at gunpoint and demands that the Simpsons family board what is now a dangerous and presumably fatal version of the new attraction. Also, Maggie grows to 50 feet tall for some reason. The entire thing is hard to explain, but if you watch this video, you’ll feel thoroughly entertained for the next several minutes. The pre-show for The Simpsons Ride might be the most enjoyable across all theme parks in the world, especially for fans of The Simpsons.
The Experience: a trip through Springfield
The Trick: motion simulation and a loving recreation of the fictional town
Throughout the ride, Sideshow Bob is the danger. Apparently impervious to cartoon violence, the nefarious clown prince of Springfield chases you through all parts of town. The ride’s setting of a nuclear reactor quickly switches to the entirety of Krustyland. Sideshow Bob proudly boasts that, “There’s no place you’ll be safe from me.” And he’s not exaggerating.
The motion simulation begins on the tracks of a roller coaster, and it’s here that the money joke of The Simpsons Ride is announced. To assuage Lisa’s fears, Homer counters, “Sweetie, they won’t kill you in an amusement park as long as you have a dime left in your pocket.” This statement is especially fitting for Universal Studios in the post-Potter era, and I say that as a grown man who just spent over $100 on “magic” wands during my last visit.
The glory of the ride structure is that it transports guests through several key areas during the five-minute attraction (not counting pre-show). As written by actual content providers from The Simpsons, the experience evolves into a glorious send-up of theme parks combined with the thrills usually associated with Universal attractions. At one point, guests find themselves flying through a kiddie ride, a Pirates of the Caribbean knockoff, and something akin to Shamu Stadium.
Throughout each new setting, Sideshow Bob finds new toys he can use to attack the riders, whose only crime is that the Simpsons chose them as ride partners. You wind up attacked by giant robotic pandas, chased by a stampeding ball, feeling flaming wreckage, plummeting off a watery cliff, and several similarly traumatic events. In every way, The Simpsons Ride is as imaginative as the average episode of The Simpsons.
The signature moment of the attraction occurs when the “roller coaster cart” flies untethered through the air, eventually enjoying a bird’s eye view of all of Springfield. At this point, several of your favorite characters appear such as Otto, Kang and Kodos, and Ralph Wiggum. The final part of the ride simulates an amusement park staple, the death drop. In this manner, The Simpsons Ride finishes a startling combination of multiple amusement rides in a short period. It’s the power of having an undefined user experience and a blank slate for the legendary writing team of The Simpsons.
The Experience: a video story told continuously
The Trick: a giant TV you’ll never see at Best Buy
The Simpsons Ride is less an attraction and more a new episode of The Simpsons available for consumption only at Universal’s Orlando and Hollywood theme parks. In order to bring Springfield to life or make any motion simulator work, the monitor in front of the ride cart must seem fully immersive. The audio cues also much match the onscreen action in a way that convinces the rider that they’re experiencing the activities in real-time. To achieve this with The Simpsons Ride, Universal purchased modified Imax Dome screens and Sony projectors to tell the story.
As is the case with many of the motion simulators at Universal, the action takes place in front of the ride cart. Four different projectors operate at once, and they’re high-end Sony 4K units. That means that even several years after its introduction, The Simpsons Ride offers equal or better graphics than the television in your home, and they do it on a screen that is 80 feet tall and 85 feet wide. The images flash at 60 frames per second, which is what you’d expect from a videogame. Putting it a different way, The Simpsons Ride plays at 60 frames per second while The Simpsons Movie only plays at 24 frames per second. Also, it’s something that’s only been seen once on the television show. The Simpsons Ride is in 3D, just like in Treehouse of Horror VI. “It's like something out of that twilighty show about that zone.”
As for the audio, it’s the best you’ll see at the park outside of Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Every ride cart includes a dozen speakers broadcasting in Dolby 6.1 surround sound. The giant IMAX domes feature another 90 speakers. After you’ve enjoyed The Simpson Ride, you’ll never hear Homer shout, “D’oh!” as clearly again.
Finally, if The Simpsons Ride ride cart feels a bit familiar, it should. The attraction rests in the same place as the former Back to the Future ride. Rather than ignore its history, park planners celebrate it in a couple of ways. The ride carts include the same gull-wing doors, and Professor Frink has a story arc where he tries to go back in time to save Doc Brown. If you pay attention, you may even spot Doc Brown himself...
Simply stated, The Simpsons Ride offers the most fun of anything at Universal Studios Florida or Hollywood, and I say that as a Harry Potter fan. If you’ve never ridden it, watch this pre-ride video and this one of the attraction itself.