3. Revenge of the Mummy
Revenge of the Mummy opened in 2004, precariously positioned as the first in Universal's "next generation" of thrill rides, but just before screens and simulators became the defining features. But even casually dissecting the ride's story, you're likely to find a few hiccups.
For example, by nature of replacing the Lost Legend: Kongfrontaiton, Revenge of the Mummy is located in the park's New York area. Fittingly, the former Penn Station entry to Kong was reimagined as the Museum of Antiquities, with banners between its sandstone pillars even advertising its current exhibit: "MUMMY: The Curses & Legends of the Pharaohs." Sounds like a cool set-up!
But stepping inside, there's no museum. Instead, guests are "on-set," viewing props, costumes, and behind-the-scenes videos from The Mummy. Baked into the queue videos are the idea that guests are actually on-set of a new entry in the Brendan Fraser series, where a crew member has gone missing. Then, around the corner, guests are smack-dab in the middle of a "real" Egyptian tomb... only to board precarious mine carts routed through the temple, which is a whole 'nother level of cognitive dissonance. Along the way, riders find the missing crew member (so, I guess, it IS a movie set?) before passing through ancient chambers (oh, so it's a tomb?) and then a fake unload station (obviously acknowleding we're in neither a movie set nor a tomb, but in a theme park).
And like Forbidden Journey, who cares?! The Mummy is a perfect example of how designers maybe don't need to jump through agonizing hoops to make a "story" make sense. At the end of the day, people get what they want from Revenge of the Mummy: a thrilling dark ride adventure. Not every element needs to be figured out or analyzed. Sometimes it's easier to just believe what the pre-show tells us and have fun. In fact, we traced the whole experience in our Modern Marvels: Revenge of the Mummy feature!
4. Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Given that Kongfrontation had been kicked out of his New York home in favor of the Mummy, Universal Creative, it seemed that the studios' class King Kong was officially gone for good... Until the king's return in 2016's Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Built at the more mythological Islands of Adventure park next door, Skull Island flipped the script. Rather than bringing Kong into our world, it set us down in his: the dark, desolate, and humorless world of Peter Jackson's King Kong film.
Universal clearly worked really, really hard to imbue a story into Reign of Kong, with an elaborate queue that establishes the Eighth Wonder Expedition Company and its 1930s setting (a la Indiana Jones). Great care is taken to make Skull Island seem "real," right down to each of the ride's massive, trackless Jeeps being driven by an on-board animatronic with his or her own narration throughout the ride.
So what's the problem? Unfortunately for all their hard work, Universal forgot to make the story matter. Right off the bat (no pun intended), we're introduced to expedition leader "Kate," who's abducted by flying creatures. From then on, Kate is continuously and unceremoniously dragged off stage left, necessitating our movement to the next scene where she's terrorized and then pulled away again. By time the ride's finale arrives, we haven't heard from or seen Kate in a few minutes. While returning to the station, an announcement over the radio alerts us that she's okay, but in a way that suggests that even designers went "Oh yeah... forgot about her..."
Like with the other Universal entries on this list, we're more than willing to simply let go and have fun without nit-picking. The difference is that it's clear that Universal worked overtime to thrust the story front-and-center throughout Reign of Kong's queue... then just kind of forgot to incorporate it into the ride, too. And frankly, Kong would probably benefit from having more of the pulpy, fun, over-the-top humor of the Lost Legend: Kongfrontaiton rather than taking itself so seriously, anyway.
5. Journey into Imagination with Figment
Look, no one is suggesting that Journey into Imagination with Figment was designed with the intention of being Disney's best ride ever... After all, the current attraction was cobbled together by Imagineer David Mumford in six months, having been tasked with transforming the Declassified Disaster: Journey into YOUR Imagination (1999 - 2001) into something a little more palatable... and hopefully, a little closer to the Lost Legend: Journey into Imagination that had charmed audiences from 1983 to 1998.
If that sounds like a confusing mess, it is... And frankly, so is the resulting ride, which retains the 1999 ride's tepid and unimaginative Imagination Institute setting and its host, Dr. Nigel Channing (played by Monty Python's Eric Idle), but tries its best to layer the imaginative purple dragon Figment over the Institute's tours and sensory tests. The resulting mix of grounded reality and fanciful whimsy creates one of the oddest rides in Disney Parks and also turns the once-childlike Figment into a product of the New Millenium and its direct-to-video humor. He sniffs armpits, licks faces, blasts guests with skunk smell, and more, which must leave first-timers wondering why fans love him so much!
One of the strangest things about the "new" Journey into Imagination With Figment, though, is just how long its been around! While most fans still tend to think of it as a "replacement" or a temporary stopgap meant to cheaply and quickly reinsert Figment into the ride, the "replacement" has actually outlived the original!
It's all about story
Watch any behind-the-scenes documentary from Disney Imagineering or making-of featurette from Universal Creative today and you'll hear it time and time again: "it's all about story." But is it? While the continuing trend of IP-based "living lands" does demand rides that fit into the worlds they inhabit in a meaningful way, not every single attraction needs to trip over itself, inventing excuses for its existence.
Do we really need to know why mine carts are passing through Imhotep's tomb? Do we have to understand how Figment can coexist with the Imagination Institute? Does it matter why the Incredibles own a roller coaster on a Victorian boardwalk? Maybe not! After all, we once set sail from New Orleans and traveled back and forth through time to see a Caribbean town's pirate attack; we soared over London without worrying about departing from a Medieval faire; we sing along in an Enchanted Tiki Room smack dab in the middle of a African / Asian / South American outpost without a care in the world...
Yes, story matters... But sometimes, it's best to just let go and enjoy.