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Thursday, October 30, 2014         

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Yellow fellows run wild

Universal Studios' new Minions attraction is an immersive romp

By McClatchy News Services

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UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. » Where once gunfire and the roar of a motorcycle filled the air, the sound of high-pitched giggling can now be heard at Universal Studios Hollywood. Yellow-skinned Minions — made popular through the two "Despicable Me" movies — have pushed the Terminator out of his home on the theme park grounds.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem opened April 11 in the location once occupied by the Terminator 3-D attraction. This isn't just a new ride; it's an entire themed area that starts with the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride. It also includes Super Silly Fun Land, which features the Silly Swirly Fun Ride, plus a children's area with 80 different water-park features. There are also two "Despicable Me"-themed restaurants.

Universal Studios Orlando has a similar attraction, but it doesn't include the additional Fun Land or restaurants.

Although it's Gru who rides herd over the Minions in the movies, the task of whipping up the construction minions to create the new attraction fell to Universal Show Producer Jon Corfino.

A facade that re-creates the neighborhood where Gru, his three adopted daughters and all those Minions live has been constructed in front of the building housing the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride.

"We have the whole neighborhood here with fun touches like the doorbells that produce customized audio coming out of each home," Corfino says. "The idea is that everyone who goes on this ride is involved in the whole experience, from seeing themselves on the big screen to the Fun Land area. This is by far one of the most elaborate rides we have built in terms of making it a more immersive experience. The attraction brings the whole film to life in a way that we haven't done before."

Once you get past the neighborhood — where there are photo opportunities with the animated cast — riders move through a world where Minion's rule. From speakers in the ceiling that look like bombs to recruiting posters (one a purple Minion version of Albert Einstein), the Minion touches continue to Gru's living room.

Each step, from Gru's vehicle to his laboratory, has been designed so visitors feel like they have stepped into the animated world. Gru's living room is filled with items fans of the movies will recognize: the SR6 Shrink Ray, the Grecian urn covered with dancing Egyptian Minions, spiked coffin, Gru's family tree and Dr. Nefario's vacation photos.

Along the way there are two animated films that explain the ride, which feature the stars from the films: Steve Carell as Gru, Miranda Cosgrove as Margo, Dana Gaier as Edith, Elsie Fisher as Agnes and Pierre Coffin as the voice of the many Minions.

The ride uses similar technology to that used to create the park's "Back to the Future" and "Simpsons" rides. Guests are buckled into rows of chairs in front of a curved screen 36 feet high and 52 feet wide. That's 1,872 square feet of Minion mania. To accommodate twice as many guests, there are two identical rides housed inside the building.

After a blast "turns everyone into Minions," the action takes off as the riders are put through a 3-D training mission. All of the animated parts were created exclusively for the ride.

Don't worry, all guests get turned back into their normal forms before exiting the ride.

"The fun thing about this is that we didn't just take a story from the film and repackage it," Corfino says. "This kind of carries the entire story and the experience forward from that film."

The area outside the building has been transformed into a replica of the Super Silly Fun Land carnival that played such a big part in Gru leaving his evil ways behind. It even includes the only real-life replica of the Super Silly Space Killer arcade game on which Agnes won her fluffy stuffed unicorn.

Adding the arcade game was a major challenge for the team because it's so big. There were moments when it looked like a helicopter would be needed to put it in place.

Unlike visitors to other attractions, Super Silly Fun Land visitors may stay as long as they want. There are changing areas for the youngsters who want to get soaked at the water park, plus seating for adults looking for a break from a long, warm day at the park.

Super Silly Fun Land is one of the first attractions at Universal City Hollywood that focuses on young park visitors. That's particularly noticeable in the food areas. The two eating areas are Gru's Lab Cafe, which offers a full menu from Gru's Backyard BBQ Rotisserie Chicken to Minion cupcakes, and the Despicable Delights snack stand, which sells Minion Cotton Candy or Frozen Minion Treats.

The Despicable Me Minion Mayhem attraction comes with instant name recognition. The first "Despicable Me" film, which opened in July 2010, grossed more than $540 million and became the 10th-highest animated motion picture in U.S. history at the time. The follow-up film, "Despicable Me 2," debuted in July 2013 and went on to become the fourth highest-grossing animation film of all time worldwide, earning $970 million. It is the highest-grossing film in Universal's history.

The stars of the films, the capsule-shaped Minions, will star in their own film in the summer of 2015. Until then Universal Studios Hollywood guests can live the Minion life through the new sprawling attraction. For more information on the park, go to www.UniversalStudiosHollywood.com.

Rick Bentley, Fresno (Calif.) Bee






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