Universal Orlando is going ape again. A King Kong-themed attraction will open at its Islands of Adventure theme park in the summer of 2016, the company announced today.
Construction work — visible from inside and outside the park — has been under way on Skull Island: Reign of Kong since last summer. The site is sandwiched between the Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park sections of the theme park.
It will be round 2 for the big guy at Universal. He was featured — complete with banana breath — in the Kongfrontation attraction at Universal Studios from the time of the park’s opening in 1990 until 2002. Visitors encountered Kong during a romp through New York City.
The new attraction will, instead, transport guests to King Kong’s homeland, Skull Island, said Mike West, executive producer of Universal Creative. That’s a departure, he said.
“It’s always been that model of monkey comes across the ocean, he’s in New York, look what happens,” West said. “But now we’re taking you to where he is, and he’s the king. He controls everything here.”
I would expect, based on Universal Orlando, kind of what has become their signature type of attraction, which will be a combination of immersive, big screen projections and animatronics … dating back to Spider-Man, Transformers and the Harry Potter attractions,” he said.
Although Universal worked with director Peter Jackson early on the in the development of the attraction, it’s not based on his 2005 film “King Kong” starring Jack Black and Naomi Watts nor the next film, set to debut in 2017, West said.
“It’s really its own story and its own environment that we’re creating,” he said. Skull Island will not be considered to be a part of either Jurassic Park or Toon Lagoon, he said.
“It’s really an entity unto itself. It’s Skull Island, it’s the home of Kong, but it’s really just creating this massive, dramatically themed environment in that area of the park that’s just his home,” West said. “It’s unique and something we haven’t done before.”
The Kong attraction will be the first major addition to Islands of Adventure since the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened there in 2010. The company then turned its attention to the Studios park, adding Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers: The Ride — 3D, an expanded Springfield area and, last year, Diagon Alley, the sequel to Wizarding World.
The big ape debuted in films in 1933. West said the time is right to bring Kong back, despite closing Kongfrontation in favor of the Revenge of the Mummy coaster, which opened in 2004.
“He’s been such a rich part of our history from film and theme-park attractions that we just look at this as a way to tell the next generation of his story and the legend of Kong and bring it to whole new audience,” he said.
Parfitt said he thinks kids have a grip on who King Kong is, based on the iconic movie scenes atop theEmpire State Building.
“I think they have a sense from a pop-culture point of view who King Kong is,” he said. “Whether that gets them excited or not is a different story.”
Armen Shaomian, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s Department of Sport & Entertainment Management, sees parallels with the Kong attraction and the Men in Black: Alien Attack attraction at Universal Studios. That ride opened in 2000, three years after the first “Men in Black” film and two years before “Men in Black II.”
“That has worked for them. That attraction is still going strong,” Shaomian said.
“This ride, I’m sure, will be based on the aura of King Kong and the story behind him, but it always helps if you have movies coming out a year or two after. Eventually it allows the ride to stay relevant,” he said. “I think if you build a good ride, people will enjoy it regardless of the theme.”