In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Stranger Things fans, now’s the time to mobilize to bring David Harbour to Halloween Horror Nights.
  • The 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park has inspired a special two-night event at Universal Orlando.
  • Dinosaurs evolved from birds so that gives Donald Duck license to invade Dinoland USA.
  • Street entertainment at Pandora – The World of Avatar is about to get a whole lot cooler.
  • See the new Pixar monorail designs for Disneyland Resort.
  • And more!

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On April 3, 1968, two all-time greats of the science fiction genre, Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey, hit U.S. theaters. Both films are classics in which astronaut missions go awry, but there are other linking threads. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the famous “Dawn of Man” sequence shows the beginning of human history, with intelligence alighting within some of our ape-like ancestors, teaching them how to wield bones as weapons. In Planet of the Apes, it’s the end of history we see: humankind has nuked itself into near extinction and the world has come full circle to where it is now overrun by primates again.

In addition, both movies honor the genre tradition of using the future as commentary on social concerns of their day, with a major linking thread being the principle of evolution. Let’s discuss these two seminal films, their legacy, and how they align and differ in their views of humankind, its place in history, and its place in the cosmos.

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In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • See video of the virtual reality animation for the new Great Lego Race coaster at Legoland Florida.
  • What does it mean if you hear a Cast Member say “Code H” at the Magic Kingdom?
  • Millennial pink isn’t just for millennials … soon everyone can show their Disney pride with it.
  • Universal Orlando has an early buy one, get one ticket special going for Halloween Horror Nights.
  • Rides don’t always change for the better, but one Disney success story celebrated an anniversary this week.
  • And more!

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The weekend before last, a seemingly under-the-radar film called I Can Only Imagine wound up being a surprise box office hit. It was the first in a string of faith-based movies set to roll out in the weeks leading up to Easter. Paul, Apostle of Christ, a biblical drama starring Jim Caviezel, opened last Friday, and a second sequel to the 2014 hit God’s Not Dead sees release this week.

Caviezel, of course, played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and that movie is a prime example of how religious films are often underestimated when it comes to commercial success. Made on modest budgets, these movies have built-in support from an underserved niche of filmgoers who find their beliefs at odds with the pool of available viewing content. Local churches embrace the films in grass-roots campaigns, and it doesn’t hurt if they have ties to a bestselling Christian music single or self-help book. This is how I Can Only Imagine was able to win the weekend over Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, a movie that deliberately downplayed the Christian elements of its source material.

By now, there are enough titles out there that religious films have gotten to be a genre in and of themselves. Yet they almost always seem to be under a quality curse, much like video game movies. Those that aren’t outright bad tend to be mediocre. Why are so many faith-based movies subpar? And what movies actually get this right?

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In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Get details on a slate of events planned through the end of this year at Universal Orlando.
  • Find out which characters you will be able to meet at Toy Story Land in Walt Disney World.
  • Disneyland’s Star Wars Nite is effectively the new “Star Wars Eve” for Star Wars Day 2018.
  • See video of the new animatronic redhead in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at the Magic Kingdom.
  • Was it “love conquers all” or “Marvel conquers all?” I can never remember the exact quote.
  • And more!

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Cool Posts From Around the Web:

Guillermo del Toro is a celebrated filmmaker whose stock has only risen that much more since he won the Academy Award for Best Director earlier this month. Years before he won, del Toro already had a loyal following among cinephiles, with admirers of his output banging the drum loudly for him as a visionary director, a true auteur. But even after seeing Pan’s Labyrinth and his three comic book movies — Blade 2, Hellboy, and Hellboy: The Golden Army — I remained somewhat aloof about del Toro and his work. Everyone probably has one of those critically acclaimed filmmakers or films, some well-regarded name, that they view across an emotional distance like that. The name might hold a certain academic interest for you as a movie-lover, but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t match your taste.

For me, del Toro was that guy. I could appreciate the films of his that I had seen without ever nurturing any particular fondness for them — not even enough, really, to call myself a casual fan. It wasn’t until 2013 that the unlikeliest of Del Toro movies would come along to break me out of that clinical detachment.

Monsters, misunderstood and otherwise, are a recurring motif in Del Toro’s filmography, but it wasn’t until he scaled the monsters up and employed the concept on the world stage with a big crazy kaiju-versus-mechs movie that I suddenly found myself responding to his vision. All it took was a summer popcorn flick called Pacific Rim — whose sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, is out today — to finally catch me in the web of his creature and ghost-filled tales of dark fantasy and gothic horror.

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In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Free overnight parking at Walt Disney World hotels will soon be a thing of the past.
  • See videos and new concept images of the upcoming Pixar Fest and Pixar Pier at Disneyland Resort.
  • See a talking doughnut interview Voodoo Doughnut’s founders before it comes to Universal Orlando.
  • A $100-million, deeply immersive theater project involving an alt-rock icon is headed for Las Vegas.
  • Are you ready to have Disney monitor your fear level and adjust your ride experience accordingly?
  • And more!

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In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • View official drone footage of the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge construction site.
  • See fan-made Star Wars vehicles put together before your very eyes at Disneyland Paris.
  • Florida parkgoers: get your $25,000 upfront membership fee ready for Club 33 at Epcot.
  • Witness a giant version of the Pixar ball roll through the streets of San Francisco and New York.
  • You don’t need a ticket to explore Disney parks with Google Street View.
  • And more!

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The writing-directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen have surpassed themselves time and again with Academy Award-winning films like Fargo and No Country for Old Men (the latter of which we revisited in a 10th-anniversary feature last October). On Sunday night, their longtime collaborator, Roger Deakins, finally won a long overdue Oscar for his cinematography. However, the Coen brothers movie that has endured as their most quotable cult classic is actually one that received no Oscar recognition whatsoever.

On March 6, 1998, The Big Lebowski hit theaters nationwide, introducing us to a new stable of colorful Coen characters. Like their bowling partner, Donny, The Dude and Walter Sobchak — played by Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, respectively — would be out of their element at an awards ceremony, anyway. When Bridges won Best Actor for Crazy Heart in 2010, it was surreal enough to see him sporting the same bearded look while clutching a golden trophy, tossing out words like “groovy” on stage in the Kodak Theatre.

Lack of awards notwithstanding, The Big Lebowski has, over the last two decades, proven its staying power as a cultural phenomenon. It’s a movie that spawned its own annual festival, Lebowski Fest, not to mention its own religion, Dudeism. As a matter of fact, today is a high holy day in the Dudeist calendar. It’s the Day of the Dude. So break out the White Russians, and let’s celebrate by taking a look back at The Big Lebowski on its 20th anniversary.

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In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Get egg-cited about the egg-cellent Easter egg hunts coming to Disneyland Resort and Epcot.
  • The Annual Pass program for Disneyland Resort may be about to undergo a major revamp.
  • Hello Kitty fans, your prayers have been answered: the character is now at Universal Hollywood.
  • New details have emerged about rides themed to Batman and his villains at Warner Bros. World.
  • Two different rides at two different Disney parks carry the name Nemo & Friends. Which is better?
  • And more!

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