Over the weekend, I visited Orlando Florida to preview Universal Studios Orlando’s two new entertainment options, the new Superstar Parade and nighttime watershow Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Memories. I also found the time to ride the new renovated version of Island of Adventure’s The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride. After the jump you can find my thoughts on all three of these new theme park experiences, along with photos we took at the preview event.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has brought Universal’s Islands of Adventure to the next level, and Universal Studios is trying to catch up. The recent shut down of the old JAWS boat ride has had many people speculating that Universal will be bringing some of the Potter magic to Universal’s original theme park. Theme Park insiders believe that the company will launch phase 2 of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to Universal Studios Orlando, along with a Gringotts inside roller coaster and a Hogwarts Express ride that connects both parks (brings you to Hogsmeade inside Islands of Adventure) and offers an experience where the train is attacked by Death Eaters on the journey (think an experience like Peter Jackson’s King Kong 360 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood). Of course, all this has yet to be confirmed by Universal, and is still probably years out.

In the meantime, Universal is trying to add more experiences to bring the new Islands of Adventure visitors to their other theme park. A new 3D simulator ride, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, will open sometime this Summer. And Universal is adding two new entertainment experiences inside the park beginning this week.

The first experience is the Superstar Parade, a family-focused parade featuring some of the popular new animated characters from the park, tv and Universal’s recent Illumination Entertainment movies.

The studio told us that the parade has been in development for almost two years now, and the performers have been practicing for months after the park closed. We would be seeing the parade as it was being performed for the first time in the day light and in front of park visitors. To be honest, I’m not sure if the Superstar Parade is anything that /Film readers would be interested in. They said they envisioned a parade to appeal to all age grounds, young and old. But my experience is that it played much better for the young than it did the old (or for me, the in between).

The parade includes floats featuring the characters from Despicable Me — the lovable minions, Gru, the kids, and Illumination Entertainment’s Hop, as well as characters from Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer. The parade floats are beautifully constructed, the performers are giving it their all, but I was left bored by the choreography of the whole experience. There was a real opportunity to compete with Disney now that Universal now has a stable of kid-friendly characters, but instead of creating a catchy fun experience, they set the performance to contemporary hits and songs like Boogie Fever.

At one point the floats stop so that Spongebob and friends danced for a few minutes before the parade began moving again. The kids in the audience seemed entertained, but many of the adults appeared to be waiting for the parade to continue on (some even wondered if they show was experiencing technical difficulties and that the characters were trying to stall).

With the 100 years of Universal, I think there might have been a real opportunity for Universal to stage a parade around their collection of classic movies. I would have loved to see Doc Brown and Marty on a DeLorean float, Elliot and E.T. flying on a float over a moon. But maybe kids don’t know who those characters are these days? Maybe that would have been more entertaining to me than to the key audience – the kids. I’m also surprised that a theme park that replaced the Back to the Future ride with The Simpsons Ride doesn’t use those characters in their new parade. Maybe their addition would have cost more money through their licensing deal with Fox.

The real reason I was invited to check out Universal’s new show options was not the Superstar Parade, but the addition of their new nighttime water show Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Memories.

The new show is a tribute to Universal’s 100 years of film-making history, highlighting some of the most fun, dramatic, awe-inspiring moments from Universal Pictures’ most iconic films. These moments are shown in crystal-clear clarity on huge waterfall screens within the Universal Studios Lagoon, surrounded by colorful fountains and pyrotechnics, all against an incredible musical score and a powerful narration by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. The show will take guests on a journey of epic cinematic moments filled with heroes, horror, laughter, good versus evil and triumph – all against a backdrop of light, sound and special effects.

Everyone can remember powerful film moments such as Elliott and E.T. riding across the moon in E.T: The Extra Terrestrial, the heroic struggle of the crew from Apollo 13 or the terror of watching the famed shower scene in Psycho. Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular captures these moments – and so many more. Other iconic films featured in the show include American Pie, The Bourne Ultimatum, Jurassic Park, Scent of a Woman, The Mummy, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Fast and the Furious.

Like many others, I was expecting this to be Universal’s answer to Disney California Adventure’s insanely popular World of Color nighttime water show. But this is something very different. The show is more focused on a video which shows some of the best moments from the studio’s 100 year history, projected on a screen of water in the lagoon in the middle of the park. Sure, there are fountains and fireworks, but unlike World of Color, they are not the show — they only serve to punctuate the clips we see on screen. Disney’s World of Color uses longer clips from only a dozen or so films, allowing audiences to become more invested emotionally in the characters and the scenes, while Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular is more of a fast-cut look at the history of the company’s films.

The video is organized into segments highlighting the heroes, horror, good vs. evil, comedy and triumph. While the footage concentrates on the major films, the director of the show tried to include some smaller films. I noticed clips from Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, as well as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, Bring it On and Lost in Translation. Over 200 films are featured in the show, set to the musical scores of Back to the Future, E.T., Gladiator, Liar Liar, Apollo 13, James Horner’s Casper score, The Last Starfighter, Psycho, Cape Fear, a small cue from John Williams’ Jaws score.

The video is brilliantly edited, and was described by the director as “a love letter to the Universal brand.” It’s a moving look at a slice of the history of movies, capturing the magic, the memories, and will be sure to leave audiences  remembering some of the films they haven’t revisited in many years, and maybe a “you haven’t seen that movie?  I need to show it to you”. We have photos from the show, but the pictures don’t do it justice. The show is more beautiful in person, and the E.T. climax will make you feel the magic of the movies.

The video is projected on a 30 x 30 meter screen which is created using with a new Aqua graphic curtain technology which involves water being dropped from above to create a screen. During the preshow, and at two moments during the show, they use this screen technology to create logos and moving designs using the water itself (without projection).That cool-ness aside, the technology was used because it allows projection to be seen on both sides of the water curtain, allowing viewing from almost every angle, in front and behind.

From my count, 10 fountains on each side of the screen shoot water up to 30 feet in the air during the presentation. Disney’s World of Color has many more fountains, but again, its a very different kind of show. Universal Florida’s lagoon stretches far allowing thousands of viewers to catch the show each night. Three screens are placed throughout the lagoon, with fountains covering the in between. One of my only complaints is that the projection goes through the water and appears on some of the buildings behind, which is distracting for the audiences watching from the prime locations.

The show includes footage from some of Universal’s upcoming releases — Snow White and the Huntsman and Battleship. I actually thought this touch is a bad idea. Who knows if Snow White will become a classic which deserves to be beside all the films featured in this tribute. I’m pretty sure Battleship won’t earn that honor, but is featured anyways. The system is set-up so that it would be easy to update the show with new or different movie clips as time goes by (no end date has been announced for the show’s run). They also hinted that they will probably re-purpose the technology for the park’s Halloween Horror Nights in October.

Universal’s Superstar Parade and Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Memories officially opened on May 8th at Universal Orlando Resort.

Photo Gallery (photos by Alyssa Saucedo):

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