- Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 3.5
Fairly mild motion simulator thrills. If you are prone to motion sickness, you could experience discomfort (although shutting your eyes should prevent queasiness). There are stationary seats available. The ride also features simulated coaster-like action -- but in a non-realistic, cartoony way.
- Location: Production Central at Universal Studios Florida, part of Universal Orlando
- Reviewed in August 2012.
- Height requirement: 40 inches
- Universal Orlando Tickets- Save money and time by purchasing passes in advance directly from Best of Orlando.
Help the Scourge of Humanity in His Evil Plans
Gru is the power-hungry title character in Universal's Despicable Me series of computer animated films. (The first debuted in 2010; a second installment is due in 2013.) If you aren't familiar with the movies -- and you don't need to be well versed to enjoy the ride -- he is a self-styled master villain and "scourge of humanity" who, deep down, really isn't all that despicable. Voiced by Steve Carell (who is also featured in the ride along with the films' other original actors) in a vaguely Slavic accent, Gru's bluster is constantly exposed by the three adorable sisters he has adopted.
Despite his newfound domesticity, Dad loves his work and forges ahead with his world-domination schemes aided by an army of bright yellow, slapstick-prone, capsule-shaped sidekicks known as minions. The crude, yet cuddly creatures, some of whom have a single eye, also adorn the outside of the attraction. They are busy erecting billboards and engaging in other recruitment activities to entice humans into their ranks. It seems that Gru has moved his headquarters to Orlando and needs to significantly boost his battalion of minions to abet his latest nefarious plot. That's where you come in.
Lots of Laugh-out-loud Moments
Snaking through the queue (which includes actual banana trees, the minions' food of choice), overhead monitors bring the Despicable Me-challenged up to speed and lay the groundwork for the minion-conscription storyline. Guests first enter Gru's living room, the first of two pre-shows. The building's previous attractions only had one pre-show room; Universal reallocated former backstage areas to create the extra space. It serves to both advance the story and get additional overheated visitors into air-conditioned comfort.
A video establishes the tone of the attraction: Gru barks menacing commands; his daughters deflate the rants ("He's just a big, bald teddy bear," one of them says); and the minions engage in pratfalls and clowning. Like the movies, the action is fast-paced, and there are plenty of cute, if occasionally gross, laugh-out-loud moments, largely at the expense of the indestructible minions. "I loved The Three Stooges growing up," says Mike West, executive producer at Universal Creative. "And the minions are like the Stooges on steroids. Who doesn't love them?"
The enlistees move to Gru's lab, the second pre-show area. Enormous video monitors depict his wobbly plan to convert humans into minions. (What could possibly go wrong?!). The girls pester Gru to allow them to lead the operation. A sub-plot is introduced that involves the one-year anniversary of the day that the not-too-despicable guy adopted his daughters.
Properly briefed in the art of donning minion goggles (3D glasses) and other prerequisites, guests move into the main theater and take their seats in the "transformation pods." The action begins with the newly altered minions (that's us) being challenged with a series of insane tests such as evading giant fly swatters.
Amid the frantic minion exploits, the daughters intervene and add a note of heartstring-tugging to the proceedings. “I think we strike a good balance between a fun ride and a great emotional storyline," West says, adding that that the three girls "hit the cute barometer out of the park." Indeed, unlike many Universal rides (I'm looking at you, Revenge of the Mummy), which amp up the thrills to 11, Despicable Me keeps the physical and psychological jostling relatively tame.
Stunning technology helps to immerse guests into the story, but not get in its way. If you'll indulge a bit of geeky tech talk for a moment, the movie is displayed at 60 frames per second as opposed to the conventional 24 frames for film and 30 for video. It is also presented using a 4K digital system projected onto a screen that is 70% larger than the one it replaced. If 1080P represents the vanguard of high-definition television, this attraction features roughly 4 times the amount of resolution. And it uses newfangled wraparound diachronic 3D glasses that virtually eliminate the ghosting and image darkening that is sometimes associated with 3D movies. (Universal's Spider-Man ride, which was retooled in 2012, also incorporates the next-gen 3D glasses and a 4K projection system.)
What does all that geek-talk mean? The image is incredibly crisp and bright, and the 3D allows guests to engage with the attraction without being overly aware of 3D gimmickry. In contrast to the 3D-less Jimmy Neutron and Hanna-Barbera rides that preceded it, the experience is noticeably more vivid -- startling even. I hesitate to say more "lifelike," considering it's an animated presentation with miniature, one-eyed creatures, but you catch my drift.
The Next Evolution of Motion Simulation
But wait, there's more! A costumed minion and a couple of assistants get their groove on with guests at a post-show dance party to the tune of "Boogie Fever." Then it's off to retail (naturally) as the re-acclimated humans are directed into the Super Silly Stuff store.
As someone who has avidly followed theme parks for some time, it's fascinating to see the evolution of motion simulation attractions that have progressed through Universal's soundstage. The original Hanna-Barbera ride was among the first major simulator attractions at a theme park. (Disneyland's Star Tours preceded it by about a year.) At the time, the pioneering attraction was a revelation. With all of the advances however, Despicable Me takes the promise of virtual reality and nudges it that much closer to reality. Like me, when you are soaring down an enormous slide and facing a crash landing onto a giant cactus, I'm sure you would want all the reality, despicable or otherwise, you could get.