Part 4 of a continuing series examining the original proposal for Universal Studio’s Florida’s Islands of Adventure theme park.
Welcome back to our continuing tour of the never-before-seen Batman Theme Park proposal for Universal Florida’s Islands of Adventure. It’s been a long day filled with a walk of the park, dining and even a little shopping. We’ve seen the Caped Crusader represented in a theme park like never before with fully themed streets, buildings, villain shops and superhero eateries.
But we’ve only just begun to discover the true wonders of this place.
It’s time to stop wandering around and hit some rides!
Put your hat and keys into a locker, you don’t want to lose them! Check your height and try and keep up as we hit the ground running with some of the most unbelievable ride concepts you’ve ever seen.
Welcome to Gotham City.
You’re really going to like it here.
First up is the “Joker’s House of Mirrors,” a walk-through attraction that’s exactly what it sounds like — a traditional house of mirrors like you’d find at the local carnival. The difference here is that the Joker’s version will have state-of-the-art technology that puts the Clown Prince of Crime himself into the very mirrors. Yes, you’ll have to find your way out of this mirror filled nightmare while the Joker taunts you at every turn. Make a wrong move and air jets in the floor and ceiling will blast you! (This is one of the earlier attraction ideas and it didn’t make it very far into the process. When the final proposal gets narrowed down the hall of mirrors concept won’t make it.)
Next is the generically titled “Superhero Training Camp” where every guest in the park can test their mettle and emerge a superhero. (The materials on this one are pretty vague, but from what I can decipher it was to be a playground of sorts with obstacles and climbing equipment themed around the DC characters. The closest attraction at a real theme park would be the forest-themed playground “Redwood Creek Challenge Trail” at Disney’s California Adventure, but since that park was built on the cheap it’s doubtful this superhero version would have been a go-to concept in the sky’s-the-limit Islands of Adventure project. To further add mystery to the “Superhero Training Camp” proposal it’s supposed to be located in a place called “Adventure Island” that isn’t mentioned anywhere else.)
Just around the corner is the “Big Top” ride. Made to look like a circus tent, this ride is a redressed spin-out type where the room spins and the floor drops out. (Hopefully, the designers had something a bit more elaborate in mind, as this seems very cheap for such a great themed park.) More intriguing as a redressed carnival ride is the “Joker’s Merry-Go-Round,” that finds guests strapped onto distorted and grotesque animals. As the ride gets going, the top of the carousel lifts up and the animals actually lift riders to a height of 4 stories before plunging back down. This goes on and on until the ride comes to a full and complete stop. (Now this ride is more like it. A traditional carnival ride redressed to an appropriate theme with just the right amount of darkness that the Batman theme demands. If the ride operator stops the attraction with a well timed spray of Bat Carousel Reversal Spray then I’ll have to ride twice.)
Centrally located you’ll find “The Joker’s Funhouse,” another variation of a typical carnival ride. This attraction is based on the popular “Wild Mouse” or “Crazy Mouse” roller coaster concept — a small rollercoaster car that makes hairpin turns. The Joker version would have had guests enter through the madman’s face and, after twisting and turning in the dark, emerge on the second story from one of his eyes and then dart right back in through the other one! Fog and lighting would have enhanced the ride as well. (This is yet another concept that didn’t make it far in the process — it’s another generic carnival ride dressed up with a Joker overlay and seems pretty cheap. Let’s not forget that Islands of Adventure was a milestone in theme-park designing with intricate theming and Disney quality rides. This off-the-shelf ride concept would have been a major disappointment. Again, for historical evidence of this simply look to Disney’s California Adventure where their “Mulholland Madness” is a redressed “Crazy Mouse” and the line is never more than a few minutes long. There’s another proposal to make “The Joker’s Funhouse” a walk-through attraction and perhaps that would have yielded better results. That attraction would have been filled with traps and choosing the wrong corridor would send you to certain doom. Hopefully, someone on the design team would have taken a closer look at Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s masterpiece BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE, where Batman’s arch-nemesis takes Commissioner Gordon on an insane journey through a funhouse. This particular comic book is featured on a page of Batman artwork as inspiration.
Another note in the proposal page intimates that the attraction was beefed up with input from Speilberg (sic) in regards to the “Wild Mouse” finale, which indicates that Steven Spielberg himself offered some insight on how to make this proposal the best it could be, but that’s just me reading what I want into it. It could have just as easily been Senor Speilbergo, fresh from his work with Monty Burns, but let’s assume they went to one of our modern master storytellers. Perhaps Mr. Spielberg’s input was to combine the walkthrough with a ride-through finale, which would have been pretty cool. The capper to this concept is that once the ride is over, you disembark and exit right into “The Joker’s Arcade!” It’s the perfect place to play some games of chance themed around Batman’s arch-enemy and maybe even take home a cute stuffed crimefighter to keep forever.
Speaking of games, there’s also the “Superhero Stadium” that features “Justice League Games.” Step up to the imposing giant ice castle and through the giant doors that lead inside. You’ve entered a replica of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude! Giant ice sculptures and trophies from Superman’s exploits dominate the area along with statues of Superman’s parents, Jor-El and Lara. The actual “Justice League Games” are each themed around a particular superhero:
Green Arrow’s Archery Range — aim for the bullseye using the Archer’s own personal weapon. You can’t miss this game, it’s located right next to the Bottle City of Kandor!
Batman’s Batcuff Toss — situated underneath Brainiac’s captured spaceship this game challenges guests to throw ringed Batcuffs around the outstretched hands of The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Bizarro and Lex Luthor.
Flash’s Light Game — (not a very imaginative title) Located right next to the InterDimensional Transporter to the Phantom Zone, Flash’s game pits players against each other as they try to slap a pattern of light squares. The fastest player moves on and wins the prize!
Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso Game — Grab hold and pull yourself to the other side to ring the buzzer. (Not sure about this one. The description is vague. I would guess that’s similar to the game at carnivals where you have to traverse a rickety ladder to ring a bell. This along with the bottle toss is one of the hardest games on the midway! Odds are whatever prize was offered here was reasonably safe and would gather dust before it went home with a guest.)
Green Lantern’s Power Ring Beam — Try not to get distracted by the full-scale replica of the Supermobile that sits nearby. Instead, focus on actually putting on the Green Lantern’s power ring and aim a beam of light at the target to propel your space ship to the moon. The first player to reach the lunar surface wins! (This is similar to the popular carnival game where you aim a stream of water at a target to make it elevate or pop a balloon or the like. Games like these are always popular with their loud barking and a winner every time motif. No doubt putting on the power ring would have been very cool.)
The Outlaw Kid’s Quick Draw — Hey, put the gun back in the holster you cheater! (Remember how popular this game was in the early 1990s? It featured a full-scale outlaw behind swinging doors and after you put a dollar in the machine you waited for the machine to yell, “DRAW” and then pulled the gun as fast as you could. I’m sure this comic-book character overlay was popular from a price point. Not so sure it made the grade, though, when someone was informed that the Outlaw Kid is actually a Marvel Comics character.)
Aquaman’s Undersea Adventure — This is a redressed “Whack-A-Mole” game done up with aquatic animals. The difference here is that while you’re encouraged to hit the shark for points you’ll be deducted points if you hit the dolphin or seahorses that pop up randomly. (This seems like a fun concept. Wonder if the employee would have worn a hook hand like Aquaman did back then?)
Robin’s Skee Ball Alley — Just like regular skee ball except the playing area is painted to look like The Joker, Lex Luthor or Catwoman (This might have been stretching it a little.)
Zatanna’s Magic Booth — Step in and have the alluring conjurer tell your fortune. (The notes don’t say whether this was an automated machine like Zoltar in the Tom Hanks film “big” or something a little more personal. If it featured live women in costume as the magical crime fighter the line would have been around the block, with yours truly at the front!)
Plastic Man’s Pop A Shot — Ol’ Plas has turned himself into a ball and it’s up to you to score as many baskets as you can before time runs out. (This is basically just basketball but if the prizes are basketballs that look like Plastic Man then it would have been very cool.)
Not everything in Gotham is a redressed carnival ride or a themed game. Buried in this pile of proposals are some truly amazing rides that will make you weak in the knee at the prospect of never being able to ride them. Sure there a couple of lightweight proposals like the one simply called “Target Practice” that has riders on a boat ride through a cartoon version of Gotham City squirting water at villains that pop up. Eventually the villains will shoot back and drench the riders. There’s not much to this proposal but it’s important to point out that this was done in 1992 long before the concept of rider interactivity became the norm of theme park rides. “Men in Black: Alien Attack” and “Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters” are still in the planning stages as well at this point and won’t open for many years down the line. Other concepts with only single line mentions are the “Superman Simulator” that enables you to “Ride the skies with the Man of Steel” and the “Justice League Mindwarp” that beckons you to “Enter the world of Virtual Reality and join the fight to save the universe,” a concept that is actually pretty ahead of its time in the year 1992 with virtual reality being in its infancy stages at the time. REBOOT (1994) and VIRTUOSITY (1995) and THE MATRIX (1999) are still years away as is the general public’s notion of the Internet.
Far and away the most exciting concepts are the ones that are fully fleshed out and practically leap off the page.
Race with the Joker Motion Simulator Ride
Batcar Interactive Adventure Dark Ride/Coaster Combination
The Batjet Adventure Hanging Coaster Dark Ride
Come back next time when we’ll delve into these concepts and take a ride into what might have been. Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Jeff Tucker works in the theme park industry. His magical book series, “The Sixth Key,” is available on Amazon.com. He also hosts his own Podcast, “91 Reasons,” available on iTunes.