Theme Park Doppelgangers

News emerged this week that the last remaining Back to the Future ride, once a staple of Universal Studios theme parks, in Japan was set for the chopping board, and rumours have been circulating about what is set to replace it. The favourite is for The Simpsons Ride to replace it, as it has done in both the Orlando and California parks, and that got me thinking. How weird is it that we now just kind of, accept the same rides to be copied and pasted in parks around the world. So I thought I'd take a closer look.

The last remaining Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios Japan
'Copy & paste' style theme park/ride construction is no news to us, it's been happening for what seems like forever with top theme park companies like Disney, Universal, Merlin and more recently Fantawild and Happy Valley chains in China have used this basic structure to role out their theme park vision on a mass scale. And the way they do it does make sense, it's not as if the parks are ever that close to each other for anything to seem fishy and when you think about it it's actually quite a cool way to ensure as wide an audience as possible gets to experience your attraction. Sounds like a pretty sound set up.

But this is where things get weird, particularly in the enthusiast world. I've seen countless forum arguments about 'the best Tower of Terror' or 'the best LegoLand', so whilst some of these things are copied and pasted it would seem that the experience is never an exact clone. Which is really interesting to me. OK, so Tower of Terror in Orlando is slightly different to the Paris and California versions, but the Paris and California versions are pretty much exact clones of each other, so why the hell do some people still insist that one is better than the other? On the surface that makes NO sense, but then, when I think about it, I would probably argue that I prefer the California version to the French one. There's something about experiencing it in an American environment that enhances the experience for me - in French the juxtaposition is slightly too jarring and it feels like the theme isn't as seamless. And of course, that's all my perception, but then surely that punctures a hole straight through the 'we copy and paste our attractions so more people can enjoy them' argument, because in reality they're just not the same.

Tower of Terror at California, Orlando and Paris (left to right)
And of course, there are instances where layouts or lands have been copied and pasted exactly into landscapes that don't quite work as they did with the original. Take the Japanese Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The land has been copied, exactly, from the original Orlando version at Universal Islands of Adventure. And when I say exactly, I mean exactly. So there are paths leading to nowhere in Japan that lead on to more theme park in Orlando, doorways that lead to attractions in the Orlando version that are blocked up in the Japanese version. And that is so weird to experience if you've been to both. Why didn't they just not build those paths? I understand wanting to replicate the Orlando experience, but surely common sense dictates that those paths and doorways didn't need to be built in order for the experience to stay the same?

And then there's cloned coasters. Here I feel like theming and location make a HUGE difference. Look at Rock n Rollercoaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Walt Disney Studios Park and Xpress: Platform 13 at Walibi Holland. All share the exact same rollercoaster layout, so the same range of forces and speeds. The key difference here is the theme. Xpress: Platform 13 is outside and has no theming around the track itself, the Walt Disney Studios Park version suffers badly from malfunctioning sound systems that differ from train to train and have a different soundtrack and the Disney's Hollywood Studios version (the original) is themed to a wild ride around Hollywood in a race against time to get to an Aerosmith concert. The succinct blend of theming and soundtrack with the rollercoaster's movements means that the original is more often than not labelled as the best ride experience, despite sharing the exact same ride layout with two more coasters and (sort of) a theme with another Disney coaster. So external forces really do come into play here.

Xpress: Platform 13 has the same layout as both Rock n Rollercoasters (Source)
So then that leads me to a darker conclusion, and one I don't really like to consider but I know is probably the case. It's to keep costs down, right? It's a lot cheaper to use an existing ride design over and over than pay for an entirely new design every time. Which is, of course, good business sense and fair enough. But then, why not replicate the best version over and over? Parks know when they have a winning design so it's weird to me that they would change things for the worse.

Weirder still are rides that share the same name and basic ride premise but are not clones of each other. I'm talking about things like Pirates of the Caribbean. I've been in many a debate over which is the best version (it's the California version, by the way) and it's usually unanimously agreed that the Orlando version sucks hard. But why? The original version is one of the most popular rides of all time, why change it? It's at Walt Disney World for crying out loud so surely money wasn't the reason in this case? I guess you could argue that they were experimenting, but when you have a ride that is pretty much near perfect why the hell would you risk it?

The Orlando Pirates of the Caribbean is often criticised as the worst version (Source)
As with all theme park based discussions, I love anything that sparks a good debate, and theme park doppelgängers has always absolutely stumped me because, as you can see from the above, for every explanation there seems to exist an attraction that disproves it! Maybe there is no reason why, and it's just the parks being like fuck you we're just doing this because we can. And I do also kind of like it. There's nothing more satisfying that completing a 'set' of cloned/'same' attractions, so there are pros to this weirdness too!

Have you ever completed a set of theme park doppelgängers? Why do you think parks copy and paste their attractions? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to have a chat!

Talk later,