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The Art Of Attractions - April 2017

Humor Is No Laughing Matter

There is plenty of laughter in the air at parks. Some of it is the byproduct of anecdotes and banter exchanged among families and friends. Some of it is nervous laughter shared on thrill rides. Nearly every show or story-based ride incorporates some humorous moments.

Even attractions in which the narrative dictates things go horribly wrong and “grave danger” is imminent (which is to say, just about all of them), there are lighthearted moments that break the tension. For example, the ridiculous safety video for Universal’s “Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” attraction is a real hoot. And the superhero’s cheeky attitude shines through even as Doctor Octopus wreaks havoc during the ride.

Sometimes the laughs come courtesy of attractions or shows specifically designed to be funny. The Muppets bring their unique blend of postmodern vaudevillian humor to Disney’s 3-D shows. With a more recent presentation about American history, Kermit and the gang also inject some silliness into the Magic Kingdom’s otherwise dignified Liberty Square.

I saw Goofy, outfitted in tails and sporting a conductor’s baton, generate huge belly laughs at Disney California Adventure in a slapstick routine worthy of silent film star Buster Keaton. Depending on how well the performer can improvise and interact with the audience, the laughter can be uproarious at Disney’s freewheeling “Turtle Talk with Crush.”

The Minions are just as super silly in their preshow presentations as they are during Universal’s motion ride. Ardent and casual fans alike of “The Simpsons” can find laugh-out-loud examples of the long-running series’ signature shenanigans in the studio parks’ rides as well as throughout the Springfield lands.

One of the challenges of bringing a comedy-based show to a park is making it accessible and appealing to a broad audience. The Legoland parks solved that challenge with “The Lego Movie 4D A New Adventure.” Like the hip and wildly funny theatrical film on which it is based, the show cleverly operates on two levels. Children and adults simultaneously find it hilarious for different reasons.

Parks don’t necessarily need established intellectual properties to be funny. Visitors at Denmark’s BonBon Land adore the naughty Henry Hundeprut (Henry Dog Fart) who marshals his, um, wind power on his junior coaster. Just as parks give adults license to scream like ninnies on thrill rides, it also allows them to revert to their childhood and, along with their kids, laugh at farting dogs.

Don’t forget comedy’s potent power as you plan your attractions and shows. I’ll see you at the parks. I’ll be the one with Dippin’ Dots coming out my nose after laughing too hard. 

A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at About.com since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.