Let’s get this straight: Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem is a motion simulator.
…and while I can probably hear your groan across the screen, the fact that this is a motion simulator shouldn’t deter you from keeping an open mind on what this attraction could entail in terms of an overall experience. Because above all, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem did replace another screen-based attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood – Terminator 2:3D. And while fans may attempt to pull in technicalities to deter from this comparison (for instance, Terminator featured live actors versus Despicable’s largely automated show), both heavily rely on the use of a large 3D screen.
So while criticisms concerning Hollywood’s overuse of screens are certainly warranted, that discussion is certainly not central to the ride experience of Despicable Me. For now, let’s brush that issue aside and first focus on the ride itself.
For those who are not familiar with the franchise, Despicable Me is Universal’s latest animated blockbuster hit, featuring the likes of Steve Carrel, Miranda Cosgrove and Russell Brand in a fantastic blend of comedy, wit and a bit of heart. Long story short, the franchise (now composed of two films) follows former super-villain Gru and his adventures with his three adopted kids, Margo, Edith and Agnes. With his chief scientist Dr. Nefario at his side and the help of his wonderfully cute minions, Gru attempts to grapple with his newfound family and super-villain job with bouts of awkwardness and genuine hilarity.
Despicable Me is a motion simulator – without a doubt! But it’s important not jump to conclusions.
While I won’t dwell too much on the films themselves, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem continues the story with a new premise: now you too can become a minion.
As I mentioned in my initial first impressions write-up last year, Despicable Me originally debuted at Universal Studios Florida in 2012, replacing Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoons Blast. Despite the fact that the ride appears to be a simple rehash of Jimmy Neutron (and to a lesser extent, the Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbara), guests have taken an immediate liking to the Despicable Me-themed motion simulator – with wait times averaging 140 minutes or more during peak days.
Sensing a similar reaction in the Hollywood park, the folks at Universal decided to take advantage of the larger Terminator show building by creating two identical show paths – similar to the dual dome setup at the Simpsons Ride. With capacity essentially doubled, Universal has also taken over the adjacent Coke Soak water playground by retheming it to Super Silly Fun Land, thereby creating a miniature Despicable Me land. We’ll have another review of Super Silly Fun Land once it reaches its complete state, but for now, let’s focus on the ride.
Representing a departure from Universal’s usual technique of hodgepodge theming (think Revenge of the Mummy and the old facade for the Simpsons Ride), Despicable Me’s facade features a fanciful representation of Gru’s neighborhood – complete with interactive doorbells and a slew of references to the original Despicable Me film. Each door bell features a memorable and hilarious sound bite that’s unique to the Hollywood’s installation, and guests can press on each door bell for a variation of phrases and sounds from the cast of Despicable Me. Compared with Universal’s previous efforts (we’re looking at you, Transformers), this is a breath of fresh air.
With Gru’s scraggly home anchoring the bulk of the facade, guests can venture to either side of the neighborhood to experience some representation of the film. Gru’s neighbors – with their neatly manicured lawns, shrubbery, stone paths, and drainage pipes – sit primarily to the left side of the entrance, with Miss Hattie’s Home for Girls – complete with the Despicable Delights quick serve – positioned to the far right. Printed foliage sits above the facade in an attempt to obscure the show building, though portions of the sky-blue exterior still manage to seep in. Regardless, it’s a fantastic effort by the folks at Universal, and guests have already expressed their delight at the immersive facade.
The queue, however, is a bit of a different story.
Featuring propaganda posters, themed-speaker bombs and a bunch of blue, the queue for Minion Mayhem is admittedly bare. While guests enter through Gru’s nicely themed house, they’re immediately thrust in a series of switchbacks leading to the first preshow room (and like Terminator, the queue slopes upward to match the alignment of the building).
While this is a definite improvement over Florida’s rectangular switchback room, Hollywood’s queue ultimately doesn’t skew away from Universal’s tried-and-true formula of hanging monitors overhead, which may disappoint fans anticipating an immersive waiting room similar in quality to the much-anticipated Forbidden Journey attraction.
While the dependency on monitors isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I myself prefer a video over rustic scenery to keep myself entertained), it is a bit surprising – however – to see at how inconsistent the queue can be. While the Simpsons Ride features monitors throughout the duration of the ride queue, large portions of Despicable Me only feature queue audio. A minor quibble indeed, but something that could prove unpleasant after 80 minutes of waiting. Add the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any canopy to protect guests from the sun means that the extended queue could be an experience reminiscent of a certain theme park in Valencia (and that itself is not a good thing).
In typical Universal fashion however, once you edge towards the first preshow room, you’ll be inundated with a plethora of monitors overhead (at one point, I could count nine monitors in front of me – all of which were in plain view!).
Like we mentioned above, there are actually two sets of preshow rooms and two main ride rooms – both of which run independently of one another. Both are identical in experience and only serve to double the capacity of the attraction’s original framework in Florida.
With that bit of information out of the way, the preshow rooms are a substantial step up in theming from the queue, with small thematic treatments scattered about. Hilarious family portraits, crayon scribblings, torture devices and a small minion door surround the room as guests are transported in the middle of Gru’s living room – complete with his iconic television situated underneath the front gates. While not as tall as its Florida counterpart, Hollywood’s initial preshow room still serves as a fantastic entryway in the world of Despicable Me, transporting guests from the theme park world and into Gru’s diabolical headquarters (which has since been softened with the help of his new kids).
“the dialogue throughout the ride is both clever and cute enough to remain captivating for kids and adults alike.”
As with most Universal attractions, guests are handed their 3D glasses just before they enter into the first preshow room. Employees ask for the number of individuals in your party, and you’re whisked away to your respective row, facing what is probably yet another preshow video. But unlike Terminator however, Despicable Me’s first preshow video is admittedly very cute, and you can find traces of Universal’s self-deprecating humor lingering about. As I noted back in July:
Now about that first video: this is what I’m talking about. Understand, there’s only so much you can do with a preshow video, but count me as a person that was pleasantly entertained. If you’re a fan of the film, you’ll love what they did here. Keep in mind: nothing innovative is being done, but overall – it’s cute, and guests appeared to eat it up. Gru’s odd speech impediment (which to me, reminds me a bit of Christopher Walken) seems to have captured the Universal spirit exactly: normal at first, but you’ll start to notice something is off upon a closer inspection.
Once you finish the initial rounds of safety disclaimers, you’re hustled away into the second preshow room.
More compact and curved than its Florida cousin (making some standing positions a bit awkward relative to the smaller screens situated underneath Gru’s windows), Hollywood’s second preshow room serves as a stop-gap between the first preshow room and the actual ride. Guests are transferred to what looks to be an industrial looking laboratory, as three large monitors (acting as a window of sorts) flank the center of the room.
Again, the overall procedure of preshow-preshow-ride is nothing too out of the ordinary, and guests are probably acquainted to this procedure by the time they leave Universal. But Despicable Me does manage to add a bit of flair in what could otherwise be a laborious process. Like Shrek (but perhaps better written), the dialogue throughout the ride is both clever and cute enough to remain captivating for kids and adults alike.
Like its counterpart in Florida, Minion Mayhem features an entire slew of ride vehicles in a single room – all of which face the exact same 3D screen. The room is slightly curved as guests move to the end of their row, boarding ride vehicles that host four people per row, with a total of eight individuals per vehicle. However, unlike its Florida cousin, Hollywood’s redesigned ride platform sits flush with the floor
In terms of the ride composition, Despicable Me makes no quibble at the fact that this is a group experience. Other ride vehicles are in plain view as you all stumble through minion training.
As for the ride itself: being that the ride portion is essentially the same as its Florida counterpart, I’ll just reiterate what I originally wrote, but perhaps with more emphasis on the ride’s clever writing and dialogue. Without giving away any spoilers, the ride – like the film series – manages to retain its heart and soul – but with the added benefit of retaining that classic Universal zeal. It isn’t hurtful or brass like Universal’s disastrous rendition of Cat in the Hat, but it does leave you on the edge and allows adults to enjoy the attraction alongside their children.
Gru and his kids remain just as lovable as they did in the films, and the film’s quick pace allows audiences to follow through with relative ease. But as I noted last year:
Plot aside, Minion Mayhem – in many respects – reminds me of a smaller version of the Simpsons Ride. A sharper, cleaner and brighter version, mind you, but a smaller version nonetheless. The movements are remarkably similar between the two (with both including surprisingly similar gags), and the overall experience doesn’t seem particularly new.
Ride vehicles occupy the room as a large screen engulfs the front-of-stage (a noticeable increase from that of Jimmy Netron’s). Guests move directly to the farthest end of their row – similar to Shrek and Terminator – as team members slowly strap you in with the pull-down lap bars. Again, pinch me if this sounds similar.
The ride experience itself was fine, and the film was slightly brighter and clearer than I had originally expected. I won’t give the plot away, but let’s just say fans of the film are bound to have a good time.
Even after a few months, my initial impressions still stand. Despicable Me is definitely not lacking in the ride department. While nothing revolutionary, Despicable Me aims for a simpler experience that ultimately works.
And like Florida, both ride rooms ultimately join in the final dance room which transitions to the Super Silly Stuff gift store.
With all this in mind, it’s hard not to like Despicable Me.
While fans of Universal are probably anticipating the completion of Super Silly Fun Land over the actual ride, Despicable Me – in many ways – represents a new era for Universal Studios Hollywood that started with introduction of Transformers: The Ride 3D in 2012. Though that era has been rightly criticized for favoring virtual experiences over real-life practical effects, the very same era has brought something sorely lacking in the Hollywood park for years – substantial investment.
Again, while Despicable Me is definitely yet another carbon copy simulator in a park filled to the brim with screen-based attractions, it also brings a host of experiences unique to Universal Studios Hollywood – namely Super Silly Fun Land and the introduction of themed lands.
But at its core, it’s important to remember that Despicable Me is also a genuinely good ride. The attraction’s plot and consistently high wit and humor will allow it to become one of Universal’s most popular family attractions.
And while the queue can remain a sore spot for some fans, Despicable Me’s fast-pace, comedy and genuine feel-good warmth make it one of Universal’s greatest additions in recent years.
That’s a win in my book.
Jon Fu is the editor-in-chief of Inside Universal.
Jon originally founded InsideUniversal.net in 2006 as a summer hobby aimed at providing families and fans a resource for all things “Universal Studios Hollywood.” Since then, the website has taken him throughout the United States and around the world – including to places like Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore.
Jon currently resides in Santa Cruz, California with his bamboo plant. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.