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Saturday, July 30, 2011

King Kong, Christmas Ape

I was thrilled to get a King Kong Christmas stocking when I was a kid back in 1986. There's nothing quite like a ferocious gorilla to get you into the holiday spirit.

Being the nerd that I am, I never removed the tag.

My somewhat violent King Kong stocking happily devoured small toys for over a decade.

One of the prizes found in Christmas Stocking Kong's belly was a plastic King Kong Candy Topper toy.

As a young kid, I was fascinated by monkeys and apes, yet I was also scared of them. I blame the Flying Monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. King Kong was the product of a time when gorillas were portrayed as bloodthirsty monsters, and marketed as the most terrifying creatures alive. The reality is that they are mostly gentle giants.

King Kong has been a major mascot for Universal Studios for many years.

I got to visit Universal Studios Hollywood in 1990. It's a working movie studio and a theme park.

Visitors could get their picture taken with King Kong at a location close to the Conan O'Brien Sword and Sorcery Spectacular Talk Show. Or maybe that was the Conan the Barbarian Show. At the time of my visit, the park's only ride was the Tram Tour (a very impressive attraction).

The Tram Tour is the biggest attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. The Tram travels through working film sets and experiences created specially for the Tour. I can also remember our guide pointing out the park's earthquake/disaster shelter, and the site of the then-under-construction E.T. Adventure (since replaced by The Revenge of the Mummy ride). I thought it was interesting to see how close the Studios are to neighborhoods. I can remember easily seeing homes when viewing the Animal Actors' Stage show.

King Kong became part of the Tram Tour in 1986.

The huge, destructive animatronic gorilla had powerful banana breath (he really did!).

Sadly, the King Kong portion of the Universal Studios Hollywood Backlot Tour was destroyed by a massive fire in 2008. In 2010, King Kong 360 3D, a film attraction based on the 2005 Peter Jackson version of King Kong, opened where the robotic ape once menaced tram tour visitors.

In 1990, Universal Studios Florida opened in Orlando, and King Kong was part of the action. I love the energetic artwork created for Universal Studios promotional materials.

Brand new to the park was The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera, a ride film. Years later, the attraction was re-themed to Jimmy Neutron and the Nickelodeon characters. It will soon become a new "Despicable Me" ride. The Hanna-Barbera film has also been shown at various theme parks that have ride film theaters.

Segments of the Universal Studios Hollywood Tram Tour were expanded to become individual attractions. Earthquake, King Kong and Jaws were not just stops on a tour anymore. They were their own big rides.

The King Kong experience became Kongfrontation in Florida.

King Kong in Florida did not look the same as the ape in California. I thought the gorilla in Hollywood was more impressive.

The name "Kongfrontation" was later adapted for the King Kong Tram Tour segment in Hollywood.

In Florida, King Kong was neighbors with the Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters was a lively (or deadly?) show featuring a Pepper's Ghost effect of Slimer (the green ghost) flying across the stage.

I think a big, interactive Ghostbusters ride would be a nice fit for Universal Studios Florida.

A Ghostbusters Ride could be funny and scary. Armed with their Ectoplasm Guns, riders could board an Ectomobile and round up all the troublesome spirits, then face Gozer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in the finale. Just think of the merchandising opportunities!

At Universal Studios in Hollywood, characters like the Flintstones (in a show based on the 1994 live action movie) and Casper the Friendly Ghost (seen in an exhibit based on the live action film) could be seen rubbing elbows with King Kong in 1995. I think a Casper the Friendly Ghost Haunted House attraction would be a nice addition to a theme park.

Over the years, attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida have changed quite a bit. The arrival of the Revenge of the Mummy attraction in 2004 meant the closure of the E.T. Adventure in California and Kongfrontation in Florida. Likewise, the Back to the Future attractions in Orlando and Hollywood were replaced by The Simpsons Ride in 2008.

Viewers of The Simpsons may remember Actor Troy McClure (the late Phil Hartman) from such films as "Christmas Ape" and its sequel, "Christmas Ape Goes to Summer Camp" (taken from the hilarious Season 8 episode, "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show," which was the best "Impy and Chimpy" cartoon Ned Flanders had ever seen).

The Simpsons also had an unforgettable King Kong parody (with Homer as the gorilla, naturally), "King Homer," as part of the Treehouse of Horror III Halloween episode in 1992.

King Kong can still be found at the Universal Orlando Resort, though he's no longer starring in a ride there.
He's now protecting your ride! Do you feel safe parking your car at Jurassic Park, with King Kong, or with Jaws?


  1. I miss King Kong at Universal Hollywood! I haven't seen the new 3D projection that replaced the animatronic figure, but how could a projection possibly compare to a Bob Gurr creation??? Unfortunately, by the time I finally made it to Universal Orlando, their Kong had already been replaced with the Mummy coaster. What do you think Orlando did with that large figure of him?

    I hated it when they closed the E.T. attraction in Hollywood. At least there is still one in Orlando....I hope they leave that one alone! I guess there is one in Osaka, Japan too.

  2. Hey TokyoMagic! I haven't seen the 3D Kong yet, but I agree that a film is just not the same as a giant King Kong that is actually in the same room with you. I miss Orlando's Kongfrontation, though I like Revenge of the Mummy. It seems like Orlando's retired King Kong could have been used to replace the one in Hollywood.

    The E.T. Adventure is no longer at Universal Studios Japan (it was replaced by Space Fantasy: The Ride) so Florida is the only place to find E.T.'s ride now.

  3. What's better than xmas in July? A King Kong xmas in July! I had wondered what had happened to the giant ape at Universal Studios when I was in Orlando earlier this year. Now I know.

    Have fun at Harry Potter when you go there this coming month.

  4. Dude! I loved apes and monkeys too! The two nicknames my old man affectionately called me as a kid were Monkey.. and Mickey Mouse. I too Loved King Kong, as well as Planet of the Apes. I collected Wacky Packages stickers that featured monkeys and apes, and loved any toy I could find that were ape or monkey themed. That Candy topper is amazing! I swear I've seen it before. I also have some stuff I bought from Universal in the 90's. Postcard.. shot glass.. photo-op, etc. I need to post those. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, and the idea for a post!!

  5. Oh no! Gee, how long has Universal Osaka been open and already they have gotten rid of E.T. and their Land of Oz area. Is nothing sacred? I wonder if it is a popular attraction in Orlando or if they have plans to shut that one down too?

  6. A Snow White Sanctum: There is a King Kong statue inside the Revenge of the Mummy Ride (a nice little tribute). It's too bad the animated ape is gone. Years ago, there was a rumor of a new King Kong attraction for Islands of Adventure (based on the Peter Jackson movie). I'm not sure if the rumor was related to the 3D Kong film at Universal Studios Hollywood. And yes, I'm counting down the days until I get to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

    Darrin (a.k.a. Monkey, a.k.a. Mickey Mouse): I think the King Kong Candy Topper is supposed to be a finger puppet. I bet we both have some of the same vintage monkey and ape items (there was a high volume of "scary" gorilla toys in the 1970s and early 1980s). I can't wait to see what you post at Dad's Dish Retro Blog!

    TokyoMagic!: E.T. did not last long at Universal Studios Japan (opened in 2001), did he? Hopefully he'll be safe in Florida!