Warner Bros. World impresses in its Abu Dhabi debut

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This article was originally published here.

Busted! You were about to skip this article because it’s about a theme park in the Middle East, weren’t you?

With so many canceled projects and half-baked debuts, I would not blame any theme park fan for giving up on the region. But stick with me here. Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi will erase your frustration and remind you why you fell in love with theme parks. It’s the simply the most remarkable park built in the last few decades by a company not named Disney or Universal — and it’s better than some of their parks, too, even out of the gate.

At 38 acres, Warner Bros. World now becomes the world’s largest indoor theme park, beating neighboring IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai. But it’s what is inside this immense structure that best distinguishes this theme park. This is a gorgeous place to spend the day, rich with detail and in storytelling. It’s the work of true theme park geeks who understand fans’ need for authenticity in detail and wonderful spaces to inhabit.

I’m going to be writing a lot about this park over the next several weeks — it’s simply too important to the ever-emerging history of theme parks to ignore. But I would like to introduce you to this park with some photos and video of the attractions that impressed me in the few hours I had inside the park today during its media preview.

My favorite attraction in the park was AniMayhem, an adventure through a Mad Men-era Acme Products plant. You’re training to scan the many product packages that Acme’s shipping out the door. Of course, because it’s Acme, your scanner is just going to blow up the packages to reveal the anvils, bombs, and magnets, but hey, you earn points!

Animayhem is my new pick for world’s best shooter. This trackless ride through the Acme factory includes lush practical sets and the sharpest 3D I’ve seen in a theme park ride.

Not only does the ride blend its media and practical effects well, it throws character-driven Looney Tunes gags into every game, allowing riders to enjoy the experience as a narrative dark ride even if they never bother to play the game. And the finale is just perfect, with Bugs and Elmer Fudd singing “Kill the Rabbit,” a Michigan J. Frog send-off, and a final drive through the iconic “That’s All Folks” rings IRL.

Moments like that make clear that the design team for this park, led by Thinkwell’s Dave Cobb, deeply understood its source material. The Fast and Furry-ous family inverted coaster isn’t a Vin Diesel pun, for another example. It’s a callback to the title of the original Roadrunner cartoon episode, which debuted in 1949. For U.S. theme park fans accustomed to Six Flags typically doing little more than slapping a Warner Bros. name on a coaster to “theme” it, this little beauty comes as a welcome surprise, with its immersive setting and show scenes. We are riding underneath one of Wile E. Coyote’s Acme rockets — out of control, of course.

Likewise, The Flintstones Bedrock River Adventure echoes every story beat from the classic Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon: Mr. Slate pulling the bird’s tail to signal quitting time, Fred sliding down the Brontosaurus’ tail on his way out of work, and the episode “ending” with Fred, locked out of his home, banging on the door for Wilma.

On Scooby-Doo! The Museum of Mysteries, I expect the day to come when riders here will yell out the classic lines from Scoody-Doo episodes, like in the stretch room on Disney’s Haunted Mansion: “And I would have gotten away with it… if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”

Heck, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi even manages to make a Disk’O coaster interesting. Here’s off-ride on The Riddler Revolution. (Couldn’t get on ride. Sorry.)

My second-favorite attraction, among those I had time to experience, was Green Lantern: Galactic Odyssey, a planetarium show inside a convincing reimagining of LA’s iconic Griffith Park Observatory, here instead in the beautiful city of Metropolis. But Green Lantern isn’t just going to let us watch a simulation of the cosmos, when he can take us into the real thing.

This Brogent Technologies I-Ride theater brilliantly transports us into a series of wondrous environments, where we discover that the only thing more powerful than a superhero (or villain) is our collective will. It’s a deep statement for a theme park, though camouflaged within one of the more intense flying theater-type rides I’ve experienced.

Unfortunately, I did not get to experience two of the rides I had been anticipating most: Justice League: Warworld Attacks and Batman: Knight Flight. Justice League will use Oceaneering trackless vehicles in a Transformers-style ride as we attempt to escape an infestation of “Black Mercy” plants that will destroy humanity. And Knight Flight will feature Batwing vehicles mounted, Forbidden Journey-style, on the end of robot arms on a track.

However, Knight Flight avoids infringing Universal’s patent by not running a continuous, Omnimover-style belt of moving robot arms as the Harry Potter ride does. Instead, each robot arm will move separately on the track from scene to scene. That should allow for some more intimacy on what otherwise can feel like an industrial experience. But the tech challenge of pulling that system together means it faces at least a few more weeks of “technical rehearsal.”

Still, I saw enough here tonight to convince me that the United Arab Emirates finally has a world-class theme park that will appeal to entertainment-franchise-loving fans. Coupled with the also-impressive Ferrari World Abu Dhabi next door, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi now makes Yas Island a compelling multi-theme-park resort — the first truly great one outside the Disney and Universal families.

Update: Here is the full show video from the Cinema Spectacular, which plays nightly in the Warner Bros. Plaza:

And here is more on the Easter eggs of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, including photos.