Sunday, May 01, 2005

Paramount's Great America Critique

Well, I didn't go to Great America after all. My friend Dane, who had the tickets said, "Well, we can get food until 2pm". I looked at the clock when he called and it was 1:42. I said, "Dane, even if I sped I wouldn't get there on time!" So we didn't go. No great loss. Paramount's Great America is about as dull as it gets, unless you have never been there. They add one
new ride per year, and it is usually a roller-coaster variation on something that they added last year. Not that I'm against roller coasters, it's just that the sameness of it all bores me.

Great America opened in Santa Clara, CA in 1976 as Marriott's Great America. At the time, it had a Bicentennial theme with the Warner Bros. cartoon characters walking around. Bugs Bunny was dressed in an "Uncle Sam" stars-and-stripes-type outfit and generally the park showed great promise. (There was also a sister Marriott's Great America that opened in Gurnee,
IL, but for the purposes of this conversation, I will stick to the Santa Clara one.)

Right away there were certain issues that made Disneyland look better. First of all, Great America had no central "hub" like Disneyland. In other words. Disneyland is laid out so that you walk in to Main Street up to the center of the park. From there you can go to Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland or Tomorrowland depending on which direction you walk. Very
convenient. And say if you wanted to get to Frontierland in a hurry, you could cross through the hub instead of going through Fantasyland to get there.

Great America had no such layout, and after the first year they solidified this donut-shaped layout by adding the Tidal Wave ride in the exact centerof the park to prevent shortcut crossover to the other side of the park.

Another annoying tradition, though not evident in its first year was the addition of exactly one new attraction each year, which was invariably another roller coaster, as mentioned before. The additions of these rides eventually had to go somewhere, so more family-friendly rides were
discarded in favor of too many thrill rides. As a consequence, Great America became a hangout for gangs instead of families.

As Great America only was open for approximately six months each year, and faced with these gangs and expensive maintenance of the newer rides, coupled with the fact that at least one person died on one of the rides, the park eventually started losing money. Marriott sold the park to the city of Santa Clara, which was a very unique solution at the time in the 80s. (A side note: Even though the park was titled Marriott's Great America or after the sale, just Great America, to this day many people still refer to the park as "Marriott's" as in "Let's go to Marriott's this weekend". This continues until now, even when the park is officially known as
Paramount's Great America.)

When the city took over, the park was open year round, but nothing else different had changed, except Bugs Bunny and pals got the boot in favor of the Hanna-Barbera characters. After the city lost money on this for a few years, they finally sold the park to Paramount Pictures, which changed the theming somewhat to showcase their movies, but for the most part it was and
still is kind of a mess. Hanna-Barbera characters and merchandise still are in the park, even though Time/Warner owns those characters, and the only true "Paramount" addition is when a Klingon or two strolls through, but these have all been pushed aside for Spongebob Squarepants and the like as Viacom now owns both Paramount and Nickelodeon.

I myself, being a Harvey Comics fan, would find it very amusing if Paramount went back to their roots and had Casper, Little Audrey, Herman & Katnip, and even Popeye, Superman and Betty Boop walking around their park as they produced cartoons with all of those characters over the years and even owned some of them in the past. Or, you could have Hope & Crosby or
Martin & Lewis lookalikes, or even WC Fields, as all of them had lengthy Paramount contracts in the past.

So, as Great America approaches its 30th year in March 2006, I can dream but the park itself makes me sleep...


No comments: