This article contains spoilers. If you read on, please be aware that surprises or secrets may be revealed in great depth
Go to Universal Studios, and you can ride the movies. Go to Chessington World of Adventures, and you can ride the adverts.
Chessington World of Adventures' new Bubbleworks is like a 15-minute commercial break without the luxury of a remote control. Like most adverts, it is monotonous, pretentious, charmless and at best, highly irritating.
Let's not mince our words here - the Bubbleworks is simply the worst thing Tussauds have ever done.
It is an utter, utter abortion of a revamp, well over and above any other sponsored rethemes such as The Flume and Rumba Rapids. It proves beyond all reasonable doubt that Chessington is Where the Shareholder Comes First (TM) and that they have even given up trying to entertain people in the quest for profit.
Professor Burp must be spinning in his grave.
To understand just how bad the new Bubbleworks is, you first must cast your mind back to 1990 when the original ride opened. It was the result of the creative partnership of Keith Sparks and John Wardley and became something of an institution, even into its dying days.
Guided by head honcho Professor Burp, guests were taken on a tour of a Transylvanian fizzy pop factory with a cast of hundreds of loveable animatronic characters.
In 2006, Tussauds saw that there was absolutely no need to dazzle visitors with a magical attraction. They could tile the walls, add some bubbles, ducks and company sponsorship and make money instead.
So they did. The deal was done, the Bubbleworks closed in 2005, and reopened the year after as an all new attraction, sponsored by a toiletries company.
Even outside you can tell that something isn't quite right with the all-new Bubbleworks. Swathes of glossy blue, yellow and red paint clash with the rest of Transylvania, while the new Bubbleworks logo has hastily been put on top of the old entrance sign.
The station is as much of a hatchet job as the outside. Remember those charming posters on the wall advertising various whimsical drinks (Craterade, Jackpot Juice etc). It was little touches like this that made the Bubbleworks so good. And it is little touches like this that are absent from the new ride.
Of course, all these posters have been replaced. None of them funny, and all computer generated so miss that personality that the hand-painted originals had.
Wake up and Wash proclaims one, for example, with a picture of an alarm clock and some bubbles. I mean, who for one minute thinks people want to read this stuff?
As the queue crosses the bridge, you'll notice that the silhouetted skyline across the back of the station remains, although for some reason - an idiotic one I suspect - a rubber duck is now flying across the sky in a submarine. It doesn't even make sense.
The boats are now festooned in sponsorship logos, as I suspect you would be if you stood still for long enough, and pass through the centre of the station on a conveyor belt.
Seating four people per tub, the boats pass under a shower of bubbles from a bubble machine before rolling down a ramp into the water.
One of the criticisms that the original Bubbleworks received was that many of the animatronics broke down. Problem solved with the new ride - none of the new characters are even designed to move. At times, it is like going through a gnome garden with all these grinning Bubbleheads standing lifelessly with a forced grin on their faces.
The first scene is a vague nod to the original ride with the boat passing through what was Professor Burp's office, now occupied by a bubblehead in a swimming costume and snorkel peeping out from a bath full of bubbles, clutching at a ringing phone.
The next scene really shows what we're up against, and shows the attraction's true colours.
A static bubblehead in a teacher's uniform points to a blackboard with - and I kid you not - some bubbles drawn onto it. As a rider, how am I supposed to react? With a cheery smirk? Well of course not, it's not funny. In amazement? Well no, it's not amazing.
Meanwhile, the floating cow bloated with gas that used to produce cream soda now floats above some bubbles in front of a 'bubble farm' before you move into the next scene, which is now apparently a tickle test.
Veterans may well remember the laughing gas scene. Well, this is the same, just with the belly-laughing Professor Burp ridiculously replaced with a colour print out of a montage of ducks and bubbles. If a tickle test turns that frown upside-down, stupid, stupid touches like this will certainly wipe that smile off your face.
The next scene is what was formerly the Pressure Chamber. The main camera fodder there is of course what was the bulging gas cylinder which has become a Rub-A-Dub Reactor, and there is a gauge on the wall marked with 'soap' and 'lather'
OK, just breaking away from the synopsis briefly, seeing these things, in particular when I saw the Rub-A-Dub Reactor, I was overcome with emotion. Was it happiness? Was it sadness? How about a little bit of nostalgia? No, complete and utter rage. It was at that point it occurred to me just what this ride had become.
EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS ATTRACTION IS NOW COMPLETELY IDIOTIC. ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING.
Whoever authorised the revamp - they're an idiot. Whoever came up with the new theming - an idiot. The whole ride is now designed with the idiot in mind. Chessington - you are idiots.
It takes a special kind of idiot, though, to transform what was such a good ride into such a poor ride by doing so little.
But anyway, back to the ride. One of my favourite scenes in terms of cheeky humour and endless plays on words has now become my favourite scene in terms of showing up the new Bubbleworks for everything that it's worth.
Witty touches like ‘Spring Water' (a bucket of water bouncing on a giant spring) have been replaced with boring set pieces such as ‘Sea Mineral Extractor', a fairly boring piece of equipment if ever there was one with bubbles (not real ones, mind you) and pipes and not much else.
While we can pass off the Sea Mineral Extractor as being merely descriptive, a clear attempt at humour was made with the Hippo-Froth-A-Mous, a hungry hippo having his back cleaned by a giant pink elephant.
Seriously, who is coming up with these? Froth doesn't even sound like the 'pot' in hippopotamus, therefore it is unfunny, and therefore pointless. It isn't even clever.
The Lesser Crested Pop Whisker, meanwhile, has now been replaced by an unanimated Rub-A-Dub Duck Massage Hut (also highly unamusing), while opposite some bubbleheads sit in a jacuzzi.
While none of this is likely to conjure up anything approaching a smile, you have to muster a grin at the thought of what humourless husk of humanity even thought that this would even be vaguely entertaining.
The wind tunnel now has a bubblehead on the crest of a waterfall, while the other wall is decorated with signs saying such humorous things as Aloe Vera and Lavender.
Oh, I'm still laughing now! Oh no, my mistake - I'm not.
The next scene inexplicably has rubber ducks on telescopic arms, the sign above which tells us is 'Foamy Fun - Duckin' Ducks', before you go through an unthemed tunnel into the penultimate scene, which is still a fairground.
The Cola Coaster is now a 'Duck-N-Dive Revitaliser'. Try and guess what the coaster cars have been replaced with? Come on, you've got a 50/50 chance - it's either going to be bubbles or ducks.
Yep, rubber ducks, duckin' and divin' over a garish roller coaster made out of pipes.
As you approach the lift, there is a desperate attempt to cram the sponsor's name into your head for the last time with company logos stuck over anything big enough. There's a pile of crates, lots of bottles of shower gel going along a conveyor belt and many other inanimate objects caked in their logo before you climb the shallow lift affording a view of tubs in front rolling down the drop and through a giant plughole.
And so, the fountain finale, a scene best left untouched, surely, but no, even the creative cannibals at Chessington have left their mark here.
Thankfully, the boat still slaloms through tunnels of water, but the triumphant and magnificent theme music has been replaced with the fairly non-descript choral music that was previously on the lift hill.
With the mirrors removed, the fountain finale feels a shadow of its former self. No pomp and circumstance, no dramatic music, but worst of all, and this is honestly the jewel in the crown of stupidity, the centrepiece is an old Bubbleworks boat dumped on the side, some bubbleheads inside with a shower curtain surrounding them.
This is simply the laziest piece of theming I have ever seen in my life.
As I said earlier, this ride is idiocy of the highest order. The new ride is devoid of humour, has had nothing new of note added, has had many things of note removed, and every scene has been meddled with enough so that it makes little or no tangible sense.
Let's look at the things that made the original Bubbleworks so good.
The humour. Joke after joke after joke - there were so many that you couldn't possibly absorb every pun or play on words even if you tried. The original ride worked on several levels - entertaining children with bright colours and cheerful characters, and entertaining adults with the unique brand of pantomime humour.
The new Bubbleworks has nothing of the sort. Most signs are now merely for descriptive purposes, such as the Sea Mineral Extractor, Dunkin' Ducks and the Bubble Farm. They're not even funny, and seem to be some attempt at justifying the tenuous link between the set pieces and what exactly they have to do with shower gel.
The music. On the old version, the same theme was used throughout, changing style according to what you are looking at. The new Bubbleworks often doesn't have music, often just has some of the weaker themes from before, and many have been (rubber dub...) dubbed over with ducks quacking.
While the old Bubbleworks was tasteless, it was by design. The new Bubbleworks is just as shameless, just in a crass and charmless way.
It is sterile and plain to look at, mostly white washed with lots and lots of scenes that are not animated.
It is repetitive using soapsuds, rubber ducks and the same characters throughout the whole ride. There are no distinct scenes as a result.
It is bland. Nothing about it is entertaining - there is nothing about it to make you go wow, and there certainly isn't anything to make you laugh.
It is cheap. Really cheap. Many of the things removed have not been replaced. For god's sake, a colour print out of some ducks and bubbles replaced Professor Burp on one scene, while a scuttled Bubbleworks boat replaces him in another scene.
And, worst of all, it is boring.
If your memories of Bubbleworks are in anyway sacred, avoid at all costs. While Juice + Gas = Pop, a Classic Dark Ride + Sponsorship = Catastrophe.
Please, do not use our ratings to compare rides head-to-head. They rate only how well this ride meets its own objectives using criteria that may not necessarily be relevant with similar reviews.
- Excellent ride system with decent boats
- Colourful set pieces
- Ride looks plain and sterile - no humour whatsoever and now has limited appeal for adults
- Crass and over-the-top sponsorship with bubbles, ducks and logos everywhere
- Fountain finale is not as good as previously
- Music is no longer memorable and in places very irritating
Labels: 1Star, Chessington, DarkRides, Mack, WaterRides