The new Warner Bros theme park will open on July 25, letting comics fans – and theme park aficionados – immerse themselves in the fantasy worlds of DC Comics, Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and others. Rides will give park-goers the feeling of being chased by Wile E Coyote and a Riddler Revolution rollercoaster will spin and rock from side to side, while costumed characters will stop and pose with children throughout the park.
With the final licks of paint being put on the rides, The National spoke to Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and Miral Asset Management, about the plans for the theme park. I expected figures about how Warner Bros would boost tourism and projections for footfall and revenue – but was met with, instead, the unbridled enthusiasm of a true comics lover.
“I don’t think Warner Bros Abu Dhabi would be in Abu Dhabi if I wasn’t as big a fan as I am,” he tells me. “I’ve been a collector and an avid reader of comic books, turned into an avid viewer of the comic book genre movies. I do call myself an extreme fan boy.”
Al Mubarak, who last year spearheaded the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, did not skip a beat in answering my question about his most loved comic books and characters.
"My favourite comic is The Death of Superman," he replies, recalling the book from the 1990s in perfect detail. "I remember buying the black cover. You couldn't see the actual drawings – it was in a black bag that had the red Superman sign on it."
But his favourite character – incidentally the superhero that Warner Bros’ flagship ride is based on – is that reluctant fighter, Batman.
“One, because he doesn’t have any superpower. So, during the day he is a businessman who is making billions and billions of dollars, and he uses that money to strengthen his body and his soul. He gets all the gadgets ... and he fights crime for the best of the community,” he says.
“Comics were created to try to showcase as much goodness in humanity as possible ... We can take that as a metaphor for how we want to be and to treat others.”
The 153,000-square-metre Warner Bros theme park will join the tourism offerings of Yas Waterworld and Ferrari World, and is expected to boost last year's figure of 27 million visitors to Yas. The park is fully indoors – crucial in the summer's heat – and is aimed to be a place that the whole family can enjoy.
With its broad reach of recognisable characters – from DC Comics to Looney Tunes to the Flintstones – Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi will also tap into a sense of nostalgia. The rides are just one part of the park: children can enter a purple-painted version of the Scooby-Doo house or play in a Flintstones foot-engined car, imagining themselves to be within the cartoons.
Click through to see a first look at the inside of the theme park:
This will be a large part of its charm: Disneyland and Universal Studios were the theme parks many enjoyed growing up, and Warner Bros brings this model of characters, themed rides, and fantasy play areas on a large scale.
For Al Mubarak, it offers a chance to revisit the child within us.
“I’ve been very lucky enough that I’ve visited many theme parks around the world, as a kid and as an adult,” says Al Mubarak. “When I visit as an adult, I transform into the child in me. I think that’s what theme parks are there for ... We are all children hiding inside our adult bodies. If we allow ourselves to be that our lives would be much better.”
This kind of fantasy play extends to rides for older children and young adults. Warner Bros has invested heavily in a kind of ride that parks in the 1980s and 1990s did not have – the 4D immersive ride, where multimedia screens enhance the typical thrills of the rollercoaster.
“At the Batman ride, you are becoming Batman,” Al Mubarak tells me.
“You are sitting in Batman’s plane. You are following and protecting Gotham City. You are going against the Joker, you’re against Bane, you’re going against all the villains that you can imagine. The media screens are fantastic. The quality of the content is top-notch.”
Amidst this discussion of returning to one’s youth, I ask Al Mubarak what advice he would give to his 5-year-old self, if he could go back in time. “Well to be honest with you, not much,” he says after a pause. “Like I told you, I have always felt that the child in me has a voice. Even today – it hasn’t stopped. I’d probably tell myself to ‘Do exactly what you did, don’t do anything different.’”
Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, Yas West, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, opens on July 25. For more information see www.wbworldabudhabi.com