There is no topic of wonderment more universal to adults and children alike than that of dinosaurs. It is the one thing that lives in our imagination alongside wizards and monsters that we all know actually existed, yet we will never be able to go and see in action. The latest immersive interaction experience to hit the Greater Toronto Area aims to challenge that by bringing you the closest you’ll ever be to a real life dinosaur zoo in a 20,000 sq.ft venue.
We got invited for an exclusive sneak peek to check out Jurassic World: The Exhibition. This is an interactive experience that has been going on since about 2016 where it debuted in Australia, and now has landed for the first time in Canada. has evolved over the years to include newer and more realistic experiences. I sat down with Kurt Baker, SVP of Global Marketing and PR from NEON, the company responsible for putting on this exhibition along with many others, to pick his brain about all things Dad, and Jurassic. My thoughts are below the interview.
So, Kurt, how did this all come to be?
So Jurassic the exhibition has been touring since 2016 and it’s been in 15 cities now. We actually have four different sites that we toured around and really, it was the idea that the Jurassic World franchise is such a strong, iconic franchise, it’s a multibillion dollar movie franchise, and so people really, really wanted more Jurassic. So, working with Universal Live Events, we made sure that we had gone through the storyline and made sure that it really fit what the movies told you, but also that you’d have a nice unique experience where really felt like you were going in or immersing in Isla Nublar. So we picked a timeframe, and then we picked the dinosaurs we wanted and of course, the T-Rex has to be in t here, the Brachiosaurus, but then we also found some fun dinosaurs and along the way, we’ve actually made changes. We added the baby dinosaurs only a couple years ago. So in 2016, if you had seen the show that we sent to Melbourne, Chicago, Philadelphia and Paris, you’d see the set now is completely different. So it continues to evolve, we find new things to do with it. This set here has a full size Ankylosaurus and a full size Carnotaur that are not in any of the other sets.
So, full size as in, the size they would have been in real life?
Yes, you’ll be very impressed when you see it.
Yes the Brachiosaurus already greeted me and it was huge! How has the skin, or the animatronics evolved over the last few years?
It’s cutting edge technology and it continues to evolve, and so we always refine it. Our company NEON actually owns a company called Animax based out in Nashville, Tennessee, and it’s an animatronics and a robotics company so we build the puppets and the animatronic dinosaurs in house and we build the skin, we do the eyes, everything! And we build that for theme parks. as well. So, you know, some of the stuff you see here, you might see similar pieces at a theme park.
Okay, so as you know, I’m from a dad publication. I don’t think you guys were involved with the last thing that was here but it was Barbie World, Right? So this is a very different, almost polar opposite type of experience.
Yes! they’re very small, and we are gigantic. They’re very pink and we’re very green and blue.
Yes, so with that, what is the target audience? Is it parents? Is it dads is it dads who grew up watching Jurassic or is it kids these days?
Well, the interesting thing about dinosaurs in general is that everybody loves them and we start loving them from a really early age. My niece, Well, she’ll be six this year, but she started looking at bumpy the Ankylosaurus on Camp Cretaceous at age four. She said Uncle Kurt, can I go see Jurassic? I want to see Jurassic – And then her second favorite was the T-Rex; for some reason young kids love the T-Rex. So I think it’s from an age where kids would really get interested in it, might be because they existed on the earth, or there’s some connection there – you know we’re now the dominant species on the planet, but they were at one time and there’s something innate that we just we feel about that connection. And for (adult) guys, you know it’s the size of these dinosaurs, it’s just impressive – the sheer power of them as well. So I think that’s something that people just get so interested in [starting from] being a young boy or girl – and they’re actually cute too, so when you see the Anklyosaur – despite that she’s so big, you want to hug her, it’s really interesting.
My gut feels is that the dads will run around with the kids at this event versus the moms, Right? Are you sort of expecting that? Are there any experiences here that are geared more towards the dads to try to get them more involved?
in general for any type of live experience, Mom still is the ticket buyer, so sometimes mom will see the event and buy for the family. Yeah, but what we’re seeing with the show compared to like World of Barbie – we are seeing much more of an equilibrium between males and females coming. Y ou’ll see dads with boys and that’s it sometimes, but you’ll see dads with their little daughter, you’ll see there’s all different combinations. You’ll see grandparents with their grandkids too. I think there’s something appealing for every age group here. You know, sometimes parents will take the kids to see something and dad might be a little bored — Dad’s not going to be bored here. All the education behind the DNA of dinosaurs, knowing that these are full sized animatronics and robotics, you think about how this works with hydraulics and motors and all of that and the attention to detail with the blinking eyes things like that it I mean, it’s pretty impressive. I don’t think anyone’s going walk away and and not have been interested in it.
When you’re watching a lot of kids shows, there’s subtle things for the parents to enjoy, that goes right over their kids’ head. What is here specifically for the parents that the kids will just not pick up on at all?
Okay, let’s see here. I think we try to make it as as inclusive as possible. But you know, one of the things that we have here is that there’s dino poop. You’re able to touch the dino poop – and for some reason, everyone loves to do that. It’s broken up between the herbivore the carnivore and omnivore, and so when you look at it you can see remnants of things in there that they had eaten.
Just because of the timing of all this, the parents that are probably coming through here grew up with the original movie, and the kids are more into the Jurassic World stuff. Are there elements here that are Jurassic Park specific?
Yes, for instance, where we’re standing – Mr. DNA is on the wall here. A lot of the kids probably didn’t see those earlier movies and wouldn’t know who he was, he was only in Jurassic World for a second. I was touring someone through yesterday and he actually recognized the scene. He said, this is from Jurassic Park Three, right? And so there are there are subtle hints of things and nods to the films, that if you’re a really good film goer, you’ll pick up on some of those things. Easter eggs, basically.
Speaking of eggs, I see dino eggs over here, are there specific areas that are really educational parents should want to focus on?
Yes, this room right here is the creation room, the most important room for learning about dinosaurs in general. Look at these eggs right here, you’re able to press the different dinosaurs and then actually see what the embryo looks like inside the egg. It gives you an idea of the actual size of the egg, these are actual size — as you can see, a velociraptor has more of an oval egg [versus the others that are spheres]. Then as you go through [the exhibit], there’s a dig pit, so for younger kids you can actually dig like you would do at an archaeological site, try to find dinosaur fossils and things like that and if you dig you find different fossils. Those I think are really a lot of the educational elements, and there’s also digital signs as well that really teach you about that time period. Pangea is discussed in the other room there to show you how the continents all shifted and all that stuff. The more you read, the more you look, you’ll learn a lot.
what do you hope that the next generation of kids gets out of this franchise?
We want people to really have a good time and everything, but also to look back and realize that the planet continually changes and to be able to recognize that at some point the planet housed these giants. This is a different time frame, and the planet will change again. So it’s really just to to have a better awareness of their surroundings and realize that we have to protect the planet even though there are unexpected things that can happen such as a meteor coming, that our planet always changes and that change is inevitable.
How long do you expect people to spend in the exhibition?
Anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. You can stay as long as you want once you’ve entered, but that’s about the typical range. If you spend your time reading every single thing here you’d be about 60-75 minutes.
I had a great time touring the exhibition, your first experience is boarding a ferry to visit Isla Nublar and while a bit gimmicky, it certainly gets you more into the zone for the next part that will get some hearts beating — Walking up to and through the giant Jurassic World gate. Inside you’re greeted by a brachiosaurus just minding her own business, munching on some plants and you sort of almost feel like you could actually be somewhere else. Every room is a new experience, from watching Blue the velociraptor stomping about and a face-off between two dinosaurs ending in a T-rex coming at you from the shadows, to being able to meet several baby dinosaurs hanging out with their handlers, and giving them a pet. It is a surreal experience for sure, and you really get into it despite knowing it is entirely fiction.
This is an event for most ages, but if you have a young child that scares easily, you might not have a great time with the whole t-rex scene; my five year old probably would be terrified at that part and there’s no way of skipping it, but I absolutely enjoyed it. To continue the experience at home, there’s a gorgeous booklet available with a lot of the educational bits from the exhibition, as well as high resolution renderings of all sorts of things as well as accompanying digital content you can grab on your phone for even more edu-tainment. This item and more can be found in the gift shop (you knew there had to be one right?) and there are a few cuddly friends available there for the little ones that apparently are Toronto exclusives.