Jack the Clown’s birth, E.T.’s smell, early Christmas trees – Orlando Sentinel

Halloween is all but over. Time to stop clowning around. This week’s Theme Park Rangers Radar reveals the origins of Jack the Clown, deranged and beloved icon of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, then sniffs around the E.T. ride at Universal Studios for news and also braces everyone for, yes, Christmas decorations. Raise your hand if you said “too soon.”

Radar is a weekly gathering of theme parks scraps and schedules. It is posted at OrlandoSentinel.com on Wednesdays.

Which is scarier: Jack the Clown or a focus group? Surprisingly, the latter led to the creation of the former.

That’s according to Michael Aiello, senior director of creative development for Universal Orlando. During an Orlando Sentinel interview about the history of Halloween in Central Florida theme parks, Aiello made reference to Jack, who debuted at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights in 2000.

Although Aiello said he was not yet part of the creative team then, he worked with the minds behind Jack later.

“Jack came out of focus groups, actually, that were done for a number of years,” he said. “They would do focus groups in person — imagine that, like you’re in a room at a table. And they would ask guests, you know, what are some of your biggest fears?”

Their scary contributions ran the gamut, Aiello said.

“Like, it was spiders and fear of drowning and fear of heights. But the one thing that had the most percentage value that was constantly brought up was fear of clowns,” Aiello said.

“So the creative team at the time exploited that. … And it was a lot of people involved in Jack’s creation, from the back story to the performance to his look … all these different creative minds coming together to really form what would be the perfect nightmare version of a clown. And that is Jack the Clown,” he said.

Jack goes back a way, back to when Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were a couple and visiting Universal Studios in 2001.

Jack kicked off what Universal thinks of as the “iconic era,” Aiello said. Other faces followed, including The Director, The Caretaker, The Usher, The Storyteller, Bloody Mary and Lady Luck.

Jack’s debut shook things up.

“I think that was the first year that the event had a voice, the event had a personality,” said Aiello, who has attended every edition of HHN either as a visitor or a Universal employee. “And really, that was a new way to consider how you start to present the event to the audience, more so than just being a Halloween party that has haunted houses in it.”

Among the senses stimulated by E.T. Adventure: the sense of smell, starting in the cool forest (indoor) queue.

Something smells funny in the E.T. Adventure ride at Universal Studios, or so says internet chatter.

The attraction, part of the park’s opening-day lineup in 1990, has been known for its scents, particularly in the forest stretch in the queue. Recently, visitors have posted on social media about detecting similar but different sensations. For instance, Storybook Amusement’s Twitter account described the scent as pine but “no longer the signature musty forest smell.” And during the ride, the first Green Planet scene smells “almost like a barbecue.”

Full disclosure: My sense of smell is not strong, so I shouldn’t be the one to confirm or deny this. On a recent trip, I thought it smelt like … trees? I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I feel like any possible change here is subtle. It’s not like the forest suddenly reeks of peppermint or the ride is that Soarin’ citrus flavor.

Take a whiff. You might feel differently. But I wouldn’t drive out there just to smell E.T.

Theme Park Rangers

Theme Park Rangers


The latest happenings at Disney, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and other Central Florida attractions.

For the record, the official Universal Orlando Resort Twitter account says “the scent for this attraction has not changed.” Did they turn their nose up on the idea?

Holiday decor has popped into place at a few attractions, including Seuss Landing at Unviersal's Islands of Adventure.

Get ready. Christmas is coming. Oops, too late, it’s already manifesting itself at some theme parks.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure went garland-a-go-go at Port of Entry, and it’s not just greenery. There are ornaments and wreaths on exteriors and inside the large Trading Company store. That’s also true at Hogwarts Express.

In Seuss Landing, there’s also holidays happening on walls, crooks, crannies and around Horton’s trunk. Is there more décor before? But it sorta works in a year-round, whimsical way plus there’s the Grinch factor.

At SeaWorld Orlando, installation of the Sea of Trees on the park’s central lagoon has happened.

Disney notoriously flips Magic Kingdom from Halloween look to Phase I of its Christmas look overnight, right after the last Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party on Oct. 31. After all, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party starts Nov. 8. (The first three dates already are sold out, though.)

Zac Hanson, Taylor Hanson and Isaac Hanson are the brothers who make up, simply, Hanson. The band plays this weekend during Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

  • The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival continues, and its Eat to the Beat concert series will feature Hanson on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Note after this, there are only two weekends left of the fest, which began July 14.
  • Beyond that it’s all Halloween, all the time for the weekend. There are events and activities, large and small, set for Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, SeaWorld Orlando, Legoland Florida, Gatorland, Icon Park, Orange County Regional History Center, Central Florida Zoo, Fun Spot locations and beyond.
  • Just a few days later, “Fantasmic” returns at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Its pandemic comeback is Nov. 3.

What’s on your radar? Email me at [email protected]