The new KidZania complex is the kind of interactive entertainment that made me wish I wasn't born in the 1980s.
Sure, we had cool places like ShowBiz Pizza, Putt-Putt Golf and Photon, and we annoyed our parents until they lost their will to fight and agreed to take us there. We spent our family's hard-earned money on microwaved pizza and worthless arcade tokens and ran around the place like unleashed banshees on a flock of freshly harvested souls. It's just that when you see those kinds of places for today's kids, you feel cheated by the ravages of existence.
So it's not really fair for a kid trapped in a grown-up's doughy body to review an entertainment complex like KidZania USA, an 80,000-square-foot miniature town made for kids up to age 14 to run in various shops, businesses and services. For starters, it's not made for me on a mental level and especially not on a physical level. I'm too big to go bungee jumping. That's right, I'm too fat to fall.
Even if the operators of this new children's entertainment complex in Frisco's Stonebriar Center disregarded all safety rules and common sense and let me participate, there's no way it would be a fair review because the whole experience would be awkward.
So I asked my cute-as-a-button niece Emmersyn, who my family affectionately calls "Emmy," if she'd like to go and do the review for me. She's at the perfect demo age for KidZania's customer base, smart as hell and takes much better photos than I would trying to cram all 340 pounds of myself into a child-sized fire truck.
She said yes. More importantly, her parents said yes. Not only would I get a fair review from her but the best part is I'd still get paid for it. Shut up, I'll buy her a toy.
KidZania, a global children's entertainment complex that built its first American location in Frisco, aims for a loftier goal than just giving a place for kids to be entertained while their parents take a smoke break or something. The entire town is designed to be run by kids and encourages participation with their parents in all of the activities. There are 46 interactive "shops," "stores" and "services" where the kids learn about various careers with adult moderators and even get paid for doing jobs in kidzos, the KidZania currency (which is quickly proving to be worth more than the dollar). Kids can use their kidzos to buy candy, toys and other stuff in a shop, similar to how an arcade redeems tickets for prizes.
The experience always starts at the entrance — that's mocked up as an international airport as we've all just flown into town and are exiting our gate complete with airport security that isn't run by children, and that's probably for the best. Emmy says she was impressed with KidZania's Disney-level attention to theme park detail. It was as if the very structural designs and layouts were trying to convey a visual story that bridge the spatial link between the participants and the experience, much like Charles Correa's groundbreaking concept of episodic architecture. That's exactly what Emmy said.
The kids and adults each get a trackable bracelet so the grown-ups can keep an electronic eye on the little ones if they get separated, and the kids can track their progress through the town. It's also designed to keep them from running out of the complex without their parents since both have to be present upon exit.
Every station has a purpose, with plenty to learn and experience. The best way to start is to get a bird's-eye view on the tour bus that drives around the city. The town has landmarks like a theater, a hospital, a police station complete with a crime lab, a podcast studio and a lot more.
Emmy visited the eye care center to get her eyes checked in a clinic made for people just her size with a tiny lens viewer and an eye chart that uses animal shapes instead of numbers and letters to show her how sight and lenses work.
She went to a fashion studio and designed her own wearable piece of art by combining the excessive carelessness of the loud '80s disdainful color scheme boom with the simplicity of the ironic modern hipster to create a whole new look that she personally took down the runway. She says she appreciated the roles these activities play not just as a future member of the workforce but also as a potential consumer in our mixed capitalist economy.
The activities are meant to encourage exploration of a child's varied interests and skill sets from mental to physical. Each shop and station is set up to show the kids what it's like to pursue various careers such as firefighting, piloting, science, art, performance, etc. Each station was marked with an age limit that starts at 4 and goes up to 14. The activities came with a special set of instructions on a tablet-sized screen for the kids and their parents.
Emmy remarked that this level of care and attention to age and skill levels helped streamline the experience without creating long lines or limiting her options to a small sliver of busywork. She appreciated how it encouraged her parents to participate in specific ways rather than just passively watch from a distance and likened them to a whimsical, inspired, kid-sized version of the bürgerbühne theater form pioneered by German director Miriam Tscholl.
Some of the more impressive activities include the fire station, where kids can suit up, ride a fire engine to a burning building and put out the flames with table-mounted hoses. Kids can also learn how to be a pilot in a fairly accurate-looking flight simulator made just for them or work on a skyscraper by navigating an aerial course across a building construction site.
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Even the Mooyah Burger and Pie Five pizza stands offered interactive opportunities for education and entertainment in food preparation. Emmy was a little too old for some of these things but noted how ingratiating it is to see a children's entertainment concept that's not just about keeping kids busy with mindless entertainment or structures designed to tap into their more destructive instincts and tendencies.
My niece highly recommends it. She loves it. She had a great time, learned a lot and gave her father, uncle and "Pop-Pop" pictures and memories they'll always treasure.
Emmy says KidZania is entertaining and engaging with true "telos as the Greeks would say." Her words, not mine.