REVIEW: Pinocchio Unstrung at Knott’s Halloween Haunt 2012

Probably the most talked about and anticipated new maze at Knott’s Halloween Haunt for the 2012 season was Daniel Miller’s design, Pinocchio Unstrung. Based obviously on the famous 1883 children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Italian author Carlo Collodi, this Haunt maze was heralded by fans and industry veterans alike as a new standard in Knott’s design.

Indeed, Daniel Miller (The Asylum, Fallout Shelter, Delirium) stepped up his design game with this ghastly take on a famous story that has been retold over the years, even as one of Disney’s most beloved animated features in 1940. However, this was no fairytale, nor did it have a happy ending – in Buena Park, California, when the fog rolls in and the Scary Farm gates creak open, it’s a whole different set of rules and everyone knows that Daniel understands how to turn up the fear factor when it comes to maze design!

Pinocchio Unstrung at Knott's Halloween Haunt 2012

The first time we walked through Pinocchio Unstrung was on Haunt’s opening night, and like everyone else, we were totally surprised and inspired by the level of detail and design that went into this particular maze. In fact, when we bumped into Disney Imagineering legend Tony Baxter (a long-time supporter of Knott’s and Haunt), he was absolutely thrilled by Pinocchio and told us that it was “truly Disney quality”; for Daniel, I cannot imagine a higher compliment – that is truly badass!

Pinocchio Unstrung at Knott's Halloween Haunt 2012Fans everywhere echoed the same thing – the level of detail and artistic prowess of Pinocchio Unstrung was startling, but not necessarily unexpected. Most of the creative folks at Knott’s are only hampered by budget (just like everyone else in the themed entertainment industry); it is apparent over the past several years that Cedar Fair/Knott’s has become more assertive and these maze budgets have been increased, because it shows. If even by a marginal amount, we can see the difference in these mazes and it is nothing short of exciting. And necessary, if Knott’s is to compete with heavy hitter Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, or even stand-alone pro haunts in Orange County and Los Angeles, which are upping the professional ante each season.

Located in the Wilderness Dance Hall at Knott’s Berry Farm, which was the former home of The Doll Factory, Pinocchio Unstrung in a way, carried that theme to the next level, where a psychotic charcter turned victims into horrific marionettes and puppets. Obviously, there are some serious similarities there, but that didn’t hamper the enthusiasm of fans or Haunt veterans. Everyone fell in love with this new maze – and for good reason.

The talent throughout Pinocchio Unstrung was definitely excited to be part of one of Haunt’s hot new mazes; you can always tell/feel that a team is fired up and ready to go in a new maze, and I get that. There is a certain amount of pride being part of the launch crew of a new Scary Farm addition, and it definitely showed each time we visited Pinocchio’s lair.

One thing that did bother me about the costuming for this maze was the choice to have the Pinocchio characters sleeveless, rather than covered by thematically appropriate billowing sleeves. This left actors’ arms bare, instantly taking us out of the fantasy – especially when the bare arms revealed tattoos, wrist bands, modern watches and the like. That’s a huge miss in my opinion; one I would love to see changed for the 2013 version of this maze. If not, then Knott’s needs to do a better job overall policing this type of thing so that all of the hard work and effort that goes into a maze isn’t broken down by people wearing modern accessories; plus, I just don’t like seeing so many bare arms and armpits when this is supposed to be a fictional monster/character.

The soundtrack of Pinocchio was decent – nothing tremendous in my opinion. The real attention went to detail throughout the maze – and that was undeniably some of the best work we’ve ever seen construction-wise at Knott’s Halloween Haunt; a huge kudos to the men and women who worked to bring Pinocchio Unstrung to life from the concept art!

Luckily, the facade of Pinocchio Unstrung was designed to be mobile. Due to Knott’s policy of Haunt being hidden during the day (we hate that and hope to see that changed this year), Daniel had to create an entry statement that could be physically rolled on and off stage each day and night for Haunt – a total pain in the ass, but, he did it. And the entry looks great, complete with giant articulated puppets; a great example of having to rise to the occasion and deal with a challenging mandate from management. Well done!

All in all, we were very impressed by this maze and applaud Daniel Miller on yet another huge addition to Knott’s Halloween Haunt. This maze will surely be around for several years, and we look forward to watching it evolve over time!

– Rick West

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