WINTER HAVEN — The Peppa Pig cinema was the Elysium of this theme park, a respite from chaos not unlike the cartoon itself. Sweaty parents filtered into a dark, cool room and thrust bags of Froot Loops upon their children, slumped over beanbag chairs.
Peppa Pig played on a big screen. Specifically, “Digging Up The Road,” an episode in which Peppa’s family heads to the playground and encounters a water leak in the street.
“Is it going to take long?” Mummy Pig asks.
“It will take as long as it takes!” huffs Mr. Bull, the construction worker. Later, Peppa repeats the same line to her ungrateful little playmates.
Ah, there she was, our confident hog! Our pink princess! Our pop culture porker! She can confront any cross-species situation, soothe nearby toddlers, even transcend preschool to fascinate a generation beyond her intended target.
But can she carry a whole Florida attraction? For everyone?
I, pushing 40, ventured suspiciously alone to lurk at the plainly named Peppa Pig Theme Park (guess they wanted those Google hits). The park opened in Winter Haven in February, steps from Legoland. On a Wednesday afternoon, small humans ran roughshod over the hallowed grounds of their hero.
My first Peppa Pig exposure came years back as a new stepmom. I hadn’t watched kids cartoons since I was a kid myself in the clunky, pre-digital 1980s. But Peppa was different, and the show fascinated me as much as it did the child.
Peppa Pig chronicles the exploits of Peppa, her brother George, Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig and a cast of mammalian friends. It’s almost punk in simplicity, aggressively two-dimensional and pastel, wry and clever compared to, say, He-Man. Describing the aesthetic requires a virtuosity unto itself. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a rambling speech, once compared Peppa’s visage to a “Picasso-like hairdryer,” which isn’t wrong.
It’s addictive, not just for American children adopting British accents. In one episode that went viral, Peppa struggles to whistle. She calls Suzy Sheep to feel some schadenfreude. But when Suzy easily whistles into the receiver, Peppa hangs up, wordless, with one wicked, porcine finger. It’s high art! It’s permission to leave toxic relationships!
Peppa has been memeified countless times. One internet rumor claimed she was 7-foot-1-inch tall. She released an album called, um, My First Album, and the tracks inadvertently became LGBTQ anthems. Kanye West has had a longstanding feud with Peppa (reviewers liked her album better).
When I visited a University of South Florida class last month and mentioned Peppa Pig Theme Park, the 20-somethings erupted as if a dormant part of their personality had been hacked open.
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Given Peppa’s clout, it makes sense for the park to wink at her adult allure. But truly, this would be a fruitless and expensive ironic trip. Though it’s part of Legoland, Peppa Pig Theme Park requires a separate $35 ticket, plus $25 parking. It’s best to bundle the day with Legoland, because Peppa will not take that long.
This tiniest of Florida theme parks is designed for little legs and wheels. It’s disability-friendly and is a Certified Autism Center full of sensory guides. I lapped the entire place in five minutes, passing Daddy Pig’s Roller Coaster (I didn’t ride, fearful of being even more of a creep), Peppa’s Pedal Bike Tour, George’s Tricycle Trail, Muddy Puddles Splash Pad and a wacky hall of mirrors manned by that smug whistler, Suzy Sheep.
It was time for the stage show.
“Will you help me shout for Peppa?” the host asked, and the kids screamed her name into the hot spring air. Then the grande dame emerged. I am here to confirm, she actually is 7 feet tall.
They sang a hot track off the album, The Bing Bong Song, which goes (pay attention) “bing, bong, bingly, bungly, boo.” Toddlers barely upright teetered to the stage while harried Peppa keepers delicately nudged them back. Peppa swayed her gargantuan pink arms to a cacophony of squeaky Crocs and cries. Surreal! The Pepp-sistence of Memory!
This was a good reminder. The internet can co-opt a lot of things. Joy can come from the purest places, and intelligent cartoons diffuse the toil of parenting.
But not everything is for everyone. This park is not for peculiar adults with phones, desperate to be distracted by one more meme. This park is for teeny tots learning to use their words.
Still, maybe there was a glimmer of rawk? Mr. Fox’s gift shop offered Peppa purses, cookies and plastic trucks galore. One T-shirt, though, stood singular, black with a pink font my soul recognized. It was the font of Nirvana. Below it, a crude line drawing of our high priestess, Peppa.
A dad hoofed by the gift shop pushing a stroller. He was wearing a real Nirvana T-shirt, bathed in the glow of swine immemorial.
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