Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA
Last year, one of my most eagerly anticipated home haunts was Boney Island, a monumentally charming yard display and walk-through filled with whimsical, magical fun. With yearly swelling popularity in its Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Boney Island was a beloved, family-friendly Halloween attraction produced by former Simpsons animation producer, Rick Polizzi, with help from his friend, Rex Danyluk, who designed a fantastic cauldron fountain show that proved an immediate hit when it debuted in 2011.
But then came the return of complaints from a couple of neighbors in the face of plenty more who supported him—the same neighbors who had successfully gotten Boney Island shut down after the end of its 2007 season—and the interjection of a city regulation agency that significantly escalated the price for “required” traffic control and safety measures. And all of this pressure and mounting costs… well, it prompted Boney Island to once again pull the plug on its 2017 endeavor, much to my personal chagrin. This was finally going to be the year that I saw Boney Island, since my obligations with helping at Higgins Manor had always conflicted with Boney Island’s operating dates, and since Higgins did not return last year, I would have had time.
It was honestly one of the more disappointing aspects I’ve had in any Halloween season. I was especially saddened to learn that all of this was the genesis of really a couple of parties who just didn’t like the popularity of the attraction, despite all the joy it brought to the community and the support it garnered from visitors of all sorts, ages, professions… . Boney Island would have to hopefully wait for another day.
Well, earlier this year, at Midsummer Scream, it was excitingly announced that Boney Island would return, occupying space in Traveltown at Griffifth Park directly across the lawn from the super popular Ghost Train attraction. Though Boney Island would have completely separate admission into its attraction than Ghost Train, the two entities would have a chance to piggyback support and interest to each other from each other, and that’s what we did last weekend when we headed over to Griffith Park to check out both charming, family-friendly haunts.
As one might discern from the name, Boney Island is a play off of New York City’s famous Coney Island, but imagined as if skeletons had taken over and were running their own show! In its new home and transition into a professional haunt, Boney Island stuffs a staggering amount of detail and scope into a footprint that is larger than Polizzi’s own front yard, where Boney Island was previously held, but still small enough to provide an intimate experience. The attraction showcases Polizzi’s silly and charming sense of humor, with plenty of skeleton scenes showing visual puns or interesting illusions or plays on words.
There are also moving figures and robotics-driven effects that create humorous scenes, vivid illusions, and cool transformations. Though deceptively simple—they’re all winch and pulley driven—they make complex looking animated effects, and they’re absolutely adorable. And some of the displays conjure a bit of enchantment too. One of our favorite gags was a bottle of “BOOze” that magically levitates and pours into a glass, which appears to refill the drink!
The interactive elements are fun too. Magic is heavily prevalent here, not only at the Boney Island Theater, where magicians from the Magic Castle perform regularly all night, but also with some of the exhibits, like a mystical fountain where water flows up, or a psychic skeleton who chats with guests and guesses personal details like birthdays and such. Also present are a couple of staged photo ops that create illusions after guests rotate the photo. The levitating person backdrop returns from the home haunt days, but the flying creature is brand new for this year!
Without a doubt, Boney Island provides a magical, Halloween wonderland that will astound children and the kid in adults! The wonder and charm that the Boney Island crew has brought to Griffith Park is positively delightful!
There are a few more dedicated features among the various attractions on the grounds. One of them, Hauntington Gardens, was introduced in 2016 at the Polizzi residence. It has carried through to the Griffith Park location in an even more expanded manner.
Here, everything is in motion, from spinning flowers to skeletal wildlife and even plants that seem to have a life of their own. The eerie blue lighting gives off a great ghostly vibe, and while there is a little sense of creepiness here, it’s all in a sense of fun. The visual spectacle throughout the Hauntington Gardens provides a lovely little walk-through, culminating in a nice photo op and skeleton orchestra—complete with occasional projections of Boney Island’s residents waltzing in tune!
The other walk-through attraction is relatively brief—a jaunt through “Deadwood Forest,” full of dark and spooky creatures of the skeletal variety, of course! Normally, this would seem a little intimidating, but everything is presented in an open, calm, and cute manner. Even the skeleton clambering up a tree to avoid a pair of dogs looks more bemused than alarmed.
Guests need to look both high and low to truly take in all the details. There are bats, snakes, and spiders fluttering about, and even some baby creatures right beside the path, carefully watched over by mama. And the scene is tranquilly photogenic—definitely oh-so-pretty!
Maestro Maxilla the Great and the Dancing Cauldrons
Finally, we have what many consider the highlight of Boney Island, Maestro Maxilla and his spirited, stubborn magical cauldrons. This is a colorful fountain show about a skeleton maestro who wants to put on a great show featuring the best of classical music, but his cauldrons just want to play Halloween music. Singing pumpkins enter the fray later on, but in the end, everyone comes together and shares in a wonderful holiday symphony.
The dancing cauldrons are Rex Danyluk’s contribution to Boney Island, and what a spectacular contribution they are! Part World of Color, part slapstick humor, they perform regularly throughout the night, seemingly ten, maybe fifteen minutes apart (I didn’t keep track of the intervals). The green fountains look impossibly so, but they form a spectacular scene in front of an equally colorful backdrop.
These fountains were the spark of Boney Island’s first comeback in 2011, and it’s great to see them going strong this year, in Boney Island’s return!
Admission to Boney Island is $15, which may seem inconvenient, given the haunt’s former status as a free attraction. But the money is definitely worth it and helps offset the what I imagine to be significant costs of operating such an event. There are friendly volunteers everywhere, performers, and a couple vendors, plus all the attractions themselves! Without a doubt, the price of admission is worth it, and this is a perfect Halloween event for a family outing, a date night, or just a trip with friends to rekindle that Halloween spirit.
It’s also a perfect pairing with Ghost Train, which we reviewed last year. Ghost Train is located on the same Traveltown property, and the far end of the layout even circles around the Boney Island grounds, giving Ghost Train guests a glimpse of Boney Island’s magic, and Boney Island attendees some extra ambiance. Just head across the lawn for the classic L.A. Steamers attraction. But do keep in mind that Boney Island and Ghost Train require separate tickets. That shouldn’t deter you, though. Together as a combo, they make up one of the best Halloween experiences one can do in all of Southern California!
It’s wonderful to have Boney Island back in our Halloween season lives, and they’ve certainly made quite a smash impression after their one-year hiatus. Boney Island runs every night for the rest of the season, through October 31st. Get tickets online, or purchase in person at their ticket booth out front. Whichever option you take, do not miss this sensational Halloween carnival!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.