We are in our Happy Place. A curtain reads LET’S DANCE in large, white font against a colorful background. An usher slowly pulls back the curtain and invites us to pull our car into the single-car port. The lights dim, then blast on full, flickering to the song we chose to listen to. The music courses through our bodies and a slight fog begins to envelop our car. A single dancer stands before us, ready to perform. Unfortunately for him (and us?) the song we picked is “Baby Shark” (doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo)!
Instagram palace Happy Place, by Subaru, has transformed their in-person museum into a Covid-safe drive-thru experience. Winding its way through two levels of the Westfield Mall parking lot in Culver City, Happy Place Drive-Thru presents attendees with idyllic, photogenic scenes and upbeat music meant to bring smiles to their faces. With ample photo ops, slight interactivity, and a myriad of bright lights and colors, Happy Place Drive-Thru takes about an hour – no exiting your vehicle permitted – including several stop-and-go moments for ushers of the experience to take videos of guests in their vehicles. All guests are also encouraged to participate in a free QR Code scavenger hunt, solving simple riddles about the scenes on display – perfect for older kids who might be bored with the lack of live interaction on the first level of the experience.
The first level of Happy Place Drive-Thru is very similar to the in-person museum – even recycling some sets from the 2018 iteration, like the bathtub full of yellow balls. However, at least one scene among the many – a retro ‘50s diner, a farm, a beach, a larger-than-life set of killer stilettos, and more – is sure to spark some kind of joy in even the most hardened 2020 heart. The upbeat tunes playing through speakers (roll your windows down, masks up) are also sure to have guests dancing along. I found myself bopping to the music, laughing at a gigantic rubber ducky, or wishing I was really in some of the peaceful locales – anyone else miss sunbathing?
Level two is the more interactive portion of the Happy Place Drive-Thru – as much as one can be from their car. Here, guests will enter the Tunnel of Fun where they will get to play a giant piano by driving over sensors on the ground, have a dance party to their choice of one of ten song options, and get doused with happy (not water) at Winky’s Car Spa before heading out into the real world. The Dance Break tunnel may be slightly awkward for adults, with only one dancer performing directly for them, but younger kids will likely get a kick out of dancing along to the flashing lights, loud music, and fog machine. Level two and its interactive installations may take more time to get through (due to photos and videos taken by the ushers), but they definitely have guests leaving the experience on a high note.
While Happy Place Drive-Thru is a cute jaunt through some cheerful iconography, there are a few missed opportunities that could enhance the joyful experience even more. As the majority of Happy Place Drive-Thru is taken from an installation meant for participants to interact with, most of the scenery – especially on level one – feels as if it is missing the energy and interactivity it was designed to hold. Happy Place Drive-Thru could incorporate some actors or performers – such as a farmer with the cows or a ‘50s waiter coming up to the car to take our orders – into the experience to add some needed interplay. The level two interactions provide more of this, but are still limited to an usher taking a video of guests and an energetic dancer in the Dance Break room; these are a welcome departure from the static sets, and are the best part of the experience.
Further, some logistics could use a little refinement. First, and most importantly, more signage could be added to make the entrance easier to find in the multi-level, twisting parking lot. Also, since the QR Code information is essential for the scavenger hunt on level one, and to retrieve the event’s video of guests in their cars, this information should be made available in multiple locations in case a car gets overlooked and misses this information upon entry. Lastly, perhaps due to poor reception in the parking lot location, the music of Happy Place is played over speakers in the parking lot. It would have been nice to have the music on a station (like The Bite LA or Horrorwood Video), or perhaps a downloadable Spotify playlist.
Happy Place Drive-Thru does a commendable job of bringing a dose of joy to 2020. While there is definitely room for growth, the “fixes” are relatively simple and hopefully help in assisting the creators. Happy Place Drive-Thru is perfect for young children, or even a safe date night out of the house; it’s a little bright light at the end of a dark year. Find your happy place!