The State of the Studios

When I was a cast member, I was assigned to work at the (at the time) Disney/MGM Studios. So, even decades later, that park is extra special to me because of my time there — it’s “my” park, and I’m a small part of its history. But even without that connection, I would still love what is now called Hollywood Studios. I love the classic Hollywood aesthetic as you walk through the main gate, and I love the attractions. It’s a fun park, different from the fantasy of Magic Kingdom or the science of EPCOT.

So it’s sad now to see things at Hollywood Studios closing left and right, and get the sense that they’re gutting the park.

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This was one of the attractions I worked, back when it was a tour through a working animation studio. It has since become a very different place: the studio is gone and in its place are meet & greets, interactive games, and a (pretty cool) short drawing class. It’s also–as of this writing–one of the latest attractions to be slated for closure.

It’s been officially announced that the Magic of Disney Animation attraction at Hollywood Studios is closing down. Last fall, the Studio Backlot Tour (one of the park’s original attractions) stopped running. There are rumors that the Lights, Motor, Action! Extreme Stunt Show may be shutting down, and the potential closing of both the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and Muppets 4D have been rumored for a while now. One Man’s Dream, a mini museum about Walt Disney, is expected to close, as is the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure play area. There are even rumors that the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show is slated to end.

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The Studio Backlot Tour started out as a great behind the scenes showcase, but was cut down over the years until it was a shadow of its former self. Though Catastrophe Canyon, a special FX extravaganza featuring explosions and a flash flood, was always a highlight.

At this point, no replacement attractions or park renovations have been announced. So far all we’re seeing is confirmed closures with rumors of more, but the powers that be at Disney have yet to say what’s happening. While I’m confident that there is a plan for the park, and I’m very excited to see what the future will bring, right now it’s tough to see what that may be.

Mermaid front sign

This was the other attraction I worked at, dressed up in a cute sailor outfit and directing guests into and out of the theater. If the rumors are true and this one closes, then both attractions I was a part of will be gone.

When Hollywood Studios opened as the Disney/MGM Studios, it was intended to be a park all about making movies. It was even intended to be a functional movie studio, though very little was actually filmed there. The attractions were meant to be a look behind the scenes, with shows covering subjects like sound and stunts while the Studio Backlot Tour gave guests a look at backstage areas as well as props and set pieces from movies and television. There were opportunities to “star” in movies while learning about post-processing and foley design. There was a tour through a working animation studio, and shows like Indiana Jones offered a fun look at different parts of movie making.

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This, to me, epitomizes the original “theme” of the park. From the front, this is a massive AT-AT from Star Wars menacing guests as they approach Star Tours. Go around the back, though, and you’ll see “behind the scenes”.

Over the years the park has seen lots of changes, including its name (as Disney broke ties with MGM Studios). Live shows like Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast debuted. Star Tours, Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, and Rockin’ Roller Coaster all opened. It was an early step away from the “making of” sensibility and towards a different sort of movie-based experience.

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Star Tours (among other attractions) wasn’t about making movies, but rather bringing guests through an adventure featuring characters and settings from the films. Which seems to be the direction the park is going.

Recently, Disney CEO Bob Iger explained that Hollywood Studios would be going through another transformation. It was going to be less about the behind-the-scenes experience of movies, and more a celebration of films. He also let slip that the park would be seeing another name change, though there has been no announcement as to what it’s going to be called.

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Muppets 4D is one of the attractions that’s long been on the chopping block, if rumors are to be believed. On the one hand, I love this cute little movie, but on the other it’s sort of showing its age. I’d love to see an update, though, rather than a complete closure, to capitalize on Disney’s success with the Muppets franchise. Plus, Muppets are awesome.

But what we’re seeing now is closure after closure, and no indication of what the bigger picture may be. There have been rumors that plans will be revealed at the upcoming D23 Expo event in August, and there’s been a lot of speculation of what those plans could entail. Persistent rumors about an expanded Pixar area and/or a big Star Wars section are mentioned a lot, but so far that’s all just guesswork. A more recent rumor suggests that the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular show is being closed to make way for an Indiana Jones ride experience, similar to the one at Disneyland in California (which I’ve never seen, but I hear is very cool, so I’m excited to see if this one is true even as I mourn the loss of the show). Even the recent removal of the Sorcerer Mickey hat, the icon of the park since 2001, is seen as a big step towards a transition into… something new. I’m a little surprised to see Voyage of the Little Mermaid on the list of possible closures, as it’s always been a very popular show, but with Magic of Disney Animation closing I’m wondering if there are plans that involve the whole Animation Courtyard area.

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Not gonna lie, I was thrilled to see the Sorcerer’s Hat come down. It didn’t fit the motif, it blocked the view of the Chinese Theater from Hollywood Boulevard, and while it was a cool thing for the 100 Years of Magic celebration in 2001 (the reason it was built) it’s long since overstayed its welcome. I know many people disagree with me on this point.

Whatever they’re planning, though, I hope they do announce something soon. It’s tough to keep hearing about closures without hearing any big announcements about what’s to come. There are a lot of rumors floating around, but thus far nothing concrete in terms of what to expect. Personally, of course, I would love to see some sort of expanded Star Wars presence, but until they reveal their plans there’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen in the park.

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I’ve heard some rumors about a massive overhaul of the Echo Lake area of the park, which would include the removal of Dinosaur Gertie’s Ice Cream of Extinction. She’s been around since the park opened, so it’d be really sad if she went… extinct.

I wonder how long it’ll take to bring their new ideas to life in the park. Even if they announced new rides tomorrow it’ll still take time to put them into place, and if they are planning an expansion of Pixar or Star Wars there’ll most likely be large areas of the park closed off while they build. So there’s going to potentially be a period of time in which Hollywood Studios could be a maze of construction walls, and more “coming soon” than “come see”.

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There are still attractions to see at Hollywood Studios, and it’s probably possible to still spend the better part of a day at the park. At the moment, anyway.

There’s still lots to do there, despite my fear that it’s quickly becoming a half-day park (at best). There are still excellent rides like Star Tours, Tower of Terror, Great Movie Ride, and Rockin’ Roller Coaster. Shows like Beauty and the Beast and–at the moment–Voyage of the Little Mermaid are fun. The “Citizens of Hollywood” characters seen performing improvisational skits add flavor to the park experience. It’s also worth staying into the evening for the excellent Fantasmic show.

There are some cool food options in the park, too, like the 50s Prime Time Cafe and the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (plus the ABC Commissary, in my opinion the best quick service spot in the Studios). However, as the park continues to go through its transition any one of those could be added to the list of closures.

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The Great Movie Ride recently saw a bit of an overhaul as they incorporated their new partnership with Turner Classic Movies into the mix. From what I’ve seen the changes are actually minimal (and surprisingly welcome) and don’t disrupt what’s actually one of my favorite Hollywood Studios experiences.

I’ve got faith in Disney, and I believe that at some point soon we’ll get a look at what they’re planning and that it’ll be amazing. I’m sure that at some point we’ll stop mourning the long list of closures and start anticipating the new attractions. But nostalgia is a powerful thing, as a former cast member and as a loyal fan, and it’s tough to see all of this happen even while being excited about what’s going to happen next.

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I wonder what’s going to become of the props that were seen on the Studio Backlot Tour. Will they be incorporated into other areas of the park, or into a new attraction? Will they be sold or just collect dust in a warehouse somewhere. Because, if they need to unload this snowspeeder, I might be able to make some room…

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One Response to The State of the Studios

  1. Pingback: Hooray For Hollywood (Studios) | Magic & Misadventures

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