After the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, one strains to remember that there are other Disney parks. There’s so much fun to be had in Walt Disney World; roller coasters, resorts, water parks… it’s easy to forget that this all started with movies. Sure, none of these parks exist without Disney movies, but you’d hardly know that looking at Epcot or Animal Kingdom. In this regard, Walt Disney World gave us the Studios, a shrine to the movies which built this empire.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios was the third of the four Disney parks to be established. It was originally called Disney-MGM Studios, as an agreement with the company of that name, but it was renamed Hollywood Studios in 2014. The Park is designed as an homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930’s and 1940’s. (In this regard it feels like Mainstreet U.S.A., in that when you’re in the area you feel like you’ve been sent back to that time period.)
The dedication for Disney’s Hollywood Studios says it best:
The World you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood – not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was – and always will be.
Just as Epcot has actual research labs, the Studios started out as both a theme park and an actual studio, where Disney would film movies and TV shows, most notably the Mickey Mouse Club. (Since that time, the production studios have shut down.)
Here is the Hollywood Studios Map. It is divided into eight sections: Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, Streets of America, Commissary Lane, Pixar Place, Mickey Avenue, Animation Studios, and Sunset Boulevard. (However, unlike Epcot or the Magic Kingdom, these sections are not all vastly different from one another.)
That was the case when I started writing this post in March, February, or January, whenever it might have been. But new and exciting developments have been shared online about a new Toy Story Land. It looks amazing. I’m very excited. Toy Story is the most consistently successful and acclaimed franchises that Disney owns, so I have complete and utter faith in this project.
Anyhow, let’s take a look at the Studios as they are today.
When walking into the park, the first thing in the line of sight was formerly the Mickey Mouse Sorcerer’s Hat, which has since been taken down. Now, the first thing visitors see is the replica of the famous Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.
We didn’t get a chance to stop by Indiana Jones, which is a shame. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my favorite films. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular shows us various recreations of scenes from the films, including the iconic set piece of Indy running away from the rolling boulder. It’s an inside look on how these stunts are done.
Star Tours has also been one of the most notable attractions of the Studios since before Disney owned Lucasfilm. The ride simulates what it’s like to be on a touring flight through the Star Wars galaxy. But of course, the Star Tours ship encounters turbulence and flies through some tough situations. There’s a screen that shows the starscapes and horizons of the various planets in Star Wars, all the while the seats shake violently.
I was surprised to see how updated the ride has stayed given the changing circumstances of the series. We were there in January, one month after the release of The Force Awakens, and already Star Tours was being guided through the Star Destroyer scene on Jakku by John Boyega’s Finn. And they don’t try to play down the prequels; we also see the Clone Wars.
Muppet Vision 3D is a fun little movie about the Muppets. Introduced back in 1991, a time when it was hip and almost futuristic to have things in 3D. It’s a little antiquated, but that doesn’t hinder the undeniable Muppet charm.
Watching Disney acquire properties such as Star Wars and Marvel and the Muppets is interesting. I have to wonder what other properties will be acquired by Disney during my lifetime. It feels as though we’re eventually working towards Disney owning every kind of media.
These acquisitions aren’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s led to some great movies. The Avengers, The Force Awakens, The Muppets (2011); great revivals and adaptations of previous works, all of which are some of my favorite movies in recent years. It stimulates old franchises, and opens the door to some great things.
But some might argue that Disney owning so many properties gives them too much power. There are a lot of concerns, and rightfully so. What if they get too greedy and focus on making money rather than making good movies/etc.? What if they limit the creativity in an attempt to make a bigger universe, as was seen in some Marvel Cinematic Universe films? What if Indiana Jones 5 sucks?
I’ve said before that Disney is an empire – that only begins to cover it. Yes, I’ve mentioned Lucasfilm and Marvel, but there’s also Pixar, ABC, ESPN A&E, and a plethora of smaller companies. Does it get to a point where one company owns too much? Eh, I digress.
The Great Movie Ride is a retrospective/adventure through the great moments of movie history. The Great Movie Ride goes through both specific moments as well as general genres. Sure, there is Mary Poppins and the Chimney Sweeps, Ripley versus the Alien, and the Wicked Witch of the West arriving in Oz, but we also get to see the typical noir, western, or adventure films.
There’s a really interesting element of tour guides on this ride. You start off with a regular, Disney-employed tour guide, telling you about all the movies you’re passing by. Then, one of the noir criminals (who at first sight I mistook for an animatronic) hijacks your tour and guides you through subsequent movies until – eh, I won’t spoil this movie for you, it’s a good one.
The Great Movie Ride is a neat retrospective of what movies have been and where they came from. It ends with a compilation of clips from seemingly every film from City Lights to Guardians of the Galaxy. The Great Movie Ride, just like the Studios, is a love letter to filmmaking.
After we left the Great Movie Ride, we made our way to Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, a museum honoring the legendary founder of the Disney company.
Walt Disney is often thought about being among the great American innovators of the 20th century. He made his way from farm to Hollywood legend. One Man’s Dream tells the story of his creativity, and his failures, and ultimately, his success. The man himself is synonymous with dreams and aspirations.
To watch the film shown at One Man’s Dream, click here.
Then, we were off to lunch! The SciFi Dine-in Theater aims to replicate the feeling of a Drive-in theater; sitting in a car, watching a classic movie. They didn’t show full movies, but rather trailers for vintage science fiction and horror movies. The films shown have become outdated and campy; Catwomen of the Moon, The Amazing Colossal Man, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, and of course, the ironic classic Plan 9 From Outer Space. The only thing better than the food or the aesthetic is laughing at the movies shown.
Toy Story Midway Mania!, adapted from the greatest film series of all time, was installed two years after my previous visit. This was my first time visiting this ride, so it was entirely new to me. I knew it would be good, because (as you can see) the wait time is 65 minutes, it’s rather popular. It was rather similar to the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, (basically, a targeting-and-shooting game) but that wasn’t a bad thing. I suppose the major difference is that rather than exclusively SciFi Buzz Lightyear aesthetic, there’s an Andy’s Room setting that represents the whole series. So rather than seeing just Buzz and the Little Green Men, you see the whole cast of Toy Story characters. This doesn’t make it better or worse, just gives it a different feel.
There is possibly no ride as beloved in all of Hollywood Studios as the Tower of Terror. Tower of Terror is adapted from The Twilight Zone, one of the greatest television shows of all time. The story of the Tower of Terror is that it’s an abandoned hotel with a haunted elevator that sends guests plummeting into darkness.
The Twilight Zone lays the groundwork for a perfectly eerie aesthetic. The Tower of Terror feels like a horror movie in its buildup. A voiceover tells you you’re entering the fifth dimension. After this, the ride sends you up and down, up and down, occasionally opening up its windows to give a view of the park, before thrusting you back into the darkness. Solely out of the fear and fascination it inspires, it’s no surprise the Tower of Terror is one of the most popular rides in all the Disney Parks.
I don’t know what I expected to find at “Path of the Jedi.” I hoped it was original content, but instead it was bits and pieces from all seven movies spliced together, making a glorified trailer. I suppose that since we were only so far past The Force Awakens at the time, the only footage included from the most recent film was seen in the trailers.
When we left Path of the Jedi, we saw Stormtroopers roaming the street.
Here we had the Light, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, a behind the scenes look at how Hollywood does high-speed car chases, full of explosions and burning rubber. I could have taken a lot more pictures, but only thought it would be a good idea to do so at the end. If you would like to see the full half-hour show, click here. This goes back to what was said about the Indiana Jones Stunt show; it’s a privileged look inside movies.
I’m sad to say that in the time since I visited, the Stunt Show has closed. But it’s making way for a Star Wars Land and a Toy Story Land, so I can’t actually be upset. Both of those things sound amazing.
Ending on Hollywood Studios feels right. (I regret not covering Animal Kingdom, but such is life. I guess I just have to go back!) The Studios show a love for movies, and that’s really what’s started this empire and kept it going.
There are moments where movies transcend their place as movies and become something more. This is movie magic. (This term is also used to denote how they make special effects, but bear with me.) When Luke bombs the Death Star, that’s movie magic. When Buzz and Woody are falling with style, that’s movie magic. When John Wayne rides off into the sunset, or Batman rides off into the night, that’s movie magic. “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya?” That’s movie magic. When Simba is raised over Pride Rock while “The Circle of Life” plays in the background, that’s movie magic.
My point being this: Walt Disney World is a physical manifestation of this movie magic. Sure, there are other places that have this same effect, Hollywood, and, y’know, Disneyland, but WDW has always been this place for me. At its core, WDW is a story. It feels alive, and it feels happy. It’s didactic. The Parks are concerned with teaching us something; the power of movies, the need for a global community, a love for animals, and, perhaps the most important, that there is magic in this world.
Thank you all for reading these posts, and coming on this nostalgic journey with me. I find myself in a constant state of wanting to go back. I have done my best, with words and pictures, to tell the story of my (long-awaited) return to the place I love; I simply hope it was worth the read. If you’ve been to the parks, then hopefully these posts have reminded you just how much fun it could be. If not, then perhaps someday you’ll visit Walt Disney World, and you’ll come to love it too.