Even though Disney’s Hollywood Studios ranked as the least popular of the Walt Disney World theme parks according to the 2014 Themed Entertainment Association figures, the park is far from a failure. Ranked as the eighth most popular theme park in the world, DHS is definitely getting a name change and a rumored $3 billion facelift. Seasonal events like the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, Frozen Summer Fun and Star Wars Weekends seem to be the driver for attendance throughout the year. Yet the park clearly needs an injection of permanent new offerings in order to stay relevant in the Orlando market.
When Universal Studios Florida and Disney/MGM Studios opened nearly a year apart from each other, the focus on each was strangely similar: give guests a feeling of what it’s like to be inside their favorite films and peel back the curtain to show the behind-the-scenes of how movies and television are made. As time moved forward, the latter part of that strategy fell flat and both parks decided to ditch their backstage tours in nearly all forms.
Not only had all filming nearly dried up in the Central Florida theme parks, but the techniques that the public saw demonstrated had been obsolete for years by the turn of the century. Universal Studios Florida shuttered most of their attractions that had to do with production like Nickelodeon Studios, Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Movie Making and Murder She Wrote Mystery Theater. Disney/MGM Studios, and now Disney’s Hollywood Studios, took a slower path to change their image which is still there to this day. Thus, I give you: Top 9 Reasons Why Disney’s Hollywood Studios Became A Dinosaur.
#9 Backlot Tram Tour
Disney/MGM Studios clung to its Backlot Tram Tour until 2014. It’s closed as of the writing of this article. Up until September of 2014, guests could see how practical effects like the ones seen in “Pearl Harbor”, which tanked at the box office, were created. The tour itself became a combination of rolling past rotting props which had been beaten down by the Florida sun, to Catastrophe Canyon. While the Canyon was always impressive, it had next-to-nothing to do with movie making.
#8 The Great Movie Ride
Yes, I know it’s the signature attraction (feel free to send your hate mail here). The new Turner Classic Movies sponsorship solidifies that the ride won’t be changing and the movies represented within are indeed not relevant to today’s audiences. Sure, kids know “Mary Poppins” and “The Wizard of Oz”, but sadly most parents don’t even know “Footlight Parade”, “Alien” or “Singing in The Rain”. Sure, they should have an appreciation for films over 30 years old, but more often than not, they don’t care. Don’t believe me? Just listen to the reaction from everyone (children and adults) to the finale film which features “Frozen” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. See if it gets nearly the response that the rest of the ride gets. Not to mention the animatronics and effects in the attraction are the most dated out of just about any Disney attraction in the world.
#7 Signatures In Cement
On a recent trip to Hollywood, I spent some time in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theater looking at the handprints left by celebrities since 1927. I am embarrassed to say, there were several celebs I had completely never heard of. However, the majority were well known stars. Certainly, the same can be said for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
There are lesser known stars like Kate Jackson from Charlie’s Angels and Scarecrow and Mrs. King.
Sure, I remember Harry Anderson from Night Court and from hosting The Disneyland Story where he talked about the future expansion of Disneyland that never came true (more on that later). Do many people under 30 years old remember? Probably not.
My issue isn’t having celebrity hand prints that are no longer relevant in the cement. The beef is, Disney stopped adding these personalized slabs of concrete over a decade ago. The real Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood still adds celebrity handprints and signatures to this day. In 2015 alone they have added: Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Christopher Plummer, Ethan Hawke and Vince Vaughn. That’s as of July! Disney World has celebrities visit all the time. From filming the Disney Parks Christmas Parade to Star Wars weekends. For some reason, they just don’t do this anymore.
#6 The Lobby of Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano
Most of the celebrity handprints used in front of The Great Movie Ride came from the Star A Day program from Disney/MGM Studios early years. For those unfamiliar, the promotion is exactly what it sounds like. Every day, the park would fly a celebrity in and do a cavalcade parade down Hollywood Boulevard. It would usually end with a handprint ceremony in front of the Chinese Theater, thus how the park got so many signatures that are dated 1989 to 1990.
The head shots used for the Star A Day program now populate the lobby of Mama Melrose’s. An interesting fact: when the park changed it’s name, the photos had to show the updated change from Disney/MGM to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The park didn’t take the dated pictures down. Instead, they simply covered up the old park logo with the new one using a small strip of paper at the bottom which is painfully obvious when you see them up close.
Here’s a fun game to play while waiting for your table next time at Mama Melrose’s. Have anyone in your group under the age of 25 pick any ten celebrities in the lobby and have them tell you one film or tv show they starred in without using their smartphone.
#5 Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner
If for some strange reason you lose your bet and have to buy someone dinner, go for a double or nothing round. Ask them, without looking a the sign, what Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner is in reference to.
If they guess the 1931 hit film that starred Wallace Berry and Marie Dressler (who won an Academy Award for Best Actress) called “Min and Bill”, then be prepared to buy a second meal for a friend or relative who knows far more than the average theme park guest.
#4 Gertie the Dinosaur
This is one of my favorite pieces of trivia about the park. Gertie was one of the first pieces of animation ever seen on screen. In 1912, a hand-drawn dinosaur was used as part of a vaudeville act where the performer would tell Gertie to do tricks much like a trained circus animal. A beautiful tribute to early animation before Walt even started. This architectural style known as California Crazy, can be seen all over the park.
Unfortunately, this is lost on most visitors who don’t take the time to stop and read the informational plaque located adjacent to the dinosaur shaped ice cream stand. If it’s not recent or a Disney reference, people often don’t care about the history behind it.
#3 Streets of America
Keep in mind, when Disney/MGM Studios first opened, the Streets of America were called New York Street and originally a part of the Backlot Tour. As a way to alleviate the congestion of the park, the trams stopped using this as merely a part of the tour and let guests roam the facades to take pictures and this gave the rest of the walkways some additional breathing room.
Unfortunately, there has never been much to do around the Streets of America aside from the holiday season. In contrast, Universal Studios Florida use their New York street sets for shows like The Blues Brothers. In addition, their buildings house merchandise and food and beverage offerings, serving a dual purpose. Sadly, Disney never had that forethought and this section of the park is usually a ghost town.
#2 The Magic of Disney Animation
Since Disney Feature Animation closed its Florida department in 2004, guests could no longer look over the shoulder of animation in progress. Yet the attraction remained open until July of 2015 as a place where guests could meet the characters and learn how to draw one themselves. The Drawn to Animation show, which illustrates the evolution of a Disney character, lost their audience years ago when the attraction was reconfigured from a guided tour to a “campus” where guests could choose to visit the show or skip it. Since then, the tiny theater played to less than half full houses on even the busiest of park days.
Drawn to Animation features Chris Sanders, who worked on story development for “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Lion King”, “Mulan”, “Lilo & Stitch” and several others. Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is that Sanders has been working for Dreamworks Animation for several years now. He’s one of the head story writers and animators on films like “How to Train Your Dragon”. Sure, Chris Sanders was a huge part of Disney animation for many years. However, when Michael Eisner left the Walt Disney Company as CEO, they removed him from the One Man’s Dream film and updated it with a voice narration from Julie Andrews. Chris Sanders, to the public watching Drawn to Animation, looks like he still works for Walt Disney Feature Animation when that’s no longer accurate.
#1 Lack of Growth
While Disney’s Hollywood Studios has changed a good bit over the last 26 years, that has been a slow process. For a park that is only a year older than Universal Studios Florida, the amount of investment Disney has put to reenergize the park compared to Universal seems to be far behind.
Remember that special I referenced earlier starring Harry Anderson, The Disneyland Story? The last three minutes featured a ton of new attractions slated to open at Disneyland (literally none of them opened at the park) and many were also designed to be replicated at the Disney/MGM Studios. For example, Dick Tracy’s Crime Stoppers was to be a shoot-em-up dark ride based on the not-so-hit-film. Instead, the park got a temporary stage show: Dick Tracy’s Diamond Double Cross.
Baby Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride was designed to go where The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror sits now. The dark ride would have taken passengers through the set of the short “Tummy Trouble” where guests played stand in for Baby Herman during filming.
It’s no secret that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is getting some major upgrades and with good reason. Hopefully this gives some perspective as to why those changes need to be made as soon as possible. Your thoughts?
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