If you love the movies like I do, there is no better place to get your “fix” than at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This theme park celebrates Hollywood during its Golden era from the ‘30’s and 40’s. From its fantastic detailed streets like Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards from the era, to attractions like “Catastrophe Canyon” and thrilling stunt shows as “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” this is a movie fanatic’s dream. But for me, the Main Attraction here at the Studios is the “Great Movie Ride”.
This is the perfect attraction above all others to showcase what the Studios are all about, and that is great Movies. Although considered a Dark Ride, it is the brightest attraction in the park. The ride brings you through some of the most famous scenes from movie classics from many genres. Boarding a ride vehicle similar to the trams at Disney, you sit six across and are taken on a slow, narrated tour of each scene by a cast member.
Situated directly behind Sorcerer Mickey’s hat, it is housed in a replica of the famous “Grauman’s Chinese Theatre” in Hollywood. But the building is called just “The Chinese Theatre”. A problem with obtaining permission to use the Grauman name is the reason for this. It is interesting to note that when the attraction opened, the Theatre was known as “Mann’s Chinese Theatre”. And just like in front of the original Theatre, you will find hand and footprints of many famous stars imbedded in the sidewalk, including of course, Mickey Mouse!
You are immersed in the magic of Hollywood as soon as you enter the queue line. Some famous props are in glass cases as you wind your way around, The merry-go-round horse from the movie “Mary Poppins”, an Elizabethan dress from “Shakespeare in Love” and Susan’s costume from the “Chronicles of Narnia”. Other notable props that were on display were Maria’s dress from “Sound of Music”, the Ruby slippers from “Wizard of Oz” and Sam’s piano from “Casablanca”. From the outside queue you enter a movie theatre, circa 1930’s where on the screen you are shown trailers of the movies you will be viewing on the ride. (Note: Only the John Wayne movie “The Searchers” is not on the attraction ride”).
The attraction vehicles take you past beautifully detailed scenes from famous movies as mentioned before and you are even treated to a live “performance” by cast members during the tour. There are 50 audio-animatronics utilized in the ride, many designed by the same artists who worked on the Hall of Presidents. After you are seated in the ride vehicle, the cast member gives a quick spiel, you hear in the background “Action” presumably by Cecil B. DeMille and you begin your journey.
First up is a salute to the Musicals, popular in the ‘30s. The scene is from Busby Berkeley’s “Footlight Parade” with a collection of starlets on a pyramid. The next famous musical is Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain”. You see audio-animatronic Gene singing atop a lamp post in pouring rain, very beautifully done. Next up is the skyline of rooftop chimneys from “Mary Poppins” with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The gangster movies are highlighted next with a turn into a slum area of 1930’s Chicago, which in my opinion is the best detailed scene of the attraction with Tough man James Cagney from “Public Enemy” The next scene is the best. The tour guide stops the vehicle at a red light. While waiting, a cast member costumed as a gangster named Mugsy or a female Mugsi, shows up and the next thing a car with mobsters pulls up and starts shooting. During the barrage, Mugsy displaces the tour guide and hijacks the ride vehicle, shoots out the red light and continues on. The two gangsters behind the barricades are named Squid and Beans. Also, if you look at the license plate on the gangster car, the plate reads…”021-429” That is the date of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The next tribute is the Wild West with stars Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. (A note for trivia buffs…Clint Eastwood and John Wayne never starred in a cowboy movie together!) You enter the spaceship Nostromo from “Alien” and the Alien creature attacks from the wall or the ceiling. Next is the “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, the scene from the Well of Souls, and then on to another Egyptian alter room with statue of Anubis. On the top of the altar is a large red gem. When Mugsy tries to steal the gem, a cloaked guard warns him of a curse, he ignores him and is reduced to a skeleton amid a cloud of steam, another well done scene by Disney. The original tour guide is the guard and rejoins the tour and continues.
From here you enter another chamber full of mummies who come to life and next, a scene from Tarzan, with Jane atop an elephant and Tarzan swinging through the trees. The famous movie “Casablanca” is next, showing the scene with Bogart and Bergman saying goodbye with the Lockheed L-12 Electra Junior idling in the background. (Another trivia note…The other part of the Lockheed L-12 Electra is the tail section in the Jungle Cruise). Next is a movie clip of Mickey Mouse in a scene from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the classic, “Fantasia” The name of the Wizard Mickey is apprentice to is “Yensid” which is Disney spelled backwards. We then enter Munchkin Land from the Wizard of Oz, where the ride vehicle stops, the Witch from the West appears and asks who is responsible for killing her sister. There are Munchkin audio-animatronics all around and they react as the Witch appears. The tour guide answers and she is gone in a puff of smoke. The Munchkin Land set is second in detail to the Chicago scene earlier in my opinion.
We end this ride in a large theatre which shows clips from many classic movies from the 1900’s to the present. This attraction is one that has to be ridden to fully appreciate all the detail that Disney put into the scenes. I cannot tell you how many times we have ridden this attraction! And it seems every time I ride, I will still notice something I have not seen before. Make it a definite stop when you are at the Studios.
Some interesting notes on the Great Movie Ride. The original Footlight Parade scene in the beginning has been modified several times, and is much different than the one now shown. Encumbered with many technical problems the original scene had the cake revolving with water jets as in the movie. But problems with the pumps and the cake mechanism had Imagineers use lighting effects and a Kaleidoscope to achieve some effects. In the Wizard of Oz scene with the witch, she was replaced with a newer designed audio-animatronic “Sarcos” figure. These “robots” move more quickly and with a natural motion aping humans more precisely. Also there are no mentions of pictures made by Universal Studios, Disney’s rival Theme park operator.
The Great Movie Ride motivated the creation of The Hollywood Studios. It was originally intended to be in a themed pavilion at EPCOT called “Great Moments at the Movies”. But Disney CEO Michael Eisner and WDI president Marty Sklar thought the idea could be used for a new theme park, and the Studios began development. There were three attempts to bring a Great Movie Ride to Disneyland. But due to cancelled plans for a “Disney-MGM Studio Backlot” project and budget cuts during the ‘90s, the idea was scrapped. Another misconception is that the Lockheed L-12 Electra Junior was the original plane used during the filming of the Movie “Casablanca” No full-sized plane was used in the movie. The plane in the attraction was used in other films during the 1940’s before purchased by Disney.
The end of the ride was also supposed to be different. Where the movie screen is now, the Wizard of Oz would appear amid flames and state his famous line, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” and curtains either side of the ride vehicles would open up to reveal a live bandit and gangster and along the walls all the animatronic figures seen in the ride would be taking a final bow. This is one of Disney’s most visually stunning attractions, one that is rich in the history of Hollywood’s most famous films. The Hollywood Studios could not have a better “Feature Attraction.”
Contributed by: Bill I. (NDH #35). Bill is our resident historian.