The hat is coming down. Soon. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the giant Sorcerer Mickey hat, enjoyed by some and hated by others, will be removed, or more likely moved to take up residence elsewhere. Walt Disney Imagineering installed the massive structure for the 100 Years of Magic celebration in late 2001 but it was never meant to be permanent. Because of a few financial quirks it stayed in its location for longer than was intended, however the time has come and the hat will soon be gone. I wonder, will Hollywood Studios lose some of its magic without its magical icon? What happens when the hat does come down?
Disney-MGM Studios, as it was called, was dedicated to the magic of moviemaking, taking you inside the movies, letting you see what goes on behind the curtain. Disney paired with the MGM brand, presented attractions and stage shows about moviemaking, and even gave guests a chance to see real on-site filming. You never knew what you were going to find around the next corner, if it was even a corner at all (or just a movie set). Eventually the park put on the hat, the symbol of Disney magic, or perhaps borrowed it the same way Mickey ‘borrowed’ his master’s hat in Fantasia.
But what does it mean to put on the hat in the first place? It seems that when one borrows the hat, energetic fun and well intended mischief follow, but when one owns the hat restraint and control lead the way. Just look at the difference between the magic Mickey creates and the magic the sorcerer creates. With the hat on, initially exciting new doors open, but it seems the longer it is worn the wearer goes from creating spontaneous storms to gentle butterflies made of smoke.
Disney-MGM Studios was a park whose initial concept was defeated by the very industry it celebrated. The fickle nature of Hollywood changed everything. Filming in the park became unfeasible, DVDs brought ‘behind the scenes’ content right into our homes which meant Disney had to change directions to stay unique, and a classic Hollywood contract dispute meant the end of the Disney-MGM branding rights.
Now Disney/MGM Studios is called Disney’s Hollywood Studios, still spectacular in execution but with perhaps a little less energy and buzz. Now there is control. Was Hollywood and the changing time to blame, or is there something else? Maybe it is the hat, that magical symbol that initially generates so much excitement, that has quieted the storm.
Obviously this is all musing, just gazing into Disney’s navel, I’m certainly looking forward to seeing the Chinese Theater again like most everyone else. It is interesting, however, to track the evolution of three major Disney institutions that have put on the sorcerer’s hat: Mickey Mouse, Hollywood Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering. All began as plucky upstarts, all put on and now own the hat in one form or another (see Imagineering’s logo), and all now have absolute mastery over their own brand of magic. Imagineering has perfected the art of immersive storytelling, Hollywood Studios is the best movie theme park experience and Mickey will always be the king of the cartoon. All have achieved control. All are magical. All wear the hat.
Where does the magic lie? Is the hat itself magical, needing a disciplined individual to harness its power, or, like most Disney symbolism, is the hat just a physical representation of the magic that exists within the wearer? Remember, at the end of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice it is Mickey’s master who parts the waters and calms the storm—all without his hat.
So I wonder, what happens when the hat does come down? Is the hat something that helps make magic possible or is it immaterial? Will the park lose a big burst of blue magic waiting at the end of Hollywood Boulevard or, with the removal of its magical symbol, will Disney’s Hollywood Studios look back inside to find the magic that was there all along?
Contributed by: John Gray (NDI#194). John is the Imagineering blogger.