When the hat comes down

John G. (NDI#194) (11 Posts)

John Gray is a curious person who is drawn to other curious people. He is a dreamer and a doer and believes that everyone and everywhere has a story waiting to be told—the trick is in how you tell it.


The Sorcerer's Hat at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Photo Credit: Eddison Moreno, Wikimedia Commons

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.

John G. (NDI#194)

John Gray is a curious person who is drawn to other curious people. He is a dreamer and a doer and believes that everyone and everywhere has a story waiting to be told—the trick is in how you tell it.

6 thoughts on “When the hat comes down

  • Monday, October 10, 2011 at 1:00 am
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    I for one will be the happiest Disney fanboy ever when I no longer see that hate blocking the view of the Chinese Theater.  Ever since opening in 1989 MGM Studios has been my favorite park.  I have heard so many reasons as to why the hat has remained for so long and the one that keeps popping up the most was the park needed an icon with the rights to the Chinese Theater for publicity in question.  I think the hat (in a smaller form than it’s current size) would make a fine addition to it’s originally intended location.  That being the entrance to the Fantasmic Amphitheater.  

  • Monday, October 10, 2011 at 8:26 am
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    I can’t wait for the hat to go the way of the EPCOT wand…to the trash heap.  The symbol of the Studios is and always will be the Chinese Theater.  

    Of course, I’ll believe its gone when I see its gone.  

  • Monday, October 10, 2011 at 11:16 am
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    I’m not sure how I feel about this.  It’s been there since I’ve started coming so I just don’t know what it will look like with it not there.  My daughter loves buying pins under it and she’ll be sad to see it go.

  • Monday, October 10, 2011 at 11:53 pm
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    I am intrigued by this post, as I understood that the Hat was now the “permanent” park icon.  Since the agreement with MGM went away, and the Theater is “their” icon.  I really don’t care one way or the other, but I do like it as the park icon.  I mean, everything printed is going to have to return to the Theater? This will be interesting to watch and see what happens.

  • Friday, October 14, 2011 at 1:54 am
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    The (Grauman’s, formerly Mann’s) Chinese Theater is not an icon owned or attributed to MGM, per se.  MGM is more commonly associated with the roaring lion.

  • Monday, October 17, 2011 at 9:03 am
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    While I would be thrilled to have the Sorcerer’s Hat moved and the theming and original view of the Theater restored, I have to ask: What announcement have you seen that would indicate they are planning to move/remove the Hat any time soon? 

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