Friday, May 1, 2009


On May 1, 1989, The Walt Disney Company officially opened the "doors" to its third gate in Orlando - The Disney-MGM Studios. Part theme park and part working production center, on opening day it boasted a nearly 2-hour tram and walking Backlot Tour as well as Imagineering's crown jewel of the park, "The Great Movie Ride"...housed inside a faithful recreation of Grauman's Chinese Theater. All done up in the architectual styles of art-deco and streamline moderne, it was an old-Hollywood dream come true. Then Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Michael Eisner (Boo! Hiss!) read the following prepared statement on opening day:

"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."

I've always loved this park, and it was probably the beginnings of my affinity for the bygone-days of the real Hollywood. The park really got good (in my opinion) in 1994, with the addition of the "Sunset Boulevard" area, and the opening of the icon of the East side - The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The haunted-hotel-possessed-elevator attraction would go on to be copied at Disney's California Adventure, The Walt Disney Studios in France, and Tokyo DisneySea in Japan. But without a doubt, the entire experience would never be as perfectly replicated as it was in Florida.

For all the other good things to speak of (Star Tours! Muppet*Vision 3D! Voyage of the Little Mermaid!), attention must be paid to two seriously misguided missteps in the park's history. ONE: The addition of a gigantic Sorcerer Mickey hat, placed squarely in front of the park's 'weenie' - the Chinese Theater / Great Movie Ride. TWO: The bulldozing and paving over of Residential Street, where trams used to drive by facades of famous TV and movie homes...most notably the house from The Golden Girls. It would be replaced by an automobile stunt show. Sad times.

2008 brought the long-time-coming official name change. Once the agreement with MGM to use their name in the park expired, it was time to re-evaluate what they now had to offer. After all, little-to-nothing was actually being produced/filmed on site anymore, and the Backlot Tour was being repeatedly trimmed down. The emphasis was not so much on being a working production facility anymore as it was on just being a theme park. And with that, "Disney-MGM Studios" officially became "Disney's Hollywood Studios". After all, it's a state of mind - remember?

20 years later - despite many changes - the park's original mission statement is still alive and well. Driving by the Earfel Tower will always make me smile, Florida's version of Fantasmic! will always make me laugh, and it's always refreshing to walk down Sunset Boulevard and not get accosted by a homeless person. Happy 20th Anniversary, Disney's Hollywood Studios!

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