Remembering the studios in Disney's Hollywood Studios

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

From the feature:

Instead of roller coasters and thrill rides like a traditional theme park, Disney-MGM Studios aspired to be something different — a place to make movies and TV shows. Could it help Orlando become Hollywood East?

But that vision — a place where tourists could see real movie-making magic at work — faltered over the years. The studios that were supposed to produce the hits shut down. The animators packed up their desks. The Mouseketeers from “The Mickey Mouse Club” grew up.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

A couple of thoughts that nobody will care about.

When I worked at Disney in 1992/1993 I was asked to be an extra during filming of the Mickey Mouse Club. A couple of my friends and I were walking through the park early one day and a "casting agent" approached us. We thought it was just a street performer during her thing but it turns out we were lead into one of the sound stages, taken to a dressing room and before we knew it we were on the stage as background actors in a scene taking place in a restaurant. I don't think we were there more than an hour or two and then we were on our way to ride the Great Movie Ride or some other thing.

Personally, I was also surprised to see a photo of Pierce Brosnan that accompanied this story. I was in the audience the day of that interview and actually asked him a question about the possibility of him one day playing James Bond. He shared with the audience that he had been approached in earlier years but his contract during Remington Steele would not allow it. He did say he hoped to have the opportunity again in the future...and Golden Eye would come just a few years later.

In my opinion Hollywood Studios had an energy and a buzz about it back during that time that has never returned. The idea that you may run into a celebrity at any point was exciting. To see an actual production being filmed wasn't something you would see at Six Flags. As a fan of animation it was awesome to see animated movies being produced right there at the park.

Ok, that's it. Cranky old guy returning to work.

bjames's avatar

It reminds me of Universal Studios....except Universal did the concept better,

"The term is 'amusement park.' An old Earth name for a place where people could go to see and do all sorts of fascinating things." -Spock, Stardate 3025

Universal Hollywood does it thru there Backstage Tour excellent to this day with updating the tour from time to time. But it is mostly a filmstudio, not like you can just walk in and watch a movie being shot or run into stars.

Disney never had a chance in Florida, the industry is in Hollywood. It is fun to see a sitcom being live taped,I went so many times, always great. Whoever had the idea to move Hollywood to Florida is sure out of a job now.

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I'm not sure I agree completely with that. Disney-MGM was firing on all cylinders for a much so that they added Tower of Terror and the Rock N Rollercoaster fairly early on to meet the demand and increase the capacity of the park. The problem, in my opinion, was the core of the park. Was it worth a revisit? If you did the backstage tour once would you do it again...and again..and again when it really didn't get much of an upgrade? Seeing the animators once was interesting...but would you see them over and over again unless you were a true animation nut?

I think that was the real problem. And, the shows got old in the tooth. Indian Jones relatively unchanged for 20+ years. Mermaid, Great Movie Ride also more of the same. Maybe they had too much invested in the licensing arrangements? I don't know. But adding some new scenes to the GMR or going a new direction with Indian Jones may have helped.

The loss of the actual studios was definitely a bummer, but I still think they did the storytelling thing pretty well and made it seem as if you were entering old Hollywood. I used to really enjoy watching the street actors do the impromptu shows. The problem lately has simply been a lack of stuff to do in the park. Rockin' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror are two of my all time favorite rides/attractions out there anywhere. But they don't make a whole park.

I think in the next year that whole issue will be long gone. And the crowds will be unlike anything Central Florida has seen since Potter opened.

Boy, I fact-checked before I started typing (for once) and I’m glad I did. I was about to say that the Disney park was an answer to Universal, but that’s not the case. Disney’s park opened in 89 and Uni’s first park opened in 90. Which I still find hard to believe, but if Wikipedia says it’s true...
And no matter. I can’t go so far as to say Universal was created to compete with Disney, but it’s clear they were created around the same time and each company must’ve had the competition in mind. Or at least saw an opportunity. And in the end we wound up with two awesome Studio parks one at one end of the Orlando strip and one at the other.

Remember too, that Disney’s park was originally MGM and the production aspect of the park was influenced by them. When the agreement ended the studio buildings were converted to other attractions, and that was the smart thing for Disney to do. Eventually even the studio tour ride seemed passé and out of place there. I agree with BrettV that while it’s been a long time coming, in a couple of years Disney’s park will be complete with fantastically themed areas, the response will be bombastic, the transformation will be complete, and everyone will forget about the other crap.

It’s lucky for us that both parks exist. It keeps everyone on their toes and nobody falls into complacency. The hits just keep on coming.

Last edited by RCMAC,
ApolloAndy's avatar

For some reason I also thought MGM was a response to Universal. I will trust your fact checking without independent verfication, though.

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

kpjb's avatar

I've always heard that MGM was fast tracked as a result of Universal's announcement (or maybe just when they found out that they were buying up that much land.) MGM opened first, but it still was a result of the other guy moving in down the street.


hambone's avatar

There's a summary of the way it happened here:

  • In 1981, MCA Universal announced that it would build a Florida version of the Universal Studios tour
  • In 1985, Disney announced it would open its studios park by 1988 (obviously didn't hit that)
  • That seems to have stalled the Universal project for a while
  • In 1986, MCA Universal finally found an investor and started work

So pretty much, your memories are correct - Universal had the idea first but Disney beat them to the punch.

ah HA!

If you go back a little further Disney-MGM was actually the product of an Epcot attraction that was on the drawing board. When Eisner and Wells got to Disney they were looking over everything that was being planned (Eisner's son is often pointed out as the reason Splash Mountain was greenlit) and found a Hollywood pavilion in the works for Epcot. Seeing the Universal Florida park in the works and with Eisner/Wells' Hollywood background...a Disney Studios park seemed like a smart business move.

There is some more behind the scenes tales of Eisner being shown the plans for Universal Florida and being accused of stealing some of the ideas when Disney went forward with their park.

The competition to be first hurt bother parks. Disney-MGM was too small with too little capacity when it was opened. Universal tried to go big and missed on a number of their attractions, notably Jaws. That all being said, I think history has proven that the competition has been to the benefit of the theme park crowd.

TheMillenniumRider's avatar

Disney did beat Universal to the market, mainly because Eisner was president of Paramount when MCA approached them for a partnership for the Florida park. Eisner knew a great deal of what Universal planned to build, and when they announced the park in 86, Eisner was now in a position to rush his own park to market, which was basically a copy of what Universal was planning to build.

Universal Florida was going to share much more with Hollywood when it opened, Kong, Earthquake, and Jaws were going to be scenes on the studio tour, once Disney took that from them, they ending up making them each their own full attractions, and it went on from there.

If Eisner didn't steal their idea, Universal would have started as a very different park.

So yes, DHS was an answer to USF.

Last edited by TheMillenniumRider,
Jeff's avatar

I don't think that's true that Universal missed getting Jaws open, because I did it in the summer of 1990 during the soft opening. In fact, there were some intermittent openings, like Kongfrontation, but I think all of the core attractions were open.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

99er's avatar

JAWS opened with the park but closed shortly after for a pretty long time. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t until 1993 that it was finally done with all of its problems and open fulltime.


TheMillenniumRider's avatar

Jaws was closed for a full rebuild during that timeframe as the original attraction was deemed unsustainable. Universal contracted with Intamin for the boat and track systems. ITEC Productions handled the sharks, programming, and effects. Interesting that the company who did so well with Jaws brought us the ugly beige box on the beach in Ohio.

Jeff is right. It did open briefly before being shut back down for about 3 years to basically be rebuilt.

TheMillenniumRider said:[/i
Interesting that the company who did so well with Jaws brought us the ugly beige box on the beach in Ohio.

Ya gets what ya pays for...

Last edited by RCMAC,

The first time we vacationed at WDW in 1992, the studio tour seemed monumental. Going from room to room... seeing animators at work... the costume department... performances about how special effects were produced... the tram tour, past the front of the Golden Girls' house and into the canyon (something my father still talks about to this day as one of his all-time favorite Disney attractions)... by the time we were deposited into the fake streets of NYC, it felt as if hours had gone by, and we had seem something truly groundbreaking. I miss that. Tower of Terror has been the reason to go to that park since it debuted (1994?), but there was something special about that studio tour.

The early years of that tour were fantastic. Combined with the queue in the prop shop and the preshow with the water effects and audience participation was an outstanding experience.

Once the "residential street" was removed for the car show and the wardrobe area was just ride op costumes, it had long jumped the shark and was, quite frankly, an embarassment. But the early years of that tour were wonderful.

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