By Mitchell Stein
After 28 glorious years of operation, Disney is shuttering the doors of the attraction that once defined the beauty and spectacle of Disney-MGM Studios. As the park’s only remaining opening day attraction, The Great Movie Ride will perform its final run today, Aug. 13, 2017. The closure of The Great Movie Ride is saddening, not only because it’s a wonderful attraction that perfectly executes the theme of the park, but because its closure means the end of the theme the very park was built on for nearly 30 years. The Great Movie Ride was so much more than just a ride, it was what held everything together within the park, and with its closure, everything we associate with the park’s theme needs to be called into question.
The park once known as Disney-MGM Studios, and now known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios, has been shedding its “studio” theme for quite some time. The park is no longer a working studio as it once was, as there are no films or television series currently filming there. In addition, the park no longer provides contributions to Disney’s animated projects, as actual animators were removed from The Magic of Disney Animation attraction years before it closed down entirely in 2015. Even more so, Disney has gone so far as to omit everything else that resembled the original studio theme, including the Backlot Tour, the Streets of America, and Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. Above all this however, was the park’s defining attraction, The Great Movie Ride, which helped maintain the idea that this park was a celebration of the movies, and the golden era of Hollywood, or as former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner once described it, “a Hollywood that never was, and always will be”.
Without it, it’s quite unclear what the underlying theme is tying together franchises like Star Wars, The Muppets and Toy Story. But it seems the park has gone from one that celebrates movies by taking you through the collaborative behind-the-scenes process of your favorite films, to one that simply immerses you inside those specific films. The park is certainly shining a light on the “movies” aspect of it, but the resort’s management is confusing the park as one that simply features your favorite movies, and one that celebrates the collaborative process and the hard work that goes into producing that movie magic. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been Walt Disney World’s black sheep for several years now, but without a single attraction containing the former theme of the park, not to mention not a single attraction left from the park’s opening day, the future of the park is quite uncertain.
The near future of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is anything but dull. Disney is well into their multi-billion dollar, 14-acre-wide Star Wars themed area, set to open in 2019, and the upcoming Toy Story Land, which opens next summer, not to mention the new Mickey-themed attraction, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which is replacing The Great Movie Ride. The only issue is, Walt Disney World is now faced with the challenge of redefining the theme underlying the entire park; one that’s gone from being about the celebration of cinema to solely being a location in which Disney can incorporate synergy within their most popular franchises. Two years ago, Disney CEO Bob Iger let slip that “Disney’s Hollywood Studios” will likely receive another name change; likely to omit the “Hollywood” or “studio” aspect of the park. Disney fans are divisive over the legacy Iger will leave the Disney Parks and Resorts upon his departure, many claiming he has done little to upkeep the “themes” of each park, such as placing intellectual properties in areas that detract from the theme, such as Guardians of the Galaxy in Epcot, a park dedicated to human innovation and culture. Another, is the instance of the Guardians attraction in Disney’s California Adventure, which now sees an intergalactic space port right in the middle of the golden era of Hollywood’s Buena Vista Street.
At Disney, theme and story have, and always will, be the most important factors in which the Imagineering team chooses to create their attractions. Sometimes however, this importance is blindsided and it causes the loss of great attractions that detract from the story these parks once set out to tell. While we’re certainly going to keep enjoying the Disney theme parks, and we’re very likely to enjoy Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, the hollow feeling left by The Great Movie Ride will not only leave us disappointed at the loss of the pinnacle of great dark-ride attractions, but it’s something that will ultimately redefine the park as we know it. As they say in Hollywood … that’s a wrap.
• Mitchell Stein is the owner and operator of the Disney fan-site The Mickey Mindset, which is dedicated to celebrating all things pertaining to The Walt Disney Company’s films and properties. You can find The Mickey Mindset on Facebook or by following @MickeyMindset on Twitter.