Projection mapping has become a very big part of nighttime spectaculars in the world of theme park entertainment. One of my favorite “canvases” to view projection on is the Chinese Theatre at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But did you know that even if you can’t make it all the way to Florida, you can still see a projection show at another Chinese Theatre on the other side of the country? In fact, it’s the original Chinese Theatre where Disney’s Hollywood Studios got its inspiration.
In 1927, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre opened in Hollywood, California to a lot of pomp and circumstance. It was the biggest and grandest theatre opening at the time, with Hollywood’s biggest stars out for the occasion. That iconic theatre is still a staple of Hollywood history and tourism, albeit under the new name, TCL Chinese Theatre, and with some major interior upgrades throughout the years.
This original Hollywood icon is, of course, what inspired Disney to build their own for the opening of Disney-MGM Studios in 1989. But it wouldn’t be until years later when projection mapping would be used to delight crowds once the sun set on the Hollywood-themed park. Nighttime spectaculars like “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular,” “Disney Movie Magic,” “Wonderful World of Animation,” and more have all been seen bringing the building to life after dark.
Over in the real Hollywood, that same type of projection mapping technology can be seen on the TCL Chinese Theatre in a show they call “Hollywood Lights: The Magic of Movies.” There are obviously quite a few differences between the Disney version and the Hollywood version, aside from it being an entirely different projection show. In Hollywood, the projection show occurs every 20 minutes with a run time of four minutes. Unlike at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there is a busy street in front of the theatre in Hollywood. Therefore, this show is designed to be seen up close as you stand in the theatre’s entryway among the famous hand and foot prints captured in cement.
“Hollywood Lights: The Magic of Movies” features the theatres history, including movies that have premiered and been shown at the venue through the years. This includes several Disney titles. Most famously perhaps is the premiere of “Mary Poppins” in 1964. Also included are “Cinderella” and “Avatar.” And if you’re like me and you still miss The Great Movie Ride inside of Disney’s Hollywood Studios Chinese Theatre, the clips featuring “The Wizard of Oz” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” might make you feel nostalgic. The projection show overall has the same sort of feel we got during the film montage at the end of The Great Movie Ride.
If you’re visiting Hollywood, this is a special moment I would suggest trying to see in person. The projection show does typically run throughout the night, seven nights a week, but I would highly recommend calling TCL Chinese Theatre in advance to make sure the show will be running during the time of your visit. There are a lot of premieres and special events taking place at this iconic theatre which could be a cause for scheduled cancelations. On top of that, sometimes the show goes down for several weeks for maintenance purposes. It’s worth dealing with the hassle of driving and parking in Hollywood in order to catch the show, but it would certainly be frustrating if you went through all of that just to learn the show wasn’t currently scheduled to run.
Had you known about this similarity between the two Chinese Theatres on separate coasts? If you were to project a film montage on the iconic theatre, what is one film you would like to see projected that is a Hollywood staple for you? Leave a comment and let me know.
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Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com. DePaoli’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent Attractions Magazine.