When you hear “Magic Kingdom,” one of the first images likely to pop into your mind is Cinderella Castle. With Epcot, it’s Spaceship Earth, and the Tree of Life for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. But what icon do you picture when someone says to you, “Disney’s Hollywood Studios”? Since the very beginning of what was originally named Disney-MGM Studios, the park has had a bit of an icon identity crisis. There never has been just one iconic “weenie” for this park that I love so much.
In 1989, when Disney-MGM Studios first opened, one could argue the park had two icons: one would be the Chinese Theatre, which originally housed the beloved attraction, The Great Movie Ride; and the other icon would have been the studio water tower adorned with Mickey ears, endearingly named the “Earffel Tower.” I feel like the company leaned more toward the Earffel Tower as the park icon, but the reality is that it was in a backstage area you couldn’t easily see until taking the studio tour. As much as I truly loved (and miss) the Earffel tower, I believe a park icon is something you should be able to walk past throughout the day and pose in front of for a photo. This was certainly not the case for the water tower.
In the case of the Chinese Theatre, this large building is not only an icon of real-life Hollywood, but it was also placed right at the end of Hollywood Boulevard (the park’s Main Street) right where you might expect to see a castle in a standard Disney castle park. Its location, which is easily seen upon first entering the park, and its size make it a great park icon in my eyes.
In 1994, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened at Disney-MGM Studios and continues to be one of the park’s most popular attractions. The company does tend to highlight The Hollywood Tower Hotel as the park icon. Currently, if you were to open your Walt Disney World mobile app, the small graphic representing Disney’s Hollywood Studios is indeed the Tower of Terror. This has swapped back and forth a bit through the years.
In 2001, things got even more complicated with the addition of the giant and poorly-placed Sorcerer’s Hat directly in front of the Chinese Theatre. This oversized Sorcerer’s Hat was one of the first things you would see when entering the park, and it was certainly large enough to view from many locations. The Walt Disney Company made this the new park icon, but alas, the Sorcerers Hat was removed in 2015. An entire generation of kids who grew up only knowing this park with the Sorcerers Hat were devastated. I was thrilled to get back the view of the Chinese Theatre, which I feel should be the park’s icon from here on out and should have been since Day One for the aforementioned reasons.
The Chinese Theatre is here to stay. Even when this space was completely gutted to install Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, the exterior was kept pretty much untouched because it’s such an iconic landmark. Like a lot of other park icons, there are also several projection-mapping shows that take place on its exterior.
I know what you’re thinking: The same can be said about The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, but I personally feel that the Tower of Terror could change any day now. I’m not saying that it would necessarily become Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! like its West Coast counterpart, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it eventually changed and therefore leaving the park’s icon status in limbo again. With the Chinese Theatre, I love the idea of a Day-One building with its size and placement being the official park icon.
This concept of park icon confusion isn’t entirely unique to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as the same problem can be found at Disney California Adventure. Originally, it felt like Disney wanted Grizzly Peak to be the icon. Sometimes they tried to force Sunshine Plaza as an icon. These days it could be the Pixar Pal-A-Round, Mission: BREAKOUT! or my personal favorite option, the Carthay Circle Restaurant.
Overall, a Disney Park just doesn’t feel entirely complete without a “weenie” in it as iconic as Cinderella Castle. I truly wish that Disney’s Hollywood Studios would commit to an icon, whether it’s my first choice or not.
What do you consider to be Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ icon? Has it changed in your mind through the years? Do you have a favorite? Leave a comment and let me know.
If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
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.