Today, May 1, 2009, marks the 20th anniversary of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. When it opened two decades ago as the Disney-MGM Studios, it was Walt Disney World’s third theme park rand revolved around the idea of television and movie-making.
In honor of the 20th anniversary, Disney held a special rope-drop ceremony this morning at 8 a.m. featuring vice president of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Rilous Carter, and a few of their Citizens of Hollywood “streetmosphere” characters:
Imagineering Talks Studios History
Following the opening festivities, guests were invited to attend talks delivered by Walt Disney Imagineers Bob Weis, Tom Fitzgerald, and Eric Jacobson (pictured here with Disney’s Hollywood Studios vice president Rilous Carter), all of whom worked on the creation of the now 20-year-old theme park. The sessions were given in the Premiere Theater and featured the history of how the park came to be, focusing on imagery of the park’s design and construction processes.
Unfortunately, no recording or photography was allowed during the sessions, so while we can’t bring you a video, we can offer a summary of what was discussed.
The Sorcerer Mickey Hat
The most crowd-pleasing moment of the talk came when the Imagineers were flipping through slides of the park nearing completion and came across a picture of the park’s full-size replica of Graumann’s Chinese Theater, prior to being blocked by the giant Sorcerer Mickey Hat that was built directly in front of it back in 2000. Upon seeing the image, Imagineer Bob Weis quickly commented, “And this is my favorite view of the Chinese Theater. You can’t get this view anymore. You may be aware of that. But I hope that we will get this view again some time soon.” (The picture below is our photo from today – not the one shown in the presentation.)
Loud applause and cheers erupted from the Disney fan-filled audience, as the removal of the hat has been called for by many fans since its installation. Imagineer Eric Jacobson followed the applause by joking, “I see there’s mixed opinions on that. I’ll be taking some names on the way out. We’ll have a little sign up sheet.”
Later in the presentation, the Imagineers ran through photo slides of some of the most recent major additions to the park including the Tower of Terror, Fantasmic, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, calling out each attraction by name as it appeared on the screens. Then came an image of the Sorcerer Mickey Hat, at which point the Imagineers said nothing and simply moved on to the next slide, much to the delight of the audience.
Could the obvious disdain for the Sorcerer Hat by these Imagineers mean that it is actually on its way out? Maybe not any time soon, but at least we know that some of the top Imagineers have the same negative feelings about it that many (most?) Disney fans do.
Other Notable Moments
The Imagineer session lasted a little over an hour and mainly covered the creation of the most basic elements of the park. Images were shown of the various facades that line the park’s versions of Hollywood and Sunset Blvd., paired with photos of the real buildings that inspired each one in Hollywood, Calif. Imagineer Bob Weis made note of the fact that Hollywood, Calif. in real life during the ’80s was not the nicest place to be and the version of Hollywood depicted in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is an idealized version, much in the same way that the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA doesn’t really exist.
Early concepts described for the still-running, though often-altered Backlot Tour included a “Dailies Theater,” in which daily clips from ongoing movie productions would be shown – until the Imagineers realized they couldn’t legally show those clips.
Instead, the version of the Backlot Tour that opened with the park included peeks into the movie-making process through short films. The Imagineers noted that, at the time, “making-of” features weren’t as common as they are today, so showing the movie-making process was a treat for park guests.
To illustrate this, the audience today was shown three short films that were seen daily when the park first opened. They showed a short film called The Lottery starring Bette Midler, which was shot in the New York section of the park. They also mentioned that originally, the New York streets were not designed for foot traffic but were instead part of the Backlot Tour tram route.
Also shown to the audience today was “Michael and Mickey,” directed by Jerry Rees and featuring Michael Eisner, Mickey Mouse, Roger Rabbit, Chernabog, and various other characters piling into a movie theater. This short combined live-action and 2-D animation in a similar style as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. It was used in the park as an introduction to movie trailers for upcoming Disney films.
Finally, a few other celebrity clips introducing different aspects of movie-making were shown to today’s crowd, including a hilarious back-and-forth routine featuring Mel Gibson and Pee-Wee Herman dubbing over each others’ lines, demonstrating the automatic dialogue replacement (ADR) process.
Overall, it was the Imagineers’ intent in designing Disney’s Hollywood Studios to capture the feeling and magic of the 10% of television and movie-making that is the most interesting and fun, without boring park guests with the 90% that is far less interesting.
One final interesting note from today’s talk was that 20 years ago, many movie studios did not realize how valuable their movie props were and, according to the Imagineers, several original Star Wars props could at one time be found simply sitting on shelves as park decorations – that is, before someone realized they should probably be housed safely in a museum somewhere. [Read more…]