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The 3 Biggest Changes to the Studios

Hollywood Studios has been around for over twenty years now and quite a bit has happened over the course of that time and some has been good and some has been bad, yet the scope of these changes are different and deciding what the biggest changes have been over the course of the years, means looking at which of these changes made the deepest impact in the park and in some ways, continue to affect Hollywood Studios today. 

I spent a good amount of time weighing some of the big changes that have occurred at the Studios, and consider not just their impact at th time, but what the legacy of those changes has been since it occurred.  I'd have to give a lot more value to a change that can still be felt today to one that made a big splash at the time, but has since subsided.  

Addition of the Tower of Terror

The addition of the Tower of Terror back in 1994 is something that completely changed the dynamic of the park from a movie backlot studio/theme park hybrid to being more focused on the theme park aspect.  Before 1994, you had no Sunset Boulevard and a theme park completely based on the concept of the park being a movie studio and just five years after the park opened, Imagineers knew they needed to add more conventional theme park attractions to the park to help with the crowd flow.  The idea for the Tower of Terror came about and it really put the Studios on the map.  Back in 1994, the Great Movie Ride and Backlot Tour were still terrific attractions, but they were not the super-headliner attractions that the park needed.  Tower of Terror singlehandedly brought that must-do attraction to the Studios and became a staple for the park and Walt Disney World in general.  

It made the Sunset Boulevard expansion worth the effort and was so successful and so loved by park guests that Disney has since created three other clones of it in other parks around the world.  In fact, Tower of Terror has also become the focal point for rejuvenating Disney's California Adventure and Disneyland Paris' Studios park in terms of bringing more guests in and generating interest in those parks, just like it did for the Disney-MGM Studios 6 years ago.  Without a doubt, the legacy of the Tower of Terror is that of a mammoth attraction adding real value to a park that needed a boost.

The Addition and Subtraction of Fantasmic!

If there's a lesson to be learned about keeping park guests in a theme park into the late afternoon and evening, it's provide something for them to see at night, namely fireworks.  Fantasmic! is the sort of nighttime spectacle that made the average guest need to stay at Hollywood Studios throughout the day because they wanted to experience this show.  While I really liked Sorcery in the Sky, it never enjoyed the popularity that Fantasmic! has produced.  Part of that is it's an unique show that focuses on story more than just filling the sky with pretty explosions and if Disney knows one thing, it's how to tell a good story.

Just like it's addition in 1998, the reduction in shows that occurred last year has had a negative effect on the park subsequently.  There is no doubt that many of us have changed the manner in which we choose to visit Hollywood Studios based on the schedule of Fantasmic!.  It's no secret I'm not happy with the cuts in the Fantasmic! schedule, and I firmly believe that the cuts have a negative impact on the park on days it does show and on days it does not.  Obviously on days when Fantasmic! is not shown, guests will see no reason to stay and leave before the evening is done to see fireworks at another park.  But even when there is a showing, these shows are so ridiculously crowded that it results in many frustrated guests who find it increasingly more difficult and inconvenient to seeing the show.  While I love Fantasmic! and think its a great part of Hollywood Studios, the cuts in the schedule have tied one proverbial arm behind the park's back in its effort to bring guests past its turnstiles.

The Removal of Animation

Once upon a time when the Disney-MGM Studios first opened, Walt Disney Animation had some of its production done right in the park. Films like Lilo and Stitch, Brother Bear and Mulan were partially or completely produced in the Studios.  However, by the early part of the 21st century, traditional 2D film production seemed to be on its way out and Disney decided to contract its film production back to California.  As a result, the real production that had took place at the Studios went with it.  Given that the theme park was based on the premise of being a working film studio, it really detracted from the appeal of being able to go to the Studios and witness "Disney magic" being made.

The decision to remove the animators from the Studios ended effectively the experiment to have a theme park inside a movie studio and while some minor production is still done today at the Studios, such as costuming, the original intent to make the Studios a Hollywood on the east coast failed and a few short years later, the park was renamed and the scope of the park changed forever.  

Honorable Mentions

  • Removal of Residential Street
  • Addition of Toy Story Midway Mania
  • George Lucas partnership
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About this column

A regular look into Disney's Hollywood Studios, both past and present, with commentary and analysis from Matt Hochberg.


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Posted: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 by