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A change in direction

Sometimes news doesn't really sink in until something tangible appears to really put words into action and I think the recent American Idol announcement was that tangible evidence of the change of direction the Studios has been under culminating with the name change of the park. We all knew Disney was going to alter the direction of the Studios, from a real working Hollywood Studio that allowed park guests to be a part of to bringing a piece of Hollywood to the masses. If the mountain won't come to Mohamed, then Mohamed must come to the mountain, right (or something like that)? Disney's change in the direction of the Studios is a reflection of a change that has really been in place for a while now.

The Studios changing direction really isn't a first for Disney. With Epcot, Disney opened a park in 1982 that really focused on education and foresight, ignoring purposefully characters, Disney magic and other elements direct from the Magic Kingdom. Disney learned park guests wanted some of that pixie dust along with their Utopian views for the future and the park has been reworked ever since to bring a little "more Disney" to the park. Same goes for the recent announcement regarding Disney's California Adventure out in Disneyland. A change of direction is something that seems to affect more and more Disney parks and the Studios is following on the heels of that change.

The Studios first opened as a peek into real Hollywood production. Animation was being done at the Studios along with live action production of films and television. It was Disney's attempt to not just build a theme park about Hollywood films (read: Universal Studios) but to add an element that would be unparalleled. Turns out that the idea was good, but not very practical and real production of any kind has disappeared from the Studios for the most part. So Disney has changed and begun bringing instead of real Hollywood to the Studios, just postcard sized Hollywood to the park. American Idol is the beginning of the change, in that it's a small, watered down version of the bonanza that is the television show. Yet, it will aim to be an authentic look at how the show is pulled off, with makeup and a lot of production value to it.

Going back before Idol, Disney Imagineers were making this change earlier with Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. Think about it...Disney replaced the Residential Street section of the Backlot Tour, which is real Hollywood production, with Lights, Motors, Action!, which is a glimpse into how vehicular stunts are performed. Disney went from the grand scope of real production to a choreographed demonstration; a postcard version. It's not to say what Disney did was wrong, it's a signal of the change of direction Disney wants to go with. Promising real Hollywood production is just too grand a target to deliver to park guests on a daily basis, however, an orchestrated show that can perform a number of times each day that gives that feel of Hollywood is much easier to create for guests.

What's beyond American Idol? Where will this direction bring the Studios as we move forward? If Disney will continue with the trend they've embarked on, one has to think the Backlot Tour could be the next target of the bulldozer, although in it's current form it's already conformed to that postcard sized new Hollywood theme; no more real production, just some water tank demonstrations, some old props and Catastrophe Canyon thrown in for good measure. Some are upset with the change, missing the old Studios and what it tried to do, while others may yet embrace the new change as needed. Regardless, the Studios we will see in the next 5-10 years will likely be very different from what it looked like as the former Disney-MGM Studios on it's final day this past January. To put that in perspective, think of Epcot today compared to Epcot in 1994 or even 1984.

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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, February 20, 2008 by