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Defending the Studios

As per usual, I was spending another afternoon browsing some of my favorite Disney sites and reading some interesting articles and then I ran across an article by the guys at Progress City, USA (which is a very interesting blog, by the way) that was talking about ways the blog's author would make Disney World better.  I love reading about ideas to improve the parks and it seems bloggers tend to have some really creative ideas.  I started reading the series and found some ideas I agreed with and others I didn't and then came to an article about how to improve Hollywood Studios, which I can pretty much summarize as needing to be bulldozed.  I freely admit I'm very bias about the Studios, but I felt the need to respond to some of these criticisms because I think some are off base and others I agreed with (believe it or not).

Let's start at the beginning with this statement,

"the Studios is a rampaging Frankenstein’s monster of low expectations, abandoned ambitions and half-finished plans."

You can easily make that statement about any of the parks.  Each of the four parks has been the victim of grandiose ideas followed by cost-cutting slashes to projects that resulted in a watered down result.  Look no further than the original plans for Animal Kingdom (Beastly Kingdom), Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland or Epcot (World Showcase countries, World showcase attractions, Seas pavilion) as starting points.  Every park has big dreams and then reality sets in.  The only park that didn't experience this to an extent was Disneyland because Walt was there to sink in all of his own money.

"There a number of reasons for this, but the main reason the Studios is such a mess nowadays is that it was once a very different theme park with very different purpose."

If you want to talk about a theme park that started out one idea and became a very different park with a different purpose, Epcot is about as grandiose an example as one can find. Epcot was Walt's idea for the perfect city of the future and if you look at those plans and look at Epcot today (or even in 1982), they are about as close in similarity as a Ferrari is to a Ford Taurus.  Yet this doesn't seem to bother folks as much that the original goal of Epcot is nothing like it is today (I should mention the author did call for Epcot to be totally re-done in another blog post). My point is, just because the original vision for the park is lost doesn't mean it's a failure.

"The most daunting problem faced by the Studios is its location. Hemmed in by World Drive on the west and Buena Vista Drive to the north, there’s not much room for expansion."

That's a problem if you're looking to make the park size larger to match the scale of Animal Kingdom or Epcot.  I think the mistake is look outside the Studios' gates when there's is room inside.  Let's not forget that the Backlot Tour and the former animation areas take up a great deal of space.  Now, you can sign me up for bulldozing the Backlot Tour since it's a shell of it's former self and I won't sit here and defend it.  In addition, you have plenty of space in the facilities that were built for the animation and production business that never came to the Studios.  Instead, those bugalows and offices are used by park management as offices.  I'm sure park management can be relocated elsewhere while this area is re utilized for the park.

"The park’s layout made sense when half of it was a working studio and not meant for guest access. The theme park areas – Hollywood Boulevard and Echo Lake – were laid out and themed like traditional Disney attractions. The backstage areas were not intended for guests and thus do not adhere to the design traditions necessary for adequate guest flow. Essentially, as they expanded, Disney had to “fake it” – creating traffic corridors where there were none before, and trying to link areas of the park together that were never intended to commingle."

I beg to differ regarding the difficulty of navigating the park.  It's by no means perfect (Aside from perhaps Epcot, none of the parks are easily navigated by the average guest) and I think the walkways in Asia and Africa at Animal Kingdom are far worse in terms of getting from point A to point B.  Most of the walkways in the backlot area of the park are wider than many walkways in the Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, which makes it far easier to move around without being stalled by slow moving guests ahead of you.  In addition, the unique array of walkways in the Studios makes it remarkably easy to cross the park and get from one side to another in a small amount of time.  Yes, the small size of the park does contribute to that, but even if you're at Lights, Motors, Action and want to get to Sunset Boulevard, there are a few routes you can take that lead you diagonally across the park.  Now consider how one gets from Expedition Everest to Camp Minnie Mickey or Splash Mountain to Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin; You have to walk to the end of the land you're starting in, go to the hub, cross that, enter the new land and get to your destination. At the Studios, it's far easier to get around.  Sure, it's not as pretty on a map to look at, but navigating the park is more of a fluid experience.

"There are no visual “weenies”, no overarching theme, and no sense of place in these areas – it’s just a hodgepodge."

This is a very common misconception.  Outside of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards or Echo Lake, many people do not understand the theme the Backlot area.  Like a real movie Studio, the Backlot area of the Studios is set as if you are looking through the viewfinder of a movie camera.  Think about it...when you look through a camera lens, you only see what's in front of you.  So you pivot 90 degrees one way and you're focused on the entrance to Star Tours and it looks like you're in Endor.  Pivot another 90 degrees (and walk a little) and you're at Muppetvision 3D and in the world of the Muppets.  The attractions are set up like movie sets and just like a movie set, you don't need to have some "overarching theme" between the two beyond the movie studio stuff we see between (guard stations, archways, billboards, etc). Hollywood Studios' Backlot is designed to be the way it is not out of cheapness or lack of vision, but because it's modeled after Hollywood movie studios.

"I’m going to sound like a broken record on this one, but the park needs more dark rides. As of now, it has only two (if you count Toy Story Mania). The only animatronic spectacle of the sort that guests tend to associate with Disney is The Great Movie Ride."

Totally agree here.  I think the Studios has enough (if not too many) stage shows.  Time to invest in more of the Dsiney rides we have all come to love.

"The park also needs more of those small atmospheric touches that make the other parks so unique. It would be a cinch to bring California Adventure’s planned Red Line Trolley to Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard."

I'd love to see the trolley cars come to Hollywood Studios, although that may be easier said than done given some of the challenges, but it'd be nice to see one on Sunset Boulevard, similar to how you can ride the vehicles in the Magic Kingdom from the train station to the hub.  Otherwise, I won't argue against adding more touches, but I do think it has it's fair share of them (Coke bottle? Singing in the Rain umbrella? The well near Indiana Jones?)

"All in all, the park needs logic. It needs a reason to exist, and a purpose for its now seemingly random attractions. Most of all, it needs a master plan that will determine which of the former production areas are available for future expansion, and will prevent major attractions being built in the short-term that would make long-term expansion difficult."

I don't disagree, because I wont sit here and say randomness is the way to go.  Rather, I think budgets need to match the dreams that Imagineers have for the Studios, or any park.  How many times have we heard about what the Imagineers really wanted to do at a given attraction, only to be curtailed by the necessities of a budget?  Any perceived "random attractions" are the result of someone watering down an idea presented to them until it meets whatever budgets they have.  You can make a whole different argument that at that point an idea should be shelved over putting out part of it, but that seems to be the way Disney operates these days. Imagineering presents idea, someone cuts down idea to make it fit fiscal idea, output whatever is left.  For better or worse, that's how it goes unless someone comes with a garbage truck full of cash and offers to pay for it (see American Idol Experience).

"Seriously. Ditch the hat."


The guys at Progress City do a good job with their writings and as you can see, they raised points I agreed with, however, other points either you can say about all the other parks as well or I simply don't see "eye to eye" with them about.  And by no means is this the first time these thoughts have been brought up, yet I wanted to defend the Studios where I felt it needed to be because I don't feel things are as dire as have been made out to be.  No theme park at Disney World is perfect (far from it) and all could definitely use a few billion dollars to make better, but I think singling out the Studios isn't fair either.

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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, January 27, 2010 by