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Looking back on 20 years

This Friday marks the 20th anniversary of Disney's Hollywood Studios, formerly the Disney-MGM Studios, and it's by no means a national holiday but certainly a lot has happened in the past 20 years at the Studios and I wanted to take some time to recall some of the biggest events and changes to occur at the Studios in those 20 years.

5. One Man's Dream

Many guests agree that while Walt Disney World is a wonderful vacation destination, it lacks any substantive link to the man whom is responsible for making it a reality and during the 100 Years of Magic celebration, Disney agreed and added an attraction the detailed the life and times of Walt Disney and I think the attraction balances telling Walt's story without crossing the line of becoming too preachy. It's a wonderful introduction to what the man stood for and what he did in his life for those who weren't around during Walt's lifetime and home to many memories for those who grew up with "Uncle Walt" a part of their childhoods. Thankfully the attraction remains open despite the 100 Years of Magic celebration being over for many years now so that future guests can continue to learn about Walt and we can have sometime to pay homage to the man who really did start it all.

4. Addition of Sunset Boulevard

I really feel like Hollywood Boulevard has a wonderful theme to it and it does a great job of selling you on the idea that you are really in the Hollywood of the 1930's and 40's. The architecture is really well done and nearly every detail seems to be well done. When Disney decided to add Sunset Boulevard, it's certainly hard to contend with the standard; it's like adding another street to Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom and trying to out do yourself. I really feel like Disney hit a home run with Sunset Boulevard. First and foremost, Disney Imagineers took the lead from Hollywood Boulevard and it's rich architectural heritage to create another street with some even more stunning architecture. What I really love is how the street flows nicely into both the Hollywood Hills amphitheater (home to Fantasmic!) and the grounds of the Tower of Terror. It really doesn't feel like these areas are out of place and it looks and feels great. In addition, you have a lot of variety in the counter service offerings and overall I think the entire area flows well together and really compliments Hollywood Boulevard.

3. Streetmosphere

Before the Studios came into existence, street theater was largely minimal at Walt Disney World. In the Magic Kingdom you'd have a few acts such as the Mayor or the Dapper Dans but largely that sort of entertainment was no where near the center of attention when it came to the scope of the park but at the Disney-MGM Studios, Imagineers took a bit of a gamble on placing a lot of the entertainment around something they called "streetmosphere" and it has since paid off many times over. If you can take some time to stop and enjoy these acts, you will quickly see why they draw the crowds they do and why it's been a regular part of the Studios for these 20 years. These very talented actors put on a great performance and no matter what happens, it seems to never phase them. You can read more about the history of streetmosphere here, but because of the Studios, this brand of entertainment has been more widely used around Walt Disney World because guests really respond to it.

2. Toy Story Midway Mania

Prior to 2008, I never would have believed any attraction that Disney could add could really draw crowds away from the mega-hit attractions on Sunset Boulevard. It was inconcievable to me that a single attraction could really contend for crowds but lo and behold, Toy Story Midway Mania did just that. It has become an absolute smash hit with guests of all ages and become the attraction in the Studios to try to experience. It combines a wonderful theme, fun ride and a great assortment of characters to create the attraction we've come to enjoy today. Despite it not even being open for one full year yet, it's become one of those signature Walt Disney World attractions that guests come to expect on their trips here.

1. Fantasmic!

Without a doubt, the largest obstacle the Studios faced early on was convincing guests to stay for the entire day and despite some very popular attractions, they just couldn't get beyond this issue. That was until Disney decided to bring it's hit show Fantasmic! from Disneyland over to Disney World and Fantasmic! has settled into becoming a guest favorite to end their day at the Studios. What I think separates this from the usual fireworks shows is it's not just about fireworks, rather, a story is at the center of the show and it uses some great visual effects to tell the story. It's hard to not be inspired when you see the lake light on fire or the water screens show film clips. Of course, beyond being a great show, it largely gave guests a good reason to stay at the Studios beyond the afternoon parade and along with some of the additions mentioned before, helped make the Studios a favorite of many guests.

There is basically a listing of the changes that I'm quite fond of at the Studios and I'm happy to celebrate twenty years of the Studios. You may have your own list of your top five and there's definitely a few changes I wish I could have added to this list. Don't forget that this Friday is the actual 20th anniversary and Studios Central will be blogging live from Hollywood Studios all day Friday and Saturday and you can follow along here.

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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: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 by