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Understanding the story being told

The one aspect of Disney parks that seperate them from your typical theme park operation is the story that is told on multiple levels thoughout the park. The park as a whole, the lands that make up the park and the various attractions all tell stories to the guest and often times these stories intertwine together and it's this story telling ability that make Disney parks unique. Hollywood Studios follows this same model yet many guests don't give the sort of credit the Studios deserves when it comes to the story being told. It's there and you just need to look at the larger picture to understand it.

Let's start with the obvious story being told and that's the one you encounter upon entering Hollywood Studios. The front area of the park, namely Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards and echo lake, make up what has since been called "the Hollywood that never was and always will be". It's the cleaned up, shiny and untarnished version of Hollywood that Imagineers took time to develop very early on and it's the first concept that Imagineers had back when the Studios was merely an Epcot pavilion idea.

Part of how Imagineers tell this story is they incorporated some inspiration from the golden age of Hollywood that the park is based on. The chinese theater, which is home to the Great Movie Ride, is an original version of the theater which tries to bring that classic elegance the theater once enjoyed. Up and down Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards we see buildings that take their architectual inspiration from the classic versions of famous Hollywood buildings. While many of these buildings are either no longer in existance or just fancy store fronts for shops that sell nothing which the store was originally designed to be a home for, the Disney versions are all the classic versions of these buildings and more to the point, the original unchanged versions that made them the famous landmarks they would later become. All of this is to reinforce the idea you are in the Hollywood of the 1920's, 30's and 40's.

What we've looked at thus far is the easy part. Many guests struggle with the story being told outside of the Hollywood area, but it's all linked together. As you leave the classic Hollywood section, you'll notice gateways. You see, the park is basically divided into two main sections; Hollywood and the Backlot. Between these two areas are subtle gateways to mark the change from one to the other. Whether you walk past Echo Lake or down Commissary Lane, you'll notice guard stations complete with working gates. The gates are always open but these gates mark the separation between the two areas of the park and as you pass by these gates, you notice instantly a different theme. Bright colorful tones, chrome and beautiful displays are replaced with basic materials. The reason is you've entered the backlot area, which in a movie studio is "back stage" and it's where the work occurs and outside the view of regular folks. It's for that reason that studios didn't need to have all the glitz that their facades enjoyed. Instead, we find basic metal handrails and no where near the sort of wonderful floral arrangements we found in the front of the park. This visual change is to reinforce the idea you are backstage again.

The Hollywood Studios archway that leads to the Animation Courtard is a reference to the archways that graced many studio lots, most famously the Paramount Studios arch, and once you pass underneath the arch, you find yourself in a different area of the park, just like when you passed by the security gates. Along with all of this are many "sets". If you notice at attractions like Star Tours or Toy Story Midway Mania or Muppetvision references to Soundstages and this refers to the fact you are in the backlot and these soundstages are currently showing whichever attraction you happen to see now but perhaps later on we'll find something else in there just like if you were in a movie backlot, you may find one film being filmed there today but in 6 months something different. The idea here is that by simply changing where the camera is being shot, you can make it look like you're somewhere else. So turn one way and you're looking at a world of the Muppets and a 90 degree turn another way and you're on the streets of New York and one more turn and you're in the Star Wars galaxy. Each attraction tells a distinct story while the sum of these attractions tells the story of what Hollywood production is like and that's having a number of different productions occuring in the same backlot.

So while some guests think the overall theme of the Studios isn't as well done as say the Magic Kingdom, it's important to take into account the story being told by Imagineers in the Studios and in fact, the theme of the Studios of Hollywood and the production that is at the center of it is being told extraordinally well and it's just as tight-knit a story as you may find in any of the Disney parks; you just have to understand what's being told to you as you walk around the park to truely immerse yourself in the world Imagineers created.

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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, May 05, 2009 by