The Great Movie Ride is the last opening day attraction from the Disney-MGM Studios to close, ending its run just short of three decades. As Walt Disney World attractions go, this is one of the more iconic ones to ever close, and is a bitter or bittersweet end, depending upon who you ask.
In my “That’s a Wrap!” post, I already covered all of the sweeping changes to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, how I feel about them, and what I think about the future of this park that has long had an identity crisis. I won’t rehash those here. Not just because it’s ground already covered, but because I think it’s irrelevant.
Great Movie Ride did not utilize the ‘working studio’ conceit. The slow peeling back of the working studio layers in Disney’s Hollywood Studios have changed the fundamental nature of the park, but that’s been separate from Great Movie Ride. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, it was the perfect opening act to any theme park about the entertainment industry, whether that be the Disney-MGM Studios, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or Disney Hollywood Adventure…
No matter how Walt Disney World’s ‘Hollywood’ park has changed or will change, Great Movie Ride always has and always would provide an excellent primer to the park. Offering a whirlwind tour through exemplars of classic movies and their genres, the purpose of the attraction was to get guests excited about the movies.
In the era when Backlot Tour was the park’s longest and most iconic attraction, Great Movie Ride acted as its preface. Although counterintuitive given their reverse chronological order, Great Movie Ride offered a glimpse at the end result, offering an elucidation as to why you should care about the filmmaking process.
More than that, it was a fun standalone experience. You had a long, slow-moving dark ride through beautifully-designed and staged scenes, a ton of Audio Animatronics, and Cast Member delivering a live spiel.
There was also the ‘hijacking’ framing device that tied a few of the scenes together, and also prevented the attraction from wearing out its welcome.
The execution of this all was a mixed bag. I think the goal was probably to make this like a reverse Purple Rose of Cairo, with guests feeling like they were jumping onto the screen for an immersive tour of various movies. At times, that’s exactly how Great Movie Ride felt. During other scenes, it felt like a passive ride past movie sets.
As a kid, the most memorable scene was unquestionably Alien…
You’re with Sigourney Weaver aboard the spaceship Nostromo. Something has gone wrong. One by one the crew has vanished, and somewhere within the ship, a terrifying creature waits to claim its next victim.
WARNING: Remain in your vehicles, the area you are entering is extremely dangerous!
Not only was this scene chills-inducing and startling, but it was the pinnacle of Great Movie Ride in terms of suspending disbelief.
It’s almost incredible how the attraction goes from the old west to Nostromo with virtually no transition, and yet the scene works incredibly well.
Other favorites of mine are the gangster and cowboy scenes, even if the ‘acting’ in those sections often left a lot to be desired.
Same goes for the Indiana Jones sections. The disappearing effect is not always convincing, but the scenes are nonetheless cool. When I was younger, it always boggled my mind how huge these scenes were. The first tomb filled with snakes just felt so massive.
Even though they’re more passive, Singing in the Rain and Mary Poppins were similarly enjoyable scenes. Even though it’s simple, I felt the same about Casablanca, and the large Munchkinland scene was also a favorite for me.
For me, not all of the scenes worked. The brief section of generic horror films, Tarzan jungle scene, and Fantasia scenes all felt pretty lackluster. Once Footlight Parade became static, it also was fairly underwhelming.
To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the closure of Great Movie Ride.
For a long time, this was one of my top 10 attractions at Walt Disney World–something I loved during our family trips once I got a little older, and something we did multiple times per trip as adults.
In more recent years, I’ve begun to feel that Great Movie Ride has not aged particularly well. How much of that is an objective assessment and how much is me personally being a bit burnt out on it, I’m not sure.
I knew this closure was coming over a year ago when rumors leaked that the Great Mickey Ride would be replacing it. (I was admittedly more excited for that attraction before the announcement of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.) Since then, I’ve made a point to do the attraction at least a couple of times each trip.
I’ve had time to process this closure, and still find myself a bit unsure of how to feel about it. I don’t really even know why. Maybe part of it is because Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been so weak for so long that I’m just enthusiastic about new life being breathed into it? Maybe it’s a realization that if this attraction were to be updated, I know I wouldn’t like the end result?
Like I said, I’m not sure.
Of the two attractions closing today, Universe of Energy inexplicably hits me harder. That doesn’t totally make sense, but it’s how I feel. In Universe of Energy’s case, we’ve all known it was an inevitability for the last decade, whereas this is (slightly) more of a surprise.
I think it’s also fair to say that, while both attractions would’ve needed significant changes to prolong their runs, Great Movie Ride was the far superior attraction as-is.
That’s not to say Great Movie Ride is perfect. It has needed some help for a while. Minimally, Great Movie Ride needed an entirely new script and to give its hosts the freedom to ad lib. I’m not sure to what degree this would have made it more “relevant” to contemporary audiences, but I’m guessing a good script could have done wonders.
More realistically, it needed some new scenes. Not necessarily because particular films were dated or no longer relevant, but because some scenes simply are not as compelling or engaging as others.
Part of why I’ve to some degree ‘come to terms’ with losing Great Movie Ride is because of how I fear those scenes might have been replaced were the attraction refreshed instead of replaced.
For years, I have heard people call for a change in Great Movie Ride to make it more relevant. Movies I have heard people propose for addition include but are not limited to the following: National Treasure, Pirates of the Caribbean, Saw, Transformers, 300, Titanic, and The Avengers.
These suggestions make me cringe. Nothing against (some of) these movies, but they are not classics. They are films that are currently (or at one time in the last few years were) popular.
Most of them are popcorn flicks. I have nothing against popcorn films—I enjoy watching them, but I think they don’t really have a place in an attraction focused on great movies.
Perhaps these suggestions are indicative of the biggest thing that’s changed: guest attitudes.
At theme parks, people don’t want to be challenged, much less learn something new. They want their preconceptions reinforced, and experience things on their terms.
When guests today see a scene featuring the Public Enemy, Footlight Parade, or another film unfamiliar to them, their curiosity isn’t piqued. Guests don’t think, “I’ve never heard of that–I can’t wait to check it out!”
What they think is, “I’ve never heard of half these old movies. Why don’t they put any of the new, good stuff in there to make this ride less boring?”
Your gut response to that might be, “Great Movie Ride inspired me to see ____, watch TCM more, and learn about classic Hollywood films!” It did the same for me. (Well, not just the ride; the park introduced me to the American Film Institute and its 100 Years…100 Movies list.)
As pivotal of a role as Great Movie Ride has played for some guests in seeking to learn more about classic cinema, I don’t think this response to the attraction is representative of the general park-going public.
This is probably the biggest reason why I have accepted the closure of Great Movie Ride. As much as I’d love to see new life injected into this lengthy, AA-heavy attraction, I am a realist. I don’t think a significant update to Great Movie Ride would preserve its integrity. The finale montage already offers a preview of what modern day Disney now views as “great” movies, and that’s not an attraction I care to experience. I think I might lose it if Emma Watson as Belle, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, or Nicolas Cage as literally anything were featured in an attraction with “Great Movie” in the title. Maybe a decade from now, I’ll look back at Great Movie Ride with a wistfulness, wishing it were still around. For now, I’m content to celebrate its legacy, and pleased that my memories are happy ones of the original/current version of the attraction, rather than feelings of bitterness that a revamped version might bring. I’m also optimistic that Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway–and the larger overhaul to the park–makes the loss of Great Movie Ride sting a little less.
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What are your feelings about Great Movie Ride’s closure? Do you think Disney could successfully update it in a way that honors classic cinema while still appealing to guests? Have any particular favorite scenes or memories of the attraction? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!