Great Movie Ride Tribute
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!
I am so sorry to see this go. If you remove the “History” of Hollywood Films, is the park living up to it’s name? Hollywood Studios? This Mickey and Minnie Runaway Train belongs in Fantasyland not Hollywood studios. Imagineers need to bring more of Hollywood and films into the park. Not too mention, I apologize to whoever is drawing these new versions of Mickey and Minnie ahead of time, but they are cheap looking stick figures. It was OK, I guess for kiddie TV, but for a major exhibit in Disney World no it is not up to Disney Quality. Walt Disney would never approve of the new drawings. Especially, the new Goofy character. Goofy is fun, silly and innocent in his actions, the new version is unkept, sloppy, and portrayed as sarcastic. It’s not a fun character any longer. Not to mention all the characters look like they haven’t eaten in years. Since they were making this new ride with or without fan approval – they should have used the Original Characters not these cheap knock offs.
I think the thing that hurt TGMR the most in recent years, even more so than changing attitudes or less interest of park guests in older movies was that for the longest time it was hidden behind that stupid hat. For years when the hat was there you could pretty much guarantee no line for TGMR. Before the hat it was the marquee attraction that drew you in at the end of the entrance sight line. Then after it regained some of that draw, although still slightly hidden behind screens. If there had been consistent attendance through the years I think the ride would have been updated years ago with other classic movie scenes, not just be left to become stagnate. A week or so after the hat removal it was back to 40 minute standby. People suddenly remembered it was there.
I’m disappointed they couldn’t make it work with a redevelopment but a small consolation is the building will still be there to look at.
The most compelling reason for my eventual acceptance of GMR closing lies in the utter realization that in order to freshen it, Disney would undoubtedly succumb to some degree of customer -inspired foolishness for its content. On my heart, I realize the refreshed version would ultimately open as a greater disappointment than its closure.
How’s that for an optimistic assessment?
I wouldn’t say that’s exactly optimistic, but it is brutally honest.
One has to look no further than Backlot Tour to see this in action. When it closed, there was no love lost for the shell of an attraction that had been butchered over the years. I almost hate to say it, but we would’ve been far better off losing Backlot Tour a decade earlier and only having good memories of it.
I’m sad to see this go too, and I have no nostalgic attachment to it! I don’t remember riding this when I was a kid back when the park was MGM, so the only time I ever rode it was this past May when my kids were old enough to ride. I enjoyed it a lot ! I think it’s a really good celebration of The Movies and almost a nice little History of Hollywood lesson as well. It didn’t feel that dated to me (does that mean I’m officially old?) and I also liked all the memorabilia and famous props on display on the queue. It holds holds the park’s theme together, being so grand and in that prime location. I feel no excitement at all about a Mickey Mouse ride in it’s place.
As far as more recent movies that could have been worked in to update it – of the ones you mentioned I would say only Titanic MAYBE would qualify (National Treasure !? Heck No!) , but recent “iconic” movies could be maybe Forrest Gump or the Matrix. Or The Hangover – hah.
Based on past examples of Disney replacing an old ride, it’s hard for me to be too optimistic about this new Mickey ride being better overall than the Great Movie Ride (even in its stale state).
I’d rather just hang on to an old classic attraction that needs an update than get a brand new one that just isn’t as good.
I hope I’m pleasantly surprised, though.
I totally agree gmr was a definite classic and I have a feeling that the Mickey ride will have very big shoes to fill. For me it wasn’t the scene by scene that I enjoyed most it was the cast members that made this ride for me people like Elizabeth and not sure of the Mugsi name but she was spectacular. I have had to say goodbye to two things that I totally loved about Hollywood studios in the last while first the Osborne lights, which I still miss right around Christmas time and looked forward to it all year long. The second is the great movie ride which like you rode multiple times each trip. Right now they have 4 rides and 5 table service restaurants this really isn’t cool. I go with family and this is one of the rides my parents could ride. My mom had neck and shoulder problem and my dad has motion sickness. What’s left for them they can’t do tower of terror, rockin rollercoaster, star tours or toy story because of all the quick spinning. I also think that with the great movie ride closing it is the end of yesteryear disney world. It reminded me of horizons, world of motion, if you had wings these type of rides that weren’t fun just because they were thrill rides but because they had a purpose which was to transport you to places that you have or could never go. I know great movie ride isn’t exactly Hollywood but that’s just it it transports you to their version of Hollywood I can see the real Hollywood on tv.guess I’m done ranting
One part of TGMR that isn’t mentioned much is the queue. I love it! Watching 50 rows of people snaking back and forth in front of you is (for me) a ride in and of itself!
Hope they keep that aspect for the replacement. 🙂
TGMR illustrates the reason HS exists. Those great MGM movies, especially the musicals, made Hollywood what it is today. Television came along later, and while it added to the Hollywood experience, it by no means was its cornerstone.
Growing up, I went to the movies often. It cost $.25 for two feature films, two cartoons and a newsreel. Upon getting my license, I took the neighborhood ladies (they didn’t drive) to the movies Monday nights, which was free china night. They in turn insisted on giving me the dishes and by the time I got married, I had service for a thousand. We did see a lot of good movies though.
But I digress. It bothers me that many of today’s young children will think it all began with Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Before computer generated movies there were Special Effects. The parting of the Red Sea was done using melting jello. They then ran the film backwards to show the sea parting. It’s considered movie history.
Having been in the entertainment industry in one way or another for a large portion of my life, old movies mean a lot to me. I really hate to see TGMR go. HS has some empty buildings. Perhaps Disney could salvage the contents of TGMR and set up some kind of movie museum in one of those buildings. One can only hope.
Dude, I’m more or less right there with you, only I think my bitterness at the closure of the ride is tempered less by hope for the new ride as just utter resignation at the failure of Disney Parks and Resorts to do anything that interests me for 10+ years. Your description of your reaction to the Great Movie Ride is mostly mine as well – I love when attractions point to something real outside of the parks that makes me want to discover more about them – the countries of World Showcase, tiki culture, colonial architecture, classic films. Commercials for modern franchises disguised as attractions absolutely bore me to tears, even if I like the source material, and you’re right that any update to the ride would likely result in more tacky, cynical, marketing-driven stuff.
And yes, you’re right that a lot of people don’t see the parks or themed entertainment in general the way I do. I value things like discovery, freshness, groundedness, and authenticity. Other people value familiarity and recognition more. You know the only recent Disney announcement to make me excited in a long time? The one about Grand Avenue – because I didn’t already know what it was! (And then I found out and the excitement went away lol)
A lot of my relatives, even, kept asking when they were going to make the Great Movie Ride more “relevant,” which was pretty depressing. I’d love to think that marketers are shoving the franchises in peoples’ faces, that most people are sick to death of Jack Sparrow and Star Wars and Woody and Buzz… but they’re really not. A lot of people (who aren’t me) seem to WANT franchises. There’s a reason the stuff sells. Familiarity sells. Recognition sells. References sell. It bores me, but I’m no longer the target audience for Disney Parks and Resorts, and I suspect I never will be again.
Part of TGMR greatness went beyond the ride itself. My dad introduced me to TCM back in the day. His favorite was African Queen. I was more into Bogey and Bacall. I love classic Hollywood and TGMR celebrated it best. I loved the entrance and opening film montage. Then the closing act brought it all together. I love hearing those classic lines and seeing famous faces. If I didn’t recognize it, I found out what it was. I made a point to see it. The AFI 100 was the perfect accompaniment. Was the ride perfect? Far from it. Could it have been more? Absolutely. Regardless, it will be remembered fondly.
I will miss the James Cagney Public Enemy sequence most of all.
Universe of Energy is a bigger loss to me because I didn’t grow up with MGM/Hollywood like i did with EPCOT Center. Nevertheless, like you said, TGMR was the anchor and primer of the park. I never realized it until now but Studios MAY even have a bigger identity problem than Epcot. The solution is to just call it IP LAND and stick Marvel, Pixar, Muppets, Star Wars, etc. over there. I think Ren and Stimpy Mickey Railroad will actually make it worse because it will be a Disney attraction at what is a Disney Properties park.
Maybe this is just me–and maybe I just feel this way because it has lacked an identity for so long–but I’m fine with this park being an open-ended IP dumping ground with the entrance themed to old Hollywood and the rest being ‘portals’ into different cinematic universes.
That’s especially the case if it would mean the other parks can be more thematically-pure. (Unfortunately, it does not–see Guardians of the Galaxy in Epcot.)
Thats what I’m saying: An IP park is needed and appropriate WITH THE UNDERSTANDING that MK, EPCOT, and AK maintain integrity. But that’s clearly not the path they are going with. I’m all for progress, etc but it should make thematic sense.
Should have been updated as the Great Disney Movie Ride to match the name of the park. The thing is many Disney movies are classics even if what we define as a great movie has changed. You can’t go wrong with homages to Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast. It’s the movie concept that endures. Pirates will remain a classic, but we already have the ride elsewhere. Nonetheless, Disney’s ability to update classic animatronic attractions are as successful as any other attempt. Absolutely nothing.
“You can’t go wrong with homages to Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast.”
To each their own, but I think that’s the purpose of Fantasyland. I’d rather have live-action films in DHS. I don’t see why Disney can’t use other studios, either. It wasn’t an issue with Star Wars or Indiana Jones when those stand-alone attractions were built.
Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland removed their classic dark rides so they aren’t there. Snow White Scary Adventures and Mr. Toads are gone. They are classics, but evidently too old for the Magic Kingdom.
I am sad to see it go. For one, it’s a unique ride with audio animatronics, which is sorely needed because so many rides are going to screen based technology.
Second, it ties into the theme of the park. It’s called “Hollywood Studios,” is it too much to ask for a ride that celebrates the movies?
And lastly, why would it be such a challenge to keep The Great Movie Ride and add a Mickey Mouse ride? Why can’t we have both? At least that way you’re keeping a ride which maintains the integrity of the park while also adding a ride that acknowledges the most recognizable character in Disney’s catalogue. It’s hard for me to grasp how you can make an entire land for Toy Story and Star Wars but to keep TGMR was just too much of a challenge. Disney is clearly going for the low-hanging fruit at the expense of the Founder’s (Walt Disney) intent. Sad.
No argument from me on this. I wish they would’ve kept this and added a Mickey attraction, elsewhere.
My guess on the decision to replace Great Movie Ride rather than just add Mickey elsewhere would be cost and location: Great Movie Ride costs money to staff and maintain, and has a great location at the front of the park (ideal for a marquee Mickey Mouse ride).