That’s A Wrap!

Catastrophe Canyon

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say yesterday was the last day of Walt Disney World’s “Studios” theme park. If anything, it’s a stretch to say that yesterday was the end of that era. The park that was born as the Disney-MGM Studios opened with a heavy emphasis on actual filmmaking and allowing guests to step into the movies until production was gradually shifted away (ending entirely in 2004).

After some pivots in theme, the park was re-branded Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2008. The park had a few good years under that moniker and enjoyed the addition of hits like Toy Story Mania and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, all the while having an identity crisis. It simply wasn’t a “studios” park as originally envisioned, but it continued on.

In the last couple of years, it has lost several attractions that at one time were its flagship offerings, including the Backlot Tour, the Magic of Disney Animation, and The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow (okay, maybe not the last one). If the loss of the Backlot Tour wasn’t the nail in the coffin for Disney’s Hollywood “Studios” then yesterday’s closure of the Streets of America and the attractions on it certainly were.

While I lament some of the losses over the years at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I’m not the least bit upset by all of this. Quite the converse, in fact. I think the park is way overdue for a refresh, and I am really excited for the potential that Star Wars Land holds. I’m also cautiously optimistic that this Toy Story Land will be something more ambitious than it is in Paris or Hong Kong.

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Moreover, I think the park could, potentially, emerge thematically stronger out the other side. While precise layout details are unknown, the extensive nature of the overhaul will allow for lands organized by “studio.” It sounds as if the area around MuppetVision will be re-themed to the Muppets, making that “Muppet Courtyard.” (It’s already on the updated map, out today!)

That, in turn, allows all of Pixar (well, just Toy Story) to be concentrated in Toy Story Land. Then, there’s Lucasfilm with Star Wars Land. (I don’t know how Star Tours fits into that, but hopefully it’s addressed.) The front of the park can provide an introduction to old Hollywood, offering a portal into a choose your own adventure sort of set-up. (Choose your own, ahem, “Hollywood Adventure.” At Disney.)

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As a result, I suspect Disney will want to rebrand the park after all of this is complete. I don’t think the DHS incarnation of the park has been a “failure” to the extent that Disney’s California Adventure was, but I do think Disney will be looking to hit “reset” on it and start fresh. With over a billion dollars being poured into DHS in the next several years, a new name will signify to guests that the park has been reborn.

In any case, with all that closed yesterday and the construction that has already started today, there’s a clear demarcation line. The end of an era. The “Studios” park many of us grew up with is now gone, and work starts on whatever is next.

I have a lot of sentimentality for many things Walt Disney World from my childhood trips, and the Disney-MGM/Hollywood Studios is no exception. I took a stroll down memory lane a while back in my Brickers’ Vintage Walt Disney World Trip Report, but I’ll share some specific memories of the Disney-MGM Studios here…

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As noted in that report, my family visited Walt Disney World almost every spring starting in 1989 (my first visit was 1986!) and the Disney-MGM Studios was a favorite park of my parents. Probably due to the newness of it all and partly due to the actual production, but we spent a lot of time there.

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The park’s studio elements were always entertaining and fresh. While portions of the Backlot Tour were staged and remained the same with each ride, other aspects changed with each visit. The tour then seemed like it lasted hours, but never grew tiring. I always wanted to see what would happen next.

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The same went for “step into the show” attractions like SuperStar Television and the Monster Sound Show. (I still think that either of these would play well with current audiences.)

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One of my fondest memories from these family visits was meeting Clarence Gilyard. My dad (that’s him, above) and I watched Walker, Texas Ranger religiously back in the 90s, so meeting him was a really big deal.

Celebrity appearances at the Disney-MGM Studios were fairly common place then, it seemed.

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Back then, the Streets of America were alive and a popular spot for guests. There was a lot of live entertainment, and in many cases it was pretty zany. From Ninja Turtles to Dick Tracy to the Rocketeer, there were all sorts of live performances back on New York Street.

Aside from National Treasure Baby Sinclair (if he isn’t featured in Star Wars Land, we riot), the best characters ever to grace the Streets of America were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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The zaniness didn’t stop there. Back when Goosebumps was all the rage, the Disney-MGM Studios had a short-lived stage show on New York Street that was a bit like a magic act with characters from the most well-known books appearing and hijacking the show.

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I’ve shared this photo of Roger Rabbit and me before, but I feel compelled to share it again. Talk about the 90s summed up in a single photo!

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Then, there are the trips Sarah and I have made as adults. By this time, the Streets of America area was in pretty sad shape. The Backlot Tour was already significantly truncated, Lights, Motors, Action was running, and there wasn’t much else there.

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It was mostly a dead space, save for the performances of Mulch, Sweat, & Shears. This band was about the only thing I enjoyed about the “normal” Streets of America, and I was able to see their final day of performances last October.

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The Streets of America at Christmas-time was a totally different story. It was a sharp contrast to its “dead” daytime atmosphere. Our first Christmas trip was in 2007 (the trip during which we got engaged), and this was our first time seeing the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. It was mesmerizing.

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During that 2007 trip, I was just starting to get into photography, but still had almost no clue what I was doing. Sarah had gotten me a Casio point and shoot the previous year for Christmas, and I found a travel tripod at Best Buy on clearance before the trip. We ran around the Streets of America getting photos of us and the Osborne Lights, using the camera’s 10-second self-timer.

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The same scenario played out the following year. While I was setting up a “test” shot of Sarah, a small child wandered into the frame and posed with her. At the time, it was an outtake that we redid because we didn’t want some random kid in the photo. Over time, it’s become my favorite photo from the night because I can still vividly recall it happening, and we still have a good laugh when we see it.

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No matter how many times we saw the Osborne Lights, the display never got old. We could stand on the Streets of America for hours–literally–just soaking it all in. We would stay as late as we could each night, and I’d scramble to get “empty” park photos as the Streets of America started to clear at the end of the night.

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Seeing those lights for the first time each trip always gave me chills, and the display dancing to the music was absolutely enthralling. I know elaborate lighting displays on homes with synchronized music have become so commonplace in the last several years that they’re almost passé, but the Osborne Lights were so superior to those that there was no comparison.

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As we knew our trip last Christmas would be our last chance to see the Osborne Lights, we made sure to spend extra time back on the Streets of America, soaking up the atmosphere and people-watching. We both commented on just how many people were laughing and smiling–I don’t think I’ve seen that high of a concentration of happy people anywhere, ever.

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I’m not embarrassed to admit that I got a little choked up as the Osborne Lights danced for the last time and then went dark. Some of our best memories together at Walt Disney World are just sitting and watching the lights.

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To think about how much happiness they brought to so many guests…just got to me. At their best, Disney attractions have an inarticulable x-factor that makes them resonate with guests. The Osborne Lights had this “magic” to them, and are what I’ll miss most during this transition period for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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That’s really about it. I miss shows like SuperStar Television, the original Backlot Tour, and seeing animators work on the next film at The Magic of Disney Animation. The original vision for this Studios park was a sound one, and those experiences were exceptional, but they’re all long gone. However nostalgic I might be for the past, this is one case where I’m even more excited for the future. This park has deserved an exciting new vision for a while, and finally, it seems like it is getting exactly that.

So, here’s to putting one era of this park in the can. I guess that’s not really a wrap, as reshoots begin today.

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Your Thoughts

Do you have any fond memories of the Streets of America, Backlot Tour, or anything else from the glory days of the Disney-MGM Studios? Optimistic about the future? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!


54 Responses to “That’s A Wrap!”
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