On May 1, 1989, the third of four theme parks built at Walt Disney World in Orlando opened its gates and invited guests to step into the Golden Age of Hollywood. Based on a concept by Marty Sklar, Randy Bright, and Michael Eisner, Disney-MGM Studios was dedicated to the worlds of film, television, music, and theater.
“The World you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood – not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was – and always will be,” reads the park’s dedication by Eisner in 1989.
Initially, the park was developed as both a theme park and an operating production studio with active film and television production services, an animation facility, and a functioning backlot. On opening day, the only two operating attractions in the park was the Studio Backlot Tour and The Great Movie Ride. The former was a combination of a walking and tram tour of the backlot area, while the latter was a replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and recreated iconic scenes from classic films.
As the park’s popularity grew, it was expanded in 1994 to include Sunset Boulevard and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction. Inspired by Rod Serling’s anthology television series, the ride places riders in a seemingly ordinary elevator that features a number of randomized drops and lifts. Around this time, Walt Disney Feature Animation’s on-site studio assisted in the production of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, Mulan, and Lilo & Stitch.
Throughout the 2000s, the production facilities were removed and many of the soundstages were retrofitted for newer attractions and guest use. One such attraction was the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show in the backlot’s former Residential Street. In 2008, the park’s current name, Hollywood Studios, took effect and saw the removal of the MGM-branding in the park. At the same time, the former Stage 1 soundstage was transformed into Toy Story Mania with the surrounding are rebranded as Pixar Place.
During recent years, the park has distanced itself from the original studio backlot idea and has entered into immersive theming and attraction development. Currently the park is divided into six themed areas inspired by existing locations found in Hollywood and Los Angeles. This includes Hollywood Boulevard, which serves as the park’s main entrance and is lined with retailers selling Disney merchandise. Echo Lake features the 3D motion simulator ride Star Tours, the children stage show Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple, the live-action production Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!, and For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.
Grand Avenue is home to the 4D film attraction Muppet Vision 3D, while Animation Courtyard hosts Star Wars Launch Bay, Disney Junior Dance Party!, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. A focal point of Hollywood Studios is Sunset Boulevard, which boasts Tower of Terror, the high-speed Rock n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy and Fantasmic!. The recently erected Toy Story Land, inspired by the Pixar series, is themed to Andy’s backyard. The land includes the 4D attraction Toy Story Mania, the rollercoaster Slinky Dog Dash and the spinning Alien Swirling Saucers.
The latest, and seventh land, to join Hollywood Studios is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Themed the immersive world of George Lucas’ creation, the 14-acre land will feature two new attractions. The first will be a Millennium Falcon-inspired attraction that allows guests to control a “customized secret mission,” while the other will place guests in “a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.” Galaxy’s Edge is slated to open on August 29, 2019. With the expansion of Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge, Hollywood Studios is a far cry from the studio-themed park it was 30 years ago.
Following the close of the Great Movie Ride in 2017, there are no longer any attractions within the park from its opening day. The Great Movie Ride is scheduled to be replaced by Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. According to Imagineer Kevin Rafferty, guests will pass through a simulated movie screen and experience, a “zippy, zany, out-of-control adventure.” Interestingly, this will be the first Mickey Mouse-themed ride-through attraction in the history of Disney’s theme parks.
In celebration of the park’s 30th anniversary, Disney released a new Hollywood Studios logo featuring BB-8, Mickey, and Woody inside the word “Hollywood.” These specific characters represent the past, present, and future of the park. This new logo will be placed on the Animation Courtyard. Disney also hosted a Hollywood Studios 30th Anniversary Star-Studded Celebration that saw Mickey, Minnie, the galactic residents of Batuu and more strut down Hollywood Boulevard. During this celebration, the park also debuted their new nighttime spectacular, Wonderful World of Animation. This projection and firework show will project classic moments from Disney’s animation history on the Chinese Theater facade.
Throughout its decade long history, Hollywood Studios has undergone considerable physical and thematic changes. What began as a peek behind the curtain into the world of moviemaking has evolved into placing guests directly into the features they know and love. Whether guests enjoy dodging the First Order in Galaxy’s Edge or imaging themselves as beloved toys in Andy’s backyard, Hollywood Studios continues to hold true to the promise made by Eisner all those years ago – namely, “a place where illusion and reality are fused.”