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JOE INSIDER - Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show

Joe Lane reviews the new automobile stunt show at the Disney-MGM Studios. Does it live up to the hype?

Written by Joe Lane
Published: May 9, 2005 at 10:23 PM

JOE INSIDER - Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Back in January, Theme Park Insider's European correspondent Ben Mills wrote a tough article about "Moteurs... Action! Stunt Show Spectacular" at Disneyland Resort Paris.

In the article, Mills questioned whether Moteurs, a show made great by its pitiful neighboring attractions, can "stand up so well in Disney-MGM Studios." Can the extreme stunt show truly be "extreme?"

The Disney-MGM Studios has long been considered the "extreme" Disney park since the opening of the Tower of Terror in 1994. The Magic Kingdom? Too childish. Epcot? Too boring. In the mid-nineties, when teens wanted to have an action-packed time at Disney, the Studios was the place to go.

Things have changed a lot since then. Epcot now features Test Track and Mission: Space, two of Disney's fastest and most limit-pushing attractions ever to debut. The Magic Kingdom once featured the sci-fi terror show Alien Encounter. And now, we also have Animal Kingdom, with rides like Kali River Rapids and Dinosaur.

But as things change around the Disney World, so too do we see change within the Studios. That's why, while WDW's three other parks are receiving "fresh" attractions as part of Disneyland's 50th Anniversary, the Disney-MGM Studios is also the proud recipient of a "new" addition, the Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show.

I have a feeling we're not in Florida anymore!
The fictional Mediterranean seaside village set of LMA.
This small photo shows only a third of the entire set.

This is Disney's second stunt-centered performance, after the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, which premiered at the Studios opening in 1989. Like Indy, Lights! Motors! Action! (LMA) gets an edutainment treatment, mixing the high-octane thrills of a live stunt show with educational, behind-the-scenes segments designed to show what goes into shooting fast-paced car chases for big budget feature films.

Armed with an arsenal of 30 vehicles and a cast of 35 stunt drivers and technicians, the show takes place on a 6.5-acre area, including a Mediterranean-themed set, vehicle garage and 5,000-seat stadium. The LMA arena now occupies a portion of the back lot once home to the old Residential Avenue.

Lights! Motors! Action!
The red car is our Hero Car.
It pulls a 360 in this shot, firing at the enemy cars.

Lights! Motors! Action!
The Hero Car faces down three enemy vehicles.
Two more will join in the pursuit during the Ballet Chase.

The show can be divided into four separate action segments, including the Ballet Chase, the Blockade, the Motorcycle Chase and the Finale. Each segment touches on a different features of stunt driving. Between each session the "director," "assistant director," and "stunt coordinator," talk about the work that goes into preparing each stunt, as well as the modifications that have to be made to each stunt car. At one point during the show, Disney's own car star Herbie makes an appearance.

Herbie's inclusion at WDW holds more importance for Disney now than his original cameo at Disney Studios Paris, mostly due to the upcoming release of his newest film starring Disney's current teen star Lindsey Lohan. Disney's Marketing Department couldn't have asked for better timing.

Herbie On The Set
Herbie's appearance includes a cute gag where the LoveBug
continues to drive into places where it doesn't belong.

Of all three attractions that have opened this Spring at WDW, it is this theme park enthusiasts opinion that LMA lives up to its classification as an E-Ticket. Granted, ones enjoyment of the production might hinge entirely on whether or not one gets a kick out of watching stunt cars spin in circles, drift around tight set pieces at high speeds and jump through the air backwards.

Yes, I said backwards.

According to the piece written by Mills, Moteurs suffered in that it was incredibly long for too little action at 45 minutes. Disney says the new LMA clocks in at 30 minutes, although by my own accounts, it appeared as if the show lasted nearly 40 minutes. As for the filler portions between takes, they have become a necessary evil: part of the formula for progressing the show. The best improvement that could be made would be a tightening of the script, and an attempt to keep it smart. To the actors credits, they do their best to make their dialogue sound as genuine as possible, although some of the jokes are a little lame.

Walt always made a point never to dumb stuff down for his target audience. He was once quoted as saying, "Adults are interested if you don't play down to the little 2 or 3 year olds or talk down. I don't believe in talking down to children. I don't believe in talking down to any certain segment. I like to kind of just talk in a general way to the audience."

If you plan on checking out LMA soon, be advised that crowds start to form near the entrance an hour before show time.

Disney currently offers FASTPASS for the show, and it comes highly recommended, as recent performances have seen near to full capacity audiences. FASTPASS tickets generally issue a return time of about thirty minutes prior to show time, and Guests are well advised to be at the LMA FASTPASS entrance as soon as possible to ensure seating.

One more thing to note: every seat is not always the best seat in the house. The biggest nuisances in the LMA arena seating are the I-beams that support the stadium overhang. In just the wrong spot, these can obscure your view of the action. For a clearer view, arrive early and grab a seat towards the front.

On a TPI scale of 0-10, I give Lights! Motors! Action! a 9-Outstanding for good execution and honest excitement. Kudos also to the stunt men and women who have trained daily with these vehicles, and to the mechanics and technicians who keep them running smoothly. I hope to see a positive track record in Guest and Cast Member safety for years to come.

Readers' Opinions

From Mark Hollamon on May 11, 2005 at 1:13 AM
I agree completely Joe. We saw the show on Mother's Day and it was very good. It does take forever for it to start due to the large capacity and if you get FP's for better seating your wait is longer.

I advise bringing water in on a hot day because you will need it.

The transitions from scene to scene are lengthy, but necessary. The stunts are very good. Much thought went into the show.

From Ben Mills on May 11, 2005 at 9:58 AM
I guess we're just gonna have to agree to disagree on this one, Joe! I do enjoy parts of it, but I'm not entirely sure quite why it got a 9. Still, to each their own -- and I really believe nice weather will have helped a LOT in one's enjoyment of the show. By the way, have they left in the bit with the guy getting caught on fire? I do enjoy that. (Yeah, I guess I'm just sadistic.)

Is there now anyone on the board who has seen both, Paris and Orlando? I'd love to hear if the difference is substantial.

From Kevin Baxter on May 16, 2005 at 1:55 AM
I couldn't imagine ANY stunt show getting a 9 (well, except for one... more to come on that one...). Movie stunts have gotten so insane that watching someone fall off a building or something blow up or a car spinning around isn't all that thrilling. Furthermore, what makes film stunts involving cars exciting is that they are usually involved in a chase and we are rooting for the good guys to catch/escape the bad guys. We don't have that necessary connection in a 30-minute theme park show.

This is especially true when the stunts are presented in the form of a theme park stunt show and not as part of a linear storyline. Which is why the Indy stunt show, an idea stolen from the historic USH Wild West Stunt Show, has never seemed like more than arbitrary scenes connected by wretched filler.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it isn't necessarily a case of Joe being wrong, or Ben being wrong. Both could be right, for certain segments of the audience. Some people gloss over the filler, some remember it all too well. (Personally, I LOATHE the Indy show precisely because of that filler. Nothing I like more than hearing where a bunch of yahoos preside! Oh, except for a "tourist" who is so obviously NOT a tourist!) So I have a sneaking suspicion I would be in Ben's camp on this one.

From Cody Cromarty on May 28, 2005 at 9:26 PM
Definatly the best stunt show I've ever seen. Here's my synopsis:

We got Fastpasses for the 1:00 show at about 11:55 or sometime close to it. After wandering around a bit and getting lunch, we walked to the first area.

It was a huge room packed with a few hundred people at most. We waited there for about 10 minutes or more before getting a seat. While the metal benches were uncomfortable and lacked a back rest, I was too immersed in the show to pay attention.

:SPOILERS AHEAD:

It started with a series of trivia questions on a giant screen about movies with car chases and the cars, including the vehicles used in Goldfinger and Back to the Future. After, we were greeted a host,Olga. She explained the sequences and we could clearly see a red Pontiac GTO and two black Cobras rolling to a stop behind a set piece on the far left.

After that, a white pickup with camera equipment and a director on the back drove past the bleachers. The "director" explained the story: A spy has some top secret files and needs to escape with them.

They started with a "Ballet Chase". The red Pontiac, followed by two Cobras, zoomed from the left at high speed. They did a quick 180 and drove in the opposite direction as 3 more joined. After a cool sequence where the hero car spun while firing "machine guns"(explosive charges mounted onthefront),it drives toward a Cobra, which reverses, than does the same with the roles reversed and drives behind a building.

It comes out again, driving backwards! It continues reversing throughout a long sequence, and ramps by a small river that represents a harbor began to raise. After the Cobra drivers fired at the car a bit, the Pontiac fires a missle at a Cobra. It blows in half and the front end rolls behind an alley. The Pontiac drives back to it's starting point. After 2 Cobras take position around the ramps, the Pontiac drives towards the ramp on the left. It hits the jump, followed by 3 Cobras. The only unique thing was, it was driving BACKWARDS over the ramp.

After that little sequence, the director truck drives back to the middle of the arena. Two white delivery trucks drove behind the truck, facing right. Also, a fruit stand is towed to the right of the trucks. The director puts up a video of the sequence with multiple black and white camera angles. They explain that this is to check the footage before it's sent to editing. Afterwards, they pull up a 3D diagram of the Pontiac. For balance, the engine is located directly behind the driver and there is only room for one in the car. He says that they, of course, have more than one of the hero car, and brings out the other one, which reverses behind the first car. The director explains that for the reverse driving sequences, they use a modified GTO. It's actually just another GTO, but with the body reversed, so it looks like it's driving backwards. To make it look like a real driver is in the car, the reverse driver has a fake head and pair of arms on his back. After both cars drive off, the director says that there is the reverse car waiting where the real car disappears, and they show footage of the car driving behind a building as the reverse cars drives out from a hidden alleyway. He also introduces the stunt driver to the crowd. Then, Olga presents a real star, who starred in many movies and does all his own stunts: Herbie the Love Bug! Olga "talks" to Herbie, who responds with honks of his horn. They show footage from Herbie: Fully Loaded and Olga askes what it's like working with Lindsay Lohan. He responds by shaking and honking. I think he got THAT point across. Olga tells herbie to drive by the crowd for pictures. As Herbie talks, the stunt coordinator tells Olga the the area under the bleachers has some explosive charges just as she notices that Herbie is driving down there. She tries to warn him, but there's a boom and crash. Herbie drives out and splits in two, each half going in opposite directions.

The next sequence started up. It was shorter, but had more precision driving. They also hid a large inflatable cushion behind the fruit stand. The next thing to happen was obvious. The Pontiac and Cobras weaved between the buildings, stand, and truck. The Pontiac drove full speed at the truck on the left. It drove up a ramp and out the top of the truck. From our position near the top, we could clearly see that the truck had no top or interior storage area. The hero car drove over the top of the next truck and onto the cushion.

In the next intermission, the trucks and stand were removed and replaced with a large mat by a building, two small stands by the buildings in the back, and thin ramps by the stands. They show "movie footage" in which the hero uses his watch to remotely call his car to him. They get a kid from the audience to "control the car". Another GTO drives in from the left, following a man with a remote control. Olga gives the kid the controler. They move forward and reverse slowly, than the car peels out in both directions, nearly hitting the bridge and stands. Then, the car stops between them and spins, revealing how it was controled. A stunt driver has a carrige on the side of the car that the camera doesn't reveal, allowing him to control the car. The entire audience cracked up, including the kid. They showed more "movie footage", that had the hero walk up to a woman on the harbor. He gave her a quick kiss, which they use to to hide that she's slipping the files into his jacket. I saw that people were spraying liquid on the street. It was too dark to be water, and I wouldn't know why they would spray water on the street. Then I relized that it was gasoline. A guy on the roof next to a bike shop revealed that he would be shot and drop onto a mat at about 30 mph. Being a stunt actor he says that one day he's doubling for the hero, the next he's shooting at him.

The motorcycle chase was honestly the best sequence in the show. The hero walks down the street, when two black motorcycles drive out from opposite directions. They open fire at him, who in turn runs like a sissy( he really did run like that) into a bike shop. The bikers stop by the shop, and one goes in, gun drawn. Suddenly, the hero drives a blue motorcycle through the window. I'm not talking about a window that opens up or is actually a transparent mesh or like that. It's actually a group of glass plates glued together, that break apart when the bike drives through them. An enemy on the roof fires an assault rifle at the hero. The hero draws a gun a shoots him and he falls onto the mat. He jerks a bit when he gets hit, but other than that he fell stiff as a board. I can only hope that he does better next time.

Several Cobras drive out from behind the buildings as the hero drives left, then takes a quick right under an arch. He cut it pretty close though. He got so close to the arch that he had to slow down and kick away from the wall. The hero drives out and over a thin ramp.3 Cobras follow him, hitting the ramp with there side wheels, allowing them to drive with one side of wheels. A driver that turned towards the right end of the harbor almost tipped, but he made a last minute save. The hero drives toward a crane with a huge net full of fish on it near the harbor. He grabs the net and ditches his ride, letting it hit a pile of sandbags and boxes. He drops off the net and boards a purple jet ski and drives towards the right end of the river, which was only about 8 or 10 feet wide and about 50 feet in length. He spins at the ends of the harbor several times, splashing the front row and enemies that left their vehicles to shoot at him on foot. The hero eventually drives his jet ski onto the harbor and grabs a pair of handguns from the top of a barrel(why they were there I do not know). A biker tries to board another jet ski and drive at him, but he gets shot by the hero. The jet ski flips over and the driver falls, doing a very good job of playing dead in the 3 foot deep water. More gunshots, and the hero runs from the harbor as a blast hits a barrel. The harbor area bursts into flame, and the fire spreads to the gas-sprayed middle of the road. There is now a wave of fire in the middle of the road. A biker drives straight at it and gets blasted. In probably the best stunt in the show, he falls off his bike and skids straight through the wave of fire. He gets up in a flash and flails around for a good 15 seconds as he burns before falling.

Final intermission time. The biker gets extinguished and the screen shows that the reason that it takes 20 minutes to put on the biker's outfit is because it has five layers. Four are fireproof, the last is the actual biker clothing, and it's covered with a flammable gel that allows him to burn without damaging anything. A Cobra drives in front of the bleachers and spins to a stop, ignoring the coordinator's warnings to be careful because the ground is wet. They show the inside of the car, showing a handbrake that snaps back into place when the driver releases it, allowing for 180 and 90 degree turns without losing stride. The gearshift moves up and down for gears 1-4, and twisting it switches to reverse. They show final "movie footage", which is the same as the sequences, only in the style of a movie. Also, the motercycle chase is the beginning, then Ballet, and finally blockade. They add interior views of vehicles, pedestrians, and the landing behind the fruit stand onto a cushion is replaced with footage of the car landing in a market street. The guy holding a fish that jumps out of the way of the car as it drives over the truck ramp is one of the stunt driver's cousins. However, there is footage of something that wasn't shown in the sequences. The Pontiac jumps over the burning harbor, complete with a huge explosion. Suddenly, the river burst into flames, and it was showtime.

The Pontiac and two Cobras zoom out again. After some precision moves, it drives behind a hotel. Now during intermission, the ramp truck had moved into position so the top of the ramp would be in front of the Venetian doors. The doors opened, and the hero car drove out of the hotel and down the ramp, straight toward the burning harbor. Before viewing the show, I heard a whoosh and a plume of smoke rose from the set. I now knew what it was. With the whoosh and two bangs, explosive charges on either side of the ramp by the harbor exploded, and a giant fireball rose behind the car. After the cars and motorcycles drove into the middle in front of the buildings, the director said the strangest thing that anyone could have said after all of those incredible events:

"Drive Safely"

From Cody Cromarty on May 29, 2005 at 1:13 PM
It's also a pretty dangerous show to perform in. In the Ballet Chase, a Cobra clipped a wall going at 50 mph, hit the hero car, and wedged it against a bridge set. The hero car driver got a broken thumb. Also, when the Cobra spins in front of the bleachers so the director could show the inside during the soft opening, the car spun out and hit the bleachers. Check the accident reports of this show for more.

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