Fix this theme park: Disney's Hollywood Studios
Written by Robert NilesQuick quiz: How many rides are there at the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park?
Published: August 20, 2012 at 3:12 PM
Hint: Here's one
Time's up. Here's your answer:
That's right: Six. Tower of Terror, Rock n' Roller Coaster, Star Tours, Midway Mania, Great Movie Ride, and the Studio Backlot Tour. And of those, the Backlot Tour - a shell of its former self - probably needs to be put out of its misery and shut down for redevelopment.
Even so, those six rides give Disney's Hollywood Studios the fewest number of ride-based attractions at any Disney theme park in the world. It's the fewest number of rides at any major theme park in America.* (*Update: Okay, number two to Universal Studios Hollywood if you don't count 4D attractions as rides. But USH has at least one Potter ride coming, which would at least tie it with DHS.)
Sure, DHS has some great shows to go along with its rides. But when it comes to driving reader ratings to their highest levels, rides consistently outperform shows. And Disney's Hollywood Studios is alarmingly light on rides.
Last week, we talked about the need for improvements over at Walt Disney World's Epcot. Today, we're putting the spotlight on Hollywood Studios. DHS faces the same essential problem with studio-themed parks I described last month when writing about Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris:
"They don't whisk us away into the magic of great movie stories. They drop us into the somewhat ugly and tedious work of creating them. Who wants to visit a job site on vacation?"
It's fine to use a movie theme as a catch-all to bring together great narratives from the world of motion pictures that don't fit well into another of the company's theme parks. But unless the theme park actually is a working film studio (see, Universal Studios Hollywood), the park's theme should provide no excuse to go cheap on construction, with flimsy-looking building materials and false-front "sets." Theme park designers should treat the eyes of its visitors as set designers treat the eyes of the cameras - everything should look real to them.
Film-studio theme-park pioneer Universal has learned that lesson, and is more and more building "Disney-style", fully-immersive themed environments in its parks, instead of the false-front, backlot looks that it used to create. With Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure, Disney's Imagineers have shown that they can create a richly-detailed, immersive 1920s Hollywood - a look that they first attempted at what's now the Hollywood Studios park in Florida. Disney would do well to charge new WDW Executive Producer Kathy Mangum to take what her colleague Lisa Girolami did with Buena Vista Street and apply that same level of design detail throughout the park, scrapping the false fronts and cheap, exposed-beam exteriors that plague many sections of DHS's southern end.
Oh, and lose the hat, already.
While those aesthetics matter, ultimately, Disney needs to design and develop more rides for DHS. While we started last week with Epcot, let's acknowledge that Epcot really doesn't face much direct competition - it's the world's only major "non-fiction" theme park, with no similar counterparts, save temporary world's fairs in far-flung cities.
That's not the case with Hollywood Studios which, more than any other park in the world, faces a direct thematic competitor only a short distance away. The only other case I can recall of two theme parks with the same theme in the same metro area is that of Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott's Berry Farm in Southern California - two moderately-themed iron parks that nevertheless stand on opposite sides of the LA metro area, with several million people living in between them.
Disney's Hollywood Studios' direct competitor is Universal Studios Florida, located just 14 miles away. The parks are so similar in concept that accusations have flown for years that then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner lifted the plans for what was then the Disney-MGM Studios theme park from plans for Universal Studios Florida that he was said to have seen in the early 1980s, when he headed Paramount. (Eisner has denied seeing those plans.)
While Disney sits on its six rides at Hollywood Studios, Universal's got crews working around the clock building a third installation of the Transformers: The Ride, the attraction that beat out Disney's widely-lauded Radiator Springs Racers for the Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction this year. And it's also building a new Wizarding World of Harry Potter land - bringing the single most successful theme park franchise in a generation to its studio theme park.
What's Disney going to do with Hollywood Studios to match that?
Unless Disney comes up with an answer - and fast - it's going to have to watch as its Hollywood Studios theme park gets its rear end kicked like no Disney theme park ever has by a non-Disney competitor before.
Here'a an action plan:
1. Ironically, start by sacrificing a ride. Scrap the Studio Backlot Tour to create space for a needed expansion of Pixar Place.
2. If Disney wants to move fast, it can use one of two existing designs for Monsters, Inc.-themed rides to build up Pixar Place - the Mike and Sulley to the Rescue dark ride from California Adventure, or the Ride and Go Seek "flashlight tag" ride from Tokyo Disneyland. The Finding Nemo-themed Crush's Coaster from Walt Disney Studios Paris also could be in play, but only if Disney can fix the operational difficulties that leave that ride with inexcusably long waits. Personally, I'd rather see a new attraction here, though, such as the rumored Monsters Inc. roller coaster, or a long-overdue Incredibles rides. Or, even better, both.
3. Gut the American Idol/Sounds Dangerous buildings and develop a new dark ride for that space. Marvel would be the perfect fit here, but if that deal's dead, perhaps a Narnia ride. Or maybe, National Treasure?
4. We need a something new for the Muppets. Muppets + Animatronic micro-technology = Potential awesomeness. Make this happen.
5. Time to get really aggressive. Disney needs to attack Universal's second-biggest cash cow (after Potter) and launch its own Halloween event. Let the kids have the Mickey party over at the Magic Kingdom. Disney needs to develop a scary Halloween event. Granted, Disney's intellectual properties doesn't include much (okay, anything) from the horror genre. But throw some money at Tim Burton (or, much better yet, Neil Gaiman), and develop a unique event that takes the market space between Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween party. There's big money on the table at Halloween, and Disney needs to throw every punch it can at Universal if it wants to maintain its lead in the fight for the public's theme park business.
That's the start of one plan. What do you got? What would you like to see Disney do with its Hollywood Studios theme park?
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