Theme park history: A short history of Disney's Hollywood Studios
Written by Robert Niles
After Epcot opened in 1982, Disney's Imagineers started thinking about what was missing from World Showcase, specifically, which industries they could feature in future new pavilions. At the top of the list, the Imagineers put Disney's own industry — entertainment. But Epcot's Entertainment Pavilion soon grew into a proposal for a third theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort. That proposal got expanded and fast-tracked when Universal Studios began developing a nearby site for its Universal Studios Florida theme park in 1986.Tweet
Three years later, on May 1, 1989, the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park opened, beating Universal Studios Florida by nearly a year. Universal executives cried foul, claiming Disney had copied the plans that Universal had shown then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner several years earlier, when he was the head of Paramount Pictures, and Universal was looking for partners for its Florida park. Eisner denied seeing the plans, and, anyway, Universal Studios Hollywood had already established a very public template for a movie studio theme park nearly two decades before — shows and attractions built around a working movie studio.
Except that no one was doing any substantial film or movie production in Orlando at the time. So Disney started some. It created a satellite of its Burbank animation studio, which would create new animated films as theme park visitors would look on through windows into the studio. And it launched a new version of its Mickey Mouse Club for the Disney Channel, to occupy soundstages in the studio theme park.
Disney long ago converted those soundstages into attraction spaces, but that All-New Mickey Mouse Club continues to influence pop culture, having launched the careers of Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, and Christina Aguilera, among others. Disney's Florida animation studio also created the films Mulan, Lilo & Stitch and Brother Bear before Disney closed it in 2004.
Disney animators no longer make movies at the park, but visitors now get the opportunity to learn how to draw Disney characters in the animation studio's replacement, Animation Academy.
Disney's also removed the MGM name from the park now known as Disney's Hollywood Studios. When MGM declined to renew the licensing deal that gave Disney the right to use its name, Disney renamed the park in January 2008. Yet MGM properties such as The Wizard of Oz continue to be featured in the park's Great Movie Ride. (At least for now.)
C'mon, admit it. You've either taken this photo, or seen someone take it, if you've visited Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Disney's substantially expanded its studios theme park over the years, mostly at the expense of its studio tram tour, which is expected to close entirely within the next few years to make way for yet another expansion. The Muppets' 3D movie, Lights, Motors, Action auto stunt show, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground, Toy Story Midway Mania and the Walt Disney retrospective ("One Man's Dream") all occupy areas once taken by the park's studio tour.
In 1994, the park opened its Sunset Boulevard expansion, anchored by Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and the award-winning Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. A dedicated theater for Fantasmic! followed in 1998.
Today, Disney's Hollywood Studios is the fifth most-visited theme park in the United States, but last among the four Disney World theme parks. (Disneyland in Anaheim is the non-WDW park in the top five.) In an effort to boost the park's attendance, Disney has begun two as-yet unannounced projects that will once again remake large sections of the park.
The first is a new version of the popular Cars Land from Disney California Adventure in Anaheim. The second is a long-awaited Star Wars Land, to be built around the park's existing Star Wars attraction, Star Wars: The Adventures Continue. Neither new land will be open for several years, as Disney's not yet started construction in the parks.
Next: Universal Studios Florida
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