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Theme park history: A short history of Disney's Hollywood Studios

August 11, 2013, 5:35 PM · 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.

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.

Animation Academy
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.)

In front of the hat
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


Replies (6)

August 12, 2013 at 8:15 AM · Rumored is the conversion of The Great Movie Ride into a Star Wars ride. Otherwise, why not change out the Wizard of Oz into the Disney's Oz, the Great and Powerful? Pull out the original green witch head and put in Mila Kunis'. Change is good, but this park is really weak at the moment.
August 12, 2013 at 8:28 AM · I really wish they would demolish the Fantasmic! arena. It seems like such a waste to take up valuable real estate in a park that's only utilitzed for a couple hours each day. I know that the show draws huge crowds, and it's really nice to have a comfortable place to sit down and watch the show, but there are so many things Disney could do with that space.

I also think the Indy show is a HUGE waste of space. There's really no reason to have two giant stunt show arenas in a single park. DHS is the smallest Disney park in Florida, yet it misuses so much space. The park needed an overhaul nearly a decade ago, and a Star Wars and Cars Land patch just aren't going to cut it. This park is in worse shape than DCA was before the $1 billion reinvestment.

August 12, 2013 at 9:39 AM · With the car stunt show going away, there'd only be the one big stunt show left in DHS. And the Indy theater is Disney's go-to facility when it needs a large theater on property for televised events, so I can't imagine it going away (though I could see the show changing).
August 12, 2013 at 1:25 PM · Although this is unrelated to this posting, a very large sinkhole swallowed a portion of a timeshare resort today near Disney World. Thankfully everyone got out alive, but the three story building was completed consumed.

- Brian,0,376846.story

August 12, 2013 at 5:03 PM · I wish I could say that I had the opportunity to take that corny photo of the iconic Mickey sorcerer hat "sitting" on top of my 10 year-old's head when we were at the park last year. Unfortunately, the structure was almost completely obscured from view by massive scaffolding surrounding a performance stage. I was SO disappointed that I would have to settle for stock internet photos of this park's symbol in my photo album. Why would they do that? You wouldn't set up a stage in front of the castle in Magic Kingdom, would you?

I agree that DHS is sorely in need of some sprucing up, but I disagree with those who say that Carsland and Star Wars Land won't be enough to make a difference. Those two changes will certainly be enough to re-kindle my interest in this park.

I really do hope that they'll make some changes to the Great Movie Ride too (sorry if I got the name a little wrong - you know the one I mean). Fantastic concept for a Theme Park attraction, and one Disney certainly should have been able to pull off on a grand scale. Unfortunately, I have to say I was pretty disappointed in the outcome. Some of the worst examples of audio-animatronics I've ever seen in any park anywhere. And the live "actors" just made it even worse, I'm afraid. Just a little re-imagining would go a LONG way here.

Keeping my fingers crossed for the future of this park, though.

August 12, 2013 at 8:27 PM · The live actors make the Great Movie Ride fun. It would be good if Disney changed and added some things though.

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