Wednesday, May 30, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 9 - Disney Hollywood Studios

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.

Michael Eisner, May 1, 1989


Disney Hollywood Studios (or Disney MGM Studios, if you prefer) has always been one of my favorite parks.  Part of it was the age I discovered the park; getting to experience it at 11 and 13, just a little after the park had opened.  Primarily, I think the attachment stemmed from the combination of so many things I loved and was fascinated by: old Hollywood, old movies, movie making, and Disney.

The early Disney Hollywood Studios maintained a focus on movie magic.  A focus on the how.  Imagineer Tony Baxter used to sum up the parks at Walt Disney World  by saying that the Magic Kingdom was "magic made real," EPCOT was "real is magic," and Disney Hollywood Studios was "how the magic is made."  Accordingly, the park had many attractions that pulled back the current and showed you how sound effects were made, how stunts were achieved, or how a green screen works.  There were opportunities to be in the movies.  And there were actual film and television productions that were housed within/adjacent to the park.

The park is shifting its focus now to allow guests to step into the realm of their favorite movies.  To not just be a part of filming a new Star Wars movie, but to be able to step into a living Star Wars community like Batuu.  To become one of Andy's toys, etc.

This presents a clear vision that can still meet the stated goals of the dedication.  It also presents challenges in restructuring the park and removing a lot of the existing but underused production facilities.

Primary Goals:

  • Disney Hollywood Studios needs more rides.  The park has always had an imbalance regarding attraction types, leaning heavily on theater based attractions, whether live or screen.  The park as a whole will have only nineteen attractions after Star Wars: Galaxies Edge comes on line next year.  Of that total, nine are rides.  
  • Further, Disney Hollywood Studios needs more attractions and rides in particular for the whole family.   The attractions that currently exist skew towards an older demographic. Of the nine rides in the park, only one ride does not have a height restriction (Toy Story Mania!).  That includes the rides in the upcoming Toy Story Playland, both of which have height restrictions (though the Alien Swirling Saucers is fairly low).
  • Disney Hollywood Studios needs more walkways to connect and complete a "loop" around the park.  There are currently too many dead ends in the park as it exists.  The Muppet Courtyard, Sunset Boulevard, and the Animation Courtyard all create dead ends that limit traffic flow and increase congestion.  
  • The prevalence of screens and live theater attractions should be put to greater use for seasonal and flexible overlays.
  • Existing facilities should be adapted for all day use.
With these goals in mind, I’ll walk through each land in the park and discuss the updates.  I'll be walking through the park clockwise from Hollywood Boulevard, heading through Echo Lake first and working around to Sunset Boulevard.  This is generally the approach we take in visiting the park, so it makes the most sense to me to approach it this way in addressing the parks needs and changes.

Hollywood Boulevard:
Hollywood Boulevard is one of the most magical places in Walt Disney World.  A wonderfully representative "Main Street" for Hollywood, particularly now that the view to the Chinese Theater is restored.  I love the architecture.  I love the Citizens of Hollywood.  And while I know a red car trolley was originally planned to go down Hollywood and Sunset, I would not add it.  Let that be a California exclusive.  I love this main strip just as it is.

Generally, I have been leaving Disney's announced plans in place, but I'm making one exception for Disney Hollywood Studios.  The conversion of the Great Movie Ride to Mickey's Runaway Railway bothers me terribly.  The Great Movie ride was a thesis ride for the park and really summed up the idea of the "Hollywood that never existed but always will."  It was a reminder of cinema past and a celebration of the history of film.  The ride should have been updated and it should have been better maintained, but that is not an excuse to replace it.  Further, Mickey needs a ride, but this is the completely wrong location.  I would keep The Great Movie Ride in place, particularly should the 20th Century Fox acquisition finalize.  I would however, rework the ride, so that it focuses on properties that Disney or its Studios own (no more licensing deals).  You could restructure the ride so that it is a journey through genres.  Imagine if you started through musicals this time including a Shirley Temple scene (Curly Top - "Animal Crackers in my soup" perhaps) and a nod to the Sound of Music.  Next then is noir/crime with Call Northside 777 or The French Connection.  I would keep Clint Eastwood in the western scene and update John Wayne's clothing or replace him with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for the western section.  Alien stays or is replaced by Star Wars (specifically the beginning scenes where Vader boards).  Raiders stays, but the horror end is replace by Young FrankensteinTarzan is replaced by the Planet of the ApesCasablanca replaced by The Seven Year Itch (small space for one iconic scene and you do not get much more iconic than the subway grate).  Fantasia stays.  The Wizard of Oz is replaced by Mary Poppins.  Finally, the movie montage at the end gets 20th Century Fox, Pixar, Disney, Lucasfilm, and Marvel properties.  The TCM sponsorship and narration remains, though slightly tweaked now with Ben Mankiewicz narrating.  This sponsorship is key as it should play into other parts of the park and studios as well.  For instance, the memoriam portion of the Academy Awards ceremony should always be farmed out to TCM.  Their TCM Remembers montages are always better put together and more complete.

I would also work on the exterior of the attraction, so that spaces could be created for new handprint ceremonies in front of the theater.

Echo Lake:
Echo Lake as well will largely remain the same.  I love the buildings and the restaurants that surround it.  I would want to add fountains, more lighting effects, and potentially a water cannon (for a cannonball effect) to Echo Lake itself for use in the nightly fireworks/general entertainment.  The ABC Commissary and Sci-Fi Dine in remain the same.

Echo Lake
I would replace the Frozen Sing-Along with an updated Superstar Television.  This section kind of forms a mini-ABC Studios section with the Commissary so I would want some nod to television here.  It is also a great space to have available as a flexible use space for the various festivals and celebrations I would recommend.  The updated Superstar Television could still have classic episodes like the Golden Girls or I Love Lucy, but really should have newer television examples to be green screened into.

Next door, I would replace the Path of the Jedi with an Industrial Light and Magic Special Effects show.  While the focus of the park is generally shifting to living the films, the park is still perfect to have a few "how the magic is made" type of attractions.  Industrial Light and Magic is perfect for this given their attachment to so many of the properties in the park.  A theater attraction where the effects spill out of the screen and into the guests would be amazing.

From there, I head to a new Indiana Jones themed land.

Indiana Jones: The Lost Temple
I would replace the current Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular with the entire Indiana Jones complex from Tokyo Disneysea. This would include the Indiana Jones Adventure ride, the Raging Spirits roller coaster, and the Yucatan Base Camp Grill.

New Indiana Jones Land
This may require a slight push outward into the parking lots, and would replace the Backlot Express restaurant and Jedi Training Academy (though this would move to Galaxies Edge) as well as the Stunt Spectacular.  The current Indiana Jones store next to the 50s Diner would remain given the proximity.  Overall, I think this would be a great step up.

Guardians of the Galaxy Mini-Land:
Star Tours would be replaced by Galaxy Tours, featuring Guardians of the Galaxy.  This would be perfect here just as in Disneyland.  The experience is essentially the same, but with Rocket as your pilot and baby Groot on the dash.  The soundtrack is now an awesome mega-mix and you are visiting Hala, Xandar, Knowwhere, Ego, etc.

The outside would be rethemed to Xandar, as a Galactic Travel Depot, with the nearby Tatooine Traders renovated to be the Collector's Outpost.

Further, I would love to see a little tie in with the Sci-Fi Dine-In by showing little Guardians Clips in a classic B-Movie style.

Grand Avenue/Muppet Courtyard:
Grand Avenue has gone through a great renovation from the previous Streets of America.  Cynically, it is recognizable that this is an expansion of the holding pen for Galaxies Edge, but it truly has opened this space up in a way that is wonderful.  And the tie to the Muppets has been fun.

I would add Muppets to the second and third floor windows on the Grand Avenue side for a "The Muppets Present...Great Moments in American History" like experience.  Generic citizens of Grand Avenue fun conversations.

Updated Muppet Courtyard
Across the way in the Grand Avenue Park/Muppet Courtyard, I would make a few tweaks.  PizzaRizzo is a great addition, that could stand to be plussed just a little more in the Muppet zany direction.  The Grand Avenue Theater should really be renamed to the Muppet Theater for MuppetVision*3D.  For MuppetVision*3D, I would shoot three additional films, all in a Cinemagique style journey through the movies with the Muppets.  First a summer blockbuster spoof with the Muppets (Muppet versions of Star Wars, Marvel, Lord of the Rings, etc.).  Then a Monster Movie spoof set with the Muppets for Halloween.  Then a Muppet Christmas Carol version for Christmas.  That way, the show can be rotated between the four versions throughout the year.

The Muppet Central Store in the center of the courtyard would be torn down.  Likewise, Mama Melrose's would be torn down so that expansion could occur towards the back.  Mama Melrose's would be reopened as the Swedish Chef's in a new configuration pushing out toward the parking lot.  The restaurant would have television screens that would allow you to see the Swedish Chef in the kitchen making your dish.

The store would be relocated to the back corner of the Muppet Theater.  The store would be smaller to include only Muppet merchandise and a What-Not Creation shop.

In the new open space, I would add a Whatnot Roundabout carousel populated by odd looking Muppet characters.

Toward the back, I would add the Great Muppet Ride.  There was an old proposal to have a Great Muppet Movie Ride, a parody of the Great Movie Ride with the Muppets spoofing all of the classic films.  I would go in a different direction with essentially a Great Muppet Ride Ride.  In my way of thinking, a guest would enter a ride that looks to be completely a Muppet Treasure Island Ride.  At some point in the opening scene, Crazy Harry would light a cannon and blow up a wall, sending you off course in the ride.  As you bust through the wall, you essentially break into the "ride" next door.  Great Moments with Sam the Eagle, The Enchanted Chicken Coop, Pigs In Space Mountain, The Fozzie Bear Jamboree, Mr. Frog's Wild Ride, etc.  It would be loaded with sight gags and nods to Disney attractions and Muppets that would keep guests coming back to catch them all.

Star Wars: Galaxies Edge:
Like Disneyland, I have nothing to add here, other than to say that I am very excited to see how it will turn out.  I would make sure that the Jedi Training Academy is resurrected in this space.

Toy Story Playland:
I like the addition of Toy Story Playland, but feel it is being woefully underbuilt in a park that is desperate for capacity.  The new addition is bringing Woody's Lunch Box counter service window with outdoor seating, Alien Swirling Saucers whip-ride, and Slinky Dog Dash family coaster.  It will be absorbing the existing Toy Story Mania Ride with a new entrance in the new land side.

First for the planned addition, I would make one change.  I would push the Woody's Lunch Box counter closer to the Toy Story Mania building, so that it frees up a larger portion of the land for another flat ride.  In it's place, I would add a "Snake in My Boot" caterpillar style attraction (like the previous Slinky Zig Zag ride), themed to a wooden snake toy.

Toy Story Playland and Burton Addition
The land also requires additional attractions.  To do so, I would push further beyond the Slinky Dog Dash toward the Animation Courtyard, eliminating the need for the "wooden fence" on the parking garage.  In the additional Toy Story land space, the goal is to expand the attraction base.

I would add the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop from the other Toy Story lands, but would lower it to the Jumpin' Jellyfish Height.  This would be centered in the expansion.

Further, I would add the Poultry Palace "kids meal" box style Turkey Leg Stand on the side near the Walt Disney Presents building.  Likewise, I would place an appropriate box toy style vending cart.

On the outer edge, I would add a Toy Box Revue Theater for a Country Bear-esque animatronic show.  Here with a windup band, Wheezy, Tin Toy, etc.

Further, I would add a Pizza Planet full service restaurant themed to a Pizza Planet playset.  Should be almost exactly like Pizza Planet in the movies.  This would be a perfect place for Toy Story character dining opportunities.

This will expansion will take the longest as this is all in space currently inhabited by production and backstage facilities, many of which will need to be relocate offsite and then bulldozed to start the expansion.

Expanded Playland and Toon Avenue
Just like the changes to the Animation Courtyard.

Animation Courtyard/Toon Avenue:
The Animation Courtyard is key to park expansion as it represents the connection point between Toy Story Playland and Sunset Boulevard.  It completes the circle.  Accordingly, the Animation Courtyard will be undergoing a transformation into Toon Avenue.

Toon Avenue will focus on the traditional "fab five" related Disney cartoon characters and properties adjacent to them (like Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, etc.).  This is where the Mickey's Runaway Railway attraction should be added.

The Disney Jr. attraction will be replaced by the CafeToonia.  This space used to be the Soundstage Restaurant, as it shares facilities with the Brown Derby and the former Catwalk Bar.  The Catwalk Bar is being converted into Disney Hollywood Studios' Club 33 location.  Accordingly, I'd like to bring this space back to a restaurant.  This could be the "fab five" character dining location.  An All-American cafeteria interpreted through a Toon Town architecture style.

On past that on the right would be a section for a shop, followed by a Dumbo-esque spinner themed rotating airplanes, called Launchpad's Crash Course.  It's important that this corner be open to expand sightlines from the animation courtyard around into the market space off Sunset.  It helps serve as a visual weenie in the space.

Likewise, the spot directly across from it will get a Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters lps-style attraction themed to Benny the Cab, with guests doing the Toontown Taxi Tango.  Again, the goal for this attraction is to have something open air, that allows views into the adjacent Toy Story Playland, drawing people to each land.

From there, additional shops and meet and greet spaces for the classic Disney Characters.

The back of the land contains Mickey's Runaway Railway in the Toontown Theater.  This will be sufficiently large enough to help hide most of the Rock n' Roller Coaster, with the gravity room portion getting painted go-away blue at the top (or just painted like a Toon Sky Scraper).

Burton Boulevard:
I would also like to reclaim the current Pixar Place space from becoming backstage.  This location creates a valuable walkway and would also correspond to the third Galaxies Edge entrance at Disneyland, which could be a valuable addition to the Disney Hollywood Studios version.

In this space, I would love to pay homage to another Disney collaborator that does not always fit into other Disney themed lands: Tim Burton.

Starting down this path, I would leave the Walt Disney Presents space largely as it is, though it would become the designated film promotional theater.  With EPCOT getting many of the theme park based exhibits and the One Man's Dream film, this space would house the film exhibits and would contain the rotating film promotions.  A movie based park should have a space dedicated to history and promotion of the upcoming film.  Likewise, space could be used for the promotional meet and greets - the characters in the film that is being shown in the theater space.  A great flex space for festivals as well.

Reemphasized for Burton Boulevard (the black line)
To get an attraction space, the third track of Toy Story Mania would have to go down once all of the other additional family rides have been built.  This should decrease the demand for Toy Story Mania, allowing this separate third track to be reconfigured.  In this space, I would build a Nightmare Before Christmas darkride.  The old painted flats, blacklight approach seems perfect for this property.

Along the other side of the corridor, there is space for a Sparky's Franken-Weenies hot dog stand, merchandise vending in the current area and meet and greet space, as well as a Jack and Sally (and perhaps Oogie Boogie) meet and greet location to be created at the end of the street in the expansion area.

If a ride could be built for Edward Scissorhands (20th Century Fox film) in the expansion, that would be a great use (as I think Galaxies Edge will be sufficient until a completely new Star Wars land can be built in another location).

The rest of the corridor would be dressed appropriately for a Burton film, with the architecture darkened.  Movie posters for Frankenweenie, James and the Giant Peach, Alice and Dumbo repainted to look more like B-movies would be perfect for the area.

Sunset Boulevard:
Sunset Boulevard would remain largely the same.  It houses two of the most popular attractions and well designed merchandise and dining options.  My focuses in the area are to better utilize the Theater of the Stars space and to rework Fantasmic to allow for a daytime use.

Sunset Expansion
The Theater of the Stars would be pushed back from Sunset and enclosed to represent much more of a Broadway-style theater.  Since the Hyperion is taken in California, I would name this the Buena Vista Theater.  The new theater would house a new production like the Golden Mickey's or Mickey and the Magician.

This new side street leading up to the theater would also be able to house a couple of different attractions. One would be a copy of Roger Rabbit's Toon Town Spin.  A copy of the attraction from Disneyland and Tokyo, which would serve an important purpose for time and place setting on Sunset.

The attraction on the other side would be the Toontown Trolley simulator ride, this time with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit at the controls.  I would even call this attraction Oswald's Trolley Troubles.

Fantasmic! would receive an overhaul both in terms of the attraction space and in terms of the show and storyline.  To anyone who has seen both Disneyland's Fantasmic! and Disney Hollywood Studios' Fantasmic!, Disneyland's is far superior.  It seems to magically come into existence, has two full size boats used in the show, and a lot of additional effects.  With Fantasmic in Disney Hollywood Studios, you know you are entering a theater essentially and know that a show will begin.  The pieces that follow do not necessarily fit together.

The goal would be to make the space more purpose built.  The mountain would go away, as there is no need to maintain the illusion that you are somewhere else.  I would replace it with a Hollywood Bowl stage that could be filled with props as needed and where Mickey could appear on a platform on top of the Bowl, just as he does with the mountain. The bowl like stage would also help this space be used for other shows.

The show would be reworked into a Hollywood Fantasmic! show.  Dreams of stardom and Hollywood lights.  It would incorporate things from Disney live action productions as well as animation, including the Nautilus battle with a giant squid.  I would build a full Black Pearl for a pirates segment and a full true steamboat closer to the one in Steamboat Willie for the finale.  New segments could be added and the lighting, sound, projection, and fountain equipment would all be updated.

The seated space would get canopies to help allow this space to be used in the daytime, potentially for concerts, for live productions, etc.  It could even be a daytime show with the fountains.  The space is too large and valuable not to be greater utilized.

Further, changing to the Bowl like space would allow for nights where Fantasmic is not shown, but the stage is used for The Music of Pixar Live show that the studios housed last year, having an orchestra play Pixar music with accompanying movie clips. This would be a big benefit to the festival atmosphere I hope to create.

The Tower of Terror would remain the same, but would get the Tip Top Club added to the space at the exit.  A small bar with themed concoctions.

The Sunset Showcase would be put into use as a more permanent Diamond Horseshoe-like dinner theater, with entertainment coming from the latest acts of the nearby G Force Records.  It would still be adaptable as a flex space for the various festivals and celebrations, in addition to the Disney YES and music groups.

Seasonal Overlays:
Disney Hollywood Studios has the greatest potential for overlays given the proliferation of screen based attractions and live theater/stage shows, both of which are easier to change out.  For the seasons, the park should get significant Halloween and Christmas offerings, ramped up from the current status.

For Halloween, the park should offer a slightly more spooky offering than the Magic Kingdom "Not So Scary" celebration.   With the addition of the Nightmare Before Christmas ride, Jack Skellington should be the guide for the time of year, with a focus on monster movies and villains.  The giant monster Muppets could be set loose.  The Dark Side takes control of Galaxies Edge.  Monsters Inc. set up a film studio to capture screams/laughs.  Etc.  A new spooky/monster movie fireworks show would be added to the Chinese Theater area, focusing on things like Monsters Inc., Monsters University, Nightmare Before Christmas, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Watcher in the Woods, The Adventures of Ichabod Crane, The Lonesome Ghosts, Frankenweenie, etc.  It could be titled Disney's Halloween Treat (after the television special).  Toy Story Mania would get new animation for Halloween, and MuppetVision*3D would get a monster movie spoof film.  The studio should also be working now on Halloween animation for Mickey's Runaway Railway.  Tower of Terror would get the Late Check Out pitch black ride experience during Halloween.   Further, I would explore changing out Rock 'n Roller Coaster to be a Shock n Roller Coaster featuring KISS experience for Halloween.

For Christmas, the current offerings would be  beefed up.  Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam is a fun projection and fireworks show and the idea of the Prep & Landing Crew running the parks Christmas celebrations is a good one.  The Sunset Seasons atmospheric show was a great addition last year, as was moving more of the decorations into the park around the Echo Lake area.  I would continue this with a MuppetVision*3D Muppet Christmas Carol film and a walk-around Spirit of Christmas Present character.  Galaxies Edge can celebrate Life Day.  The toys in Toy Story Playland can celebrate new additions of Christmas presents and Toy Story Mania would get new animation for Christmas.  As above, the studio should be working on animation now for a Christmas Mickey's Runaway Railway.  Rock 'n Roller Coaster would become the Jingle Bell Rock 'n Roller Coaster with a storyline needing to get the gifts to Santa as quickly as possible with Run, Run Rudolph and the Jingle Bell Rock as example songs.

I would further add several celebrations throughout the year giving the park a festival like atmosphere.  Particularly a film festival atmosphere.  As outlined in Why Disney Hollywood Studios Should Adopt A Festival Model Like EPCOT, I would envision the following celebrations
  • Muppet Mania in January/early February
  • TCM Classic around Oscar season
  • Star Wars Weekends in late March through the end of May
  • Pixar Fest from June through August
Each with their own specific offerings including fireworks and parades.

The park should also throw a big Oscar party.  In addition to the picture opportunity with an Oscar statue, I would roll out the red carpet literally down Hollywood Boulevard, making each night like a premier.  There would be an "And the Oscar Goes To..." fireworks show focusing on the winners of the Disney Studios.  This would be the perfect time to partner for the TCM celebration to have a handprint ceremony for classic actors and to focus on the classic films in the Disney and 20th Century Fox libraries.

Parades and Nighttime Spectaculars:
With the focus on festivals and seasons, they become the driving force for parades and nighttime spectaculars.  The constant would be the updated Hollywood Fantasmic! as a default offering throughout the year.  The rest would be updated for the particular celebration.

The fireworks would be centralized around Chinese Theater, but would be upgraded so that the experience is creating a giant outdoor 4D theater experience, pulling in the best tricks from Disneyland and the other fireworks experiences.  The theater already uses projection mapping and fire in addition to the fireworks behind it (and off to the right).  I would add inflatables on the roofs of the Hollywood Boulevard shops, bubbles, snow, water, wind (fans), confetti cannons, searchlights, and fountains/water cannons in Echo Lake itself to create a more immersive experience for each of the shows.

I would further add another fireworks launch location to balance the fireworks to the left and right of the theater.  Currently, they are offset to the right and cannot be centralized due to the fallout location over Galaxies Edge.  I would at least balance them with another launch location to the left.

Park Overview
This would put the additional fireworks launch site on the other side of the Star Wars Boutique Hotel.  This will be fine, as the hotel will not have windows, but will be focused on the internal experience.

Further, these expansions will require a reworking of the parking lot.  Ideally, part of the parking lot would be converted to a parking garage to absorb larger crowds and put the greater number of guests near the entrance.

For the parades and fireworks celebrations, I would create the following schedule:

  • During Muppet Mania - the Magnificent Muppet All-Star Motorcade and Muppets in the Sky
  • During TCM Classic Film Fest - bring back a Stars and Motorcars Parade and the And the Oscar Goes to fireworks show
  • During Star Wars Weekends - the March of the First Order and the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks show
  • During Pixar Fest - Pixar Play Parade and Together Forever
  • During Halloween - Disney's Halloween Treat
  • During Christmas - Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam

Cartoon Mascot:
For Disney Hollywood Studios, I would choose Roger Rabbit.  Roger's story is set in the golden age of Hollywood and his film came out around the opening of the park. The park initially had a ton of references to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and the park could be stronger for restoring those ties (like the Valiant and Valiant window with the Roger Rabbit cutout in the blinds above Hollywood and Dine).


As always, thanks for sticking through this with me.  Next up in the series is Disney's Animal Kingdom, perhaps the strongest theme park in North America.

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