Archive for the ‘Playhouse Disney’ Category

Theme Park Headlines – Reinventing Disney-MGM Studios

February 10, 2008

A new name! New attractions! New entertainment! Oh, my! Walt Disney World is redefining its third theme park with a slew of major changes. And will American Idol and Ratatouille REALLY be making their way to Walt Disney World? Maybe.

By Blake

Originally posted February 10, 2008.

When Disney-MGM Studios opened in May 1989, it truly offered guests a look into how movies were made and was defined as “The Hollywood That Never Was and Always Will Be”, complete with backstage tours, behind-the-scenes exhibits, and actual television studios. Since then, the park has slowly distanced itself from its original intention and, bit by bit, has had less and less Hollywood charm as it once had. Sure, there have been massive hits such as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock n Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, and Fantasmic!, but overall the park has suffered as a whole. And, finally, Disney has recognized where they went wrong in turning the “fantasy Hollywood” park into a huge advertisement for modern Disney movies and products by turning its direction around.

The park took its first baby step in completely redefining its image by getting a name change. For years it had been rumored that the Disney-MGM partnership contract was running thin and that a name change would be in place soon. Disney Studios and Disney-Pixar Studios, as well as a few others, were suspected to likely be the park’s new title, but it was not until August 9, 2007 that Disney officially announced that effective January 7, 2008, Disney-MGM Studios would become Disney’s Hollywood Studios . . . which in the long run could cause potential confusion among guests, since Hollywood is an actual town name in the state of Florida.

So, does a new name mean a new park? Kind of. The park is no longer defined as a dreamy Hollywood, but as “all that today’s Hollywood has to offer – in movies, music, theater, and television”, as said in Disney’s original press release concerning the name change that was issued in December. And, over the course of the next few years, there will be a very evident change in the park as a whole. Some attractions will be refurbished and refreshed, while others will sadly have the curtain closed upon them to make way for forthcoming projects. Here’s a look at what’s already changing in the park and what still is yet to come:

First up is the new edition of Playhouse Disney Live on Stage. Since 2001, the show has entertained preschoolers by bringing to life (in puppet form) the settings and characters from Playhouse Disney television shows Bear in the Big Blue House, The Book of Pooh, Rolie Polie Olie, Jojo’s Circus, and Stanley. Well, while that might have been really popular for preschoolers when the stage show initially opened, not one of those programs still airs regularly on the network today. So, for the past couple of years, the show has been in serious need of some refreshment. On January 28, 2008, soft preview openings for a new version of the show, featuring characters from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, Little Einsteins, and My Friends Tigger & Pooh, debuted before its official opening on February 1. And I’m happy to say that from the pictures and videos I’ve seen of the new show, Mickey and the gang make the transfer to puppetry quite nicely, and I’ve even read that the puppets were created using the same scale as the majestic “Partners” statue at Magic Kingdom.

Characters from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse are part of the new Playhouse Disney Live on Stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and coming soon to Disney’s California Adventure.

Characters from Handy Manny are part of the new Playhouse Disney Live on Stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and coming soon to Disney’s California Adventure.

Characters from Little Einsteins are part of the new Playhouse Disney Live on Stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and coming soon to Disney’s California Adventure.

The next step in the reinvention of the Studios is a parade replacement. Since October 2001, Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade has entertained guests with its daily march through the Studios’ streets, featuring a plethora of Disney characters riding in unique cars suited to match the characters riding in them. (It also features plenty of rare character appearances! J) Unfortunately, the parade’s time has come to move on. It will have its last performance at the Studios on March 9, 2008, before being moved to Disneyland Paris. It will surely be missed, but a new parade, Block Party Bash, will debut in its place five days later on March 14. The question is will this completely different-style, high-energy Pixar parade please guests just as much as the quaint and charming Stars and Motor Cars? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. The new parade is being imported from Disney’s California Adventure, where it has been performed since May 2005, and features floats based on the Pixar films Toy Story; a bug’s life; Monsters, Inc.; and more.

The next date on the agenda is this summer, when the Mickey Avenue section of the Studios will awaken from its year-and-a-half hibernation as “Pixar Place”, a re-themed area of the park based on Pixar films. Just what WDW needs . . . MORE Pixar-themed attractions. Disney has officially confirmed that Toy Story Mania!, an interactive 3D ride featuring Toy Story characters, will open as part of Pixar Place this summer; and if the rumors I’ve been hearing are true, Pixar Place will eventually expand into further areas of the park. The word on the street is that the Backlot Tour, one of the only two rides that have been open since the first operating day of the park in 1989, will be demolished to make room for a Ratatouille-themed roller coaster, though this has not been officially announced, confirmed, or denied by Disney. Right now all it’s still a RUMOR.

Concept art for the upcoming Toy Story Mania! attraction, opening this summer at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Imagineers “test-play” the new Toy Story Mania! attraction, coming this summer to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

And, finally, the year of redefining the Studios will come to a close in late 2008 with the opening of a brand-new, just-announced, breaking-news attraction . . . so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet. Announced on February 7 by Disney, with its temporary name “American Idol Attraction”, the hit Fox television show will be making a permanent home at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And while it would be really neat for Ryan, Simon, Paula, and Randy to set up camp for airing the show at Walt Disney World, that’s unfortunately not what this new attraction means. What it does mean is that beginning late next year, guests between the ages of 14 and 28 (yes, that’s 14, not the TV show’s age minimum limit of 16) will be able to pretend to go through the “audition” process and try out for Disney’s version of American Idol. Guests can either sing in front of a live audience or pretend to be a judge and review other guests’ performances. At the end of each operating park day, a winner for the day will be announced, and the winner will receive a “Fastpass” to skip the massive thousands of people in line at the REAL American Idol auditions for the television show.

Concept art for the upcoming American Idol attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

And while all this seems really exciting right now, I’d give this two – maybe three – years, if that, to belong at the Studios. I mean, think about it. Most of the kids who want to try out won’t be able to since the age minimum is 14 (and even then, how is Disney going to check to see if someone is 14?!), and most adults who would like to go through the experience would be too old. Additionally, the problem with creating any attraction based on a television series is that TV shows don’t last forever. They have their heyday for a few years and then it’s time to say bye-bye as the shows goes off the air, as evidenced with the former version of the Playhouse Disney stage show, as discussed above. American Idol’s popularity is great right now, but it’s not really a wise decision on Disney’s part to partner with the show if it’s not going to continuously be a phenomenal success in the years to come. I think that American Idol will surely last much longer, but you can never be too sure. Besides, who honestly wants to visit a Disney park to sit around all day and watch people sing karaoke?

Concept art for the upcoming American Idol attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

So, it’s pretty evident that Disney-MGM Studios is no more. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has officially taken over, both literally and figuratively. Whether the massive changes are good or bad is a decision too early to make. We can hope for the best, but with Block Party Bash and American Idol on the horizon, I wouldn’t bet on it just yet.

By Blake; originally posted February 10, 2008. All images (C) Disney.