I’ve graduated from, like, ninety-seven universities, but I have more pride in a theme park. Honestly, it’s my alma mater.
Working at the Backlot Tour changed my life. My writing flourished, and my filmmaking matured. I met some of my best friends, hid from my troubles, fell in love, began my quarter-life crisis, and made a Difference.
I stood beneath the Earful Tower as they removed the Disney-MGM Studios logo. I returned when they painted the Hollywood Studios logo.
And it needs to be razed.
The whole park. It’s lousy. It started lousy, it’s getting lousier, and the future holds no signs of delousing.
Its theme is lazily defined and lazily maintained. Its layout is tortuous. Half of the attractions are irrelevant, and the other half are poorly conceived.
Nothing in Disney brings out my Daddy Issues as much as Studios. Somewhere in there, there’s a great park...a park I’m proud to have in my ancestry...but I take every lousy aspect as a personal offense.
So please excuse the tone of this article. It’s a little severe in places, but that’s only because I care.
Rest assured, that passion will be reflected in forthcoming articles on how I intend to improve Studios. The stuff I’m about to introduce may be the most exciting work you’ll see on this blog.
So let’s give Studios a bath, remove its glasses, let down its hair, and teach it to enunciate its haitches.
Why can't Studios be more like a park?
Parks are so tasteful, yet bursting with flair,
painstakingly themed, but to us, laissez-faire!
They excite and delight each parent, teen, and brat!
Why can't Studios be like that?
Presently, the theme is, “Uh...I dunno...Disney franchises, I guess.”
The park has become a dumping ground for cross-promotion. It’s populated with Disney Channel billboards, live versions of trendy game shows, meet-and-greets that won’t fit in other parks, rides that half-heartedly adapt movies, and an entire fucking weekend dedicated to ESPN.
in front of a giant metal hat
in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater
which swallowed the spider to catch the fly
on a bump on a log in a hole in the bottom of the sea.
How are any of these things related?
"Uh...I dunno...they’re Disney franchises, I guess."
It’s easy to bag on Universal Studios, but their motto is golden:
Ride the movies!
We’re stealing that.
Hollywood Studios is a movie-themed park. We’re going to be immersed in movies. We can go onscreen, or behind the scenes.
If an attraction does not meet these standards, it will not be featured in the park. I know this sounds harsh, but Studios is twenty-two years old. It’s time to get its shit together.
Presently, the park is set in pre-war Hollywood.
Except sometimes we’re in Manhattan. Or on the forest moon of Endor. Or in the ironically titled "Animation Courtyard."
Michael Eisner showed an uncharacteristic degree of insight in his dedication speech for Studios:
[This park] 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.
This establishes the park’s look and tone: an idealized, pre-war Hollywood. A city of art deco, exposed brick, and saturated colors.
The Boulevards Hollywood and Sunset achieve this beautifully. We’ll spread their aesthetic to the rest of the park. That'll be our status quo.
Naturally, the park’s lands can adopt whatever architecture their themes require. Everything else will be unified by the theme of the Hollywood That Never Was, and Always Will Be.
I understand that Studios’ layout echoes Los Angeles’ urban sprawl. That’s a clever bit of theming.
Now stop it.
On the right, five attractions, separated by park-length runways.
It was hell trying to direct guests from the Backlot Tour's unload dock to the Great Movie Ride.
Make a left towards the Manhattan Skyline. Walk all the way up to the Skyline, and turn left. Don’t take the first left, because that’ll take you to the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground. Don’t take the second left, because that’s a dead end where they store old Christmas lights. Take the third left, the one that’s all the way up by the Manhattan Skyline.
That’ll take you down Commissary Lane. You’ll know you’re on Commissary Lane because it’s a featureless, billboarded alleyway. Once you’ve trudged past that, you’ll see the Great Movie Ride on your left, only you might not see it, because there’ll be a giant metal hat on the right, bludgeoning its way into your periphery.
Have a magical day!!
A theme park should be navigable.
Typically, a park's lands encircle a landmark. Disneyland has a plaza in the middle. Islands of Adventure has a lagoon. EPCOT has both: a plaza in front, and a lagoon in back. We need to choose one of these.
LA-themed architecture and geography do belong in Studios, but they shouldn’t be lands. Eisner’s dedication described the park as an ideological Hollywood...not a literal one. If Sunset Boulevard is going to be a land, it belongs in California Adventure.
This is a movie-themed park, and it needs movie-themed lands.
A land’s theme should unify its attractions.
We enter Fantasyland expecting fantasy-themed attractions. We enter Dinoland, USA expecting dinosaur-themed attractions.
One of Studios' largest lands is Echo Lake. It’s based on Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. Wikipedia tells us that Echo Park is especially famous for its Lotus Festival, “a pan-Asian celebration complete with Chinese dragon boat races.”
What sort of attractions would we expect to see in an Echo Park-themed land?
Nor do we enter the Muppets Courtyard expecting to see Pizza Planet, a restaurant from Toy Story.
Nor do we enter the Streets of America expecting to see Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show, Presented by Brawny, which is set in a Mediterranean village in the south of France.
Fortunately, Hollywood Studios has the seeds for decent lands in its very name! "Studios," plural! We’ll make lands out of Disney-affiliated studios.
Here are a few that I've brainstormed.
Walt Disney Animation Studio
I'll write about all of these in future posts.
Using studios as lands isn't an original idea. The Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris has studio lands...but they’re set inside soundstages. As a result, the park looks like a series of whimsical bunkers.
the magic is indoors!!
Our studios will be set outside. They will have locations from their signature movies. Burtontown will have Halloweentown, Studio Ghibli will have Yubaba’s Bathhouse, and so on. We can imagine that the movies were actually filmed there.
The Muppets Courtyard already exemplifies this. Even if the buildings weren't decorated with Muppets, you could still picture the Muppet Show being performed there.
There’s an eighth land dedicated to the filmmaking process. It’s set in a fictional studio, in the Hollywood That Never Was and Always Will Be.
Everything’s open in this studio. We can go behind the scenes. It has attractions that let us act, direct, and edit. We can also learn about visual effects, production design, and sound design.
A re-imagined Backlot Tour will be the E-ticket, because I am vain and powerful.
MuppetVision 3D and the Tower of Terror have immunity.
Beyond that, it’s all fair game. Much of the park will be bulldozed, and even more of it will be changed, but very little will be eradicated.
Sounds Dangerous is insipid, but a Foley-themed attraction is a great idea.
I want to demonstrate the full power of the Death Star, and I’ve set course for Star Tours, but I’ve brainstormed oodles of Star Wars attractions to replace it.
I assure you, in my Federalist way, that my choices may be unpopular, but they are principled, educated, and will lead to a better park.
The Nighttime Show.
We're evicting Fantasmic.
It feels like a live-action interpretation of the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks show, Wishes. I don’t like either show, but if Fantasmic belongs anywhere, it’s the Magic Kingdom.
In its place, Studios will have a movie-themed show, based on an idea by my friend, Richard. Since the movies are a medium of flickering lights, it’ll look quite striking against the night sky.
It won’t be set in the Fantasmic amphitheater. We’re demolishing that. We shouldn’t have to be corralled into a gulag in order to see a nighttime show.
Our show--like most others--will be set in a large, public space, so that the greatest number of guests can see it.
In EPCOT, if we’re anywhere near the World Showcase Lagoon, we can see Illuminations.
In Disneyland, Fantasmic is set on Tom Sawyer Island. Whether we’re in New Orleans Square, Frontierland, or the edge of Adventureland, we can see the show.
Maleficent and Pirates of the Caribbean.
A fastpass for premium seating at California Adventure’s nighttime show, the World of Color, costs ten thousand dollars and a sacrifice of three firstborn children. Once we get the fastpass, it can only be cashed in by the seventh son of a seven son who has a PhD in Quantum Mechanics.
But if we ignore all of that and just pass by, we can still catch a glimpse.
Note how many people are in front of the camera,
and how little that obstructs our visibility.
Since we’re razing Studios, we’ll re-build with that goal in mind. We’ll make a central, accessible location to feature our movie-themed nighttime show.
As for the content of the nighttime show, I’ll write about it in a future post.
For now, I’ll say that it covers one aspect of the park’s movie theme that we’ve left unexplored. Seven of our studios are based on filmmakers, and one of our studios is based on film production. Our nighttime show will cover film history.
I began this blog to turn over a new, constructive leaf. My chest was swollen with ambition and good intentions.
“I’m gonna improve all the parks in all the Disney properties! Maybe I’ll brush up a Universal or two! Why, I might even add a Seventh Flag!”
The real challenges, I knew, were in California Adventure, Disney’s America, and Eisner-era EPCOT. I was anxious to make my mark.
Yet the more I brainstormed, the more Studios dominated my thoughts. There’s so much potential and so little kinesis, it’s hard not to improve things.
Studios apologists perform logical acrobatics to justify the park. “This attraction belongs here because it’s based on a TV show, and they show movies on TV all the time!!”
The best response is almost always, “Let's ditch what we have, and start with a good idea.”
All we need is the courage to do so.