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Disney In Depth: Studio Backlot Tour Closes At Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Brett Nachman   |  @   |  

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“Hooray for Hollywood” was once the signature tune of the then-named Disney-MGM Studios. For the past seven years the park has existed under Disney’s Hollywood Studios label. After more than 25 years, the park’s original main attraction quickly closed.

The end of the Studio Backlot Tour mirrors the major changes irrefutably in store for the park in the near future. Let’s remember the attraction and imagine the possibilities in store for the park with this newly available space.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Studio Backlot Tour tram (Photo by Brett Nachman)

May 1, 1989 saw the debut of the Disney-MGM Studios, the third theme park in Walt Disney World. Offering a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes action of Hollywood productions, the several-hour main tour served as one of the only attractions at the new theme park. After a few iterations and some restructuring to the back of the theme park, the Studio Backlot Tour was trimmed to around 30 – 40 minutes during the 1990s. A showcase of recent Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures movies, as well as a look into how big-budget movies of the era were filmed, the Studio Backlot Tour took guests on exciting adventures into what was once a working studio. Highlights included the Catastrophe Canyon earthquake simulation sequence, “Harbor Attack,” a water tank act that placed a few brave guests in a soaking wet environment, and the actual tram tour section that navigated around massive film props.

But the first decade of the 2000s indicated the beginning of the end of the Studio Backlot Tour. The removal of the Residential Street section, which allowed the trams to pass through television neighborhood sets, made way for Lights, Motors, Action, a stunt show that has already aged in just 10 years. Additionally, in 2008, cast members no longer spieled the tram tour – instead replaced by an automated spiel. Many of the props and attraction elements lacked relevance. How could guests watching a pre-show film on special effects featuring early 2000s-era Michael Bay relate to Pearl Harbor references? It seemed as though the attraction would close many times over the past five years, but it remained in the park despite decreased visitation. Unexpectedly, Disney announced only a few weeks ago that the Studio Backlot Tour’s last day of operation would take place on September 27, 2014.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Studio Backlot Tour Earful Tower (Photo by Brett Nachman)

What will replace the Studio Backlot Tour? Do not expect any major announcements immediately, but do not be surprised if this huge piece of property becomes home to lands themed around popular brands under the Disney umbrella. Had this news come several weeks earlier, I would have guessed that Elsa and Anna would have indefinitely settled in a version of Arendelle at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The announcement of a new Frozen ride in Epcot’s Norway likely means no Frozen land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. How would you like to see a version of Cars Land from Disney California Adventure race into Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Rumors persist that Lightning McQueen and Mater could very well permanently park in this space, though the high cost of the project may stall development if this even becomes a reality.

Others suggest that Toy Story Land, a mini-land at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland that houses small amusement park rides, may invade over there. After all, the popular Toy Story Midway Mania attraction is only steps away from the former home of Studio Backlot Tour. Should Disney’s Hollywood Studios venture in that direction, it may not be met by the most positive reception from parkgoers seeking an E-ticket experience, though families with younger children would likely disagree. I suggest to expand the Pixar Place area (home to Toy Story Midway Mania) and open attractions with ties to many of the Disney-Pixar productions. Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris recently debuted an immersive Ratatouille dark ride. Why not bring that crowd favorite over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios?

Even more, this huge area of land could allow Disney’s Hollywood Studios to recreate other environments not yet accomplished by Imagineering. This fan of The Incredibles argues for a recreation of Metroville, complete with a 3-D film or thrill ride. Perhaps Pixar Place could contain a space-themed adventure centered around WALL-E? Have you considered a Soarin’ like experience with Carl and Russell from Up? Better yet, Disney could end years of speculation regarding the installation of a Monsters, Inc. door vault coaster by finally starting construction. The ideas run endlessly in my mind.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Studio Backlot Tour plane (Photo by Brett Nachman)

For you Star Wars fans, odds are any expansion to that universe in Disney’s Hollywood Studios would remain toward the front of the park. It would not prove practical to have an entire land at the other side of the park from Star Tours. Disney likely has plans for that area in store, but may wait until a special occasion to officially share news about that rumored project. As for the Studio Backlot Tour area, the people running the theme parks and Disney’s Hollywood Studios know they cannot leave this area abandoned for too long. The clock is ticking for the park to enter its next stage in life.

Though the park has been temporarily revitalized through a Frozen-themed series of special events this past summer, that embodied more of a temporary fix. What Disney’s Hollywood Studios needs cannot be merely a festival or show around a hit movie. The park’s relatively stable attendance, aging attractions and recent closures (an American Idol-themed show also recently shut down) suggest significant alterations are required. What will those be? Soon enough we should know for sure.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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