Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole, and I’ll be your guide for a magical journey into the movies.
Before I jump headfirst into some films, I wanted to say a quick hello and welcome back. Personally, I had a very eventful summer, working hard and also prepping for a busy year at school. But this blog was always at the back of my mind, and I’m so excited to be back at it.
Over the course of the summer, there were a lot of announcements about the parks, with the vast majority of them coming in July at the D23 Expo. With new attractions ranging from the Tron Lightcycle coming to the Magic Kingdom to a full Marvel land moving into Disney California Adventure, there are many exciting things coming to the parks in the next four years.
But the biggest shock to many people was the abrupt closure of Ellen’s Energy Adventure and The Great Movie Ride on August 13th, which just happens to be today (what a funky coincidence). Most people weren’t too surprised that they were closing as it had been rumored for a while, but the fact they were closing for forever with less than a month’s notice shocked many people, including myself. Now we’ll be saving Ellen’s Energy Adventure for another day because today is all about HOLLYWOOD.
Hollywood has always been portrayed in media as a glorious place where hard work will make your dreams will come true. Living pretty close to Hollywood myself and knowing people in show business, I can tell you that those stories aren’t exactly true, but nonetheless, the spirit of Hollywood survives to this day.
The Walt Disney Company has always been closely associated with Hollywood because their Studio is what started it all. Today, the Walt Disney Studios still performs better at the box office than any other studio, grossing a record $7,000,000,000 (that’s billion!) worldwide at the box office last year, and with fewer movies than other studios to boot. With so much film history within the company, it is little surprise that the Studio atmosphere has worked its way into the parks over the years.
The journey to bring the Studio to life within the parks began in the early 1980s with the opening of the EPCOT Center. After the park opened, concept work immediately began on new pavilions. One of these new pavilions was going to be based all around Hollywood and feature an attraction known as Great Moments at the Movies.
As time progressed, work on the Hollywood pavilion began to stall as the Imagineers realized that the scope of this pavilion might be bigger than the EPCOT Center could contain. And then something changed that confirmed that suspicion and changed the course of Walt Disney World forever.
Universal Studios announced that they would be building a brand new theme park in Orlando, just miles away from the Walt Disney World property. This park would give guests the chance to live the movies and get a glimpse of life on a movie lot.
Spurred on by this announcement, then CEO Michael Eisner decided to fast track the Hollywood Pavilion idea into a theme park of its own, and Disney-MGM Studios was born on May 1st, 1989 (a full year before Universal Orlando).
The headlining attraction of Disney-MGM Studios was set to be a take on the Great Moments at the Movies idea, aptly known as The Great Movie Ride. Sponsored by Coca-Cola from 1989 to 1998, the attraction quickly became a fan favorite as it was unlike any attraction that has ever been made.
As you can see in the video above, The Great Movie Ride was more than your run-of-the-mill dark ride. It took the grand scope of classic dark rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion and combined it with a tour guide like on the Jungle Cruise or Kilimanjaro Safaris. Together, you and your guide would go on a magical journey into the movies.
Your journey started outside in front a full-scale replica of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, complete with the hand and footprints of the many celebrities who have passed through here. Each of these prints were left by the actual celebrities, adding an extra layer of detail to this exquisite area.
After entering through the center doors, you would walk through the queue, full of props and posters from both Disney and other studios’ films. Many of these props and posters were authentic and updated over time to keep the attraction in touch with modern times.
As you progressed further, you eventually entered a large room with a giant movie screen at the end of it. As you waited to load onto the attraction, trailers from films represented in the attraction would play on the screen, giving you a glimpse of what was to come. I always loved this aspect because it’s a clever use of foreshadowing, but also I just love seeing the trailer for Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen.
Now fully prepared, it’s finally time to climb aboard your vehicle (that could hold up to 70 people) and experience the movies in a way you had never done so before. Your guide for the trip would take the microphone and away you go.
As you rounded the corner, you were welcomed by some of the ladies from The Footlight Parade. Not many people have heard of that film outside of the attraction, but it’s actually interesting because it is one of the only things throughout the entire Great Movie Ride’s history to change significantly over the years. Originally, the effects were simply too much for the attraction to handle, so they were changed over time to the simpler effect seen today.
Proceeding further, you would catch Gene Kelly singin’ in the rain and Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke having a chim chim cheree time before leaving the land of musicals and entering the grittier world of gangsters.
Now, this is the part of the attraction where things got really interesting because as your car made its way through the gangster town, you stopped at a red light. Suddenly, a gun fight broke out and a real-life gangster kicked your guide out of the car, and you now had to endure the rest of your journey under the gaze of this terrifying gangster.
But wait, you may be saying, I remember a cowgirl taking over my vehicle, not a gangster. Well, the beauty of The Great Movie Ride was you never knew which story you were going to get when you stepped on the ride. (Well, that’s not exactly true because a cowboy or cowgirl would only take over on particularly busy days when they were trying to increase capacity.)
So if your car was not taken over by a gangster, then you would progress through the gangster scene with the normal commentary by your guide, and you would drive right through the green light to a western town. Here you would see John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, but then you would be stopped by a western ruffian. Your brave guide would then try to thwart the bandit before running into a building that would burst on fire, leaving you stuck with a cowboy or cowgirl for a getaway driver.
Personally, I thought this was one of the coolest parts of the attraction because during the busier summer time, you never knew which version you were going to get. Plus, they completely changed your guide halfway through the journey, something unheard of in theme park attractions, even to this day. That originality is what made The Great Movie Ride a true crown jewel of an attraction.
Plus, it didn’t hurt that some of the greatest films ever made were included in the attraction, including the next stop on the tour, Alien.
With your worried new guide leading the way, your car entered the ship Nostromo where a harried-looking Sigourney Weaver stood seemingly looking off into the distance. But as you continued, lights would flash, smoke would billow, and out would emerge…
Ok, I need to preface this by saying the Xenomorph is my favorite movie alien (except for maybe E.T.), so getting to see one in the flesh is more of a thrill for me than the nightmare it is for many people. I would always feel a rush of excitement at seeing these awesome-looking creatures up close and personal that would leave me wanting more of them. In fact, there almost was an entire Alien-themed attraction that ultimately became the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.
But rest assured, everyone made it out of the Nostromo (except for that one guy in the back row), which was fortunate because it was now time for the unveiling of the Ark of the Covenant.
Before Indiana Jones had a stunt show, attraction, or was even part of the Disney family, he found his first Disney parks home in The Great Movie Ride. Raiders of the Lost Ark is also one of my favorite films, and it was especially fitting that one of the coolest Easter eggs in the attraction were hidden in the room that glorifies finding hidden things.
After seeing Indy uncover the ancient piece of history, it was time for you to do some archaeology yourself as you entered a mysterious chamber with a giant red jewel perched near the top of a stone sphinx.
Drawn by the promise of riches, your new guide got out the car and made to grab for the jewel when a mysterious figure warned them of the consequences of the ruffian’s greed. The hooligan that your guide was decided to not heed this advice and grabbed for the jewel and in a burst of smoke met his or her grave end.
Lo and behold, your original guide had been that mysterious figure all along, and he or she had saved the day. With a new confidence, your guide would lead you through some more creepy mummy tombs (at least to me because I hate mummies) before you blissfully emerged in the world of Tarzan the Ape Man. The Great Movie Ride opened a full 10 years before Disney’s Tarzan, so when you entered his world, you were actually entering the jungle world of 1932.
After meeting the famous ape man, it was time to meet a true manly man in Casablanca‘s Humphrey Bogart. Paired with his partner in “crime,” Ingrid Bergman, the duo recreated the famous scene at the airport from the end of the film that is so fondly remembered today.
In fact, many began to believe that the plane was from the actual film itself, but in actuality it was just a random plane whose behind can be found on the Jungle Cruise.
Flying back to the attraction, your cars then passed by a giant wall showing a clip from Fantasia before entering the true showcase of the attraction, Munchkinland.
As you entered the room, you felt a lot like Dorothy as the room was relatively abandoned, but still full of the colorful facades that made the film so special. Suddenly, the Munchkins appeared in windows and doorways to tell you that the Wicked Witch of East is dead.
But the Wicked Witch of the West did not take too kindly to her sister’s death, appearing in front of your car in smoky glory. Her lines in the attraction were very similar to the film, truly immersing you in the world of The Wizard of Oz.
But what really made this scene special was how incredibly advanced the Audio Animatronic of the Witch was. In one of the other changes made to the attraction over the years, she received a major upgrade to make her appearance more lifelike. As the only animatronic to interact with the cars on a more personal basis (that’s not counting the ones in the gangster and cowboy rooms), she is the true star of the attraction. With her upgrades, you would actually think she was an actress, and her appearance shows how bright the future is for animatronics.
After ignoring the Witch’s warning, your car would continue along the Yellow Brick Road with a quick look at Dorothy and her traveling companions.
But before you could make it to Oz, your car took a turn towards the finale of the attraction, a movie montage. Now some people weren’t a huge fan of the montage, but personally I loved it because I got to see clips of my some of my favorite films, and not just Disney films, either. In fact, all of the major film studios were represented, except for one notable studio, Universal Studios, and I’m sure you can guess why that would be.
With your journey on The Great Movie Ride complete, you can see why this ride had such a huge following, and there were always rumors that it would make its way to other parks, as well. Over the years, it seemed like it was going to make its way to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot in Disney California Adventure or Disneyland Paris’ Walt Disney Studios Park, but alas it never made its way to either park, remaining exclusive to Florida.
There were even rumors that a parody of the attraction would appear in Disney’s Hollywood Studios itself, known as The Great Muppet Movie Ride. It was going to feature the Muppets taking over different movie scenes, and I would have loved to see the humor they brought to the attraction, but that was never meant to be, either.
Meanwhile in Florida, things remained relatively unchanged on the attraction until 2015 when Turner Classic Movies took over its sponsorship. I am all for change at the Disney Parks because each park is a living breathing place, but that change needs to improve the attraction. For the most part, Disney does a great job of improving their attractions, but the changes with the addition of TCM took away most of the magic of the attraction.
Not much changed to the actual attraction itself, but what did change was the narration of the attraction. You still had the guide taking you around the films, but now he or she was joined by Turner Classic Movie host Robert Osbourne. But the problem was that it was just his voice, and he took most of the guide’s lines, creating a weird dialogue between your guide and a disembodied voice. The guide became a redundant part of the attraction, really changing what made the attraction special in the first place. Losing most of that human element was the worst thing that could have happened to The Great Movie Ride.
The Great Movie Ride used to be my favorite ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios because of how unique it was and the awesome banter you could have with your guides. It was truly unlike anything ever created, but the TCM changes made the attraction feel normal. It lost that intangible quality that made it special, so in my mind The Great Movie Ride actually closed in 2015, and I will always miss what the attraction used to be.
But before we call cut, a thanks to Marty Sklar is in order for his amazing work on The Great Movie Ride and countless other parks and attractions around the world. Marty had such a profound impact on everything Imagineering did, and his loss is felt throughout the company. I once got the chance to meet him, and he was every bit as awesome as everyone says. So thank you Marty for all that you did and have fun up there with your good friend Walt.
But Marty did live to see the announcement of the replacement to The Great Movie Ride, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. As the first ever ride based around Mickey and his friends, I have a lot of faith in this new attraction to be a worthy successor to The Great Movie Ride.
While I’m not sure that getting rid of The Great Movie Ride is the best move for the park, I think that it had lost a lot of its magic, and if it wasn’t going to be replaced, it would have needed some kind of major overhaul. Still, losing the park’s last opening day attraction is going to feel very weird, but I am excited to see where the park goes with this new direction in place.
And that’s a wrap for The Great Movie Ride. The older version is still one of my favorite attractions of all-time, and I will miss it dearly, but we’ll always have
Paris next week’s attraction.
- This attraction will close again next Sunday.
- This attraction appears only at nighttime.
- This attraction has appeared in parks worldwide.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this (rather long) tribute to one of the greatest attractions ever created, and I look forward to hearing some of your memories of it below.
Thanks again for reading and have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.