As of this last Saturday you are no longer able to ride the Backlot Tour at Disney Hollywood Studios theme park in Orlando – as it has now officially closed and is certainly slated for demolition.
When the Disney/MGM Studios opened on May 1, 1989 the Backlot Tour was an expansive two-hour behind-the-scenes excursion through multiple sets, prop and wardrobe warehouses, special effects workshops, soundstages and more. Over the years it has been reduced to a tram ride past rotting props, the park’s former icon (the Earful Tower), and a trip through Catastrophe Canyon.
Frankly, I’m glad to see it go.
The theme park stopped pretending to be a real working studio many years ago and has since transformed itself into the mish-mashed disaster we know and “love” today.
Here we see an aerial view of the park (found on Google Maps). It looks like an impressive amount of space… but not very much is actually used for the theme park.
The park was originally conceived and intended as a really-for-real movie and television studio that just happened to also be a theme park. Most of the buildings you see are [were] actual sound stages used for creating actual filmed entertainment. Newsies was filmed on location before the park even opened. The New Mickey Mouse Club, Thunder in Paradise, Let’s Make a Deal, Wheel of Fortune, and portions of Passenger 57 were all filmed on site. Additionally, some feature length cartoons were animated on-site in the now defunct animation building (most notably Mulan and Lilo & Stitch). If you’ve seen the humorous “How Did We Make Frozen” musical feature on the Frozen Blu-ray you’ve seen the inside of the Team Disney Orlando Feature Animation Building.
In this picture I have indicated (in red) some of the larger off-limit backstage areas. Please note the size difference between the Backstage Tour (purple) and the park’s actual backstage areas.
There’s actually quite a bit of real estate back there currently occupied by ghosts of this theme park’s past (currently used as storage and offices for theme park middle-management types).
What if, by some small miracle, Bob Iger gave the green light to reclaim not only the Backstage Tour but also the really-for-real backstage areas. That sheer expanse of land might look something like this:
Still with me?
Well, you may want to sit down because I’m about to propose something close to heresy. Disney dissent. An unorthodox plan sure to ruffle many feathers. On par with what happened over at California Adventure: a near-complete park overhaul.
It begins with saying a (fond?) farewell to Lights, Motors, Action…
(I’ll take a moment to allow some of my Disney purists to regain their composure)
…and then moves swiftly into razing the never-truly-realized and somewhat-out-of-place Muppet area.
Naturally, this means the New York and San Francisco facades would also go; after all, they were originally part of the Backstage Tour. Other than being home to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights what other purpose does this area serve?
I understand that this [garish and ostentatious] Holiday spectacle is very likely Hollywood Studios most popular and most lucrative events but, surely, if need be, Disney could find another spot for all those twinkling lights. At one time – obviously before its demolition – there were plans to light all the home facades along residential street.
Besides, over the last eight years Disney has acquired properties (namely Pixar, Marvel and StarWars) that aren’t truly being leveraged in Orlando. If done right (i.e.: following in the quality steps of Disney California Adventure’s makeover) those three resources must be more valuable than two blocks of fake buildings strung with 10 miles of Christmas Lights.
I imagine the image above is probably what you’re visualizing.
The new Star Wars land begins at the current Star Tours show building… the Pixar expansion stretches out from behind Toy Story Midway Mania and Pixar Place… and somewhere, sandwiched between the two, is a half-hearted Marvel area.
Disney can’t do much with Marvel anyway, right? I mean, Universal Studios already owns the theme park rights to ALL the good characters – plus they have some sort of 250-mile rule regarding the use of those characters (and Orlando is well within those 250 miles).
And that’s all true – and that’s also, I believe, exactly why Disney has been dipping deep into the back catalogue of Marvel characters and stories.
At the writing of this blog entry Disney has just banked $645 million of Guardians of the Galaxy. They have Big Hero 6 coming out this Christmas and AntMan coming shortly thereafter.
It is my opinion that Disney is preparing content to fill a theme park land.
Imagine walking through the Pixar Place expansion. An Incredibles attraction flows seamlessly into the Big Hero 6 attraction in the Marvel area. At the other end the Guardians attractions blends nicely with the Star Wars area.
Exciting stuff, right? …but what about the Muppets?
I actually do have a plan for them as well. Stay tuned! My next blog entry will detail my ideas for that valuable acquisition’s possible new home as well as expanded details on potential attractions for Hollywood Studios makeover.