30 August 2007

Go out and try your luck...

Orlando Sentinel

This breaking news just in, well, just in about 3 weeks ago. As I am sure most of you have heard by now Disney-MGM Studios will be changing its name to Disney’s Hollywood Studios this coming January. If you’ve been reading all the message boards and editorials about the change then you’ve heard a variety of opinions. From ‘I hate this idea, it was done at the last minute,’ ‘I’m indifferent to the change,’ ‘I want the name to stay the same,’ ‘Whatever happened to Disney-Pixar Studios,’ and even a few ‘Hooray for Hollywood;’ and since variety is the spice of life, I thought it about time to add my two cents to the discussion.

Disney-MGM Studios/Disney’s Hollywood Studios (from here on out referred to as the Studios) has changed over the years, and, if you are a fan of the parks, you’d have to have been living under a garbage heap in the Antarctic not to have seen it. The Golden Age of Hollywood that Disney sought to convey, the atmosphere that probably only truly lives in our hearts and minds as an amalgam of true memories and romanced ideas, is dead. To see this simply look down Hollywood Blvd. The great Chinese Theatre, the iconic memory everyone had of walking the street towards its grandiose pillars and doors is now blocked from view by a giant Sorcerer Mickey Hat, even PhotoPass photographers are given strict directions not to allow any part of the building show in any photograph they take. True this is mainly fall-out from legal skirmishes, but the argument suits the same purpose. Additions made to the park since its inception has slowly but surely chipped away at the old Hollywood feel. As you make your way down Hollywood make a right and stare down Sunset. You’ll see a luxuriously designed hotel that would have fit into the heart of Hollywood’s Golden Age. But, walk down the road and to your left you’ll see a modern Hollywood recording studio that is decidedly not part of the Golden Age persona.

While these two examples alone state a fair case against the original intent of the park, there are still others. The greatest of these is the fact that the park is no longer a working studio. The last animated feature that was worked on at the Studios in the Animation Tour was Brother Bear. There are no television shows or movies in production, post-production, or even pre-production. The Backlot Tour has become a farce of its former self. The house facades were removed in order to facilitate space for another stunt show, Lights, Motors, Action!, which, again, does not fit into the Golden Age theme. As well, the path through storehouses of various movie artifacts and technological “how they do that’s,” is gone. The water tank exhibit is still present, as is Catastrophe Canyon, but they only serve as grim reminders of what once was, and what could have been.

Sounds Dangerous, starring Drew Carey, is a nap’s dream come true, as it offers no true entertainment these days. That isn’t to say that the Haunted House movie with Martin Short and Chevy Chase for The Monster Sound Show was any better, but the feel that attraction had at least gave some credibility to the Golden Age idea. These, along with other empty spaces in the park, make me sad when I dream of what might have been.

If you’ve stopped reading by now, which clearly you haven’t as you are still reading this, you’d think that I was totally in love with the early days and hate what the Studios have become. However, you’d be wrong. I love Rock ‘n’ RollerCoaster, The Narnia walkthrough, One Man’s Dream, and I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of Toy Story Mania. I even believe that the High School Musical Pep Rally and Lights, Motors, Action! have their niche to fill in the overall park going experience for your typical family. But, it is not that I am indifferent to the idea of the name change either. I am, what they like to say, cautiously optimistic.

Do I miss the steamroller and Roger Rabbit’s sound crates that used to line the Backlot area? Yes. Do I miss the view up Hollywood Blvd., the true animation tour, and real working environments that the original created? Yes. Would I give up Rock ‘n’ RollerCoaster? Never. So I think there is room to find a perfect harmony. By Disney’s own admission the park now encompasses more than just that Golden Age. It has music, television, movies, and interactive and innovative technologies that make entertainment just that much more entertaining. If you look at Disney’s various film, television, and music properties (not to mention its friends like Mr. Lucas), it has a lot to work with, and all the time in the world to explore them. After all, the park isn’t going anywhere, it is just adapting a new name.

Is there a chance that this new park will forget where it came from? I don’t think so. After all, there are a multitude of examples for it to look at all over its grounds. In fact, I hope the exact opposite happens, I hope it finds a few more ways to include homages to where it came from as it begins to truly assimilate all that is today’s Hollywood. Since we were able to give the original incarnation time to find its feet, I anticipate, no I expect, that we will all give this new Studios all the support it needs, especially if it is given a much needed dose of TLC, as it finds its own way through the heartbreak/big break town of Hollywood.

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