With award season come and gone, and the passing of the incomparable Robert Osborne, I’ve been thinking about the role Disney’s Hollywood Studios has in the modern movie going experience. Specifically, I’ve been ruminating on the question of whether or not The Great Movie Ride has skewed or contributed to the way we look at films? Even more precisely, since not everyone has multiple experiences with the attraction in their formative years, has The Great Movie Ride subtly nudged a generation of Disney enthusiasts and how we look at genres and the legacy of particular movies?
The idea came to me a few months back when I was viewing, and becoming complete and utterly enamored with, La La Land. The obvious comparison to be made about a musical film set in Hollywood is Singin’ in the Rain, but is that the most accurate representation or have we just fallen into the comparison because we’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain so many times and that is the direct line we’ve been hearing and reading about so much since the film’s release? From my perspective, I grew up thinking musicals were only something that my mother made me sit through on a rare occasion. Let’s disregard the fact that I sang in county and state school choirs and loved it or that I was fascinated with movies like Labyrinth and Mary Poppins. It wasn’t until I discovered Singin’ in the Rain in my 20s that I fell in love with the genre properly. However, I only came to Singin’ in the Rain because I wanted to see every movie that had a major scene in The Great Movie Ride.
I can draw almost identical parallels to the spotlight of Alien and science fiction horror and The Public Enemy and gangster films. Similarly, I didn’t have an interest in John Wayne westerns until The Great Movie Ride’s trailer sequence sent me on a hunt for The Searchers. Although I can remember a deep-seated love of the Man With No Name trilogy, but I couldn’t tell you now whether or not that came out of the Clint Eastwood figure in the western scene of the attraction. Likewise, while I know that my mother had a love of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan films, I didn’t have an affinity for them in my younger days.
The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Casablanca, and Raiders of the Lost Ark are timeless to me, and I don’t think their inclusion or exclusion in this attraction would ever change my feelings for these films. I don’t know many kids that loved Fantasia, aside from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment, but I burned through at least one copy of that VHS because I loved that entire film early on and never let it go.
Where does our love of film, or specific pictures, or genres come from? I suppose, as with most things in life, it comes from the world around us. How something affects us is directly related to how it is presented to us, and it can determine if we love or loathe it. Sometimes, someone loving something, such as my sisters fascination with Titanic in our squabbling teenage years, can make you distance yourself from it for no apparent reason. Generally, however, is something is present with care and adoration to a child, that child is going to have that same love for it.
This brings us back to The Great Movie Ride. Here, it is clear that the films presented are loved by our tour guides. Each scene is carefully crafted to make you feel like you have indeed walked straight onto the set of a movie, or that you are actually living out a part of that movie. Nothing is left astray, down to the posting on the jailhouse wall in the western scene or the screen readouts aboard the Nostromo. It is that care and dedication that can make us smile at Mary and Bert on a rooftop and give us shivers at the slithering floor of Well of the Souls. It is this attention to detail that makes almost all of the movies presented in The Great Movie instant classics in the minds of those who grew up with this attraction.
I’m willing to bet that if you were to ask someone in their mid-to-upper-30s that didn’t grow up going to Walt Disney World on a regular basis if all of the films with dedicated scenes inside The Great Movie Ride were classics, you get a bunch of affirmative responses. However, they may balk at Tarzan, The Public Enemy, Footlight Parade, or The Searchers. It isn’t that they couldn’t grow to love the films, it’s is only that the films haven’t been presented in the same light and with the same care as some of us have seen them in. They aren’t ingrained in their cinematic DNA.
The addition of Robert Osborne to The Great Movie ride was not a change that I greatly looked forward to. I mean, TCM is one of three channels my television lives on and his insights have always given me a deeper understanding and joy of the pictures he showcased. However, I just didn’t see what it would add to the attraction, and it didn’t help that my first ride with the new audio had a handful of glitches and poor sound. Since that time I have come to love the narration, but particularly the new trailer area which is filled with Osborne providing tons of insight, trivia, and knowledge I may not otherwise have gathered. I’ll go so far as to say some of the new to The Great Movie Ride films featured in the queue will be considered classics to the next generation, because of Osborne’s presentation.
If The Great Movie Ride has influenced a generation or two, or maybe even three, around a handful of films, then I am perfectly okay with that. Not everyone has to love the same pictures, and they don’t even have to agree on what makes a particular picture great, but these mean something to me and I think they’re classics. If that’s because I had the privilege of being able to experience The Great Movie Ride more frequently than others my age, I good with that to. Because, honestly, I can’t imagine my life without them.