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Sound speed. Camera’s rolling. Aaaaand action!!
In 1989, Walt Disney World opened its third theme park at the resort, Disney-MGM Studios.
The park was designed to be a working film studio in addition to the theme park. Now
MGM’s affiliation with Disney was solely for Disney to use MGM name and lion logo in
marketing, and separate contracts allowed specific MGM content to be used in The Great
As you walk down Hollywood Blvd at the park, you can’t help but notice whats an exact
full scale replica of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Disney wasn’t able
to secure licensing rights to use the Grauman’s name, so the theatre is simply referred to
as The Chinese Theatre. The Chinese Theatre is the home to the Great Movie Ride which
was one of two original rides that opened with the park on May 1st, 1989, the other
being the Backlot Tour. With a ride time of approximately 22 minutes, The Great Movie
ride takes riders through iconic scenes from 12 classic films in motion picture history,
using animatronic figures, live actors, special effects and projections. At the D23 expo in
July of 2017, it was announced that The Great Movie Ride would close on August 13th, 2017
to make way for the first ever ride based on Mickey Mouse called Mickey & Minnie’s
Runaway Railway. So today we’re going to pay tribute to a great classic Disney ride
that is surely going to be missed at Disney Hollywood Studios. So here are the top 10
Great Movie Ride Secrets and Facts!
Number 10- Original Concepts The Great Movie Ride wasn’t always intended
to be an attraction at the formerly named Disney-MGM studios, it was actually meant
for Epcot. When Michael Eisner was appointed CEO of the Walt Disney Company in 1984, he
became very involved with Imagineering. He was presented with an idea for a Hollywood
studio themed entertainment pavilion in future world at Epcot. The pavilion was to feature
an attraction called Great Moments at the Movies, which would take riders on a movie
magic journey; sounds kinda familiar huh? The pavilion idea kept growing into a grander
idea until it became so big that it was able to be its own theme park.
It should also be noted that in 1982 Michael Eisner, who at the time was the CEO of Paramount
Studios, was approached by Universal to join the theme park project in Orlando, but Esiner
declined. While Esiner stepped into the CEO position at Disney in 1984, the Universal
Studios project was in the back of his mind. When he saw the ideas for the movie pavilion
at Epcot grow larger and larger this really pushed him to slap together an entire studio
theme park to rival the Universal Project in Orlando, and just like that The Great Movie
Ride found its home in Disney MGM Studios.
Number 9- Hollywood Handprints Like we said earlier, the Chinese Theatre
is the home of the Great Movie Ride and its an exact replica of what you would see in
Hollywood California, right down to celebrity foot and handprints in the cement of the theatre’s
courtyard. From 1989 to 1995 Disney-MGM studios would hold handprint ceremonies for celebrities
to leave their mark in the pavement. Now, every celebrity who's handprints can be seen
at Disney Hollywood studios can also be seen in Hollywood, California, expect for one person;
So She attended a press preview of the park in April of 1989, and when she was creating
her hand prints, she began to cry. She was getting so emotional she said because no one
had ever asked her for her hand prints before, ever. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre got wind
of what happened and tried to invite Audrey to leave her prints in Hollywood, but she
declined. Now, Disney Hollywood studios is the only home of authentic Audrey Hepburn
handprints and this one of a kind piece of film history lives right in the park.
Number 8- The Footlight Parade This is The Great Movie Ride’s show building
and the track layout covers all 95,000 square feet of the building. As the ride begins you
travel out of the load area, under the neon lighted marquee and into the movie musical
segment. The first scene the ride vehicle pulls up to is The Footlight Parade; a 1933
film. Now the Footlight Parade scene on opening day was much different than what riders came
to know it as. When the attraction first opened, the five tiered cake could be seen rotating
with spraying replicating the scene from the film. It was all out in the open with an array
of lights dazzling the scene.
A year after the attraction opened, this scene started to experience some problems. The mechanical
rotating platforms kept breaking down and the plumbing from the water features on the
cake would cause the ride path to constantly flood. Park management thought it would be
less problematic if they discontinued the rotating cake and water features. So, the
cake became permanently stationary around 1992 and they would add a scrim in front to
help disguise that it wasn’t moving. Seeing as how this was the first show scene the ride
vehicle pulled into, the original incarnation was much grander than the bland non rotating
scrimed scene we were stuck with.
Number 7- Seal of Approval After the Footlight parade scene the ride
vehicle continues into the world of movie musicals, and you see the famous dancer, Gene
Kelly, featured in his most iconic role as Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain”.
Now Disney had acquired licensing rights from MGM to have some of its film properties represented
in the ride, however, using the likenesses of famous actors also required licenses from
the celebrities or their estates. Apparently, the Imagineers wined and dined Gene Kelly
before showing him his audio animatronic. As soon he saw the figure he signed off immediately
and it was shipped off to Florida. Every other actor represented in the ride had to give
approval before the ride could make it’s official debut. If an actor had passed away
then a representative from the family would make the call, but not everyone approved right
The family of late actor James Cagney was not happy with what he was originally wearing
in the gangster scene from "Public Enemy,” so the family donated Carney’s actual tuxedo
so he would appear more “classy.”
Number 6- Show A and Show B After you pass Mary Poppins and Bert, the
ride vehicle heads into what’s called the underworld and this is where your experience
might be different from other guests. Now the Great Movie Ride has two different versions
known as “ Show A” and “ Show B” or you could call Show A the Cowboy Scene and
Show B the Gangster scene. A majority of people would probably only remember the Great Movie
Ride having the gangster shootout since show B was most commonly used. Show A takes place
in a Wild West bank robbery with the ride vehicle getting taken over by a bandit and
some really cool pyro of a bank catching fire.
Now when the park isn’t busy, only the gangster show B runs and you’d know this cause there’s
only one set of vehicles on the loading dock. If there’s two sets of vehicles on the loading
dock, the front vehicle will give you show A (the cowboy scene), and the back vehicle
will give you show B (the gangster scene). Using this diagram, we’ll show you how the
ride would operate if both scenes were running in the same show. So vehicle A is riding along
the track, it moves a bit quicker to get ahead of vehicle B. It passes right through the
Underworld gangster scenes and parks in the Wild West Bank section, all while vehicle
B slowly moves into place for the Gangster shootout. Once vehicle A’s show is finished
it proceeds ahead and vehicle B also proceeds ahead, eventually going through the wild west
but doesn't stop.
Even when both shows are running Show A typically only shows up in one or two of the five sets
of vehicles through the queue, it was definitely considered the more rare show scene of the
ride. Now cast members would know which ride vehicle would be stopping for which scene
and if you wanted to see a particular one you could just ask the cast member and they’d
be able to seat you in the appropriate ride vehicle.
Number 5- Imagineer Crew Members The first scene you pass through after your
vehicle is taken over by the gangster or bandit is Alien which is one of the larger show scenes
on the ride. The Great Movie took many imagineers countless hours to construct and the Alien
scene pays homage to these imagineers. On the left hand side, there’s computer screens
that list crew members who are missing, but these crew members are really just the imagineers
and the roles they played during its construction of the ride. Its hard to make out the names
of these specific imagineers but you can make out the roles of “Still Programming the
Witch” and “interior detail expert.” Its a neat little detail added to the ride.
Number 4- The Casablanca Airplane After passing through the jungle….hey Tarzan-
you would approach Casablanca. In the scene there’s a full size Lockheed Electra 12A
airplane along with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. When building and designing the Great
Movie Ride, Disney was looking for that exact model of the plane since it’s the model
used in the film. Disney ended up finding this airplane in the ownership of a man from
Hondo, Texas. Through the airplane’s serial number, they’d be surprised to learn that
it was in fact used in films during the 1940s, but despite Disney’s claims that this was
the actual plane from Casablanca, it wasn’t, since no real full size Lockheed Electra aircraft
was actually used in this scene of the film.
Warner Weiss, creator of Yesterland.com, has claimed that this plane Disney obtained could
have been used for insert shots in the film but not in the actual scene with Humphrey
and Ingrid. That plane was a scaled down model used on set. In the end, it created a good
buzz though for the marketing of MGM Studios at the time. And when you ride by you’ll
notice that only one half of the airplane was used on the Great Movie Ride. So where’s
the other half? Well it can be found on the Jungle Cruise at Magic kIngdom.
Number 3- True to Scale The Great Movie ride was home to over 50 audio
animatronics that brought many famous actors to life. Each actor’s animatronic on the
ride was true to scale expect for one, Humphrey Bogart. He was actually an inch shorter than
Ingrid Bergman in real life, but you can see here that he’s clearly taller than his female
counterpart. In the film world, it’s a common practice for actors to stand on raised platforms
to appear taller and thats what happened while filming Casablanca. The audio animatronic
is taller than Humphrey Bogart was in real life, and is the only animatronic from the
Great Movie Ride that is not the actual height of the actor.
And here’s another little fact about this scene: remember how we spoke before about
Disney needing a license to use the actors likeness? Well they also needed a license
to use the actors voice, so in the Casablanca scene Ingrid does not speak because her family
would not give Disney permission to use her voice.
Number 2- It’s a Twister! As you leave Casablanca, you’re faced with
Sorcerer Mickey from Fantasia but what a lot of people don’t know was that this scene
was supposed to be the twister scene from The Wizard of Oz. At the time, MGM had only
given Disney the rights to use about 3 minutes of the film's audio. It included the Munchkin
song, the Wicked Witch’s dialogue, and a few lines of Dorothy discovering the Emerald
City. This didn’t include the additional tornado scene Disney wanted to use and they
were’t willing to pay more for these rights since building MGM studios was happening on
a very tight budget.
The kicker of all of this is that Disney had already built the Tornado scene. You can see
the tornado outline and how the wizard scene would have fit in here perfectly. So imagineers
went back to the archives of Disney films, found the scene from Fantasia and shoehorned
it into the already built set.
Number 1- The First Animatronic The final big show scene in the Great Movie
Ride is the Wizard of Oz. At the time the ride opened in 1989, the Wicked Witch of the
West animatronic was the most advanced audio animatronic built by Walt Disney Imagineering
to date. It was the first A-100 figure at any Disney Park.
Really is amazing how quickly and how life like the movements are of the figure. It can
move much faster and stay more stable. Its a figure that has the most movement in the
show. I think it has 17 different body functions. The next A-100 figure to be installed at Walt
Disney World was Captain Jack Sparrow in the update and refurbishment of Pirates of the
Caribbean. And, Pirates of the Caribbean was one of the
films represented in the finale montage of the Great Movie Ride, and just like that the
movie journey is over and a major Disney theme park chapter is closed. The great movie ride
will definitely be missed but won’t be forgotten. The new Mickey ride is said to take place
in The Chinese Theatre so at least the facade of this beloved attraction, and who knows
what else, should hopefully live on as a reminder of the once great attraction that was the
Great movie ride. Thats a wrap!
So which scene from the great movie ride will you miss the most. And what’s your opinion
on Disney replacing the Great Movie ride? Leave a comment bellow and start a conversation!
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