Is it? I think at one time it was. That time was 1989. The park was freshly opened and the Great Movie Ride was essentially the park’s signature attraction. The park was in fact a working studio, and was dedicated to preserving this idea of a Hollywood that never was through a look into both the past and future of filmmaking. The movies in the GMR were considered classics and widely recognized.
There were always problems, though. The Wizard of Oz section was costly and was never finished. The Fantasia segment was a placeholder and it shows. A lot of the ride is blank, black walls. The final scene is a movie montage that was supposed to be surrounded by animatronics of the featured stars. Budget cuts doomed this attraction from really being what it could/should have been. Another issue was rights to films and characters featured. Disney wanted the attraction to really be “great” movies so it bought the rights to these films for use in the GMR, even though they aren’t really Disney movies.
Flash forward to today. Like it or not, some of the movies in the attraction are unknown to audiences. The building itself is hidden behind the giant Sorcerer Mickey hat, possibly because the owners wanted a bigger share of all the merchandise with their building on it. The studio no longer has ties to MGM, the company that lent its name and many of its properties to the park in the park’s early days. The Disney film brand is established enough now to make this attraction its own. To preserve its history and celebrate the history of filmmaking still, but with the films inside being owned by the Disney Company themselves.
I believe it is time for an overhaul of this attraction.
Let’s start with the exterior.
The Mann’s Chinese Theater is a classic, iconic Hollywood theater and was a great choice…until greed set in. It also forces the Disney company to rely on the legacy and image of a building owned by another group altogether. Because the park is supposed to celebrate the Hollywood that never really was, I propose that the entire facade be transformed into a new movie theater. An exterior that hearkens back to the glory days of old Hollywood without tying itself to one particular theater. An amalgam of theaters from the time period.
Of course, in order to do this, the hat has to disappear, and with no issues from the Chinese theater owners, Disney will be free to do so. The redux of DCA’s Buena Vista Street with its Carthay Circle and beautifully rendered homages to early Hollywood has proven that people enjoy this type of tribute and environment. Many argue that this re-theming, while without a headline attraction (with the exception of Red Car), is the strongest new element of the park. DHS has the potenial to do the same thing with this attraction facade.
In place of the hat, perhaps a beautiful water feature? A fountain maybe. Those are always nice.
The name should change as well. I’ve never been a huge fan of The Great Movie Ride as an attraction title anyway. It always felt a bit lazy and obvious. What is this ride? Oh, it’s a ride where you see great movies. I get it. Here is what I’m thinking:
I can imagine as you pull away from the load area, the Cast Member on your ride vehicle says, “…now, come with me as we take an exciting ride…through the movies!” Corny maybe, but fitting for the time period that’s being evoked.
As I stated above, the ride should be a ride chronologically through the movies, rather than being genre based as it is now. This is debatable, but I like the idea of progressing through Disney’s history as a film company starting all the way back with Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit. Everything in this first section will be black and white and shades of gray.
The attraction will utilize more of the wall space and both sides of the track now instead of forcing the rider to look at vignettes behind scrims. Immerse the rider in the film environments like most classic dark rides do and provide visual elements all around the rider for the re-ride factor. The host will still spout off facts, only the focus is on the company that Walt built from Kansas City to LA.
Next comes Mickey. We will see him in his early days, from Plane Crazy, Steamboat Willie, etc. Here is where we see the transition from black and white to color, just as we did in Mickey’s shorts.
Following Mickey, we will enter an area that is a tribute to what I believe is one of the under appreciated treasures in Disney history, and that is the Silly Symphonies. These experimental short films paved the road for many features that came after them. They were a chance for animators and filmmakers to flex their creativity and explore the possibilities in their medium. I think with the diverse subject matter of the shorts and the visuals they contain, this section could be a dynamic and exciting experience and also introduce a new generation to these historically important films.
The next section of the attraction is a natural progression from the short films of early Disney Studios. Full length animation. Beginning with Snow White and Pinocchio, this area will be a tribute to some of the classic old animated films that the company was built on.
Some of the later classics will be included as well, like Lady & the Tramp, Cinderella, Peter Pan, and 101 Dalmations.
From here, we start to get into live action , but without completely leaving animation behind. I know it is controversial, but frankly, there is already an entire attraction built around Song of the South, so why not include it here and speak to its historical significance and the context in which it was created?
This area will also feature Zorro and Davy Crockett.
The Love Bug.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Mary Poppins. This is one of the few films that remains from the original attraction, but I believe that the importance of this film warrants a larger display than the simple Mary floating over the rooftops. Perhaps a kind of montage of moments from the film? Keep the floating, add the carousel, kite flying, cleaning the nursery.
The Disney Company has gone out of their way to acquire properties that they feel are both timeless, quality entertainment and profitable for years to come. It’s time they celebrated these additions to their catalog, beginning with Star Wars. It might be difficult to choose just one moment, but there is the option, like with Mary Poppins, to create a diorama of multiple scenes. Being crushed in the trash compactor, Luke dangling from Cloud City while Vader looms over him, Jabba’s palace interior. This is a beloved and iconic film, and belongs in the attraction, especially now that Disney owns the rights.
Following SW, we stay in the Lucasfilm family and we see Indiana Jones. This scene can essentially stay untouched.
While it wasn’t necessarily a critical success, Tron has accumulated a cult following through the years and has spawned a recent sequel. Regardless of opinions about the story or sequel, there is no disputing the technological advances the film presented in computer graphics and 3D modeling. The historical significance in regards to technology and something that hadn’t been seen before, in addition to its following, merits it a place in this attraction.
The 1990’s follows with Roger Rabbit, Dick Tracey, Newsies, Tombstone, and The Rocketeer. Roger Rabbit and Tombstone were the only real commercial successes, but each of the others serves as an example of genre films and have had some cult success as well. Newsies in particular has now seen renewed exposure from the success of the Broadway musical. These might not be considered “great” movies by critics and in the eyes of history, but in Disney’s live action library, they hold significance.
Following these films will be a few newer, but ultimately very popular movies. Enchanted, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Muppets.
The final scene will be realized in the way in which it was rumored to have originally been envisioned. A montage as it is now, except with only Disney-related properties featured, will still be the main focus, but the curtains around the room will reveal the AA of dozens of famous actors and characters from “great” (aka profitable or historically significant) Disney movies. This montage will focus on the most successful and lasting properties of Disney’s vast library. The great animated films of the 2nd golden age, Miyazaki’s films, and newer movies such as The Avengers and Alice in Wonderland, will grace the screen with other current work like Wreck-it Ralph, Princess and the Frog, and Frozen. This montage can and should be updated frequently. It is a movie for goodness sake. How difficult can it be?
Like it or not many of these movies, while perhaps not cinematic masterpieces, have settled in peoples minds as favorites and more importantly to the company, have made a TON of money. Alice in Wonderland was panned by many critics, but the film made a billion dollars. The PotC films have brought in boatloads of cash as well. That’s an amount of money that cannot be ignored.
The interactive storyline of the GMR can still remain intact. Currently, the host leaves either in the Western or Gangster scene and returns at Indy. Essentially, the same effect can be achieved with either the Zorro scene with a bandit or the Treasure Island scene, with a pirate. While not absolutely necessary, that element is enjoyable to many, so it can remain.
The most exciting new feature will be at the exit of the attraction. It will be reworked so that guests exit into a gallery of sorts where a display will be set up of all the extremely talented artists who are doing versions of these movie posters and additional character art that is sold various places in limited quantities. Mondo, the art wing of Alamo Drafthouse, the boutique theater chain from Austin, Texas will partner with Disney to produce prints and other goods featuring the work of the highly talented artists who they work with regularly and discover even more. This art will be for sale here. Both original pieces and prints.
Artists like Eric Tan, Amy Mebberson, James Silvani, Josh Gilbert, Olly Moss, Ollie Boyd, Tom Whalen, and Dave Perillo. These artists need to be featured and celebrated Some have worked for Disney in the past and others are simply fans.
So much disgusting goodness right there. The money would be pouring in. Prints like these from Mondo sell out in minutes. Guests from other countries and others who couldn’t get their hands on the original print runs would leap at the opportunity to purchase these incredible pieces of art. I, for one, am grateful for artists like these who use their amazing talents to reinterpret a subject that I love.
Many people will be quick to point out the problems with the movies I chose, and that’s fine. There might be some I forgot, or something that should be included. It can change, but they don’t have to live up to this subjective definition of “great” that has been present in the attraction since opening day. Sure, most of the currently included films can be agreed upon, but not all of them. That is why I believe that the focus should shift to movies that are under the Disney Company’s banner. The library is there, including newly acquired licenses, and it is time that Disney began leveraging them better.
Let’s take a ride…Through the Movies.
*A movie like The Avengers (or any of the recent Marvel releases) should be included, but due to the theme park rights being held by Universal Studios currently, there is only so much they can do. That does need to be worked out though, btw. When Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out and makes another billion dollars, just pay Uni the money they want. Bring it home where it belongs.