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Few people, outside of a certain proprietor of a website dedicated to the park, will claim the Studios (while I am not so entrenched in the past as to keep calling it the Disney-MGM Studios, I haven’t quite adopted the new name yet, so “the Studios” is my compromise for its name) as their favorite park. I know I don’t. In fact, out of the domestic Disney theme parks, the Studios ranks as my fifth favorite park out of the six parks. I suppose if you add Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach to the mix, its ranking of fifth out of eight sounds a little better, but the point still stands: the Studios isn’t at the top of my list.
However, this is not to say the Studios is a bad park by any stretch of the imagination. If it were, this post appreciating the Studios would be somewhat pointless. Rather, it’s much like a flavor of ice cream that isn’t one of your top flavors: it’s still ice cream, and it’s still a heck of a lot better than cauliflower and broccoli. Likewise, the Studios is still an incredibly well done theme park, and should be appreciated as such. But because it doesn’t have the lineup of the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, people often dismiss it as a park. Here are some tips to help you see the true quality of the Studios while touring.
The No-Brainers: Obviously, you’d be remiss if you skipped the Great Movie Ride, MuppetVision 3D, Toy Story Mania, Star Tours, Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. As far as headlining attractions go, this is an incredibly strong line-up. The last of these is arguably the best attraction at Walt Disney World. Unfortunately, it (and many of the other items on the list) doesn’t appeal to all guests. Despite this, I strongly encourage you to venture over to the Tower, walk the queue, experience the pre-show, and then take the chicken exit. A good portion of the amazing experience in the Tower of Terror isn’t the main show itself, but the build-up. Everyone should at least experience that.
The Architecture: From the Pan-Pacific Auditorium inspired turnstiles to the California Crazy Dinosaur Gertie to giant Sorceror’s Hat inspired by…err, let’s just skip that one. With the exception of the Big (insert lewd adjective) Hat, the architecture in the Sunset Blvd, Hollywood Blvd, and Echo Lake areas are really impressive in that they combine multiple styles to create something that flows as representative of the golden era of Hollywood.
The Details: Like the windows on Main Street, USA in the Magic Kingdom? Then check out the windows on Hollywood Blvd in the Studios. These windows allude to the origins of Walt Disney, Hollywood in general, or contain clever puns. In addition to the windows, you can find references to classic Hollywood films scattered throughout the Studios. This first became apparent to me on the D23 Great Disney Scavenger Hunt, when we had to run all over the park finding them. If you want a fun diversion the next time you find yourself bored in the afternoon at this purported half-day park (it’s not!), have your party split into teams and see who can find more film references throughout the park. Or, you could spend the afternoon enjoying many of the great overlooked attractions at the Studios including the Backlot Tour (it takes a lot of heat, but Catastrophe Canyon alone redeems all of the Tour’s other faults), Voyage of the Little Mermaid, the American Idol Experience, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, and One Man’s Dream.
Streetmosphere: Dubbed the Citizens of Hollywood, these characters from Hollywood’s past are the glue that hold together the gears of the Studios. As they are not a fixed “Guide Map Attraction,” I fear the Citizens of America are often overlooked. This is a huge mistake, as the Citizens are essentially an E-Ticket (with no lines!) right on the streets. Performing daily on Hollywood and Sunset Blvds, these characters perform entertaining sketches that feature audience participation. The characters range widely from the washed up starlet “Dorma Nesmond,” who is clearly reminiscent of Norma Desmond from Billy Wilder’s classic film Sunset Boulevard, to police officers who anoint younger guests as honorary officers to help keep law and order on the dangerous streets of Hollywood. The Streetmosphere characters do brilliant work, and are a true gem in the Studios crown.
With all of these positives, you might wonder why the Studios isn’t my favorite park at Walt Disney World. Well, it’s actually only a few attractions away from being a contender for that title. Just for fun, here are the things that I think would make touring the Studios better:
The Muppet Studios: this idea was actually floated for the Studios prior to Jim Henson’s death, and it’s an idea that I think should be revisited. A Great Muppets Movie Ride, wherein the Muppets spoof classic films, should be the first addition to this land. Converting Mama Melrose to a restaurant featuring the Swedish Chef would be next, followed by converting Pizza Planet to a restaurant spoofing Ratatouille featuring Rizzo the Rat. Since this imaginary world is devoid of budgetary constraints, I’d also add an interactive Fozzie Bear Pie Toss game similar to Toy Story Mania.
Expanded Pixar Place: the Monsters, Inc. family coaster that has been rumored for years is the obvious fit for this area, and Pizza Planet would also round out the land nicely. The real estate presently occupied by the Backlot Tour would make a great location for Radiator Springs Racers, but given the current inequity between family attractions and thrill rides, I would instead opt for a Cars dark ride. Use the concept behind Monsters, Inc Ride & Go Seek! but instead let guests control the vehicles headlights.
LucasLand: replace the Backlot Express with…well, something else. The Studios has already gained a restaurant with these additions, so I’d like to see this replaced with an attraction, rather than rethemed to something Lucas Films. Additionally, the rumored expanded Jedi Training Academy in the Sounds Dangerous building would be nice.
Okay, so if I got my way and everything on this wish list were added, the Studios would undergo a more extreme makeover than California Adventure’s $1.1 billion face lift. For what it’s worth, I think the Studios is a great park to tour even without all of these changes, and if even one or two of these additions/changes came to fruition, it would be an even more solid park. It’s fun to dream and play armchair Imagineer, though!
What do you think? Is the Studios really underappreciated? Do you think these changes would improve it? What changes would you make?