When Disney World fans consider which parks need the most help, the usual answer is Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s had few significant upgrades in recent years and has seen many attractions closed. That trend is set to change in the next few years with the arrivals of Toy Story Land and the Star Wars Experience. If Disney nails those expansions, this park will see huge crowds for a long period of time. Even if they aren’t great, curiosity will drive guests for a time.
This second post in my “Seven Wishes” series of articles is the most forward-looking one. Four of the seven choices relate to attractions that aren’t in place. The new lands have great potential if done well, and I hope that Disney’s leadership understands the stakes. Universal has serious momentum; it’s time for Disney to up their game and show their skills. Along with the big moves, I’ve also chosen incremental ways to update the park. Sometimes it’s also better to do nothing than mess up an existing gem. It’s will be fascinating to see what happens at this park.
1. Upgrade The Great Movie Ride but Still Focus on Classic Films
I’m a serious movie fan and even blog about them when I’m not discussing theme parks. The Great Movie Ride is tailor-made for me, and the TCM collaboration is exciting. Thus far, the partnership hasn’t led to the types of changes that I’d like to see. The pre-show updates are refreshing, but the combination of Robert Osborne’s narration and the live narrator is awkward. Some fans have issues with the ride’s use of films that are unknown to most audiences. I like the spotlight on older movies but realize that examples like Footlight Parade are strange now.
Rumors about upgrades to the Great Movie Ride have been rampant for years; the latest is an overhaul to a “Great Mickey Ride” concept. While that idea could work, I’d prefer to see Disney look for ways to enhance the current attraction’s theme. The Wizard of Oz and Alien scenes still work; why not try to reach that level of immersion across the board? You could replace a small group of sets (Tarzan, Footlight Parade, etc.) with areas using better effects. I’d also like to see the on-ride narrator either more involved or removed. The ride feels too disjointed right now.
2. Retain the Theme of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
The best attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is easily The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. In fact, I could argue that it’s the top for the entire resort. My favorite is Splash Mountain, but it’s a close contest. The drop is only one part of the Tower’s success. Its queue has excellent theming both outside and inside. The pre-show creates the right mood, and the Fifth Dimension scene remains one of the best anywhere. Why mess with a nearly perfect attraction?
Despite the online rumors, I still have doubts that Disney would change one of its flagship attractions. The Guardians of the Galaxy choice makes more sense in California as part of a larger Marvel land. If Disney is set on putting those characters in Florida and the Universal contract allows it, why not put them in Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster? I’m not opposed to change when it’s done well, but there are plenty of other spots to update. Disney should maintain its strengths and look to improve weaknesses. IP is important but not the only consideration.
3. Bring Back the One Man’s Dream Film and Don’t Close the Exhibit
I love One Man’s Dream! The informative and well-designed presentation reminds us that Walt Disney was an actual person. The audio clips from the man himself bring goose bumps to avid fans like me. There’s a reason that this exhibit has lasted for so long. I’m disappointed that Disney has used the theater to promote its latest films. The movie about Walt Disney did a nice job summarizing what we’d seen in the walking portion. It worked as a complete attraction that wasn’t just for obsessive fans. With that said, I’d accept losing the film to keep the rest of it.
One Man’s Dream also offers a break from the Florida heat without the lines. Traffic moves smoothly through the space with few bottlenecks. It’s also cool to see updates from Disney, especially in the models near the end. My wish for this area is simple; I want it to survive for a long time. Having the film would be a bonus. Many younger Disney fans know little about the company’s history and Walt Disney. This space is crucial to maintaining Disney’s legacy and also is a fun place to visit.
4. Create a Warm, Inviting Atmosphere at Toy Story Land Beyond the Rides
We’ve now moved into the forward-looking wishes from this list. I’m making certain assumptions about the Star Wars and Toy Story expansions that are probably wrong. Regardless, it’s fun to think about what might be there. My concern with the Toy Story Land is that it will feel like Dino-Rama or the carnival parts of DCA. Those arrived under Eisner’s tenure, but we’ve seen similar off-the-shelf approaches under Iger. Disney needs this land to fire on all cylinders, especially since it will likely open before the Star Wars Experience.
I’m hopeful that this area will have more in common with Cars Land than your typical kids’ area. The concept art looks colorful and inventive, but it also seems chaotic. I have two young girls and expect them to love this area. The key factor is making it palatable to all guests. This land also must be a way to pull some guests away from the hordes in the Star Wars area. If Disney excels at building a coherent theme and cool atmosphere, Toy Story Land could be amazing.
5. Introduce New Elements at the Star Wars Experience That We’ve Never Seen in Theme Parks
How can Disney come close to fulfilling our massive expectations for the Star Wars Experience? The answer is simple. Don’t give us what we want. Universal created a new mold with its Harry Potter lands, especially Diagon Alley. Disney must do the same with Star Wars and try something unique. Fans won’t accept just two rides and a few shops. Imagineering must build an immersive experience with surprises around every turn. This is so much potential within this universe. Everything that’s come before in the theme park world has set the stage for this event.
When I talk about “new elements”, this isn’t about the attractions. I’ll address those in a moment. Can we dine with aliens? Are there ways to meet characters without waiting in obvious lines? In a strange way, I’m describing a set-up like The Adventurer’s Club but across the entire land. Guests need to feel like anything can happen once they stroll through the gates. Their experience should never be about knocking out the two rides and then leaving. If that becomes the case, then Disney has failed.
6. Create an Immersive Experience in the Star Wars Attractions Using Both Physical Sets and Screens
Thus far, all the news about the two Star Wars attractions excites me. A Slash Film article from last month described both as having immersive experiences within the queue and pre-show. The Stromtrooper Battle Escape in particular sounds like an amazing step forward. I love the idea of boarding a ride, jumping off to escape pursuing Stormtroopers (on a giant screen), and getting back in the vehicle later. It’s a remarkable concept straight out of a kid’s imagination.
My only concern is that Disney will veer too much into screens in place of sets. The best examples like Spider-Man find ways to use both with seamless transitions. I have faith that Disney won’t go cheap and will ensure the attractions are groundbreaking. The possibilities of modern technology give them few excuses. I also hope they don’t rush to meet a deadline (i.e., Frozen Ever After) and ensure that everything works first. We may have to wait a little longer, but that scenario is better than having long delays for an incomplete experience.
7. Continue to Expand the Park after Toy Story and Star Wars
Even if the Star Wars and Toy Story expansions succeed, Disney must not rest on its laurels. Four attractions are not enough to make up for everything that closed. To be a complete park with effective crowd flow, the Studios must have at least one more land. I’d love to see an Indiana Jones area with several attractions plus the stunt show. Another possibility is adding more Pixar mini-lands.
Most experts believe that Disney will re-name the park at some point. It’s not a studio, and the new lands don’t connect to that theme. Under the “Hollywood Adventure” idea, they could add other areas themed to a specific franchise or genre. The possibilities are endless! They’ll need more places to put guests than Sunset Boulevard and the added sections. The last thing Disney needs is angry fans subjected to tight quarters and long lines. They need to start designing more places now so they’re ready to install them a few years after Star Wars.
During our most recent visit over Martin Luther King weekend this year, I skipped the Studios for the first time. That was partially due to limited time (only three park days), but it also didn’t feel like a huge loss. I missed riding the headliners, but that was about it. I’m hopeful this won’t happen again once the expansions arrive. In the meantime, I’d like to see Disney work to adjust its other areas to ensure they’re ready for the big crowds. The Studios can thrive once again, and that success will help the other Disney World parks. The Magic Kingdom in particular is compensating for the lesser parks’ shortcomings. Let’s make them all shine again!