With the grand unveiling of California Adventure’s Cars Land all of those many months ago, there was much excitement and fanfare. The reviews were immediate and prevalent, both in traditional media and the blogosphere. Now, time has passed, Cars Land has become a Disney Parks must see, and the focus has shifted from ‘can’t wait’ to ‘what’s next’. The rumors are fairly convincing that Hollywood Studios is going to get a serious look. With the move of the Imagineering visionary behind Cars Land from California to the Disney World properties, it seems like Orlando may be getting a shot in the arm. As such, Hollywood Studios might just be the next Disney property to get a much needed, long overdue overhaul.
Now, the popular opinion is that Cars Land, in its current incarnation out in Anaheim, is going to get replicated in the current space that the boring Studio Backlot Tour and woeful Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show currently occupy. While, this would certainly be an improvement over a spot in the park that is essentially nothing more than a time suck (and not even a air conditioned one at that), I feel like Disney could do a lot better with their investment than merely plopping an already established expansion into a park where it only loosely makes sense. Over the last decade, the former-MGM Studios has become a dumping ground for shows, ideas and attractions that worked elsewhere in the company or in some board room, but had no apparent home in Orlando. It’s time to bring the Studios back to its former glory, to make sense of it again, and I’d like to give my opinion, in list form, of improvements I’d rather see than yet another Cars Land.
1. It’s time for the big, ugly hat to go – Yes, it’s been said many times before, by many different people, but the Sorcerer’s Hat that blocks what should be the park’s symbol, the Chinese Theater, is an eyesore, has never been considered a welcome addition, and it has to find a home elsewhere. I’ve always thought that a more cohesive, expanded Animation Courtyard that incorporates all aspects of Disney animation, including Pixar, would be the perfect place to move that hat, should it be retained. In its current spot, it is not only out of place, but it’s an obstruction. No one goes to Hollywood Studios to see a giant pointy hat, so it shouldn’t be the first thing you see when you walk in the park.
2. Expand the Animation Courtyard/Pixar Place – As I hinted at in the last suggestion, the Animation Courtyard in its current form seems like an afterthought. It’s a junk drawer mishmash of ideas that are only related in medium. There is no attempt to tie any of the attractions together, not with theme and certainly not with decor. This is where the attention needs to go first and foremost. A new Cars Land is not necessary when you have an entire animation studio theme ready to go, and the infrastructure on which to build it. It’s truly sad that California Adventure, a park that is dedicated to celebrating the state of California, with the new Cars Land, a bug’s land, the Toy Story midway, and the Silly Symphony Swings better represents the history of Disney animation and has a more immerse animation experience than an entire theme park dedicated to the parent company’s studio system. My suggestions: replace the Little Mermaid show with something that celebrates Fantasia. A “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” show with some state-of-the-art effects and crowd interaction would be a big hit. A Monsters, Inc “door coaster” is way, way overdue. An Incredibles dark ride would also be a welcome addition, but any dark ride would be nice. Throw in some character meet and greets and maybe a scheduled courtyard show or two, and you have yourself a bona fide in-park, must-see destination. Oh, and one last thing. There is one thing in California Adventure that I’d like to see ported over to Hollywood Studios, and that would be something similar to the Disney Animation Building. It doesn’t need to be, and probably shouldn’t be, an exact copy, but that space is amazing. It’s an interesting and interactive way to act as a museum, without being cramped and stuffy. Plus, it doubles as a jaw-dropping event space. An analog to that in Florida would be a welcome addition and perfect opportunity to build around a focal point, a ready-made structure that ties the whole section together.
3. More Star Wars, Please – Indy, I love your movies, but your show is dated and boring. It’s time to go and make way for an expanded section of the park for Star Wars themed attractions and amenities. Now, we all know that LucasFilms is now a Disney property, and an expansion now seems like a foregone conclusion, but I’d like to throw in my two cents about a what should go in whichever space this new micro-park occupies. Firstly, Star Tours is good, and the latest improvements to the ride are top-notch. It’s a start, but I’d like to see one more attraction added to what should be a large expansion. I’ve read claims of a Speeders ride, similar to Star Tours in its set-up, but more interactive. This would be a fine, and likely an effective use of space. There needs to be more, though. What else should be in this space, you ask? How about a place to grab a cool beverage, be it in the hot sun of Florida, or the desert planet of Tatooine? That’s right! None other than the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the Mos Eisley Cantina. Think about it: you get a fantastic place within the park to grab a drink and a bite, and you can build an animatronic band to play Star Wars-themed music to entertain the guests, similar to Sonny Eclipse over in the Magic Kingdom, you know, except not terrible. California adventure has several places where adults can belly up to a bar and get a refreshing beverage, and Hollywood Studios desperately needs this, as well. The crowded bar inside of Prime Time just doesn’t cut it, especially since it is almost always overrun with children. Which, brings me to my next point…
4. Does anything fit better in Hollywood Studios than Rick’s Café Américain? The answer, reader, is no. Nothing does. So, why is it not there? How much space could it possibly take to add a moderately-sized lounge to the park? A bar that is themed to replicate one of the most iconic film sets of all time, all time, seems like a no-brainer, and considering how Casablanca is featured so prominently in the Great Movie Ride (and how that film era is clearly trying to be evoked in many parts of the park), it really is about time this oversight is rectified. As I stated in the previous paragraph, there really is not enough adult-themed space in Hollywood Studios. The Brown Derby is certainly a welcome piece of Hollywood lore, but without removing the stupid hat that obscures the Chinese Theater and at least one additional companion piece to tie them together, it just doesn’t make enough sense. I hope that someday, I’ll be able to walk under that neon sign and into Disney World’s park-exclusive version of the Carthay Circle Lounge, live piano and all.
5. Overhaul all the shows. – Every single show in the park either needs to be updated or just removed altogether to make space for a more deserving attraction. The Little Mermaid show is so dated that the effects seem like they’re right out of an early-nineties planetarium laser-light show. I shouldn’t say “seem”; they are straight out of a planetarium. Those effects were probably built by the same people who created the planetarium show at the Orlando Science Center. As stated earlier, Indy is done. It’s not the eighties anymore, and that franchise has nuked the fridge. The stage where Beauty and the Beast is performed should house a number of shows that are continuously updated with the latest releases, both in the theaters and on DVD. The American Idol Experience … ugh. The worst offender, though, is Fantasmic. In Disney World, the parks group has managed to take all of the charm of the Disneyland production and distill it into a replica that looks only slightly better than a touring ice show. Why does Disney World even need a Fantasmic? That’s a Disneyland thing. They created this huge show space, one that can be used to put on any number of great nighttime spectaculars, and they’re using it to entertain with a poor facsimile of another park’s original idea.
6. Reopen the lounge above the Brown Derby as the Ink and Paint Club. – Okay, this one isn’t really on my wish list, but it is on Melissa’s. She may just want a speakeasy experience and a cool location to go for a Scotch on the rocks (and she means rocks). The aforementioned Rick’s Café Américain could cover that, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit is her favorite movie ever. It would be cool to see it represented in Hollywood Studios. I think that something like the Ink and Paint Club should exist, but that it should somehow be a private location to control crowding in that small lounge space. Melissa suggested a doorman in a gorilla suit and a password system, but somehow I don’t think that would work. Maybe this is an idea better saved for a space at Disney Springs that could reasonably require a cover charge.
Lack of originality: it’s a problem that plagues all of the Orlando properties, and one that has been slowly chipping away at or destroying completely old favorites and promising ideas for well over a decade now. C’mon, Disney. Stop co-opting ideas from your other properties and start thinking about site-specific originals. It’s this kind of thinking that gets parks like Hollywood Studios into the rut through which it’s currently suffering. Why should I go to Disney World to see a Cars Land, when I can see that and much more cohesive and unique attractions in California Adventure. If you build something in Hollywood studios that I can only see there, I will be far more likely to visit both sides of the country. Most people would. Crawl out of that mire, already. It’s time to stop trying to manufacture excitement and actually do something exciting for a change.