The Heart-Breaking Boyfriend You Keep Forgiving aka My Love/Hate Relationship with Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Most changes made at the Walt Disney World Resort do not honestly bother me all that much (especially since the attraction I worked at during my college program closed– nothing will ever top that). I wasn’t thrilled when the Maelstrom was closed to make way for Frozen Ever After, the “new” ending of Spaceship Earth isn’t my favorite but I’m not going to cry over it, and I was relatively un-phased by the end of Wishes. The Great Movie Ride however is different. Without getting too bogged down in the history of the Great Movie Ride, or what Hollywood Studios used to be like, I wanted to just make a quick post to share some of my own memories from the Great Movie Ride.

Going back to the beginning, or rather 1994, my first experience on the Great Movie Ride was apparently a nightmare. Being that I was only two years old, I actually do not even remember my first spin on the Great Movie Ride today, but my parents tell me that I was absolutely traumatized by the Wicked Witch Audio Animatronic in the Wizard of Oz scene. Ironically enough, when the ride opened in 1989 this Audio Animatronic was praised for being so technologically advanced and appearing eerily life-like. By my next visit to the Walt Disney World Resort as a five year old, I was no longer traumatized and had somehow gotten over my fear of the witch while also coming to love this attraction.

Probably still recovering from the emotional trauma on the yellow brick road…

Hollywood Studios, or Disney’s MGM Studios as it was known while I was growing up, was never my favorite park. I’ve always been an Epcot girl, and until I was older I never really had much of an appreciation for Hollywood Studios. The attractions that I came to love in Hollywood Studios were all things that were a part of the old days of the park, and with the closing of the Great Movie Ride none of these attractions will remain the next time I visit the park. While most guests would be rushing around to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, I grew up loving the Backlot Tour, the Great Movie Ride, and the Animation building.

The older I became, the more I would seek out the older classic movies featured in the Great Movie Ride. Without the Great Movie Ride, I would have never thought to watch¬†Footlight Parade, or that I would ever actually like Western movies. I loved seeing the old trailers for these films as well as the artifacts in the building’s lobby, and would never have a problem waiting in line for this attraction. For a park that was never my favorite, there were plenty of things I enjoyed in Hollywood Studios. But then things began to change.

By my 2004 family vacation, I was met with a giant Sorcerer Mickey hat in front of the Chinese Theater. I wasn’t a fan, but I didn’t dwell too much on it at the time. I missed looking down Hollywood Boulevard towards the beautiful Chinese Theater facade, but the rest of my family did not seem concerned so it wasn’t something I spent too much time thinking about.

The Backlot Tour (which I only remember as one of its shortened version, and not as the longest original version) was shortened when my family and I arrived in the parks for our 2006 vacation. In place of Residential Street, we were met with the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. But where is the Golden Girls house?! We saw Lights, Motors, Action! that day since it was a new show at the park we hadn’t seen, and I was thoroughly underwhelmed. I was your typical moody teenager who spent the entire show brooding about the removal of Residential Street, while the rest of my family was presumably only brooding about the heat.

It was around this time that I became a total Disney nerd and began following all of the changes in the parks online. In 2007, it was from this online Disney community that I learned that then Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton had announced a re-imagining of sorts for the park, and that the name “Disney’s MGM Studios” would be changed to “Disney’s Hollywood Studios.” Aside from the obvious notions of the park no longer being used to film or animate anything, the name change was a small signal for what was to come.

Chaz was picked to be in this scene during his first and only visit to the Backlot Tour!

During the next couple of years, I was still not a thrill rides person, so my visits to Hollywood Studios consisted primarily of riding the Backlot Tour, the Great Movie Ride, breezing through the Animation building and catching a showing of Fantasmic. I could be in and out of the park in only a couple of hours, happily snapping some photos and doing the couple of attractions I enjoyed.

By 2014, I was living in Orlando and participating in the Disney College Program. While I worked in merchandise in Animal Kingdom, I spent a lot of time in Hollywood Studios on my days off. I had just begun getting into Star Wars, giving me another attraction to do and a bit of a routine for one of my days off. I had an early class every Tuesday that was over at 10:00 am. After each class, I would hop on the bus to Hollywood Studios, and head straight for the drawing classes in the now-closed Animation Academy. With a new drawing in hand, I’d spend a couple of hours visiting the Great Movie Ride, the Backlot Tour, and Star Tours, before grabbing lunch from the Backlot Express and snagging a table in view of the Jedi Training Academy show.

Though it wasn’t my favorite park, I enjoyed doing some of my favorite attractions and spending more time in a place I never justified spending the time at during previous vacations. Before the end of my college program, the Backlot Tour (and the Maelstrom in Epcot) had closed. With the Backlot Tour gone, I wouldn’t usually even bother walking up to the end of Streets of America while visiting the park. All that was down there was Lights, Motors, Action! and I had no desire to see a show built on the foundation of my beloved Residential Street that I wasn’t even crazy about in the first place… until my area offered a cast-exclusive backstage tour of the show.

Following our backstage tour of Lights, Motors, Action! I had a new appreciation for the show and all the hard work that the cast puts into it each day. I felt bad about having never given the show a fair chance in the past due to my gripes about Residential Street, and for only my second time ever seeing the show I really enjoyed it. Only about a week or so later, my area gave us the opportunity to embark on another backstage tour at Hollywood Studios: the Great Movie Ride.

I was much more excited about this tour and of course I jumped at the first opportunity to go. This was also about the same time when it was (finally) announced that the Sorcerer Mickey hat would be coming down, and while I snapped some last-minute photos while it was in one piece I wouldn’t wait for the old view to come back. The backstage tour of the Great Movie Ride was incredible. We learned so many details of how the attraction was designed and saw portions of the scenes up close so we could see things you wouldn’t normally notice from the ride vehicles. The backstage tour of the Great Movie Ride was one of my favorite days of the entire college program.

By the time my program would have come to an end, I was actually offered the opportunity to extend the internship and stay until May 2015. I accepted the offer, and was cast in attractions at Lights, Motors, Action! of all places. It was almost as if I were being punished for my utter disdain of the show that this would be my new location. During my training, one of my coordinators brought me to the old tank scene of the Backlot Tour as well as the old break room over there. From the stadium at our show, we could see the Backlot Tour’s Catastrophe Canyon and Walt Disney’s plane, and when we walked backstage we passed other props from the attraction on our way around the park. It was a strange feeling being surrounded by something that had been closed and left alone for my entire program.

I came to love working at Lights, Motors, Action! though, and by the time my program was over I had a newfound appreciation for the park I had always described as my least favorite. While working at Lights, Motors, Action! totally surprised me and turned out to be an incredible experience, there was one part of this program that was not so great. Whenever I told anyone where I worked, I was met with, “Isn’t that closing?” Lights, Motors, Action! had long been rumored to close, and with the closure of the Backlot Tour and not much else (save for Honey I Shrunk the Kids and the then “temporary” Frozen Sing-along) at Streets of America the rumors had only grown. We were never told that the show would be closing though, and since so many rumors exist in the theme park world we never thought too much about it… until Star Wars and Toy Story lands were announced for the park.

The announcements of these new lands brought up the question of where they would go, and while Streets of America and the Lights, Motors, Action! set seemed like the logical choice, no announcement was initially made confirming the location. By January 2016, I was back in Hollywood Studios on vacation when I checked Facebook on my phone to see that Disney made an announcement for the closure of Lights, Motors, Action! only a couple of months later on April 2, 2016. It was a rainy morning in the park, but I wanted to make sure we spent some time at the show that day since I didn’t know if I would be back before the show closed. By the end of the day, I lost all self control and had a hotel room booked for the weekend of the last shows– I just couldn’t miss it.

It is still hard for me to believe that being there for the last show of Lights, Motors, Action! was so important to me, as I’d originally scoffed at the show, but the show’s last day brought a large-scale change for the entire park. Along with the show closing, the entire Streets of America area would be closed. And since the Animation building and the Backlot Tour had already closed by this point, the Great Movie Ride was really all I would have left of “my Hollywood (MGM) Studios.”

While taking pictures along Streets of America on the last day I would be able to do so I remember saying to Chaz, “Well at least we still have the Great Movie Ride!” Even with the changes made with the Turner Classic Movies sponsorship, including the sub-par narration, the Great Movie Ride was a favorite. I could never imagine going to Hollywood Studios and not riding the Great Movie Ride. That is until my last trip.

My most recent visit to Walt Disney World was last month for 4th of July weekend. With only a couple of days in the parks, I didn’t have time to do everything and unfortunately the Great Movie Ride was one of the things I missed. I didn’t think much of it, as I knew I would be back only a month and half later for a whole week and I would be able to ride it then. As we now know, this will not be the case. Today, August 13, is the last day of operation for the Great Movie Ride, and I do not leave for my next trip until August 30. When the Great Movie Ride’s closure was announced at the D23 Expo, I looked at the calendar, my bank account, and my jetBlue points attempting to find someway to justify being there before it closed but it just wasn’t going to happen.

Hollywood Studios to me has become akin to an emotionally draining partner that you love but that you also need to let go. My relationship with the park has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions going from unimpressed to ecstatic and ultimately crushed with everything in between. I don’t doubt that the new attraction taking the Great Movie Ride’s place will be amazing, but I do doubt the direction that the park is going in. This park has become the boyfriend you never wanted to find, but got swept up into a relationship with, and had your heart broken only to take him back multiple times. It was never my favorite park– I didn’t ask for this, and yet I’ve been crushed in a whirlwind of closures and changes I don’t agree with and I keep going back.

I am so thankful for the Great Movie Ride turning me on to all kinds of movies I would have never thought to watch as a kid. More than that, I’m thankful that this attraction was able to preserve so much of my Hollywood Studios for as long as it has. As for what’s coming in the future? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

And cut! That’s a wrap!

Image: Nora Marimon

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