Monday, August 23, 2010

Disney's Hollywood Studios and the Imagineering Guide

Talk about timely! As I'm finishing up The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios, Jason over at Disney's Folly posted an entry titled Disney's Hollywood Studios: A Boulevard of Broken Dreams. In that article he describes the current state of the park in less than glowing terms. Jason suggests that the park was quite popular, and was a worthy addition back in 1991, but that it hasn't aged well and needs an injection of, well, something (read his article!) to get back on track.

Some who have read my entries in the past might remember that I really like DHS, that I don't see it as a half day or second rate experience, and that I feel it offers an excellent mix of attractions. We all know what's there: Tower of Terror, Rock'n'Roller Coaster, Toy Story Midway Mania, Star Tours (though it closes soon for an update), the Great Movie Ride, and the Backlot Tour. As parks go, it isn't a lot. But it does feature several shows: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Lights, Motors, Action, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast at the Theater of the Stars, MuppetVision 3-D, the American Idol Experience, and Playhouse Disney Live on Stage. I didn't even mention Fantasmic! because I've yet to see it. As parks go, that's a LOT! And there is also the experience of One Man's Dream, the museum walkthrough dedicated to Walt and his life, and the one-of-a-kind (at least in my experience) Disney's Animation Academy. I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Is the Sounds Dangerously still showing? And there are also those cute little street performances that are quite entertaining.

Aside from Epcot, I believe that DHS has the best dining experiences of any Disney park I've visited (this includes all six stateside parks but nothing overseas). The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is unique and tons of fun, even if the food isn't the best and perhaps is overpriced. The 50's Prime Time Cafe is also fun, and we haven't even tried The Hollywood Brown Derby or Mama Melrose's. It also has some decent counter service options in the Backlot Express, Pizza Planet ARcade, the ABC Commissary, the Studio Catering Co, and other places.

The architecture, as Jason points out, is really well done; there is nothing second rate about that aspect of the park. Of course, there are the numerous complaints about the Hat which has been settled in the middle of the park, but it doesn't annoy me as much as it seems to annoy many purists. It's too bad it blocks the Graumann Theater building, but it does make a certain amount of logical sense, since the park is about the wizardry of movies, and the hat belonged to Yensid the Sorcerer, and Yensid is of course a not-so-hidden reference to Walt himself. It's Walt's hat, I think, and as such it does fit as a park icon.

The problem with the Hat is that it blocks the beautifully done Graumann's Chinese Theater building, and I understand that. It is lousy placement, and to have it house a simple, almost crass, pin trading store under it, is less than optimal (to be kind). However, as the park's symbol, I do think it works.

The Imagineering Field Guide sheds no light on WHY the change was made (from the theater building being the "weenie" to the Hat taking its place)except to state that:

"In preparation for the 2001 celebration of the 100th anniversary of Walt's birth - known as 100 Years of Magic - the company looked for a way to create an iconic statement to represent the park during that celebration in the manner of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, and the Tree Of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom. After the event was over, the hat remained and continued to fulfill that role, much the way the Chinese Theater had in an unofficial capacity during the early years of the park."

The Field Guide also points out (at the beginning) that the park used to be about the "nuts and bolts of filmmaking craft" but the advent of DVD's with their numerous special features and behind the scenes films included with most every film these days, the park needed to shift away from that focus and become "more about putting guests into experiences inspired by film, television and other media in new and exciting ways."

I can't disagree with Jason that the park could use an expansion, some fresh subject matter. I love the idea, voiced in Jason's blog article and mentioned by Kevin Yee recently in one of his Miceage updates, of adding a Star Wars World, perhaps behind the Star Tours attraction where there is land to use. But I also do feel that DHS is still a very fine park and a mustn't-miss park to visit on any Disney World Vacation.

I'm in the process of trying to accumulate the interesting facts and bits I got from the book, and compiling them into a blog post. Hopefully I'll get it done tomorrow and post something on Wednesday. Till then, I guess I should just yell, "CUT!" and finish this particular long winded entry up!


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