May 1, 1989, the gates of Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World opened to a capacity crowd. To celebrate the anniversary, let’s return to the 1989 park to complete our tour of opening day. This is the third of a three-part series on 1989 Disney-MGM Studios. In Part I, “Disney-MGM Studios Opening Day 1989,” we took a look at the opening day festivities. In Part II, “A Look at 1989 Disney-MGM Studios,” we took a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard. Now, let’s visit the rest of the 1989 park.
The Studios (now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios) has changed more than any other Disney park since opening. It has certainly moved away from its original theme — a real working studio where you could actually see the animators at work, and see how TV and motion pictures were made. Guests could experience very aspect of production – costuming, movie sets, special effects, acting, filming and more.
Starting at the Chinese Theater, we walk through the arches into Animation Courtyard. The archway is the same (except for name). To the right is the Soundstage Restaurant and The Catwalk Bar.
Straight ahead sits the Magic of Disney Animation where you could take a guided tour and watch Disney animators at work. This was not a staged performance but the actual animation production of movies. Before the tour, you saw a short film “Back to Neverland” in which famous newscaster, Walter Cronkite, and comedian Robin Williams guided guests through the different stages in animating a feature-length film. Williams was turned into an animated character. As you can imagine, very funny!
At that time, it was a big deal for Florida to get some of the animation and production work from Hollywood. Actually, it was a major turning point. Beginning in 1989, Florida produced the ink and paint for “The Little Mermaid.” Then they did the “Be our Guest” sequence from “Beauty and the Beast.” With these successes, the Florida production team proved they could do the work!
Several of the attractions at the Studios were guided tours. That may seem boring, but Disney, as usual, did it in a fun and entertaining way. When I worked at the original Studios as a park hostess, you had to audition for the role. So, the tour guides taking you through the Magic of Disney Animation, Backstage Studio Tour, etc. were performers.
The next stop is the Backstage Shuttle Station where you boarded trams for the Backstage Studio Tour. The tour was made up of a riding part and a walking tour. On the riding segment of the guided tour you saw Costuming, Scenic Shop (where props were built), Residential Street and Catastrophe Canyon.
Residential Street was a neighborhood of house facades used in several movies and TV shows. As you rode down the street of the fake neighborhood, you would begin to notice familiar houses like The “Golden Girls” and “Empty Nest.”
Catastrophe Canyon was an outdoor set to experience artificial disasters. Toward the end of the tram tour you swung by the end of New York Street. At that time, it was closed to park visitors because it was used for various productions.
The second segment of the Backstage Studio Tour was a one-hour guided walking tour. This is where you went through actual production studios. I always kept my fingers crossed that someone would be filming that day because you could watch them film. The rest of the tour included the Water Effects Tank; Special Effects Workshop and Shooting Stage; Post Production Editing and Audio; and Props Room. By the time you finished the Backstage Studio Tour, you had a good understanding of how TV shows and movies were made.
On the other side of the park was the Monster Sound Show and SuperStar Television. These were the attractions I worked at along with Indiana Jones Stunt Theater that opened later that year.
Monster Sound Show, starring Martin Short and Chevy Chase on film and a live host, used guests from the audience to demonstrate how sound effects were an important part of productions. Guests added sound effects to an all-star haunted house mystery film. To me, one of the best areas in the park was in the Monster Sound Show post show area, SoundWorks. It was a hidden gem. There were all kinds of hands-on experiences to do various sound effects yourself. Loads of fun!
I saved my absolute favorite for last – SuperStar Television (and not just because I worked there). Besides being a character performer at Magic kingdom, working there was the most fun I had as a Cast Member.
SuperStar Television was a live television special that used audience members to co-star in recreated productions of popular TV shows. Guests could be a part of shows like the Golden Girls, Bonanza, Lucy (and Ethel at the chocolate job), Cheers, Gilligan’s Island, the Johnny Carson Show, and several others. With the use of a split screen technique the audience “performer” was dropped into various TV shows. They seamlessly appear in the actual TV show talking face to face with the stars. The audience got to watch the actual action on stage and then look up to TV monitors to see what the end product looked like. It was great fun for all!
Later SuperStar Television was replaced by a “Doug Live” show, and then the “American Idol Experience.” If you’re asking what happened to Indiana Jones Stunt Theater and Star Tours, they were not there for the opening, but came later that year.
It’s been a fun journey to return to the original 1989 Disney-MGM Studios opening day. I hope you had as much fun as I. Happy Anniversary Hollywood Studios/Disney-MGM Studios!
(Photos by Yesterland, wdwinfo, and Disney)