Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage!
The Theater of Stars, where this show takes place, has had a few other shows in the past, namely a generic one about Hollywood, a Dick Tracy show, and one about Pretty Woman, but all were very short-lived. It wasn’t until 1991 that the theater took up what would end up being a permanent resident in Beauty and the Beast. A shorter version of the movie, it only lasts 25 minutes. It, along with Voyage of the Little Mermaid, are the only shows of their kind to still be running at Disney World. Frozen has their own show in Disney California Adventure, and I imagine that it will be going on for quite a long time.
Voyage of the Little Mermaid
Disney had been mired in sub-par animated movies through most of the 80’s, so when The Little Mermaid came out in 1989 and it was a veritable smash, it threw Disney off a little. So much so apparently, that they didn’t develop an attraction for The Little Mermaid for a few years, and what they came up with, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, was merely an abridged version of the movie with live actors and puppets. Disney had planned to put a dark ride of the movie in all their parks, but that inexplicably fell through. It wasn’t until 2011 that The Little Mermaid had a proper ride in a park, though it was in Disney California Adventure. The Magic Kingdom version came a year later in 2012. Disney has a weird history of properly representing their hit movies. The only one they seem to have pulled off quickly was Frozen, but even that took a few years and killed off a fan favorite ride in EPCOT. There is no proper Lion King ride, nothing for Aladdin(I’m not counting the magic carpet ride, that’s just a Dumbo copy) or Beauty and the Beast. Some of Disney’s biggest movies of the 90’s at best have had a live shortened version or a restaurant themed to the movie. After the 90’s it is only marginally better. Lilo and Stitch had a ride pretty soon after it released, but the ride ended up being one of the most hated in the park. Tangled is represented in Magic Kingdom by Rapunzel’s Tower (you can’t go in) and a set of bathrooms. Yes, bathrooms. I could go on a lot more about this, but I feel like there are better rides and experiences that you can give guests besides condensed versions of the movies they are based on. I actually have no idea how this attraction is still going, but you can probably thank The Little Mermaid’s perpetual popularity.
This theater was primarily used for shows like Voyage of the Little Mermaid, truncated versions of whatever popular movie Disney had put out. Beauty and the Beast was there for 2 years while Disney fixed up Theater of the Stars, and then was replaced by Pocahontas in 1995. The Hunchback of Notre Dame surprisingly lasted from 1996-2002. After that point they used the space sparingly for events until 2014, when they had the Frozen Sing-A-Long operating there for a year until the announcement of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, when the show moved to the Hyperion Theater. The theater has since been cleared out for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Walt Disney Theatre
Walt Disney Theatre acted as a place for Disney to show off how they made some of their biggest movies. Opening in 1994, they first showcased The Lion King. Each movie showcased would stay in the theater for at least one year, maybe even less. Some of the movies showcased included Pocahontas, Toy Story, George of the Jungle, Armageddon, and The Haunted Mansion. The Haunted Mansion was the last “Making Of” showing that the theater had, ending in 2004. In 2005 the area was converted into Journey into Narnia: Creating the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. It had you walk into a large room that was made to look like Narnia where you would then watch an extremely abridged version of the film, along with brief appearances by a live actress playing the White Witch. Afterwards you were led into another room that housed props from the movie. In 2008 it was changed to be about the Prince Caspian film, which ran until 2011. The last walk-through show to be shown there was The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, which operated in much the same way as the last two, except it utilized more special effects. In 2001, another area of the theater started offering the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire-Play It! Contestants would play not for money, but for points and prizes, leading up to the grand prize of a Disney Cruise Vacation. In the early days of the attraction, while the actual show was still on the air, the grand prize was being flown to NYC to watch a taping of the show. Oh boy, that sounds so much better than a cruise! The game show also opened at California Adventure in 2001 in an effort to build up the amount of attractions at the park. Both attractions are now gone, with the MGM-Studios version lasting two years longer than the California Adventure one. The Walt Disney Theatre closed after Millionaire ended and was replaced by Toy Story Midway Mania!
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
The Tower of Terror is a very popular drop ride that dwarfs the rest of the attractions in the park. In fact, it is the second tallest attraction at Disney World, with only Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom being taller, though only by half a foot. The Tower of Terror was born out of the desire for an “E-Ticket Ride”. This is a term that I have heard used for rides throughout the years, but never knew why. When Disneyland opened in the mid-50’s, you bought tickets for each ride, not to get into the park. Rides were designated by A,B,C, or D depending on their popularity. A was least popular and so on and so forth. In 1959 when Disneyland had their first big expansion, they added E to the ticket designations, which were only for the most popular rides. The ride tickets were eventually phased out completely in the early 80’s in favor of an admission price to get into the park, though the designation of an “E-Ticket Ride” stuck. Keep in mind at this point that MGM Studios’ biggest hit was Star Tours, but didn’t really have that “must ride/must attend” attraction besides that. Disney knew they wanted something spooky, as The Haunted Mansion was such a runaway success in every park it was in. They thought about a ride based on Stephen King’s novels, a Vincent Price Ghost Tour, and a whodunit murder mystery, but none of those ideas left initial planning stages. It was then that Disney Imagineers gained inspiration from Rod Serling’s anthology stories featured in The Twilight Zone. Disney quickly bought the rights to use the intellectual property from CBS (one of the few non-Disney properties still used in the parks) and development on a Twilight Zone-themed drop ride began. Imagineers had wanted a drop ride in one of the parks for a long time, and this was their best excuse to finally make one. The ride ended up not being your typical drop ride, as heavy theming and an innovative ride system keep it from being like any other ride you’ve experienced. Your ride vehicle doesn’t just go up and down, but travels horizontally through the tower and ends with the fateful drop.
The theming on the ride is among the best I’ve ever seen at any theme park. You make your way up to the Tower of Terror through an overgrown garden with mist rolling over the path and jazz music from the 30’s echoing through the vicinity. Inside the hotel you see what has become of the once prestigious Hollywood Tower Hotel. Though the ride is themed on The Twilight Zone, the ride itself is based off an original story, not one from the television show. The “episode” that you are experiencing tells the story of the fateful stormy night in 1939 when five people disappeared when the hotel was struck by lightning and the elevator they were in suddenly dropped. Now you are seeing the old dusty remains of this hotel, cobwebs and all. There is a short pre-show with stock footage of Rod Serling doing an intro and a new actor doing the voice of Serling to give new information. After the pre-show video you are ushered into the boiler room to board the service elevator. Fans of the TV show will not be disappointed, as there are references throughout the mail lobby and pre-show room to some classic Twilight Zone episodes. The ride quickly became a favorite of park guests when it opened in 1994 and is still one of the highlights of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The ride was copied in several of the other parks, save for Hong Kong and Shanghai Disneyland. Disney’s California Adventure’s Tower of Terror was controversially overlaid in the last year with Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: Breakout! I remember going to Disney World when this first opened and being scared to death to ride it. It wasn’t the theming, as I loved all things spooky as a child. It was the drop aspect of it. I couldn’t ride roller coasters and thrill rides as a kid. Even after I got over roller coasters when visiting Cedar Point, drop rides just brought out too much fear in me. It wasn’t until my school trip in 2005 that I finally rode it, and loved it instantly. That being said, if you put me on the Power Tower at Cedar Point, I will scream bloody murder. My wife can attest to that.
Fantasmic! is MGM Studios’ nighttime show, though it didn’t originate there. The show, in its first version, started in Disneyland in 1992. In an effort to keep guests in the park longer, Disney had the show started in MGM, too. This show has everything; pyrotechnics, water effects, live actors, lasers, audio-animatronics, projections, and some boat floats! The show centers around Mickey Mouse’s vibrant imagination, culminating in a showdown with some of Disney’s biggest villains. It’s probably my favorite of the nighttime shows, but that being said, I don’t think I’ve seen a nighttime show besides the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom in many years. IllumiNations is good, too!
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
Disney desired to have another thrill ride in their Florida park, so they decided to go with a little more of an intense indoor coaster themed to Aerosmith. Yes, for whatever reason, Disney decided not to go with a generic rock theme for the rollercoaster, but a generic rock group. I blame Armageddon. However you feel about Aerosmith, the ride is a lot of fun. In the guise of traveling through L.A. traffic to get Aerosmith to their concert on time, you shoot off in your car ride vehicle to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds. This ride has some inversions and plenty of twists and turns that will satisfy any thrill junkie. Along with Space Mountain, this ride give you a sort of claustrophobic feel and you may feel less inclined to raise your arms up in the air for fear of them getting taken off by a set piece. That won’t happen mind you, but it sure seems that way sometimes! There is another version of this ride, though not completely the same at Disneyland Paris, though it is currently under refurb to become an Iron Man ride. Though there were some rumors going around that Disney was going to drop the Aerosmith motif and go for something more generic, but it seems to have been scrapped. Anyone hoping to see an Iron Man ride will be very disappointed as Disney World is very limited in what Marvel characters they can have in the parks due to an agreement between them and Universal Studios. Universal has been using Marvel characters in their parks since the 90’s, long before Disney bought Marvel Entertainment, so the only characters you’ll see are ones like Guardians of the Galaxy and other obscure ones that aren’t represented at Universal.
Technically this theater has been open since the beginning, but I already covered its initial attraction, SuperStar Television. Starting in 1999, the theater started showing Doug Live! Yes, you may have forgotten that Disney bought the rights to Doug in the 90’s and made their own, not-as-good version. I’ve seen clips of this show and it seemed to be just a little bit terrifying. After two years Disney stopped the madness and shortly ran “Get Happy...With ABC!” This was less of a show and more of a teaser for upcoming shows on ABC. I’m sure kids were just chomping at the bit to see clips of 8 Simple Rules and According to Jim! The theater stood empty for years until 2009 when they put in the American Idol Experience. The show functioned as a smaller version of the real show, with contestants 14 and up trying out and eventually performing in front of you, the audience. Alas, American Idol was sacrificed to Frozen fever. When the Frozen sing-a-long needed a new home due to their theater being demolished, they took over Hyperion.
I’ll admit that I always got a big kick out of this show, along with its predecessor, The Monster Sound Show. I don’t think I ever experienced the One Saturday Morning version of the attraction. After One Saturday Morning closed, they replaced it with another audio show called Sounds Dangerous! Your enjoyment of this attraction was dictated by how you felt about Drew Carey, as he was the star of the show. You are part of a test audience for a show called Undercover Live. Guests wore headphones and listened to the action, as Carey’s undercover camera is damaged early on, so there’s no visuals. It was a funny show and one that I’m sad I won’t get to experience again.
This area was actually a restaurant, the Stoundstage Restaurant, at the opening of the park. It was themed to random Disney movies throughout its tenure, from the long forgotten live-action film Big Business, to animated faire like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. In 1999, Disney decided that the space could be better utilized as yet another theater. Seriously, this park had more shows than anything else for a time. The theater has since housed shows aimed at small children, starting with Bear in the Big Blue House, then Playhouse Disney, and now Disney Junior - Live on Stage!
Walt Disney Presents
If you ever wanted to know more about Walt Disney while at the parks, this was your place to go. The attraction functions as both a museum and a film experience. You start by walking through the beginning parts of Walt’s life and watch his rise to the top of the entertainment business. You finish the tour with the film, Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream. Originally narrated by Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Disney, Julie Andrews took over after Eisner stepped down. With the Art of Animation now gone, this about the only place where you can mosey around and take a break from all the heat and hub-bub.
Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
Introduced in 2005 as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth, in which each park in Disney World copied an already existing ride or experience from another resort. This stunt show originally started in Disneyland Paris in 2002, and is still open today, unlike its Florida counterpart. While Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular shows you some great stunts, this show has you experience some more intense stunt work. Mainly focused on car stunts and chases, the show lasted around 40 minutes. Like many of the Streets of America attractions, this one was closed to make way for Star Wars Land. For whatever reason I never bothered to see this show, though I’m sure I would have enjoyed it.
Toy Story Midway Mania!
Midway Mania represents more than anything what is Disney’s direction for the park. Disney has stopped caring about general theming of lands, outside of Magic Kingdom, and instead tried their best to put in their most popular intellectual properties to the parks, even if it doesn’t fit into what has traditionally been put in the park. Disney California Adventure is suffering the same fate as MGM, with the Hollywood section becoming a Marvel land and Paradise Pier being cut in half to have a land dedicated to Pixar. MGM’s studio theme started to die as soon as they put Midway Mania in. Sure not all the attractions in the park have been strictly in theme, like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but Midway Mania really doesn’t fit into the mold. Disney kind of put themselves in this pickle when they made parks that were strictly dedicated to a theme instead of general entertainment like Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. Pixar is among Disney’s most profitable and marketable properties so it makes sense to include them as much as possible in the parks. MGM is the only place you could really have a land dedicated to Toy Story or Star Wars, so I’ll accept it, but i’m still sad to see the old MGM Studios go away. Midway Mania is one of Disney’s most technologically sophisticated rides in the parks, costing upwards of $80 million to design and build. It functions in the same way as Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin where you fire at targets with a shooter. That being said, it is a much higher tech version, so this tends to be the more sought after ride. Players wear 3-D glasses and go through different mini-games that involve shooting at different targets in different ways. Now, the Buzz Lightyear ride I understand in terms of the theme, but this one makes no sense. Why are the toys running midway games? What does this really have to do with the characters? I said earlier I wanted attractions that weren’t just retellings of the movies, so I guess I can’t complain too much. I haven’t experienced this ride yet (will be visiting the one in California Adventure soon!), so I can’t really say anything else about it. With MGM’s closure of some of the big time-eaters like Backlot Tour, Art of Animation, and the Extreme Stunt Show, this ride has seen some pretty outrageous wait-times. When my wife and I visited in 2014 we didn’t have an overwhelming urge to wait in line for hours for the ride when we could fit most of the rest of the park into that time. We’ll see soon if it's worth the wait! Toy Story Land is currently under construction in the park and will surround Midway Mania.
Star Tours - The Adventure Continues
Plans to refurbish Star Tours had begun as far back as 2005, but it wasn’t until 2009 that filming began. The original Star Tours closed in 2010 and was re-opened a year later as Star Tours- The Adventure Continues. The picture, audio, and ride system were all updated along with the new footage. Instead of just focusing on the original trilogy, the new Star Tours incorporated the prequels, too. What was unique about this version of Star Tours was that you would get a different experience each time you rode. There are thirteen total segments and you experience four of them when you ride, so you would have to ride quite a few times to get the same show. The show focuses on the tour smuggling a rebel spy pas the empire. Sometimes the ride operator will choose someone on the ride to be the rebel spy, and sometimes they just show a generic picture. No matter what sequences you see, it always ends with the successful delivery of the rebel spy. The ride is continually added on to, with new sequences from Episodes VII, and VIII being added in over the last couple years. With the high re-ride factor, the love and care put into the ride, and the excellence of the ride itself, this is one experience you can’t skip on your next visit. I’ve been able to ride the new version once, and it was definitely a worthy successor to one of my favorite rides of all time.
So that’s my run-down of Disney-MGM Studios. I’m sure there was a small, obscure show or attraction I may have missed, but I tried to hit on everything big that came through. For those who have attended this park, what are some of your favorite memories? Do you have a favorite ride or restaurant? With the new expansions coming up, I’m sure there will be plenty more memories in store.