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Why For Returns

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Why For Returns

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First up, Ravi T. writes in to ask about Sunset Boulevard at Disney-MGM Studios. To be specific, something that he noticed was embedded in the asphalt on Sunset.

Jim --

Last week, my family and I were down at Walt Disney World. And while we were walking through MGM to get to the Tower of Terror, I noticed what appeared to be old trolley tracks sticking up through the asphalt on Sunset Boulevard.

Now I have been going to MGM ever since this theme park first opened in 1989. But in all that time (Other than seeing that one souvenir cart that's deliberately modeled after Los Angeles' infamous Red Cars), I don't ever recall seeing an actual trolley running on Sunset or Hollywood Boulevard.

So is this embedded piece of trolley track just a bit of theming that the Imagineers stuck into the ground over on Sunset to give the area a sense of authenticity? Or is this piece of track actually a leftover from some attraction that was originally supposed to be built along Sunset that never made it off the drawing board?

Dear Ravi T.

Actually, the answer to both of your questions is ... Yes. Yes, that section of trolley track that you see poking up through the asphalt along Sunset Boulevard is supposed to be part of the theming for this section of the studio theme park. The Imagineers had hoped that -- by allowing guests to get a glimpse of that small section of track sticking up through the asphalt -- they'd then be able to give these WDW visitors a better sense of the time period in Tinsel Town history that they were now experiencing.

I mean, when you see something like that, you know that you're not back in Hollywood of the early 1920s. After all, that was a time when cars will still something of a luxury. Which meant that people actually needed a working trolley line in order to get back & forth to work.

No, when you see that partially paved-over section of trolley track (Along with those few spots along Sunset where bricks & cobblestones poke through the tar too), you know that you're in Hollywood on the mid-to-late 1940s. Those years just after World War II, to be precise. A time when paving over all of the city's brick & cobblestone streets with asphalt actually made some sense. Given that this practice then made all of these old inner-city roads seem that much smoother to people who were traveling in their own cars.

So, yes, Ravi. That piece of trolley track that you saw sticking up through the asphalt along Sunset Boulevard was actually a piece of that theme park's theming. But -- at the same time -- it is also supposed to be a nod to the Sunset Boulevard that Disney-MGM almost got. Which was to have been a much grander, much more elaborate version of that historic Hollywood street.

Don't believe me? Then okay. Take a look at the rough drawing below. Which I believe was done in the Summer of 1989. Right after MGM first opened to the public and was immediately overwhelmed by crowds. Which is what prompted Michael Eisner to turn to the Imagineers and say: "We need to double the size of this theme park as soon as possible. You guys got any ideas for new rides, show & attractions?"  


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Indeed the Imagineers did. And -- as you look over this somewhat crude drawing -- you'll see that a number of their ideas did in fact make it off the drawing board and were eventually built as part of the studio theme park's expansion. Among the easier MGM additions to spot are the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the "Theater of the Stars" (Where "Beauty & the Beast -- Live on Stage" is still presented daily) plus that gift shop that's modeled after the Carthay Circle Theater (You know? The Hollywood movie palace where "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" had its world premiere back in December of 1937?)  

But then -- if you look closer at this drawing -- you'll notice that there are some things that didn't actually make it off the drawing board. Like -- for example -- an MGM version on that beloved Hollywood hotdog stand, the Tail O' the Pup.

Or -- better yet -- take a look at that spot along Sunset Boulevard where the Sunset Market Ranch was eventually built. Do you notice the orange grove? Or -- better yet -- the date shack (Though -- truth be told -- the Imagineers would eventually get around to resurrecting this particular concept for a quick service food location.  Have you ever bought yourself a beverage at DCA's "San Andreas Shakes?" Well, now you know what the MGM version of this not-so-elegant eatery was supposed to look like.)

 But you know the part of this drawing that really breaks my heart. Take a look to the left of that orange grove. What do you see? The Red Car terminal from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Which was supposed to have featured a faithful recreation of the Terminal Bar (You know? Where Eddie Valiant's girl-friend, Dolores, worked?).

And right next door to the Red Car terminal, there was supposed to be a recreation of Maroon Studios. Where Disney-MGM visitors were supposed to be able to serve as stand-ins for Baby Herman on the "Runaway Baby Buggy Ride."

And right next door to that would have been ... Ah, it's too depressing to go on. Let's just say that -- when some of us see those trolley tracks sticking up through the asphalt -- we still feel a twinge of sadness for the Sunset Boulevard that we almost got.

And speaking of things that we almost got, GG writes in with some comments about Disney's Animal Kingdom's "Expedition Everest." In particular, GG doesn't seem all that impressed with the size of this new thrill ride's central character. Which is why she writes:

Why is everyone making such a big deal about the Yeti in "Expedition Everest"? To read some of the notes on the Disney discussion boards around the Web, you'd think that this thing was big as a house and was supposed to move as fast as a jet.

What I saw on "Expedition Everest" last week really wasn't worth the hype. That AA figure barely moved. And given how dark the cave was, I couldn't see those huge teeth & sharp claws that people keep talking about.

Am I the only person who was disappointed with this new DAK attraction?

Dear GG --

To be honest, no. Over the past few months, a number of Disneyana fans have written to me with complaints about "Expedition Everest." Some people have griped that -- at just four minutes long -- this new DAK thrill ride was far too short. While still other folks have complaining that the way Disney has been advertising "Expedition Everest" is somewhat mis-leading. That the TV commercials make "EE" look a lot like a roller coaster, when what this new DAK attraction actually is more like "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad." As in: a runaway train ride.

But the way I see it ... When you take into consideration what could have happened, how far track the "Expedition Everest" project really could have gone ... You should thank your lucky stars that Animal Kingdom's newest thrill ride turned out as well as it did.

Dont believe me? Then -- the next time you're at Walt Disney World -- be sure and pick yourself a copy of this book ....


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

This "Premiere Souvenir" is worth picking up just for so you can read the excerpts from Joe Rohde's journal. Which describes all the research that he did in order to get "Forbidden Mountain" 's details just right.

But -- as an extra added bonus -- this limited edition collectable book includes numerous sketches that the Imagineers did as they tried to get a handle on the Yeti. What color the creature's fur should be. What shape his skull should be. More importantly, how big the Beast should be.

And -- as you can see by the illustration below -- at least for a while there, the guys at WDI were toying with building a pretty enormous Yeti ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

... One that was obviously inspired by the enormous King Kong figure that Bob Gurr built for Universal Studios Hollywood back in the 1980s.


Copyright Universal Studios Hollywood

And then there was the version of the over-sized Yeti ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

... that seemed to borrow an awful lot of ideas from the final earthquake-cave-in sequence on Disney's "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad" ride.


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

So when you take into consideration how poorly "Expedition Everest" could have turned out ... Well, you should thank your lucky stars, GG, that DAK's new thrill ride turned out as well as it did.

Speaking of things turning out well, I just can't say enough nice things about this "Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain: The Journey Begins." It's beautifully illustrated and a quick read. If I have to have one complaint about this book, it's that Disney Editions went with far too small a print run.

To explain: Disney Editions has only printed 10,000 copies of "Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain: The Journey Begins." And when those books are sold out ... That's it, my friend. There won't be a reprint.

And -- to add to your difficulties -- this limited edition collectable is only being sold at Walt Disney World. So if you're a completist and really need a copy of "Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain: The Journey Begins" for your Disneyana collection ... You'd best get on a place and head down to WDW ASAP. For I hear that these things are flying off the shelf. And when they're gone, they're gone. 

And speaking of things that are gone, in our final letter for this week, Paul A. writes in to ask an AWOL JHM columnist:

What happened to this week's "Wednesdays with Wade" column? I have always enjoyed Wade's writings and was really looking forward to reading this week's story. But when I opened the site yesterday, all I found was your "Wouldn't it be cool if ... " article and that Bonnie Arnold interview.

Can you please tell me what's become of Wade? Is he on vacation? Have you shifted his column to another day?

I'm afraid I have some bad news, Paul A. Wade Sampson no longer writes for JHM.

I don't want to get into the particulars here. Other than to say that there was a personality conflict. Which is why -- last week -- Mr. Sampson suddenly decided that it was time to move on.

The good news is ... It appears that Wade has already found a new home on the Net. While I'm not yet at liberty to say which website it is that's agreed to take Sampson on ... What I can tell you is that I used to work with these guys. More importantly, if this deal actually goes through ... Well, this new site should prove to be a great showcase for Wade Sampson & his stories.

Beyond that, I & the rest of the staff here at JHM wish to thank Wade for the nearly-three-years of hard work that he poured into this site. Here's hoping that Sampson will be a whole lot happier once he sets up shop at this yet-to-be-named website.

And that -- my friends -- is it for this week. Here's hoping that you have a great weekend and that we'll see you all again bright & early come Monday morning.

Til then, you folks take care, okay?

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  • Hmm... anyone else feel this edition of Why For? lacked something. It seemed short. To the point. And like it missed something.

    Something I never, ever feel in Jim's Articles.

    But anyway.. LOVE the background on MGM's sunset blvd. I love hearing the what-could-have-been stories.

    Wish I knew the dirt on Wade.

  • I think the Roger Rabbit-inspired attractions would be great additions to MGM.  It is a movie, which would fit in with the Hollywood theme, and it's a different kind of movie (animation/live action, Spielberg and Disney).  It's a shame that the park hasn't included them.  
    I think Expedition Everest is a great attraction, and have no complaints (I hadn't thought about it being longer, but that would be cool).  I don't understand why Jim would imply that those other versions would have made the ride worse than it is now.  I'm glad they didn't copy Universal's idea, because that would be wrong.
  • "Right after MGM first opened to the public and was immediately overwhelmed by crowds. Which is what prompted Michael Eisner to turn to the Imagineers and say: 'We need to double the size of this theme park as soon as possible. You guys got any ideas for new rides, show & attractions?'"

    Seventeen years later, we're still waiting. Man, this one had me laughing in the floor. Eisner asked for new rides, but then wouldn't let most of them actually get built. What kills me now is that every time they add something, they tear something else down. The ABC Theatre still sits empty after years. The Hunchback theatre is empty. The Animation studio is long gone, replaced with wide empty space with little to see or do. The sound stages are finally getting gutted for a new attraction, but they're closing down Millionaire and Little Mermaid. I LOVE the themeing of this park and keep hoping that some day someone at Disney will make MGM what it could be. The Roger Rabbit rides would be a great addition. Iger, please call Spielberg!

  • I think I may be in the minority here, but I don't particularly care for Disney-MGM.  My wife doesn't either. We love Fantasmic. I love the Tower, and we all love The Little Mermaid. I guess the problem for us is, we both work in the TV business, and when we get to Disney we want escape and TV and film studios are what I'm trying to leave behind for a week. It's also the only park we've ever been treate rudely by a castmember, so we have a bad taste for the whole place. Give me the other three any day.

    That said however, I would have loved the Roger Rabbit theming.

    I'm going to see Everest for the first time in August, so my judgement is on hold. I am pretty psyched for it though.
  • Too painful to go on?! But Jim, I must know more. Please supplement this article with the rest of what was meant for Sunset Blvd. And a recreation of the Red Car Station and the Terminal Bar? It's no small secret Who Framed Roger Rabbit is my favorite movie and this would have been incredible! Oh well.
  • I have to say that the world needs more Roger.

    Bob, get on the phone with Steven.  Take him out to dinner.  I'm buying.
  • For the record, I'm very sorry that Wade has now left this site. I always appreciated the historical background he provided on all things Disney and I hope that his new location allows him to continue posting that great information. If you're reading this Wade, thanks for the terrific work and I'll look for your writing when I track down where you've gone to. (I'm pretty sure it must be one of three boards that immediately spring to mind!) All the best!
  • Jim, did you have to catch a flight or something? you had really interested in your article and stopped when it started to get juicy!, Something I have not yet until today experienced from any of your articles.
  • Wow   - what do you guys want for free?

    Ya got some MGM park history, some Expedition Everest pics, and a farewell.

    That's much better than an in-depth pseudo-report rehashing the press releases for Over the Hedge.

    I say Kudos!
  • Okay... we got a partial history about MGM... now Jim... complete the story on Star Tours that you started months ago!
    Also, what is the deal on the tour CD?  I ordered and paid for mine back in April of 2005!  WHAT IS THE DEAL?????
  • Ajguy, I agree with you.  That seemed like an abrupt ending to the MGM "what could have happened but didn't" story.  I also really like reading about them.
  • I'm a little stuck on the orange groves. What exactly would they have been used for? Well the thought of sitting under orange trees on a bench while eating some popcorn,  listening to the big band music that would surely be pumped in, and watching the "peep door" on ToT sounds fabulous to me.

    Now when are we ixnaying the Indi Stunt Show to add the Indiana Adventures Ride? please, please.

  • Everest is a real disappointment.  I'd been looking forward to a new direction in the new attractions, but this is really just another dark ride, with very little to recommend it, and the 4 minutes long run time is really too short.  A weak attraction, given in sample size servings, and that's the end of that.  

    I watched a program on cable about the design and construction of Everest, and it was infinitely more impressive that the thing in the flesh.  I wanted to love it, but everyone in our party, and all of the folks exiting along with us, were crushed.

  • Those of you dissapointed with Everest are nuts.

    It isn't Islands of Adventure, or a Six Flags park. Its a FAMILY park. Meaning family friendly rides.

    I'm sorry to be rude, but no one cares that the ride was too short for you.

    Compare Stitch's Great Escape to Everest and indeed Disney is going in a much better route. Elaborate queue theming... a plot to a Roller Coaster.

    It may be the 'Daddy' to Thunder Mountain, but if you think so, then Dont go to Animal Kingdom and ride it. Because you're probably the type who thinks AK has nothing else to offer.

    I dont go to Disney to get "extreme thrills". And i was amazed by Everest. The queue was interesting, the ride was intense (ride towards the back.. omg my stomach, and I NEVER get sick on coasters) and the theming of the ride was great.

    I'll be at Disney riding Everest this weekend, for the.... idk... 50th time or so? I cant get enough.
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