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Monday Mouse Watch : The reel / real story behind Disney-MGM Studios' upcoming name change

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Monday Mouse Watch : The reel / real story behind Disney-MGM Studios' upcoming name change

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Were you surprised by the rather generic-sounding new name that the Walt Disney Company saddled Disney-MGM with last week?

Well, you weren't the only one. Many of the Mouse House managers that I spoke with over this past weekend were really taken aback by the studio theme park's new moniker. As one Disney vet who-prefers-to-remain-anonymous put it:

"I've been in meetings where we talked about Disney-Pixar Studios, Disney-ABC Studios, Walt Disney Studios, even Disney Studios Florida. But Disney's Hollywood Studios? I'd never heard that name before. Marketing must have pulled that one out of a hat at the last minute."

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And that may genuinely be the case. Given that -- while WDW resort president Meg Crofton officially announced this name change on August 9th -- Disney's IT department didn't actually begin registering variations of the "Disney's Hollywood Studios" domain name 'til August 4th. With the first six names ...


... being registered on Saturday, August 4th. While the remaining 11 ...

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... were snagged by Mickey on Monday, August 6th.

Does that sound kind of the last minute to you? It should. These days, the Walt Disney Company tries to lock up domain names that it's interested in years in advance. Take -- for example ...

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This is the name of a ficticious organization that figures prominently in Disney / Pixar's Summer 2009 release, "Up." And yet the Mouse is already so concerned that someone might come along and snag domain names that are somehow related to this new Pete Docter film, they actually registered "wildernessranger.com" back on June 13th. A full two years before this new Pixar Animation Studios production is expected to be released to theater.

Anyway ... After you apply this particular piece of information to last week's announcement, does it strike you as odd that the Walt Disney Company would only be moving to acquire all of these "Disney's Hollywood Studios" -related domain names variations less than a week before the official Disney-MGM name change announcement?

Well, it really should. Given that, up until late last month, Disney-MGM actually was going to be renamed Disney-Pixar Studios. But then the results of that survey that I discussed in Friday's "Why For" column came in. And then -- of course -- there was the problem that this studio theme park hasn't been a working motion picture studio for quite a while now.

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Oh, sure. Back when the Disney-MGM Studio Tour project was initially announced back in March of 1986, Disney Company officials really did have visions of turning this particular chunk of swampland into Hollywood East. Where Tinsel Town types could then come shoot their movies & TV programs for about 2/3rds of what it cost to shoot similiar shows back in really-for-real Hollywood.

And -- for a while there, anyway -- it did look like this plan might actually work. That Mouse House managers would be able to convince industry types to first fly down to Central Florida to shoot their films, and then charge tourists for the privilege of peeking behind-the-scenes.

But as it turns out ... In spite of the lure of those lower production costs (Not to mention all of those tax breaks / credits that the Florida Film Commission was always dangling on front of producers who were talking about shooting in the Sunshine State), in the end, not enough movies & TV shows were actually willing to come all the way down to Orlando in order to shoot. Which meant (more often than thought) that those tourists who went on MGM's Backstage Tour wound up looking down onto dark & empty soundstages.

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Speaking of which ... It turned out that those glassed-in, sound-proofed tour corridors that ran across the length of Soundstages 1, 2 & 3 turned out to be a huge turn-off for many film-makers. They honestly didn't like the idea of the great unwashed looking down upon them as they created cinematic art.

Which is why -- for a time there in the early 1990s -- the Walt Disney Company actually toyed with building four more soundstages on the other side of World Drive. These additional production facilities (Which were to be built in the very same spot that Disney's Coronado Springs Resort currently occupies) were deliberately designed to be as far away from the tourists as possible. And the plan was that the Mouse would offer this state-of-the-art work space to film-makers at a significantly reduced rate if they'd then agreed to shoot a few token scenes for their films back on the soundstages that featured the glassed-in overhead tour corridor.

But -- in the end -- cooler heads prevailed back in Burbank. And it stood to reason that if Disney was already struggling to find movies & TV shows to shoot on the three soundstages that the company already had in Central Florida ... Well, adding four other soundstages was just going to compound Disney-MGM's pre-existing problem.

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So -- in the end -- the Walt Disney Company just stopped chasing the dream of turning WDW's studio theme park into Hollywood East. And to fill all of those empty soundstages along Mickey Avenue, MGM officials were ultimately forced to do things like bring the "Pocahontas" mall tour in for an extended visit, create a new Mickey meet-n-greet area as well as build the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire -- Play It!" game theater.

But nowadays ... With the exception of the occasional holiday special and/or on-location shoot for "Wheel of Fortune," the Mouse has basically abandoned the idea that any TV shows or films of significance will ever be shot at Disney-MGM. Which is why the company is now perfectly comfortable with turning Soundstages 1, 2 & 3 into show buildings for "Toy Story Mania !" as well as that yet-to-officially-be-announced Pixar-themed Wild Mouse coaster.

Which now brings us back to that "Disney's Hollywood Studios" name. Several Mouse House managers that I spoke with this past weekend floated the theory that Disney execs finally chose this name because they're looking to eventually pull an "Epcot 94."

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To explain: How many of you remember -- as part of the revamping of Future World that was done back in the early 1990s (You know? When Communicore was gutted to make way for Innoventions?) -- that the name of WDW's science & discovery park was officially changed from Epcot Center to Epcot 94? This nonsense continued for another year (With all of the signage in the park actually being changed to Epcot 95) before Disney World officials finally settled on calling the resort's 2nd theme park plain old Epcot.

Sooo ... Applying that same logic to what's just happened to Disney-MGM ... The folks that I've just spoken with believe that "Disney's Hollywood Studios" is just an interim name. That this new moniker will only remain in place until the Imagineers have effectively replaced all of the studio theme park's soundstages & production facilities with new rides, shows and attraction. At that point -- when "Disney's Hollywood Studios" can no longer be called a working studio -- the name of WDW's 3rd theme park will change one last time to "Disney's Hollywood."

Don't believe me? Well, please note that -- of the 17 variations of "Disney's Hollywood Studios" domain names that I've listed above -- five of those names do riff on "Disney's Hollywood."

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Of course, it's important to note here that this last name change is at least three to five years down the line. We'll have to wait 'til "Disney's Hollywood Studios" has gone ahead with its new "lands" scenario (i.e. Where specific areas of this theme park will then be dedicated to the celebration of the Playhouse Disney characters, Pixar's films, the Muppets and George Lucas' movies & TV shows. Not to mention -- of course -- the Golden Age of Hollywood) before it then makes sense to change the name of WDW's 3rd theme park one last time.

Of course, what's kind of ironic about all this is -- once Disney-MGM's name is finally changed to "Disney's Hollywood" -- this theme park will then actually fit the description found on that dedication plaque that Michael Eisner read back on May 1, 1989. Which reads:

“ The World you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood—not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was—and always will be. ”

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Speaking of MGM's origins ... I hope you enjoy some of the Disney-MGM construction shots that I've used to illustrate today's article. Which come by way of Jeff Lange's amazing Disney theme park photo archives.

Anywho ... What do you folks think? Will "Disney's Hollywood" really better represent what this theme park will be like in the future? Or should the Mouse just stick with that "Disney's Hollywood Studios" moniker?

Your thoughts?

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  • I actually really like "Disney's Hollywood". Much better than "Disney-Pixar Studios" for sure. A working title like "Disney's Hollywood Studios" is just fine. I was kind of disappointed when I heard they were renaming MGM, because to me, the park should always honor and pay homage to Hollywood and movie-making, than just simply Disney and Pixar. So I really like this name and idea! It'd be nice if they went even further with the Old Hollywood theming, in my opinion.

  • Here here megustajake ! I totally agree with you. I'm so glad Disney chose not to sell out by re-naming the park Disney*Pixar studios.

  • I'm in agreement.

    I HATED the idea of "Disney/Pixar Studios"

    Disney's Hollywood could be cool, IMO. Maybe they could add a large mockup of the Hollywood sign somewhere?

  • Let's just pretend this whole thing IS a movie.  My reaction?

    "It was perfefct until the hat, and it was all downhill from there. What a terrible ending. Oh, well -- it sure started out great! Final rating: 2 stars."

  • I hope Jim is right and the park does end up named "Disney's Hollywood"...which sounds a lot better than "Disney's Hollywood Studios".  I have always thought a name like "Movieland" would be appropriate for this park, and "Disney's Hollywood" is something akin to that.  Now if only they would get rid of that hat...

  • I uess I'm the only person in Earth who doesn't mind the hat?

  • WDWTITAN24- yes, you may be alone :-)  Just kidding...

    I just think the hat should be moved OUTSIDE the park (a la the lighthouse at IOA).  20's Hollywood (just like Main Street) is a great opener to mythos of the park.  Plus, just as Walt grew up in a place like Main Street, 20's Hollywood seems like the sort of place that gave birth to Steamboat Willie.  It just makes the place work.  The only remaining HUGE problem is the mausoleum that is the Animation Studio.  Unless really for real traditional animation is produced there (and I'm not holding my breath), the facility is giant, anachronistic buzz kill.  

  • The Sorcerer's hat was probably a reaction of one of Eisner's marketing guys realizing that Grauman's Chinese Theatre -- although a thematically perfect fit not only as a focal point to the Studios, but also as a natural departure for the Great Movie Ride -- was NOT owned by Disney, and deemed a terrible focal point for the park.  Imagineering takes a back seat to profiteering.

    Blocking Grauman's with the Sorcerer's hat is just part of the roll-out-the-duct-tape-let's-fix-this-on-the-cheap managerial style of Michael Esiner.  Under Mike's stint, the only one trusted making money by bold, creative desicions was M.E. - everyone else was limited to saving money by cutting costs.

    Grauman's is the perfect focal point for the Hollywood that never was, and always will be.  A reproduction of Hyperion Studios or the El Capitan won't have the same recognition or emotional impact.  Disney doesn't own Star Wars or Indiana Jones either - maybe we should just count ourselves lucky that M.E. didn't put giant hats of Donand Duck and Goofy in front of those rides.

  • Maybe they could then morph the name into WALT Disney's Hollywood....oh wait, that's what their going to do at California Adventure.

    But if it works there, why not build 12 Walt Disney's California Adventure parks around the world. The savings by duplicating the idea would make each park very cost-effective - hang on - flashbak - Eisner's retired.

  • I prefer "Disney's Hollywood" over "Disney's Hollywood Studios", just for the fact that the park is not a studio anymore.

    But, Jim's artcile made it seem like nothing was ever filmed at MGM, but "Mickey Mouse Club" (the 1990s version) and I believe "The Golden Girls" were both filmed at MGM.

  • MMC and Star Search were both filmed there when I was a CM.  The occasional movie shot a scene or two there as well, but as Jim points out, it was never a consistent thing and certainly not at the level that they envisioned.  We sat in on a Star Search taping or two (Hey-yo!) and had friends who worked backstage at MMC.  That was in the Christina/Britney/Keri/name your boy band era, but of course no one knew who they would turn out to be at that point.  Disney constants amazes me with their ability to churn out the kid stars...

  • Oh, and FWIW...  I always was partial to TDS (The Disney Studios) and always have referred to it as that.  It's going to take an effort for me to break that habit, but Disney's Hollywood is not bad IMHO...

  • Disney's Hollywood. Fine. Now that we have a name,let's see some new attractions.

  • I don't mind the hat either, and the real test...my kids ...they love the hat.

    Still my least favorite park of the whole bunch, no matter what you call it. Anybody else feel that way? I know a lot of people love the place. I just don't get it.

    I think, becasue I work in TV, the whole "magic of television and movies" thing doesn't exist for me. Imagine working in a bank, and going on vacation to a theme park based on banking.

  • Umph, they should just make up their minds for once on something. Why having "Studios" on it now, to just dump it in a few years? I don't think anybody who's going to Disney's Hollywood will say at the end of the day: "How dumb, there were studio in there and it didn't even say that in the park name!! I hate the park now, not ever never ever going to Disney's Hollywood anymore. Stupid Disney."

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