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Why For did the Mouse really rename MGM "Disney's Hollywood Studios" ?

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Why For did the Mouse really rename MGM "Disney's Hollywood Studios" ?

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Last week, Lauren S. sent me this e-mail:

Dear Jim,

At the beginning of September, I had a wonderful vacation, dining for free at the Pop Century Resort. However, something threw me - whatever happened to the plans for the other half of the property. Years ago, I remember reading through travel guides explaining that the second half of the project, with buildings featuring the pop phenomenons of the 1900's to the 1940's, would be in Phase II. Why did construction cease, and why isn't Disney trying to hide it? On Google Earth, you can still see the the layout, which is equally visible from the resort itself [I had a room in the 60's building facing the lake]. "Generation Gap Bridge" left me with a few questions, and on every bus rides, the abandoned resort buildings are in plain view. Are WDW guests ever going to see the resort completed?

Photo by Jeff Lange

One other question: the Birnbaum official guide lists Mama Melrose's as "scheduled for retheming"; you also mentioned that the Muppets section of the Disney Studios will possibly be seeing expansion. Is it too late to hope for the Great Muppet Movie Ride and the Gonzo-themed Pandemonium Pizza Parlor?



Dear Lauren --

Regarding Pop Century ... You have to understand, Lauren, that the "Classic Years" section of this WDW value resort was originally scheduled to open in December of 2001. But then 9/11 happened. And as a direct result of the horrific impact that that tragedy had on Florida tourism, all 2880 of the rooms that had been built for Phase One of this 177-acre property were mothballed. It wasn't til October of 2003 'til Disney actually began taking reservations at this value resort. With the first guests not checking in 'til December of that same year.

As for Phase Two of the Pop Century ... I've been told that -- following a very successful test last year over at the All Star Music Resort (Where over 100 rooms in the Jazz Inn building were turned into family suites) -- that Disney Parks & Resorts is now giving some very serious thought to converting the buildings that have already been built for Pop Century's "Legendary Years" section into all-suites structures.

"So when will the Mouse actually be putting this plan into action?," you ask. Well, given that occupancy rates for WDW's value resorts have finally climbed back up into the high 80s / low 90s, I'm told that the retrofitting of these partially completed structures could begin as early as in late 2008. With the "Legendary Years" section of Pop Century finally accepting reservations sometime in 2009.

Copyright 2003 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Of course, given what's going on with gas prices right about now, Mouse House officials are rather reluctant to add any additional rooms to WDW's inventory. So don't expect to see any work being done on the other side of Hourglass Lake until the price of Regular Unleaded becomes a bit more reasonable.

As for Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano ... Well, the rumor that I've been hearing about this MGM eatery is that the Mouse recently approached the Patina Group (You know? The folks that just took over day-to-day operations of Epcot's L'Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante and turned it into Tutto Italia?) and asked them if they'd also been interested in taking on this 16-year-old facility.

As for any new Muppet-based rides, shows and attractions being added to this part of the studio theme park ... The way I hear it, the Imagineers are now planning on tearing down the old Backlot Theater (You know? Where the "Hunchback of Notre Dame: A Musical Adventure" show used to be presented?). They'll then fold into the "Al's Toy Barn" autograph area into this parcel (Which goes all the way out to where the the Boneyard begins) ... When all is said and done, this will be a pretty expansive expansion pad. Approximately the same size as the "Muppet Movie Ride" show building would have been.

"So what's WDI's looking to build there?," you query. According to the scuttlebutt coming out of Glendale, this site may be where the long-awaited "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" dark ride finally gets built. Which -- given this proposed attraction's proximity to where the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is presented every year ... Well, it only makes sense to put a holiday-themed attraction back in this corner of the theme park.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, before any of this can happen, Disney first has to build some sort of structure that can then be used to house the Osbourne Lights during the off-season. Right now, all of those flapping angels & spinning globes are stashed inside of the old Backlot Theater once they'd been removed from New York Street. So before Jack Skellington can set up shop when Quasimodo once sang "Out There," Disney first needs to build a new warehouse at the studio theme park in which the Osbourne Lights can then be stored.

Work on this warehouse project is supposed to get underway in 2008 (So that the Osbourne Lights can then be moved into their new off-season home starting in January of 2009). Once that's done, work can begin in earnest on tearing down the Backlot Theater (During which the "Al's Toy Barn" autograph area will then be shifted over to the "Pixar Place" portion of the studio theme park). With any amount of luck, the first Disney's Hollywood Studios guests will be able to take their first trip to Halloweentown starting in the Fall of 2010.

As for this "Nightmare Before Christmas" attraction ... Don't expect anything cutting edge. I'm told that Tim Burton himself is delighted that the Imagineers want to build this deliberately cheesy-looking dark ride. Something that not only draws its inspiration from that 1993 Henry Selick film but also looks as though Jack himself actually built the attraction.

Copyright 1993 Touchstones Pictures, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Mind you, this "Nightmare Before Christmas" ride -- once it's finally up and running -- will become a key component of that long-in-the-planning Halloween hard ticket event that WDW Entertainment has been trying to get off the ground at the studio theme park for nearly a decade now.

In fact, the way I hear it, the Mouse's desire to get a scary seasonal event going at MGM (As opposed to the Mickey's Not-so-Scary Halloween Party over at the Magic Kingdom) may have actually played an important part in helping Disney officials to decide what the new name of the studio theme park should be.

To explain: Mouse House managers had pretty much already agreed to rename MGM "Disney / Pixar Studios" when one executive reportedly pointed out that Pixar wasn't really a name that was associated with horror. Whereas "Disney's Hollywood Studios" is a name that can easily be adapted for all manner of seasonal events (i.e. "Disney's Horrorwood Studios" and/or "Disney's Hollyday Studios").

As to when Disney Parks & Resort will actually start begin using these two names as part of seasonal celebrations at that theme park ... I'm told that "Disney's Hollyday Studios" could initially be rolled out as early as next year. Whereas "Disney's Horrorwood Studios" ... Well, that's really got to wait 'til this proposed "Nightmare Before Christmas" attraction actually gets up out of the ground and Mickey finally gets serious about launching an annual event that's deliberately designed to rival Universal Studios Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights.

 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of which ... You know that after-hours "Haunted Halloween" event that just debuted at Hong Kong Disneyland last month? Care to guess where those two "Nightmare Before Christmas" -themed parade units that were created for that park's "Glow in the Dark Halloween Parade" are eventually headed? You guessed it. Disney's Hollywood ... er ... Horrorwood Studios.

So what do you folks think? Are WDW visitors really ready for an edgier Halloween event? Or should Disney leave the real scares to Universal and just stick with "Mickey's Not-so-Scary Halloween Party"?

Your thoughts?

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  • " Or should Disney leave the real scares to Universal and just stick with "Mickey's Not-so-Scary Halloween Party"?"

    Yup, that's how I feel.  Disney prides itself on family entertainment.  Universal discourages little kids from going to Horror Nights.  Heck, I wouldn't even want to go to Horror Nights.  In a college film class of mine, some boys were talking about how much fun they recently had at Mickey's Not So Scary Holloween Party.  

    I think that having "The Nightmare Before Christmas" characters in the park (and for a Halloween event) would be great and beneficial to the company (it has a huge fanbase).  I hope the dark ride comes to be- it sounds like a great idea!

  • If you don't live in Orlando, you might not realize just how big a deal Halloween Horror Nights is.  It's an institution here, and still can cause traffic back-ups on I-4 during peak nights.  In addition to the $60 admission, Uni routinely sells out on Express Passes and even $120 VIP tours--not to mention all the alcohol sales.  The event is just a license to print money.  

    Whether or not a "scarier" event belongs on WDW property--and whether or not HHN fans would even accept the idea of it--there is no way Disney has not noticed the money being made up the road and started salivating.

  • Thanks, Jim.   Great article.

    I hope the Mouse does move forth with a real investment in seasonal events at the Studios.  It has a great location for locals to drop in on (at least if they could get the praking figured out), a very flexible theme, and two shows (Fantasmic and Sorcery in the Sky, which presumably still has infrastructure in place) that could easily support all of this.   Add in the potential for haunted stunt shows, or a Christmas overlay on Toy Story Mania, it could be really sweet.

    They just need to make the place easier to access...and maybe get some signature dining into the front of the park (maybe even outside).  No chain stuff...something custom.

    My only question is why WDI wouldn't create a 4D Jack Skellington show for a Muppet replacement...something where they go in with 3 films right out the chute...a Halloween show, a Christmas show, and a rest-of-the-year show.   Maybe the storylines could all interweave, so you only get the whole thing by seeing all three.

    That would free up the Muppets to be more of the self-aware "we're in a studio and we know it!" characters that they can really excel at (and do better than any other Mouse property.  Letting those furry things take over the backstage tour could be a big improvement.  Seeing Gonzo's Catastrophe Canyon could be a real hoot!

  • Jim,

    Thank you for answering my questions; the answer was so much more involved than I expected!

    @misterjohnson: I would LOVE to see the Muppets take over the Backstage tour - that 45-minute attraction could certainly use a refresher.

  • I would totally go to a REAL Disney Halloween theme event. Not just something for little kids. It would be awesome to see how they could transform the park.

    As for the "little kids would get scared!" thing, that's why they would go to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. MGM is the "teen" park already, with ToT and Rockin' Rollercoaster being the two big attractions.  

  • I'm sure that some Disney execs have gotta be salivating at the prospect of having their own more adult Halloween event - given WDW's history, copying another successful off-property event to keep people from leaving prett much fits with the MO. But I still think it's a bad idea. Nobody cares if Uni or Six Flags or anybody else does a HHN-type event - heck, if anything,  it keeps their target demographic coming into the parks in a season where most amusement parks would be cutting back operating hours or closing for the season. But Uni and SF and others don't have Disney's family reputation, and even if Disney goes out of its way to keep the kiddies away, the Company's reputation would be tarnished by something like this.

    Here's an idea for Disney, though: How 'bout a Halloween party for adults only that allows adults to dress up and have a little fun but doesn't involve scaring the bejesus out of people (in other words, a typical home or ballroom gathering, but on steroids)?  Disney can bring in a young adult crowd for a night or two and cash in but not get the "How could Disney get involved with stuff like this?" vibe.

  • Ummm... Where does anyone get the inference that this is actually going to be along the lines of HHN in tone or execution?

    I see nothing that indicates that in the article. In fact, pointing out that a new Nightmare... ride and parade will be centerpieces of this event pretty much points to the exact opposite.

    There is a HUGE amount of area in between the Mickey-fied Halloween goings-on at MK and the very adult-oriented splatterfest at Universal Orlando. And it seems obvious that this new seasonal venture will reside somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

    This seems to be a Halloween event geared to be enjoyed by EVERYONE (not just kids like Mickeys Not So Scary Halloween Party- and not just adults like HHN)... so I see no conflict of this proposal with normal Disney style or standards.

    Just because something is going to be meant to compete with HHN for people's admission tickets, doesn't mean that it is going to be at all similar in its approach to doing so.

  • I see nothing wrong with the 'slanting' of new attractions and accomodations toward a less generic Disney foundation. As many can openly see, park attendance during the Horrorween events has skyrocketed. Then also look at those attending the parades and park events and how they're costumed. In the case of the Pirate parade, the amount of buccaneers and swashbucklers is a major dress-up desire. For that matter look at the Food and Wine Fest, Flower Shows and their impressive expansion since the first days.

    I say allow them to continue placing themed (re-themed) attractions, lands, or parks all over the place. Obviously people will vote with their feet. We all saw how fast Mission Space was retuned after its initial offering (not a place I expect to survive for more than a few more years at best.)

    What do I see in WDW's future? I see expansion/conversion of the main streets into 24 hour guest areas. Family suites over the shops, which in turn overlook Main. Triple pane glass enclosed balconies keeps the noise out, and stuff in. Families would pay a huge premium to 'Sleep on Main'.

  • I recall a plan several years ago that anticipated dropping "MGM" from the name of that park -- I think it had to do with difficult negotiations with that studio over rights to some films and MGM wanting out of the tie-in. I even have some merchandise branded simply "Disney Studios" with a Mickey ears-movie camera logo from that time purchased at D-MGM which may have come from the original in California. But I don't see them renaming the park simply to accommodate a once-a-year Halloween event.

  • Universal and Disney are targeting two different audiences with their Halloween offerings, and I see nothing wrong with that.

    If Disney's plan is to pull in some of the Universal crowd, then they're going to have to make their Studios even similar to Unversal's--and that means making it rather un-Disney.

    Were Disney to hold two separate events aimed at separate audiences, they'd have to work very, very hard to explain the differences to guests. People make certain assumptions when visiting Disney parks, and one of those assumptions is that things are going to be "family-friendly." That means not very scary. If Disney cranks up the spook factor at Studios, they'd better make darned sure that oblivious parents don't accidentally bring the kiddies there and end up having a negative experience.

  • Lately what I've been noticing here at WDW is that Disney could really give a rip what Universal is doing.  Look, merchandising is making more now some days then we were during the SUMMER.  And you know what guests are wearing in our stores?  Halloween Horror Night shirts!  Universal has yet to make its parks quality enough to hold the guest's attention.  Also I consistently hear that guests prefer Mickey's Not-So-Scary because at least the title is more honest.  HHN has always been kinda lame and people leave disappointed.  I've been twice and both times sucked.  Bunch of drunks everywhere and lame haunted houses that never provided a single scare.

    I think if Disney provided an alternative event for grown ups it would get a lot of play.  Jack Skellington is a big seller and we constantly hear about how there isn't enough villain themed stuff.

  • BonnetCreekChief said: "I recall a plan several years ago that anticipated dropping "MGM" from the name of that park -- I think it had to do with difficult negotiations with that studio over rights to some films and MGM wanting out of the tie-in. I even have some merchandise branded simply "Disney Studios" with a Mickey ears-movie camera logo from that time purchased at D-MGM which may have come from the original in California."

    I didn't have anything to add to this discussion, but saw your post and had to add that I have one of those shirts too, wore it the other day.  I knew they were moving away from the name at that point, but I hadn't heard anything since then.  Thanks for the interesting article Jim!

  • Tuckenie, I'm going to have to disagree with you on HHN - I've been to that 3 times in the past 10 years and had a great time. It's the only time I've ever really enjoyed myself at Universal. Well, that and when a conference I attended a couple of years ago rented out the whole park for one night. Universal with no lines is pretty nice since you don't have time to notice how run down things are! :-)

    Overall a Haunted DS could be good. As others pointed out, there is a big middle ground between Mickey's NSSH and Universal. I could deal with that pretty well.

  • I really like the idea of Disney doing a more HHN thing. While I love Mickey's NSSH and I go every year, an actually scary party sounds great. I just hope they don't drop NSSH in the process.

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