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Why For did Disney-MGM visitors never get the chance to "Journey to the Center of the Earth"?

Why For did Disney-MGM visitors never get the chance to "Journey to the Center of the Earth"?

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In response to last week's "Universal Studios Florida's 'Jaws' attraction sails off into the sunset" article, A Bigger Boat wrote in to say:

I really enjoyed your "Jaws" article. But I find it hard to believe that Universal would change the layout of their entire Florida studio theme park just because Disney was going to have a tram tour at MGM. The tram tour wound up being such a minor aspect of Disney-MGM. Why would something like that make Universal blink?


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Dear A Bigger Boat -

Ah, but you have to understand that - when the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park opened in May in 1989 - the Imagineers had big plans for the Backstage Studio Tour. The idea was - within two years - Guests would be seeing far more from Disney-MGM's Backstage Shuttle than just Residential Street and Catastrophe Canyon.


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If all had gone according to plan, by the time the Summer of 1991 rolled around, WDW visitors would have left the Backstage Shuttle Station ...


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... and eventually found themselves rolling through a South Seas-themed section of Disney-MGM. Where then shuttle driver was to have then talked about all of the great adventure films that have been produced in Hollywood over the past 70 years.


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This Backstage Shuttle was then supposed to have circled around that faux volcanic peak before it then drove into this massive soundstage where scenes for Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" were being shot .


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Once inside, your Backstage Shuttle driver was supposed to have made a joke to the effect of "I thought that this was supposed to have been a hot set." Why this gag was supposed to be funny was that - as your Shuttle drove onto this soundstage - WDW visitors were supposed to be hit with this blast of intense cold air as their Shuttle rolled past these massive faux ice crystals.


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Mind you, as the Backstage Shuttle rounded the next corner, the temperature of this soundstage would then begin to rise rapidly as this Shuttle full of Guests entered a lava-filled environment ...


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... before then rolling the tottering columns which is all that now remains of the Lost City of Atlantis.


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Your Backstage Shuttle driver was to have then made a joke about this set being so hot that " ... I'm getting worried that the tires on our shuttle are going to melt." But then - suddenly - your driver has a far bigger problem to deal as, rising up out of a nearby lava pool, is this massive creature ...


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... a magma worm. Which now begins to snap and snarl at all six cars on this Backstage Shuttle.


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Your Backstage Shuttle narrowly escapes its far-too-close encounter with this huge horrific creature before this Shuttle exits the "Journey to the Center of the Earth" soundstage and then continues its trip around the Disney-MGM Studios backlot.


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That sounds like a cool addition to Disney-MGM Studio's Backstage Studio Tour, doesn't it? So why didn't the Imagineers actually build the "Journey to the Center of the Earth" soundstage? Because - as WDW officials began to survey Guests who visited this theme park during its first summer of operation - they began to hear one consistent refrain from these people. Which was that this theme park didn't have nearly enough rides.

Which is why - as 1989 gave way to 1990 - the Imagineers abandoned their original plans for Disney-MGM's Backstage Studio Tour and opted instead to take the money that had been set aside for the "Journey to the Center of the Earth" soundstage and plowed that into a whole new "land" for that studio theme park, Sunset Boulevard ...


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... which was to have featured a "Star Tours" -like simulator based attraction called "Roger Rabbit's Toontown Trolley" ...


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... and a "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" inspired dark ride entitle "Baby Herman's Runaway Buggy Ride."


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Mind you, it's not like all of the design work that went into this proposed addition to Disney-MGM's Backstage Studio Tour went to waste. As anyone who's ever been to Tokyo DisneySea and ridden on that theme park's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" attraction will tell you ...


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... that lava monster is very, very impressive. It would have really wowed Walt Disney World visitors if the Imagineers had actually decided to expand the Backstage Studio Tour at this theme park instead of going ahead with construction of Sunset Boulevard.

Of course, the irony here is that 90% of the rides, shows and attractions that were proposed for this new "land" at Disney-MGM (Take - for example - the Pepper's Ghost-driven show, "Ghostwriter") ...


John Horny's concept sketch for the interior of Disney-MGM's "Ghostwriter" theater.
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... wound up being cancelled in late 1992 / early 1993 because Euro Disney wound up being such a financial boondoggle. Which then resulted in the Disney-MGM Studios Europe project being delayed ...


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... which - ironically enough - was also supposed to have a Universal Studios-style tram tour roll around its backlot ...


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... which was eventually supposed to have taken its Guests through a soundstage featuring that "Journey to the Center of the Earth" sequence. But the story of Disney - MGM Studios Europe ...


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... or - for that matter - the Disney Hollywood Studio Theme Park at  Tokyo Disneyland that the Imagineers tried to convince the Oriental Land Company to build back in the early 1990s ...


The model for Disney Hollywood Studio Theme Park at Tokyo Disneyland.
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... will have to wait for another time.

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  • Can you please tell us more about Sunset Boulevard and what couldve been there soon? We love these tales a lot.

  • Would that Disney revisited these ideas.  I think adding ALL of this would make Disney even better, much more competitive and cutting edge.  One can never have enough rides, and not everyone wants the roller coaster or extreme thrill stuff.  Particularly with the competition from Harry Potter over at Universal, the new Fantasyland and the proposed additions to Animal Kingdom are really not nearly enough.  I expect more from the Mouse!!

  • I had the impression the Journey to the Center of the Earth thing was also tied to plans for a Disney movie version; the abandonment of the film project was another large factor in the tram feature's fate.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: I've actually got a copy of Disney's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" script. Or at least one of the versions that the Studio developed. And it was a very contemporary take on the tale. If I'm remembering correctly, it actually started with a SETI facility realizing that the message that they were receiving wasn't coming from outer space, but -- rather -- inner space. Which is what then set this cinematic adventure in motion.

    More to the point, I don't recall these adventurers discovering the lost city of Atlantis and/or being menaced by a giant magma worm. So what the Imagineers planned on setting up on this soundstage for the tram to roll through may have just been their take on this classicJules Verne tale. Which -- to be blunt -- seemed to have lifted more than a few ideas from 20th Century Fox's 1959 version of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (which starred James Mason of "20,000 Leagues" fame).

    But who knows? Maybe the Studio develop a more faithful take on "Journey" which stayed true to the period of the original novel AND featured a magma worm. If they did, I've never come across a version of that particular script.

    That said ... I also once heard that (much in the style of Universal Studios Hollywood's old roll-thru soundstage encounter with King Kong that Bob Gurr built) there was once talk of creating a "Mighty Joe Young" experience for the tram tour. Where Guests were to have encountered the biggest AA figure the Company has ever built ... But once that 1998 Walt Disney Pictures release flamed out at the box office, all talk of adding Joe to Disney-MGM's tram tour stopped.

    Anyway ... Let me go did that "Journey to the Center of the Earth" screenplay out. That also might be something that's worth doing a story for the site about.

  • Very interesting article.  I also woudl liek to hear more about Sunset Boulevard.

  • very interesting, i'd love to know your opinion on why eurodisney failed.

  • Euro Disney failed due to the choice of location (decided by Eisner who loved Paris) and the fact the Americans didn´t know anything about the cultures in the EU. The idea was that a lot of tourists visit Paris and they would love to visit a Disney park. That is a stupid assumption because tourists travel to Paris to see the city, the Louvre and to shop, not to go to an amusement park and not when it´s a half hour from Paris city center. Paris is an adult destination (Moulin Rouge, eating snails, looking at Mona Lisa, you get the picture).

    Also the English (and a huge part of the rest of Europe) like France but hate the arrogant French people.

    As a destination it´s to far away for Germany, the Netherlands or the Scandinavian countries who all love theme parks. Europeans were also used to take their own food to the parks and where angry when they entered and had to throw the food away and buy very expensive low quality food in very small portions. That's where Disney got a bad rap.

    Then the second park arrived and was made on the very, very, very, very, very cheap and that did hurt it also.

    The Europeans also don´t take their kids from school between vacations. They value the fact their children need to be educated and in a lot of countries it´s against the law to take kids away from school. That's why the parks are most of the time empty.

    On topic, it´s amazing to see what happens when Disney tries to cut corners. The Studios have some wonderful streets and great attractions but it´s not much and a lot of things are just sad, like the tram tour and the empty animation studio. I´m also tired of beauty and the beast and the Indiana Jones stunt show. The addition of the car stunt show was a horrible choice and unglyfied the park.

    I don´t understand that a park that has 2 huge franchises (Star Wars and Indy) can do so little with it.

    It´s not a working studio so they need to change the whole parks idea and get rid of the ugly hat.

    Question Jim, you hinted to a 5th park in your Avatar piece. Please tell us more. I think it´s a lot of bs and I hope it´s not true because their current parks needs more attention than they are getting. The studios are in need for an update and expansion and Epcot has at least 3 pavilions that are in need of a makeover but you know more so please enlighten us.

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