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The Disney-MGM Backstage Studio Tour that might have been

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The Disney-MGM Backstage Studio Tour that might have been

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With this past week's closure of the Backlot Tram Tour at Disney' Hollywood Studios, I thought that it might be fun to take a look back at a time when the Imagineers had far larger plans for this attraction. Back when -- in addition to Catastrophe Canyon, Residential Street and the Boneyard -- WDI wanted to send WDW Guests on a "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Here's an excerpt from a January 2012 Why For column that will hopefully shed some light on what an enhanced version of what-was-originally-known-as the Backstage Studio Tour would have been like. More importantly, why this proposed Disney-MGM era enhancement was never built.


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... 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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