Rumors about additions and changes to Hollywood Studios have existed for years. While many are figments of fan boys’ imaginations, usually where there’s smoke, there’s fire. A few months ago, Al Lutz reported that a version of Cars Land is being pushed through Disney’s offices for a late 2015 opening. While official confirmation is still pending, the expectation is that something will be announced for Hollywood Studios at or before the D23 Expo in early August.
I don’t doubt that some fans would be excited if tomorrow Disney announced that Radiator Springs Racers, Tow Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Flo’s V8 Café and the Cadillac Ridge would be added to the park in the next few years. Having said that, I hope that they go in a different direction.
I visited Cars Land two weeks after opening. I braved the crowds, I rode the rides, and I was even one of the lucky few that hit a giant beach ball. I absolutely loved Radiator Springs Racers and the rest of Cars Land, and feel it’s the best addition to a stateside Disney park in recent memory. However, as Walt said, “You can’t top pigs with pigs.” I don’t want to see Imagineering replicate something they’ve already done; I want to see them produce something that nobody has seen before… something like Cars Land.
Cars Land works in California Adventure because it’s something that can’t be experienced anywhere else. To Disneyland fans, California Adventure was stale almost instantly and an investment into that park was much needed. That investment paid off significantly with some speculation that California Adventure actually saw an attendance spike of close to 60% in 2012.
It seems there is a belief amongst Disney’s Orlando operations that the theme park market has matured. This belief is publicly reinforced by less aggressive attraction spending in recent years. Comparatively, Universal Studios has been more aggressive building new attractions, resulting in significant increases to attendance. With Transformers the Ride 3-D opening within the next few months, Springfield opening shortly thereafter, and Phase 2 of Harry Potter expected to open in 2015, Comcast and Universal aren’t backing down. Even if construction were to begin tomorrow, it’s unlikely that Disney would open a substantial addition to Hollywood Studios prior to Phase 2 of Harry Potter. For this reason, I predict that one or more Universal Studios parks will have a higher attendance than one or more Disney World parks by 2016.
The good thing is, Disney is doing significant work to improve their infrastructure. Adding new hotels, restaurants, shopping and the much maligned Next Gen project will help position Disney World to accommodate larger crowds. The problem is, none of these additions entice people to book vacations. They just add content and create revenue while those people are already here. The best way to get people to book vacations is to build revolutionary new attractions.
This is where I have a problem with Cars Land in Florida. Yes it’s a proven concept, but at best it would open three and a half years after its California counterpart. At that point, the excitement will have died off if they produce a direct clone. Radiator Springs Racers is a fantastic attraction, but it should not be the new anchor to Hollywood Studios. I suspect that the people who planned a vacation around Cars Land in California won’t plan an additional trip around, “Cars Land 2: Now With Humidity”. If a new E-ticket attraction is the anchor of the Florida version of Cars Land, I’m on board, but I don’t want to see Radiator Springs Racers again. Radiator Springs Racers will help that park, but it won’t fix it.
More importantly, if Disney is looking at two true “destination resorts” on either coast there needs to be unique offerings in both locations. Replicating Cars Land in Florida will cannibalize guests from California. While I understand the benefits of cloning attractions, the benefits are realized more when the attractions are built simultaneously.
The dedication plaque for MGM/Hollywood Studios reads:
The World you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood – not a place on the 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.
The concept behind the park is truly brilliant. Celebrating the romanticized view of Hollywood is both broad in scope and limitless with concepts. No longer should the park be a catch all for content that doesn’t have a home, but rather a well-conceived and cohesive story that celebrates Hollywood.
To many fans, Cars Land is an easy sell. It’s an established franchise with attractions that already exist. It’s something that fans understand, but that doesn’t make it the right decision. As a Disney fan, I know there’s a reason why I’m not an Imagineer – I simply don’t have the ability to create and imagine at the same level as these individuals. I would much rather see this team of creative individuals given the opportunity to fix the park with new ideas.
The reason why fans gravitate towards concepts like Cars Land or Indiana Jones Adventure is because those attractions exist and they know what they’re getting. In the same way, fans beg and plead for things like Beastly Kingdom or the Monster’s Inc Coaster because they’re concepts that are understood, either based on existing information or concept art. Similarly, I’m guilty of begging and pleading for a trackless ride system like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt (Tokyo) because it’s a ride system that I understand.
While I just admitted that I’m no Imagineer, I feel that I can still recognize areas of weakness as well as suggest improvements. I think both Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard are especially well themed, despite some minor exceptions and thematic intrusions. The rest of the park has segments that are well executed, but is exceptionally disjointed. It’s the “rest of the park” that I feel needs a substantial overhaul.
Indulge me, if you will, and we’ll explore the Hollywood Studios as I would like to see them.
Conceptually, the front half of the park would represent the idealized version of Hollywood as a city, while the back half of the park would represent the idealized version of individual studios. The park would remain open while construction is taking place, so attractions would have to close at various stages of the overhaul to meet capacity demands.
This segment involves changes to Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, and Pixar Place. These changes are designed to move focus and capacity to areas that will be further away from major construction. First, I would like to see a refurbishment to The Great Movie Ride. I would like to see scenes replaced, animatronics upgraded, and the finale re-done with an update to the picture quality and the montage itself. On Sunset Boulevard, I would like to see a replacement to Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage! I know a Tangled show had been rumored, and that concept would be acceptable. In Pixar Place, I’d like to see construction begin on the Monster’s Inc Roller Coaster (or other Pixar concept) in the Soundstage to the left of the current Pixar Place. Finally, I’d like to see the Sorcerer’s Hat removed (can I hear an amen?).
I suspect that Disney’s plans for the Animation Courtyard have been put on the back burner, but this area can represent a significant element of Hollywood: television and radio. I would like to see the entire area pay tribute to television and radio. This can be accomplished by constructing new building facades that represent current and historical production facilities in Hollywood. Unfortunately this would mean the removal or relocation of The Magic of Disney Animation and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. For thematic purposes, I would like to see a new entrance created to the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster area, now made possible thanks to the removal of The Magic of Disney Animation. Additional building facades can be created along the backside of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster building as well as the Cast Member parking lot. These new facades will then become the home of The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights every holiday season.
Part 3 is the most important and would carry the burden of reshaping Hollywood Studios. It begins in Echo Lake, which will function as a transition area between Hollywood the city, and the individual studios. This presents two difficult transition areas: the American Idol Experience/Sounds Dangerous building and the area between 50’s Prime Time Diner and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. The transitions must successfully blend these areas of Hollywood Boulevard with a fictitious studio concept, and I believe that a Star Wars or George Lucas land are the best choices.
Star Wars fans have begged and pleaded for a chance to dine inside Mos Eisley Cantina. This experience is a must, and could utilize existing infrastructure like Backlot Express or even help with the transition from Hollywood Boulevard. New attractions can be built in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular area as well as in the American Idol Experience/Sounds Dangerous building. The exterior of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue should be modified so that it no longer resembles a soundstage. Between these areas, there is enough room for three substantial attractions.
The new land will end at Star Tours, leaving the Muppet*Vision 3D section, Commissary Lane and the Streets of America available for additional expansion to Pixar Place and/or other fictitious studio concepts. Pixar is an ever evolving brand, and I truly believe that there are countless opportunities for new Pixar attractions down the road. If The Muppets continue to grow in popularity, that area can be expanded as well.
Obviously, adding both Pixar and Star Wars content puts the budget well beyond what fans can realistically expect. What I have outlined is unrealistic without a California Adventure level budget (or larger), however I think that using different anchors beyond Cars Land is a stronger initial approach. I can’t help but think that the Fantasyland expansion suffered in part to Journey of the Little Mermaid opening 18 months prior in California. While I understand that Radiator Springs Racers is a far superior attraction, I can’t help but think its effect will be diminished in Florida. Thankfully, the construction of Radiator Springs Racers still fits in line with the rest of my suggestions, it just delays the content that guests haven’t seen before.
But that’s just the way I see it. The important thing is what you’d like to see. Please take a moment to share your thoughts on how Disney should reinvent the Studios park.