Saying No To Cars Land – Fixing the Disney Hollywood Studios

Written by Tim Grassey. Posted in Features

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Published on April 14, 2013 at 12:01 am with 59 Comments



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.

Part 1

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?).

Part 2

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

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.

About Tim Grassey

Three months before being born, Tim enjoyed his first trip to Disney World. Ever since, frequent trips to Disney World and Disneyland have helped feed the obsession. After a three year run as a podcaster, Tim currently co-owns the Disney information site, WDWThemeParks.com. You can follow the site on twitter @wdwthemeparks or follow Tim directly @tgrassey

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  • SxcyMike

    Maybe it’s just me, and if so that’s fine. I’m ambiguous to believe that these Star Wars concepts is the answer. I mainly feel it would be rather otiose do to do many of the younger generation (myself slightly included being 29) being out of sync with a brand based off in the 80-90s time frame. I’m bewildered of the notion that the average 7-15 y/o would jump for joy in praises of going to Disney HS for the Star Wars experience. As popular as the brand is I just can’t come to terms with that concept being the next cash cow at that park for the younger clientele. In other words, I’m not for the cloning of any attraction, lacks originality. In the far corner of my mind I can’t help to think that just because I didn’t ask for something doesn’t mean I won’t love it when I get it.

    • Marko50

      You forget that Disney is doing a bunch of new Star Wars movies, the first to be out in (correct me if I’m wrong) 2015.

    • Marko50

      You forget that Disney is making a bunch of new Star Wars movies, the first of which is due out in (correct me if I’m wrong) 2015.

      • Marko50

        OK, first my reply didn’t show. Then I redid it and it showed up twice. :-/

  • SpectroMan

    I will agree with one thing mentioned so far – that the vast majority of Americans east of the Rockies probably won’t see our DCA Cars Land in their lifetimes. That said, I STILL hope it doesn’t get duplicated.
    Cars is the worst Pixar film to date. The land is visually impressive, especially at night, but the thrill quickly wears off. RSR is, for me, a D ticket disguised as an E ticket because of the huge amount of real estate it takes up. The other two are forgettable after a few times each. Other than that, we have gifts shops and a few nice new foods, but honestly, now that I’ve been to Cars Land a few times, my first pass swipe of every trip is about 90% Disneyland and 10% DCA. I realize this wouldn’t be the case in Florida – WDW guests flock to new things whether they’re good or not – but still, cloning has got to stop.

  • Ravjay12

    Great article! I agree with NOT having Cars Land at DHS because they already have it in the form of Test Track at EPCOT. RSR should be exclusive to DCA because it needs something unique from other parks, and it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else but DCA. DHS should focus on Marvel theme or Star Wars land because it would fit better with the movie theme. Star Wars land would work the best because they already have Star Tours 2 and they do the annual Star Wars days event there. Now that they see that investing in quality attractions pays off, DHS could really get something special. Can’t wait to see what they do..

  • DocEagle

    I remember when the Tower of Terror was supposed to be the answer for DCA. The hugely popular ride now coming to California!!

    Well, except for maybe its first few months, it was rarely busy. You can walk right on most of the time.

    Disney would be much better off it the attractions at each park were different. It’s as though Disney doesn’t WANT any east coasters to be curious enough to pay a visit to Anaheim.

  • gboiler1

    I’d like to see some refresh and add attractions. Tim hit it with adding another Star Wars attraction and expand that area the same with the Muppets, or at least refresh the existing show if not add another attraction.
    Pixar Place really should have at least two additions to Midway Mania. A Cars ride would be fine but perhaps add a Monsters Inc ride or something along the lines of a dark ride that pays homage to all the Pixar movies.
    Really DHS needs an overhaul much like DCA got.
    Maybe someday…

  • sec504

    Hey, Tim, great article. As a CM at MGM (94 – 96; “Inside the Magic: Special Effects and Production Tour) you may be surprised to know that back in 94, a lot of us were talking about the fact that if Disney didn’t keep up with the times, technology would make the reason behind the park obsolete. The CMs in our break room were full of suggestions (without regard to cost or maintenance, of course–it’s always easy to be an armchair Imagineer without a budget) such as constantly updating GMR (we didn’t like the ending back then, either), and adding two strong D-ticket dark rides (at least one being an OmniMover) celebrating the movies in a “timeless way,” and so on. Of course, our biggest complaint back then was that Superstar Television would either need to be continually revamped or scratched altogether. I still think that at least one strong D-ticket OmniMover ride (what used to be known as “The Magic Kingdom Bread-and-Butter,” at least in our break room, in a different area of the park from Toy Story and the northern reaches of Sunset Blvd. No, it wouldn’t be a thrill ride, but if they do it well enough, it could displace roughly 2,000 guests per hour, and give them something fun to do for seven or eight minutes (hopefully). The theming of this ride should be timeless, yet use modern technology in a way that makes tweaking and updating relatively easy. As fantastic as Haunted Mansion and many of the old Future World attractions were, they’re prohibitively expensive to maintain properly (not that I am suggesting that as an excuse). But this OmniMover ride should have something to do with celebrating movies within the original concept of “The Hollywood that never was–and always will be,” yet wholly different than GMR, as it would be an original attraction, and not a tour through assorted famous scene simulations. Just a though. Thanks again for a terrific article.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    I loved your article. I really think that Hollywood studios needs to really be rethought from the ground up. Park suffers from layers upon layers of “Just add one more thing” to fix the park. Hollywood studios now is bordering on a theme park that has forgotten its Theme.

    First we can agree that the stupid hat needs to be removed.

    Second, I believe that the park needs to be planned out in the master plan. The current Hollywood Studios feels like nobody had an idea what the original park was going to be. There does not seem to be any discernible lands or experiences it just seems to be one big experience.

    Third, I do believe these lands can be themed after movies. Having a Star Wars land is a “no-brainer”. But just having one fiend land does that seem to balance out the park. They need to have two more major experiences for people to go to fourth Park. This is where I believe that marble can step in and a superheroes area of the park with fit perfectly if they wanted a third scene they could also do a Muppet area for the smaller kids. Would this be left Disney? Yes, I do believe it would be less Disney so you would need to have at least one or two really solid Disney themes in the park. The difference would be that instead of Disneyland where you experience just one movie experience per attraction you have a whole area in which you’re immersed in the movie itself. a Tangled area would certainly be a wonderful theme with a tower and of course the wonderful hub with singing and food I think would be a big hit. It would make up for the stupid bathrooms they put at Magic Kingdom.

  • David Hollenbeck

    I’m surprised that this hasn’t come up before (that I’ve seen and I admit to not looking too hard, but really, I’m just talking about this thread), but do you really want to see what Disney would do with Marvel, but are frustrated by the legal maneuverings that block it? There is an answer. Do you want a world rich in potential and limitless in its storyline so that E-ticket super-coaster fit in it as easily as A-C ticket rides? Pass through the gates of DHS and run past TSM to Pixar Place’s newest, most immersive, thoroughly unique to WDW land – The Incrediville, featuring the big new coaster on the newly formed Nomanisan Island.

    Is the Incredibles a bigger franchise than Potter? No, but if they make killer rides there, it would definitely hold its own. Have that plus a great Star Wars land and DHS will be THE place to go.

    Just for the record, I think there would be no problem at all with young people being out of touch with Star Wars, there is just so much for the younger set in the TV shows, LEGO and online stuff that would pretty much cast those worries aside. I will grant that there is a bit of a sandwich generation that was between the original release of the films and the newer stuff that maybe saw the prequels and thought “What’s the big deal?” or something similar, but many, many young boys are still fans of Star Wars. Is it A1 on their interest list? Not necessarily, but it’s still big.

    Also, I’ll save my venting for another time, but I thought Cars and Cars 2 were both awesome and I was among those that was thrilled when I heard they were making a Carsland in DCA. I wasn’t asking for it, but I didn’t ask for Tower of Terror either, and that was fantastic, so please don’t think that everyone was just blase about it and pleasantly surprised when it did well, Cars does have fans that aren’t redneck crazy NASCAR-fan yahoos, though I admit that with the right level of beard growth, change of shirt and a beer in my hand, I’d be undetectable among tailgaters at a race. ;-)

    Dave

  • MickeySmurfette24

    Sure, No!

    I would rather put Wreck-It Ralph Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, instead!

  • Uncle Bob

    I agree with a lot of the article, but the decision isn’t surprising. It’s been pretty obvious for several years now that Disney consider’s WDW and DL completely separate markets. In many ways they probably are, so in that sense this plan makes sense. But I really don’t think it’s actually going to drive attendance in nearly the way they think. My sense is that it will be a much more modest increase in visitation for a number of reasons.

    Some of the DCA success was due to the overall long period of marketing of the DCA renovation and increasing positive word of mouth for several years. This quick addition of a copy of a single land within the context of a much smaller overall project just isn’t going to generate the same kind of interest and buzz. I also think that there’s so many relatively local people to visit DLR that there’s a lot of people who can rush to check out the big new thing. WDW trips tend to be more expensive for a lot of people and I don’t think it’s going to immediately increase overall visitation nearly as much as at DLR. It will shift more guests to DHS certainly, but I don’t think it’s going to be as big of a game changer the second time. I also think that a lot of big spending hardcore Disney fans and hardcore Cars fans have already seen Cars Land. I could be overestimating that impact as there are certainly many on the East Coast who haven’t seen it; But I’m betting many of the biggest spenders already have been to it.

  • DavidCH

    At some point you simply have to accept the fact that each of the various Disney sites cater to specific regions in general and that just because a Disney fan is inclined to visit multiple sites and expect a different experience, the average person and family is most likely only going to visit one site and site only. I live in Orlando and would never have visited DL if I hadn’t found myself living in San Diego for three months. Why should I have been denied the experience of Indy simply for the argument that each site should be unique? You make the argument for uniqueness, but I suggest that the argument should made in defense of those families that will never visit any other site. Why should a middle income family of four be denied the experiences in Tokyo Disneyland simple for the sake of Tokyo Disneyland being unique? I would love to see the Journey to Center of the Earth ride, but I simply can’t afford the time and money necessary to travel half way around the world for it. I’d have to look at it, but one must ask the question just how much did Magic Kingdom differ from Disneyland when it opened in ’71. Would you go back I’m time and yank out Space Mountain from DL and subsequently DLP and DLHK for sake of making each site unique? How many visitors to each of those park have enjoyed that attraction? Would you deny a child a carousel simply because a previously built park already had one? All that aside, there is also the simple financial reality that in this day and age Disney builds just enough to amaze and not a bit more. By designing an attraction for multiple parks, theoretically the attraction can be more amazing than if it were designed for just a single park as the cost of the wow! factor can be spread across the various sites.

    • http://www.wdwthemeparks.com Tim Grassey

      David,

      Why can’t the sites be of the same quality but have different offerings? Isn’t that best for the company? Yes, certain people will only be able to see one quality offering while those that can travel more will see two. However, I would think Disney would want to encourage people to hit up as many of their resorts as possible, and homogenizing them isn’t the way to do that.

  • DavidCH

    Posted from my iPad forgive the errors.

  • DG2

    Disney spend billions on the Star Wars franchise. What a perfect time to take the car is land radiator Springs racers technology and just apply it to a Star Wars themed race ride that would be perfect and would generate even more fans and cars land. Having said that I think the other posters were right that John Lasseter here is the brainchild behind cars land and if he wants it in Florida it’s going to be in Florida. Azasan like the others on this posting a really really should make it all star wars that would be huge and much much bigger than Harry Potter !!!

  • DG2

    Sorry for typos. Was voice texting on iPhone.

  • horizonsfan

    I’m really excited to go to Cars Land in California Adventure, but one of the main reasons is that’s a new area in a park that I’ve only visited once. I’m right with you on the idea of duplicating it at the Hollywood Studios. There are so many possibilities from Star Wars and Pixar that just matching their success in California is the lazy approach. While it will likely grow attendance, it’s not going to be the game changer they expect. The solution comes from building new attractions that make DHS a destination, not just a half-day park to visit when you’re taking a break from the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.