I went to Disney's Golden Oak Ranch on Saturday May 17th. I'd say it's hard to get in there but that's not true. It's closer to impossible since there are no public tours of the place. Here's my trip report.
I had heard about the Golden Oak Ranch in Disney history but didn't really understand how deep and extensive it was until I read about it in The Vault of Walt Vol 2 by Jim Korkis. I'm going to take a minute to plug this book and everything Jim writes because he's under-rated. I've read plenty of biographies and autobiographies by Disney celebrities and to be honest many could have benefited by ghost-writers, but Jim's books are 100% interesting story-telling from start to finish. If you're a Disney fan and a reader, you've really missed the boat if you haven't checked some of his books out.
Book Review at Yesterland: The Vault of Walt: Volume 2
The Golden Oak Ranch was the property Walt leased ( at first ) for use in TV shows like the Mickey Mouse Club and Spin and Marty TV serials. Ultimately he bought the property in 1959 to guarantee his own availability for projects. To this day it's kind of a movie industry standard that sound stages and filming locations are so tightly booked that the availability if often less than 1%.
Productions that have been filmed here are too numerous to list but a fair cross-section over time would be such features as Old Yeller, Toby Tyler, The Shaggy Dog, Follow Me Boys, The Santa Clause, Princess Diaries 2, and Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3. Ongoing productions include CSI, Entourage, Boston Legal, Sons of Anarchy, American Idol, Bones and just about every car commercial that features a car driving around a town where the traffic is suspiciously light and the streets are suspiciously well maintained.
As we entered the first thing we noticed was that cabin from that one movie where, um... You know, it looks familiar but seriously I can't place it. My guess is it's been in dozens of shows. Maybe Walter White is in there, I didn't' look.
We stopped to park in a dirt lot to the side and made our way to the first checkpoint, the lodge used in the 2002 movie "The Country Bears."
Although for those who saw that movie it would be more recognizable from the front. To give you a size of scale I'm 7.5 feet tall so this is a pretty big place. ( Correction, 5.7 but who's counting? ) Still, that's a big door.
You could almost imagine Big Al the rest of the country bears running into the place through something that size.
Er, uh.... Okay, let me rephrase that. Everyone ran but Big Al gets winded kind of easily.
Thankfully Wendell helped Al to the door while Liver Lips and Shaker made their way in.
Wendell ordered drinks, Shaker talked about the heat, Liver Lips picked up cocktail napkins and Big Al kept clutching his heart. Seriously kids, cholesterol is a bad thing. My favorite part about this picture is how absolutely no one in here has even noticed that four bears have just walked into the building. You just know as soon as one takes off his hat to wipe their brow someone's going to notice and yell BEAR!!!
Inevitably some dancing breaks out because they're Country Bears and, well, what else are you going to do?
Okay, seriously. I need to dwell on this a bit longer. There's a joke here, right? Someone write it for me. "A bear and a bartender walk into a wine and cheese mixer..." Finish the joke.
Standing outside the main doors and looking from left to right,...
One of my favorite things about the second picture above is that those logs that make up the front of the building are the only fake ones on the property. Everything else is wood, but despite these being large, sculpted fiberglass logs it seems every woodpecker in the Golden Oak has come here to drill holes and hide nuts for winter. We're past winter but that doesn't stop this thing from stiff being chuck full of nuts hidden deep inside an expandable foam core. Those damn animatronic woodpeckers!
A quick shot of the inside of the stage
"Mr. Smith" enjoys a drink while admiring the architecture. We had a lot of fun trying to figure out where the ladders go and what was a prop versus working.
Truly the scale of it was amazing.
There were some nice touches inside like a poster from the movie
Doors big enough for the Hulk to comfortably walk through
And of course Disney touches like the metalwork on the lighting fixtures
With stages on both sides and balconies above those, it really had the feel of the original attraction at DL.
A poster by the front doors on your way in foretold of what we'd be seeing today. The Golden Oak Ranch currently has a residential street, rural and natural sets as well as a business district with plans for a multi-building studio expansion at the far end closest to the freeway. ( Where having large buildings doesn't matter and is out of shot. )
I have to be careful on some of these other shots. People here may not want their faces on a public form but there's one face I will identify in this shot below. In the middle of the 3 people below, the gentleman in the dark blue shirt with grey ballcap is Dario Guerrero. He and his brother have been with the ranch since about 1963 and although his brother has retired, he can still be found there tending to the ongoing care of the facilities.
Below is the entry to the city district
Since Oak trees are protected, everything has been built around them. Here's the back of one such set where the buildings were built in a curve to avoid harming the nearby oak.
Here's the doors to the Utah County - Provo Office of the Coroner.
Most of these buildings have been specifically made with level roofs so that digital effects can add stories to them later or alter the looks of rooftops in post-production. Also, as is typical to most movie sets all the streets are at non-linear angles to provide depth and allow different architectures to be seen from different angles.
For example if you hang a left here you'll see nothing, but more importantly if you film facing this building the angle of the windows isn't lined up with the windows across the street. If it were, you'd likely catch a reflection of the crew filming or other buildings across the street that are decades apart from the facaes on the other side of the street.
Here's a good one walking down the main street. The red brick builings seen on the left line up with the two streets seen on the right. If you were fiming down either street on the right you'd be in the Chicago or New York alley type streets. Any shot taken down those streets needs these red brick buildings to be seen, not the white stone library seen in between them.
Because when you're a dead body in CSI and laying on the ground taking your final gasps in a Chicago alley, the last thing you want to do is look down the alley to see a Wells Fargo stagecoach riding up to that building during a snowstorm. ...or maybe you do, if so, you are weird.
Looking down that same alley you can see the weathered brick and how it out of place it would otherwise be.