Disney Theme Park

4 Reasons Why Disney’s Hollywood Studios Needs To (And Will) Change



By Dustin West


I should open this article by saying that I love Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In fact it was my favorite Disney theme park when I was a kid. It was pretty much brand new when I started visiting. I suppose the mix of the park being in its heyday and my 6 year old target audience perspective made Disney’s Hollywood Studios stand out. It’s also important to note that my love for all things movie related (I have my degree in filmmaking) was ever growing during this period. I’d hate, however, to think that my thoughts below are jaded by this. That it will never live up to not only what it once was, but what it was to me in that moment. There's a lot that’s not working in its present state. I want the current Disney’s Hollywood Studios to succeed. I want to see it grow into something great.  Here are some of the reasons I think Disney’s Hollywood Studios needs to change for the better.

1.) There are Better Shows at Disney World

Ever since its inception, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has relied heavily on live shows and performances. The ratio of shows to to actual rides has always been higher at this Disney park than any other. So why aren’t the shows there better? You couldn’t ask for better facilities or production staff. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, being a Disney park and a once semi-functioning film and television studio, has always had the technical advantage over any other park. It all comes down to details.


Take a look at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Their two main shows are based off of smash hit films (Lion King and Finding Nemo) just like at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast Live should be easy adaptations to the stage. Yet both shows at the park feel not only dated but lackluster compared to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The artistry and costumes do not come anywhere close to Festival of the Lion King or Finding Nemo the Musical.


I’m not suggesting that a complete overhaul is needed. Disney’s Hollywood Studios should take a look at the details like costuming, set design, and most importantly incredible live performances from very talented actors and puppeteers. Maybe they could find a way to improve and update Voyage of the Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast Live.

2.) There’s So Much Poorly Used Space

It seems that Disney’s Hollywood Studios has become the dumping ground for any attraction or theme park elements that don’t fit in the other three Walt Disney World parks. It’s really just a Frankenstein of a park that has bits and pieces coming in and out. Most things at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are either very temporary like the American Idol Experience or very permanent like Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.


Because of this rapid turn around rate, it feels like they aren’t able to capitalize on the amazing venue available to them. There could be opportunity for really interesting and more permanent attractions if it wasn’t for temporary attractions like Frozen Summer Fun and Star Wars Weekends taking up the sound stages on Mickey Avenue. Those events could find other homes around the park.


Another poorly used space is the entire Backlot area. When Disney Hollywood Studios was a semi-functional studio, the entire area made sense. With the recent closure of the Backlot Tour water tank and tram ride, it looks like the Studios is moving in the right direction with this portion of the park. It’s really only a matter of time before Lights, Motors, Action is closed. And let’s not forget that there’s an entire series of soundstages adjacent to the backlot, one of which houses the old creature and special effects shop that’s currently used for special events. If you include a closure of a quickly aging Streets of America, you pretty much have the entire back half of the park to be completely redeveloped from the ground up. Speaking of quickly aging…

3.) It’s Out of Date

Disney’s Hollywood Studios might as well be called “Disney’s Tribute to the 1980s.” I’m not saying that the attractions mentioned hereafter are bad or out of place. I’m simply saying that they’re completely out of date. The Magic of Disney Animation and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Playground are consistently empty and irrelevant.


However, the most glaring example of this is The Great Movie Ride. Now, some will argue that it’s all about the classic movies of a classic Hollywood. However, some of the key scenes in the attraction are from films created in the late 1970s and 1980s. Alien and Raiders of the Lost Ark were clearly added because they were relevant in 1989 when the park was created.


I’ll be honest, they’re two of my favorite movies. But, movies have changed quite a bit since 1989. I feel that The Great Movie Ride would benefit from a new storyline. It could be a chronological progression of motion picture history. Start with the talking pictures and move to the classic era featuring the Wizard of Oz. Then on to the Cinematic Renaissance including films from perhaps George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, etc.. Finally, end with more current films. To end it all, the final film montage could be completely redone. There’s no question that only a few inclusions have been made since the park’s opening. It would be relatively easy to change out and quite simply, it’s time for a new film.

4.) Its Theming is Disjointed

The larger problem at Disney’s Hollywood Studios comes back around to what I hinted at earlier. There is no centralized theming at this park anymore. It started out as classic Hollywood mixed with a look behind the scenes at how your favorite films get made. This has drastically changed over the years. In fact, when the name of the park changed from Disney-MGM Studios to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we were told that the theming changed as well.


The theming was focused more on the aspects that make up Hollywood: film, television, stage, and hit music. However, it’s always been my belief that some Disney executives saw how disjointed the park was and just came up with the broadest theme possible to connect all of the recent additions. It doesn’t matter how you change the name or description, this park is still Frankenstein’s Monster. One of the additions least popular to the Disney theme park fan community is finally going away. Mickey’s sorcerer hat has been no more than a ostentatious gift shop and pin trading location since its arrival as the new park icon over ten years ago. To me the Sorcerer’s Hat represents the theming problem with Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s large and encompassing, and no one knows why it’s there or how it ties into anything. The subtraction of the Sorcerer’s Hat could be the most visible indication that this park is going in a new direction.


Every other Disney Theme park has a natural flow to it. You can go to Frontierland and know exactly what to expect. The same goes for the World Showcase at Epcot or Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Let me ask you something. What does Echo Lake mean to you? Does it mean two 50's style diners, a stunt show about an archeologist fighting Nazis, and a voyage onboard the StarSpeeder 3000? Do those elements create a cohesive story in your mind? I didn't think so. Don’t get me wrong, I love Star Tours, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and the 50's Prime Time Cafe. I just wouldn’t put them in the same walkway.


Over the years some attractions have worked and some haven’t. New ones are put in their place. But there seems to be no consideration for what’s in the building next door. I want Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ imagination to run wild with creative new ideas. There are rumors of a Star Wars Land and a Pixar-inspired land. Who knows? I just hope that with all the recent closures and changes, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is on the path to finding its identity.