Disney recently made some mind-blowing announcements at the 2017 D23 Expo that became the source of anticipation and excitement for many fans and visitors of the Walt Disney World Resort. In addition to more details about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (the official name for what we’ve been calling “Star Wars Land” for so long), it was announced that The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios would be closing down to make room for a brand new attraction known as “Mickey’s Railway Runaway”. This immediately sparked joy and sadness at the same time with many fans.
The Great Movie Ride is a defining attraction for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, celebrating decades of legendary films brought to us by Hollywood’s finest. Aside from the pure historical significance of the attraction, there are also many amazing architectural, detail oriented, and just plain fun aspects that the ride should be remembered for as we prepare for its closing. So, here at All About the Mouse Central, we celebrate all that is great about The Great Movie Ride!
1. The Great Movie Ride was originally meant for Epcot
In the 80’s, Disney Imagineers Marty Sklar and Randy Bright were in charge of a group tasked with coming up with a couple of new pavilions for Epcot Center, as it was known at that time. One of the pavilions they had in mind was a pavilion dedicated to the movies that was to feature an attraction known as “The Great Moments Movie Museum”. This was going to put, what we now know as, The Great Movie Ride, into Future World. Michael Eisner, Disney’s CEO at the time, put aside the ideas planned for this movie pavilion and they went into the Disney-MGM Studios theme park, now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which opened on May 1, 1989. In many ways, The Great Movie Ride served as the genesis of this terrific theme park dedicated to Hollywood.
2. The Great Movie Ride was a Disney-MGM Studios opening day attraction
Disney was in a race with Universal Studios to open their movie-themed park before Universal opened theirs right down the road in Orlando. The Disney park was announced AFTER Universal announced theirs, but thanks to the logistical advantages of their very own governing body, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney actually opened their park BEFORE Universal. However, as MGM-Studios was meant to be a working studio/theme park, there were only 6 attractions available to guests on opening day. The Great Movie Ride was one of these opening day attractions alongside The Magic of Disney Animation Tour, SuperStar Television, The Monster Sound Show, The Backstage Studio Tour, and Hollywood! Hollywood! A Star Studded Spectacular.
3. The building which houses the ride is a full-size replica of Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
As you enter Disney’s Hollywood Studios , you are immediately treated to a spectacular view of Hollywood’s legendary Chinese Theater. The structure for the full-size replica of the theater houses The Great Movie Ride attraction. Outside the theater you will find over 100 hand prints, foot prints, and autographs of Hollywood celebrities in the embedded in cement.
Graumann’s Chinese Theater in LA
Chinese Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
4. The queue line features genuine movie props
While waiting in line, once you enter the building, you can find movie props that were actually used in feature films on display. Some of the props that have been featured over the years are: Mary’s carousel horse from “Mary Poppins”, Susan’s costume from “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”, Sam’s piano from “Casablanca”, Indiana Jones’ machete and Monkey Heads from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, and a dress worn by Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”.
5. Several “Hidden Mickeys” are featured in the ride
There are several homages to Disney characters and films hidden and tucked away very subtly in various scenes throughout The Great Movie Ride. We call these homages “Hidden Mickeys” even if they are images or textual references to characters other than Mickey Mouse. This is a neat little way the Imagineers enjoy giving a little wink and a nod to other classic Disney films, characters, or even other theme park attrtactions without featuring them prominently in the main scene. Two of these can be found in the Indiana Jones scene hidden among the hieroglyphics on the wall. One is of Mickey Mouse as a Pharaoh being offered a piece of cheese by a servant Donald Duck. In the same scene, you can also find R2D2 and C3PO from Star Wars among the hieroglyphs. In the Western scene, a flyer mentioning Pocahontas can be seen hanging up. One of my favorite hidden homages isn’t a reference to a Disney character at all. It’s the license plate on a car found in the Gangster scene. The license plate reads “021 429”. This is in reference to February 14, 1929, the date of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that took place in Chicago between rival gangs of Al Capone and Bugs Moran.
6. There are over 50 lifelike audio-animatronics
The Great Movie Ride is chock full of audio-animatronics of Hollywood actors and characters including Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine from “Casablanca”, James Cagney as Tom Powers from “The Public Enemy”, Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, and even Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz”. What you might not have known is that the audio-animatronics in the main feature scenes sport wigs made of real human hair.
7. The Great Movie ride featured a surprise appearance by a live cast member
One of the great things about The Great Movie Ride was how it surprised guests with a “disruption” by either a bank robber or a gangster played by a live cast member. Depending on which ride vehicle you were in, either a bank robber from the Western scene or a gangster from the Gangster scene would take over your vehicle during the middle section of your tour. Later, in the Indiana Jones scene, the live cast member (either the bank robber or the gangster) would switch places with the original tour guide after attempting to steal a large priceless jewel and being devoured in a plume of fiery smoke.
8. You can find a piece of The Great Movie Ride in another Disney theme park classic attraction.
The scene featuring the audio-animatronics of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman from “Casablanca” depicts a classic moment from the film where Rick is saying goodbye to Ilsa at a hazy airport before he boards his plane. The airplane in the scene looks very realistic, but in reality, only half of the plane is physically in the scene. The other half of the plane that was used for this scene can be found in a scene of The Jungle Cruise in Magic Kingdom.
9. The scene from “Fantasia” featuring “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” almost never came to fruition.
The original idea for the scene immediately before “The Wizard of Oz” was to feature the tornado from the film. However, contractual agreements only permitted Disney to feature one scene from the film. Disney still got to add in some wind, though, as well as some swirling water effects in the “Fantasia” scene that replaced the idea.
10. Several changes have been made over the years.
Since it opened 28 years ago, several changes have been made to The Great Movie Ride. One significant change was made to the first scene featuring “Footlight Parade”. The large “cake” that you see in the scene used to rotate, and it was adorned with water jets. However, the water pumps kept malfunctioning and flooding the path of the ride vehicle. In response, this scene was significantly toned down using lighting to simulate the kinetic effect that the water was supposed to bring to the scene.
Later on, Walt Disney Imagineering replaced The Wicked Witch of the West audio-animatronic with one from the new generation of technologically advanced audio-animatronics. Using Sarcos technology, the new witch was able to move quicker and more fluidly appearing more lifelike than before.
Originally, Coca-Cola was the official sponsor, but in 2015 The Great Movie Ride underwent another major update that saw Turner Classic Movies prominently featured as a sponsor for the attraction. With this sponsorship came updates to the queue line exhibits and the pre-show and finale. Additionally, the live cast member narrator was changed to a pre-recorded narration by TCM host Robert Osborne.
The Great Movie Ride has celebrated Hollywood’s classic films for almost 3 decades. From an idea for an attraction dedicated to the movies to the iconic Chinese Theater structure that it was placed in, The Great Movie Ride remains an example of classic Disney storytelling used to remember and celebrate the movies that Hollywood has given us for over a century. It seems fitting that, in Mickey’s Railway Runaway, an attraction based on classic Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts will be replacing The Great Movie Ride inside the Chinese Theater. It’s always nice to see something fresh and new come into the Disney theme parks, but it’s easy to see why many people are already mourning the loss of The Great Movie Ride. Regardless of the caliber of attraction we get in Mickey’s Railway Runaway, people will always remember the great things about The Great Movie Ride.