Fun Facts About The Great Movie Ride
An era has ended. The Great Movie Ride, the original anchor attraction at what was then known as Disney-MGM Studios is no more. As you well know, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is currently undergoing massive changes as it builds toward the arrival of Star Wars Land – Galaxy’s Edge in 2019.
Disney park planners have made the hard call to replace a classic ride with the first Mickey Mouse-based ride ever built. You’re probably ambivalent about the changes. On the one hand, a Mickey Mouse attraction is more than 60 years overdue. On the other hand, the opportunity cost is one of the staples of a Walt Disney World visit going all the way back to 1989. Now that the journey is over, let’s take one last melancholy look back at The Great Movie Ride, learning five facts about it you might not have known.
The Great Movie Ride Was the Alpha and the Omega
May 1, 1989, was one of the most important dates in Walt Disney World history. For only the third time, a new theme park gate opened on the campus. This one arrived seven years after Epcot, and its construction had suffered through many hiccups. Disney-MGM Studios had grand ambitions during the Blue Sky phase. When the park opened, reality had set in, and it wasn’t pretty, especially by Disney standards.
A massive crowd swarmed the gates that morning. There were so many people that only an hour after the park opened, the parking lot shut down. The third gate couldn’t service any more traffic. What did these throngs of guests find? Well…
On opening day, Disney-MGM Studios offered two shows, two tours, and one attraction. The two shows lasted less than a decade each. The tours fared better. You know them as The Studio Backlot Tour and The Magic of Disney Animation. These two offerings closed in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Until August 13, 2017, the only remaining original attraction at Hollywood Studios was The Great Movie Ride, the first and initially the only ride at the park. It survived almost 30 years. In an odd bit of trivia, the oldest things at Hollywood Studios now are restaurants…a LOT of them. Hollywood & Vine, Hollywood Brown Derby, 50s Primetime Café, Backlot Express, and Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner are all original parts of the park. So, the opening day restaurants outlasted the attractions. Weird, huh?
The Great Movie Ride Was Almost an Epcot Pavilion
In some alternate universe, you know this attraction by a different name. It was originally conceived as Great Moments at the Movies, the anchor for an entire pavilion at Epcot. Disney officials invented literally dozens of potential pavilions for Epcot. They felt tremendous pressure to honor Walt Disney’s vision and were open to a seemingly infinite number of ideas. The plan was to focus on the ones that tied directly back to Disney’s teaching with the initial offerings then add other pavilions later.
When he arrived in 1984, then-CEO Michael Eisner deemed a showbiz-based pavilion as the best of the ideas. In fact, he deemed it worthy of a standalone park. That’s how Great Moments at the Movies morphed into The Great Movie Ride. It evolved from the anchor attraction in a Hollywood pavilion into the only ride at a full theme park. This anecdote reveals just how highly Disney officials thought of The Great Movie Ride. They believed in the concept so much that they literally built a theme park to host it.
PS: In that alternate universe, Great Moments at the Movies resides between Journey into Imagination and The Land. That’s where it appeared on early blueprints.
Don’t Call It Grauman’s!
You’re surely familiar with the giant structure that hosted The Great Movie Ride. This building mimics the world-famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. This building is home to many handprint ceremonies for Hollywood celebrities. Disney intended to honor the staple of classic Hollywood with a Hollywood Studios recreation.
There was just one tiny problem.
The owners of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre refused to grant The Walt Disney Company a license for the name. It was an odd choice that basically gobsmacked Disney at the time. They were well along with the construction plans when they received word of the refusal.
Undeterred, Disney built the structure anyway. They simply took the word Grauman’s out of the title. The Great Movie Ride resided in The Chinese Theatre, which looked almost exactly like the original. It even included handprints akin to those in Hollywood.
How much Grauman’s minded this action is up for debate, but it’s noteworthy that Disney built The Sorcerer’s Hat in 2001. This façade blocked the Chinese Theatre’s view from most parts of the park until Disney tore it down in 2015. It was an odd construction choice if it wasn’t an attempt to mollify the owners of Grauman’s.
The Great Movie Ride Is Prop Heaven
Fans of classic Hollywood should pay attention to Disney news in upcoming months. If you hear word of an auction of Great Movie Ride memorabilia, you may want to bid. Some of the coolest lore from Hollywood history is hosted at this attraction. Here are a few examples:
- The original bowler hat from A Clockwork Orange
- A Dame Judi Dench dress from Shakespeare in Love
- The cocoon from Cocoon
- Iceman’s uniform in Top Gun
- Indiana Jones’ machete
- The Nautilus submarine from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea
- Ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz
- Sam’s piano from Casablanca
- A spacesuit from Alien
- A spacesuit from Armageddon (hey, they can’t all be winners)
One thing you will NOT find in a Great Movie Ride auction is the actual plane from Casablanca. For years, rumors persisted that the plane on display in the Casablanca section of the ride is authentic. Snopes eventually had to post an article refuting the claim.
Is There Such Thing As a Gangster Western?
Unless you have ridden The Great Movie Ride a lot, you may not realize something about it. There are actually two versions of the ride. The main plot that most people experiences involves the hijacking of the tram carts by Mugsy the Gangster. He (or she — Mugsy can be a female cast member, too) gets to deliver this hilariously cheesy line of dialogue:
“The heat’s on, you see? And your fancy car is my ticket out of here! So beat it!”
At this point, the cast member disappears and the gangster plays the role of (terrible) host for a few scenes. Eventually, greed ends the brief reign of terror of Mugsy the Gangster. During the Indiana Jones set, the thug gets the bright idea to take a priceless jewel. The late, beloved Turner Classic Movies host, Robert Osborne, admonishes the crook for the bad idea, saying:
“I’ve seen enough movies to know that you really shouldn’t even think about trying to steal that jewel.”
Mugsy doesn’t listen and winds up receiving a just comeuppance due to the surprise return of the original tour guide, the cast member.
On rare occasions, however, riders receive an altogether different experience. You make it safely through the gangster portion of The Great Movie Ride only to run into trouble in a different spot. In this version, the western scene includes a live bank robbery. A police officer tries to apprehend a pair of thieves as they break into a bank.
One of them is forced to flee in order to avoid getting shot by the fuzz. The tour guide accidentally creates an opportunity by trying to help the police officer. When the cast member exits the cart, the robber captures the tour guide and takes control of the tram cart. The dialogue for the next few scenes is slightly different since bank robbers have a different perspective than gangsters. The comeuppance is still the same, though.
Having experienced both version of The Great Movie Ride, there’s one thing I can say for sure. Mugsy’s a much more entertaining criminal/tour guide.
And now, in the immortal words of Boyz II Men, The Great Movie Ride has come to the end of the road. Hopefully, you can let go. After all, even if you adored the attraction, the news of a Mickey Mouse interactive train ride is exciting enough that you’ll still want to visit Hollywood Studios. At the risk of quoting a second ‘90s song in the same paragraph, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.