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DISNEY/MGM STUDIOS, PART 2

    

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: some 28 years ago, I was commissioned to write about the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Disney World as one of several stories gleaned from a Florida junket for a couple of Disney movies. This one ran on the July 2, 1989, Travel section cover of the Deseret News, under the headline: ‘Mickey’s Mecca for Movie Mavens.’ And it’s so long that I’ve cut it in two; the second part will be in this space next week. (FYI: In 2008, MGM dropped out of the arrangement and the park was renamed Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is still in use today, though I’m not sure how many of these attractions are still in operation, and I am sure the prices have since gone up.)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In your meanderings through Disney World’s Disney-MGM Studios, here are some of the rides and tours you’ll likely bump into.

The Great Movie Ride: A 20-minute tram ride through myriad Animatronics scenes from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mary Poppins,” “Aliens,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Casablanca” and many other films, and the tram is kidnapped by either a ’30s gangster  or a bank-robbing cowpoke. (Outside this ride is a replica Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where cement handprints include Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Roger Rabbit.)

The Backlot Tour: This two-hour extravaganza includes a tram ride through the studio’s costume and prop departments, backlot street sets — all in operation for productions filmed right here — and Catastrophe Canyon, where an artificial rainfall, an earthquake, exploding oil derricks and a flood seem like the real thing. Then the tour goes to the Water Effects Tank that shows how miniature battleships are made to look real, a Special Effects Workshop show where two kids will ride a huge flying bee, and three working soundstages where shows are being filmed. It all winds up with a two-minute Bette Midler stunt-comedy and a how-it-was-done tour of the sets. (The short movies in this tour are star-studded and include the unexpected teaming of Mel Gibson and Pee-wee Herman, as well as many others, all explaining various aspects of how movies are made.)

The Animation Center: This 25-minute tour is narrated by another unlikely duo, Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams — Williams being animated about half the time. It’s hilarious, as well as informative, explaining the different phases of animation and winding up with a look at the artists at work (currently on a new 7-minute short, “Rollercoaster Rabbit,” starring Roger, of course).

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular: An outdoor theater featuring a live 30-minute show with hair-raising stunts patterned after the three “Indiana Jones” features, including the fist fight under a moving airplane from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

     

The Monster Sound Show: A short horror-comedy film with Chevy Chase and Martin Short is shown, then guests from the audience provide the sound effects for a second showing.

Superstar Television: Some 30 people are picked from the audience to play characters and interact with the videotaped stars of “Gilligan’s Island,” “General Hospital,” “Golden Girls” — and even Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

Restaurants: The ’50s Prime Time Café, where TV monitors show classic black-and-white programs like “I Love Lucy,” “Our Miss Brooks” and “The Honeymooners,” and the Brown Derby, a replica of the famed Hollywood eatery, are the only waiter-served restaurants in the park. But plenty of snack parlors are around, such as Min and Bills’ Dockside Diner and Dinosaur Gertie’s ice cream parlor.

In January the most popular ride at Disneyland, Star Tours, will also open in Disney World’s Disney-MGM Studios.

During our stay it rained quite heavily, but only in short spurts and it remained warm. The Disney folks were ready, however, providing some 10,000 umbrellas and uncountable ponchos, all of which seemed to appear out of nowhere.

We also rubbed shoulders with a lot of stars, from Bette Midler to Kevin Costner, from Audrey Hepburn to Lauren Bacall, from George Burns to Bob Hope. But remember, we were there for the grand opening. As a rule don’t expect too much more than a wave from a sweaty performer in a Mickey Mouse suit.

And, as with everything Disneyish, the parks are incredibly clean.

     

Disney animation artists at 1989 Disney/MGM Studios opening.

Here’s a rundown of things to keep in mind if you decide to make the trek to Disney World:

Prices: The three-day ticket has been eliminated in the hope that vacationers will stay longer with a four-day incentive. A one-day, one-park pass is $29 for adults, $23 for children. Four-day passes for all parks are $97 and $77. Five-day pass for all parks, $112 and $90. Annual passes are also available.

Best Days, Times: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, avoiding the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. rush hours (the biggest crowds arrive on the weekend and spill over to Monday and Tuesday). Disney officials suggest you allow six to seven hours to get through Disney-MGM Studios. The longest wait in line is estimated at 55 minutes, but on opening day, with an unusually large crowd, it was about 50 minutes.

Interesting Statistics: When the new hotels open their 4,300 rooms it will increase Disney World hotel capacity by more than 50 percent.

Since 1984 Disney’s profits have more than quintupled, to $522 million in 1988; its revenue has risen 136 percent, to $3.44 billion.

Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983, sees 10 million guests a year. In 1992 Euro Disneyland opens 18 miles east of Paris.

Rivals: Sea World, and Boardwalk and Baseball in Orlando; Busch Gardens in Tampa; Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven; and Cape Canaveral. In May of 1990, Universal will open its Orlando studio tour, some 12 miles form Disney World.