Twenty-five years ago today, May 1, 1989, the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park opened at Walt Disney World. I was actually there one day before the grand opening day, but that is another story for another time.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary, here are some photos from 1990. Why not from 1989, you may ask? Because I already posted those in a previous Looking Back post. So here are some photos from the park’s second year. And there had already been several changes from that first year.
Read on to see all the photos, because there are a lot in this post – 25 photos for the 25th anniversary! Coincidence? Actually, yes. But it sounds nice!
As we approach the entrance to the Disney-MGM Studios, the park tries to hide behind some bushes. Actually, the park isn’t hiding, of course, because they wanted everyone to come. But I liked seeing Mickey through the bushes, so I grabbed this photo as we made our way in.
Now we have made our way up to the entrance. Of course, things look different today as the words out front say “Disney’s Hollywood Studios” because they changed the name of the park a few years ago. Call me sentimental, but I prefer the old name.
I have always thought that Mickey Mouse on top of the Crossroads of of the World is a nice touch. But getting a good photo of Mickey way up there isn’t easy because of the distance and the angle. Still, I did like the way that the clouds looked in this one. And you can tell that it is Mickey Mouse up there, too.
Looking down Hollywood Boulevard from the Crossroads of the World gives this view. Of course, you will notice that the large Sorcerer’s hat is not there, as it was added much later on. And also, the crowds that usually fill the street weren’t there, either. That was because we had gotten there really early this particular morning. Because this was the newest park, it would get quite crowded in the afternoon, so getting there early had its benefits. Just like today.
You can’t get a view of the Chinese Theater like this today. The sorcerer hat is now gone, but a Star Wars stage still sometimes blocks the view. And that is a shame, because it really is a beautiful reproduction of the real thing in California. Sorry for cutting off the left side of the building, too. Back in these days, we didn’t have the luxury of looking at the screen on the back of the camera to see how the photo turned out. And unless you wanted to pay a lot for film and developing, we also didn’t have the luxury of taking endless photos to make sure we got everything right.
Moving over to Echo Lake, here is a view of Dinosaur Gertie across the water, and a giant Indiana Jones chasing after her with his whip. And look at that – Gertie is actually blowing smoke from her nostrils. Seems like you don’t see that much any more.
Near Echo Lake was the Monster Sound Show, a movie about sound effects starring Chevy Chase and Martin Short. Remember when they were more relevant? They would show the movie once, and then members of the audience would get to try to add in the sound effects during the second movie, which was then played back a third time with those new effects. The end result was usually pretty funny, with sounds happening at odd times. Personally, I really liked the booths at the end where a few people could go in and put on headphones to hear a binaural audio story that sounded like everything was right there in the room with you. Pretty cool!
One of the new additions for 1990 was Star Tours, which had opened in January of that year, several months after the park opened. And it was an instant favorite of ours, even though the lines were strangely short, for some odd reason. We didn’t mind, though – we rode it six times on that one visit! And that was even back in the days before the ride was different every time. And if you are wondering, the crane in the background was working on some new Muppet stuff. But more about the Muppets later.
Of course, for those of us who grew up with Star Wars, seeing C-3PO and R2-D2 as we were waiting in line was pretty cool. As I mentioned previously, there really wasn’t much of a line, but we still stopped to watch them work on the Star Speeder anyway. Not be best photo of C-3PO, but it was what I had.
Moving back across the park, we now make our way through the Studio gate and into the actual studio portion of the Disney-MGM Studios. I think some people never really figured out that when you entered the park, you were in “Hollywood,” and then when you went through this gate you were going into the “studio.” And having seen photos of this gate in advertisements, some people were confused when it wasn’t at the entrance to the park when they first went in. Oh well.
Inside the studio gate was the Soundstage Restaurant. Yes, before Playhouse Disney and Disney Jr. took over, there was actually a restaurant here. And it even had the actual movie sets of the Plaza Hotel that had been used in the movie “Big Business” – surely you remember that one, right? It really was neat to see how the sets were put together, if you weren’t too busy eating to notice that. A few years later, those sets were converted into Beauty and the Beast “sets,” which sort of ruined the premise of the restaurant, since an animated movie wasn’t actually filmed on sets. But Beauty and the Beast was popular, so the restaurant was popular, especially with the kids.
Another thing that probably confused guests was that they couldn’t see the Earfful Tower from everywhere in the park, as it was also featured prominently in advertisements, and it was also quite visible as you drove down World Drive past the park. At first, the Earfful Tower could be seen from the courtyard inside the studio gate, but later additions to the buildings there blocked that view, too. So now, you can mainly just see it from the Backstage Tour.
One of the areas of the Backstage Tour was residential street, featuring facades of houses that were, or could be, used in various productions. The most popular one, of course, was the home of the Golden Girls, which was at the height of its popularity around that time. Pretty neat to see something that you recognized from television.
One of the costumes on display as the Backstage Tour tram went through the costume building was Warren Beatty’s costume from Dick Tracy, which was the big movie for that summer. In fact, I had seen Dick Tracy on its opening day the day before we left for this trip. And who didn’t want a yellow coat and hat?
Near the end of the Backstage Studio Tour, some of the buildings along New York Street were painted to look like the buildings from Dick Tracy, with their bold, bright colors. It was a nice touch, even if the movie wasn’t actually filmed here.
Keeping with the Dick Tracy theme for a moment, the Theater of the Stars featured a musical show called “Dick Tracy Diamond Doublecross.” Although it featured the characters from the movie, it was an original snow complete with original songs. And if you don’t remember the Theater of the Stars, it sat where the entrance to Sunset Boulevard is now. It was also home to the Beauty and the Beast stage show until the theater was torn down and a new theater was built for Beauty and the Beast on Sunset Boulevard.
Another new area of the park was Mickey Avenue, which had previously been a backstage area of the park accessible only to those who were filming on the soundstages. I particularly liked this sign, which was a replica of the original sign at the corner of Mickey Avenue and Dopey Drive at the real Walt Disney Studios in California. The exterior walls of the soundstages were even painted to resemble the Animation Building at the Walt Disney Studios.
This look down Mickey Avenue shows that it was rather deserted at the time, but having the extra space open for guests helped ease some of the crowding of the new park. And as you may be able to see from one of the signs, Let’s Make a Deal was filming on one of the soundstages.
Another new addition to the park that year was the stage show Here Come the Muppets. This show had opened just before we arrived, which was soon after the passing of Jim Henson. The future of the Muppets seemed up in the air, although construction of MuppetVision 3D was well underway. In this scene from the show, Kermit talks to Mickey Mouse by way of video phone, long before FaceTime was a thing.
Kermit and Fozzie are joined on stage by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, who have just arrived by way of a Monorail they commandeered. Yes, there was even a Monorail nose cone that came crashing into the theater for their entrance. Some of the Muppet costumes looked slightly different from their real Muppet counterparts, but at least their mouths moved when they talked, unlike Mickey Mouse and his friends.
As things got out of hand in the show, Kermit took a quiet moment to sing “Bein’ Green,” as green things were projected behind him. It was a rather bittersweet moment in the show, given Jim Henson’s recent passing. If you are wondering, this show closed around the time that MuppetVision 3D opened, and ever since then the theater has been home to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show.
Also somewhat bittersweet was seeing Jim Henson’s and Kermit’s handprints and signatures in the Chinese Theater courtyard. I would guess that this was one of the most photographed sections of concrete that year.
Our day at Disney-MGM Studios is drawing to a close, but here are a few night photos before we go. First up is this view across Echo Lake of the colorful buildings on Vine Street. I liked the way the colors reflected of the water in the lake.
One of the cool things about Hollywood Boulevard at night was all of the neon lighting. What makes neon so cool? I don’t know, but it certainly is. I have always liked the tail-wagging Pluto at the top of Pluto’s Toy Palace. Hollywood Boulevard looks fine during the day, but it all really shines at night.
And here is one last photo of the studio gate in the evening. Of course, the logo has now been changed to the more generic Disney’s Hollywood Studios logo, but I still really like the way this looked back then. Of course, times change, and so do park names and logos, apparently.
I hope you have enjoyed this 25th anniversary tour of the Disney-MGM Studios as it was 24 years ago. And be sure to check back soon for more Looking Back posts!