The Great Movie Ride has been entertaining guests for over twenty years, allowing us to do more than just see some of the classics, but to be immersed in and surrounded by them. Fifty-nine Audio-Animatronics figures, recreating some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, come to life as we travel from one cinemagraphic genre to the next. For almost nineteen minutes, we’re lost in a world of make believe and illusion.
The Great Movie Ride was originally planned as an Epcot attraction in Future World. It was to be a part of an entertainment pavilion and was to be located between the Journey Into Imagination and The Land Pavilions. When Michael Eisner joined the company in 1984 with a mandate to develop more of Disney’s Florida property, he decided to build a third park. Expanding on Walt’s original idea to give tours of the Burbank Studio, the concept for the Disney/MGM Studios was born with the Great Movie Ride as its centerpiece.
Here is a picture of The Great Movie Ride taken in October, 1989.
Unfortunately, this view no longer exists. To help kick off the “100 Years of Magic Celebration” Mickey’s Sorcerer Hat was constructed in 2001 at the end of Hollywood Blvd. This next picture was taken from approximately the same spot as the above photo.
I have nothing against this hat. In fact, I think it’s attractive. And I understand why the Imagineers placed it at the end of Hollywood Blvd. They wanted to utilize the “draw” concept. This icon will help draw guests into the park. But I think it’s a shame that it blocks the beautiful Chinese Theater and I wish they could have come up with a different idea.
The exterior of Disney’s Chinese Theater is an exact copy of the one located in Hollywood at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard. However, due to wear and tear on the Hollywood structure, some of the external dÃ©cor has been removed. Disney’s version was built from vintage reference material and still displays these missing details.
The original theater opened on May 18, 1927 and premiered Cecil B. DeMille’s film “The King of Kings.” (I have no idea why the above plaque says 1928. All of my research indicates that the theater opened in 1927.)
There are a number of stories as to how the tradition of actors placing their footprints in the cement came about. The most famous tells that Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in wet cement outside of the theater, giving Sid Grauman, part owner of the theater, the idea. This tradition has been kept alive at the Florida counterpart as can be seen in these next pictures.
If you’re a regular reader of my blogs, I’m constantly telling you to slow down and notice the details. The exterior of this theater is no exception. The center section (main entrance) of the building is designed to resemble a giant Chinese pagoda.
Flanking the entrance of the theater are two Chinese lions. These figures are often placed in front of gates or doorways as they were believed to have mystic and protective powers. Although the lions look like they’re both male due to their bushy manes, one is female. Look closely at their paws. The male has a ball underneath his right paw and the female has a lion cub under her left. The ball represents unity of the empire and the cub symbolizes prospering offspring.
Above the door is another Chinese symbol, the dragon. And if you look carefully at the roof, there are a number of these creatures climbing about.
The typical Chinese courtyard is traditionally a place of tranquility and privacy. In almost all cases some sort of water feature and garden will be incorporated into the design. The Chinese Theater’s courtyard is no exception. This is a lovely place to wander and relax. Although difficult to see in the second picture, the large sculpture is a water feature.
You can find a bit of Disney history inside the two windows located to each side of the outer courtyard wall.
Both Mary Poppins (1964) and The Jungle Book (1967) premiered at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Photographs, programs, and tickets are on display in these windows.
There are more details worth note on the exterior of this building – too many to list here. So next time you’re heading for The Great Movie Ride, take a moment and look around.
Usually you enter The Great Movie Ride through the main entrance, but during busier times you may enter via a side door. When doing so, you walk through a lovely room featuring a panel-mural, vase, and intricate carpeting. All of the carpeting in the queue was custom made by a Japanese firm. Also, be sure to look at the ceiling. It is also stunning.
Further on in the queue are three display cases. Two have temporary exhibits, but the carousel horse that Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) rode in the movie is on permanent display. If the line is short, you won’t pass by this treasure, but the queue is open in this area so feel free to step out of line for a look-see.
The next portion of the queue is housed in what would be the seating area of a real theater. Here, previews of eight movies are shown. These include Alien (1979), Casablanca (1942), Fantasia (1940), Footlight Parade, (1933), Mary Poppins (1964), The Public Enemy (1931), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Searchers (1956) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). It takes a little over nine minutes to see all of the clips.
All of these movies are recreated in The Great Movie Ride with the exception of The Searchers. Although John Wayne can be seen in the attraction, this section of the show was designed to represent films of the Western genre rather than one specific movie.
For those of you who have never ridden on this attraction, you will experience one of two different scenarios during your journey through the movies. You can either receive the gangster treatment or the western adventure. In the morning, before the crowds materialize, only the gangster treatment is used. Usually by 10am, both scenarios are available. The front two vehicles will see the western bank robbery while the last two will experience the gangster shootout. If it’s important to you to see one or the other, just ask a cast member when you reach the turnstiles. The same holds true if you’d like to sit on one side or the other or request the front seat. However, you might have to wait for the next show sequence to begin in order to have your request granted.
The diorama behind the loading area is a composite of elements found in the Hollywood Hills of the 1920’s to the 1940’s. The Griffith Observatory and the Hollywoodland sign can both be seen.
The actual Hollywoodland sign was built in 1923 atop Mt. Lee as a promotional gimmick for a new housing development in the area. The sign soon became an icon and was used in many publicity photos and movies. By 1949, the sign was deteriorating badly. To its rescue came the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. They restored the sign, but in a desire to more accurately portray their city, they left off the “land” portion so it only read “Hollywood.” Over the years the sign received several more restorations, but eventually it reached a point of no return. So once again the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce came to the sign’s rescue, but this time rebuilt it from the ground up. In a nationally televised program, the new sign was unveiled on November 14, 1978.
The Great Movie Ride does not display an obvious track. The vehicles are guided by wires imbedded in the flooring. The steering wheels on the vehicles are not functional while in normal operation. However, they can be engaged for maintenance purposes.
Listed below are some bits of trivia contained within the attraction. I’ve only listed a sampling here. Believe me, there are many more.
When loading and unloading the ride vehicles, the “house lights” are on. But as the ride begins, you can hear a director yell out, “Quiet on the set.” At this point, the house lights dim and stage lights come on. In addition, the lights within the various buildings on the diorama begin to illuminate. In other words, filming is about to begin.
The Busby Berkeley girls in the first scene sit upon several tiered turntables. When the attraction first opened, the different levels rotated in opposite directions. Due to continual maintenance problems, this area was redesigned and now the girls stand stationary. It’s a shame a better solution couldn’t be found as I feel this is the weakest set on the attraction.
When first entering Gangster Alley, look to the right of the hotel. You can see movement behind the curtains on the second floor.
Further on, Mickey Mouse’s feet can be seen underneath a peeling poster.
The two Audio-Animatronics gangsters are named Squid and Beans. The live gangsters are named Mugsy (male) or Mugsi (female).
The license plate on the gangsters’ car reads “021429.” The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place on this date, February 14, 1929.
The horse that John Wayne sits on does not represent a particular horse from his movies. It’s intended to represent a composite of his film steeds.
Across from John Wayne, there is a sign on the wall with the name Ransom Stoddard Attorney. In the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Stewart played the part of Ransom Stoddard.
The Audio-Animatronics bank robber’s name is Snake. The live bank robber is named Kate Durango (female) or Kid Carson (male).
After the bank is blown up, you can see smoke escaping from between the timbers of the barn.
Behind the Egyptian god Horus, a hieroglyphic Mickey and Donald can be found.
Contrary to some rumors, no real skeletons are used in this attraction.
Contrary to another persistent rumor, the Lockheed Electra 12A airplane seen in the Casablanca sequence was not the same plane used in the actual movie. However, the back half of this Great Movie Ride plane was removed and can be seen in the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom.
In the Fantasia section of the attraction we’re told that the sorcerer (unseen on the ride) is named Yensid. This is Disney spelled backwards. Adding to this bit of trivia, Disneyland’s steam trains and monorails were originally owned by the Disney family under the company name of Retlaw, Walter spelled backwards.
Due to legal restrictions, Disney cannot provide a list of the movies shown in the final sequence of the attraction. However, one movie is mentioned by name, “Good Morning, Vietnam.”
I haven’t included any “show” pictures of The Great Movie Ride. Instead, I’ve created an abbreviated video of the experience. I hope you enjoy it.