After three years in development, the Chinese Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios officially has a new tenant. Yet with this new beginning comes the end of an era, for Hollywood Studios is the first Disney Theme Park ever to cycle out every single opening day attraction. The MGM Studios of 1989 is gone, never to return.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway has proven to be extremely popular on its first day of operation, but its rise comes at the loss of a classic Disney attraction. Now that we’ve had a chance to experience it ourselves, the question remains — was the new attraction worth sacrificing The Great Movie Ride?
While we don’t go into detail about it, we do touch upon elements of the on-ride experience of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, so if you’d like to remain completely unspoiled, proceed with caution!
Relics of a Bygone Age
Disney-MGM Studios, as Hollywood Studios was formerly known, was a park of opportunity. Universal Studios, the historic rival of the Disney Parks, had announced plans to open a park in Orlando in 1990. In an effort to get ahead of the competition, then-CEO Michael Eisner ordered the development of a rival park that would bring the Disney touch to the interactive studio concept. The result was Disney-MGM Studios, which opened the year before Universal.
Universal Studios Hollywood was (and still is) dedicated to taking people behind the scenes of the studio’s famous films, with the legendary Tram Tour serving as the park’s most famous attraction. Their advantage was that Universal Studios began as a working film studio — the theme park actually sprung up around it due to the popularity of the tour. Disney didn’t have quite the same advantage. While they did move part of their animation department to Orlando and even shot a few films there, celebrities were reluctant to commit to a Floridian shooting schedule when Hollywood was already established.
So as the original MGM Backlot Tour atrophied away and the Magic of Disney Animation was reduced to a simple curiosity, only one ride remained that held up the park’s original goal. The ride that, much like Horizons at Epcot, represented the thesis statement for the whole park — the Great Movie Ride.
The Great Movie Ride was an experience only Disney could have come up with, as it took the concept of a guided tour through the world of movies and made it completely literal. As the tagline famously said, this was a “Spectacular Journey Into The Movies”. The ride combined immersive sets, audio animatronics, and live actors into a wild tour through cinematic history, complete with a hijacking by a movie villain in the middle of the ride! Everything from Alien to the Wizard of Oz was referenced in the attraction, leading to a bit of mood whiplash from time to time. It’s pretty shocking going from Singin’ in the Rain to a Xenomorph leaping at you, especially at Disney World.
Still, for all of its quirkiness, the ride was a beloved staple of the park for years. Until Toy Story Mania opened in 2008, it was the only true dark ride the park had, and it was the only attraction that maintained that vision of classic Hollywood the park once held dear. When it closed in 2017, countless fans mourned its passing.
The Year of the Mouse
The next occupant of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood Studios, Runaway Railway, had some pretty big shoes to fill. It’s the first attraction guests will see when they enter the park, and it’s the first dark ride ever to feature Mickey and Minnie. So, is it worth the wait?
Well, in short, yes! While it’s not as thrilling as Rise of the Resistance (which is fair, since it’s targeting a completely different audience), it is a technical spectacle and a fun addition to the park. The vaunted “2.5 D” technology really sells the idea that you’re inside a Mickey Mouse cartoon, with the most masterful use of projection mapping ever seen on a Disney attraction. Not only do the sets look like a hand-drawn cartoon, but they can completely transform at the drop of a hat! It’s also targeted as more family friendly than its predecessor, and we can’t deny it’s nice to see Mickey get his own ride.
There’s no denying the ride is fun, but is it worth the starring role?
Well, if The Great Movie Ride was the thesis statement of MGM Studios, then Runaway Railway is the thesis statement of Hollywood Studios. What is that, you ask? Simple — a chance to step inside the worlds of your favorite movies and cartoons!
This isn’t a new trend, either. Just years after opening, it became clear to both Disney and Universal that opening a working film studio in Orlando just wasn’t going to work. To paraphrase the famous philosopher Regina George (from Mean Girls), they were trying to make a new Hollywood happen, when it clearly wasn’t going to. With that in mind, the transition to a new theme for the park began almost immediately after the park opened, with the arrival of Tower of Terror.
Tower of Terror was a paradigm shift for the park; rather than being a passive observer to films, or observing the processing of film making, you were the star. Now, with the opening of Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the park has made the transition from movie magic to immersive storytelling. The Great Movie Ride and Runaway Railway both touch upon this theme, but Runaway Railway bridges the gap between old and new. Rather than show a series of spectacular, but disconnected vignettes, Runaway Railway makes you the star of a Mickey Mouse cartoon, telling a cohesive story.
…Alright, it’s a somewhat disjointed story, but it’s disjointed in the way cartoons usually are. You’re going from the Old West to a Factory, not from Wizard of Oz to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
In short, while we will mourn the loss of the Great Movie Ride, Runaway Railway is a worthy successor that marks the parks new path forward. After a multi-decade identity crisis, it seems like Hollywood Studios has finally begun to find its footing. So… we guess you could say…
What are your thoughts? Do you think Runaway Railway is a worthy successor? Let us know in the comments!
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