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Lights! Camera! But Short On The Action...

By Dr. Milo

There's a Disney theme park that's suffering from neglect, and I'm not talking about the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland Resort (which suffers terribly from a lack of maintenance). I'm talking about a different kind of neglect -- a lack of growth. Of the four parks in Florida, Disney-MGM Studios (or is it Disney Studios this week? They've gone back and forth a few times) holds a special place in my heart. I LOVE old Hollywood. Walking down Disney-MGM's Hollywood Boulevard makes me feel like I wanted to feel when I walked down the real thing for the first time (that was before they cleaned it up, thankfully, a few years ago). Personally, I think having a movie studio themed theme park is a great idea. Universal certainly thinks so, they've got two: Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida. Disney apparently thinks so, as well, because they built a Hollywood Pictures Backlot section in Disney's California Adventure, featuring several of the same attractions at Disney-MGM (and more on the way), and are currently building a second park at Disneyland Paris called Walt Disney Studios.

But there's one thing about Disney-MGM Studios that really bothers me. It's small. I mean, really small. The streets are narrow and crowd easily. You can walk around the entire park in about ten minutes, provided you know where the dead ends are. It's not the best laid out park. It's the only one that doesn't follow the tried and true hub/spoke design of the other parks. I've been there ten times or more, and I still get confused, particularly around New York Street. There are places that should allow you to pass through, such as between the Animation Courtyard and Sunset Blvd., but are blocked, forcing you to walk around your elbow to get to your thumb.

But that's not what really bugs me about the park. It's short on attractions, too. Really short.

Disney-MGM opened in 1989, twelve years ago. Eisner had always wanted to do a movie-themed park, and had even planned to do one when he was at Paramount. When he joined Disney, they were already locked into EPCOT as the second park in Florida. From what I understand, though, Mikey wasn't happy with the amount of money Disney spent on EPCOT, so MGM was scaled back to being "half a park." And that's exactly what it feels like, half a park. Supposedly, there has been lots more stuff planned (the other half), but little of it has been executed. For example, Roger Rabbit was all over the park when it opened. There was a Toon Town section planned for where Sunset Blvd. sits now, with three Roger Rabbit themed rides, one of which (a crazy trolley ride) sounds really cool. But, Disney shares ownership of Roger Rabbit with Steven Spielberg, and suffice it to say that relationship isn't as rosey as it used to be. Hence, the only Roger Rabbit ride anywhere is at Toon Town in Disneyland.

Granted, the park has grown from when it was first built. Sunset Blvd. was added, bringing the The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (one of my favorites, coming soon to DCA), Aerosmith's Rock n' Roller Coaster (just like the park where it sits -- a great ride, but too short), and Fantasmic! (which has it's own huge theatre, and is much better than the Disneyland version). A few other items have been added as well, most recently the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Play It! show, which is lots of fun and draws huge crowds. But for all the additions over the years, MGM still suffers from being originally built as half a park. When they first announced Animal Kingdom, my immediate response was, "Why build a new park? They haven't finished the last one!"

Let's look at the numbers. Currently, MGM has 17 attractions. Keep in mind that at all the Disney parks, you pay the same price per day, regardless of the number of attractions. Also, when you look at the Disney-MGM guide map, they count the information board, Pizza Planet arcade/restaurant, and meeting Mickey as attractions (but I didn't). Animal Kingdom, the fourth park in Florida, also has 17 attractions, not counting the new ride in DinoLand, U.S.A. that's currently being built or the new land (Beastly Kingdom?) that is also coming (according to a recent interview with theme park honcho Paul Pressler). Then compare that to DCA, Disney's newest U.S. park, which has 24 attractions. And visitors THERE complain that there's not enough to do!

The biggest question I have is where can they expand? I'm told that Disney has allowed itself room, but looking at the guide map and arial photos, I'm not sure where they can add. Especially not a whole new "land" (or two), which is what they really need. But let's say they can. What do they put in there? The fact is, Walt Disney Imagineering has tons of cool ideas, plans, and scale models of rides that have never seen the light of day. Usually for one solitary reason -- budget. There's a great story about how Splash Mountain finally made it into the parks. Eisner was looking to boost Disneyland's appeal with the teen set, so he took his teen-age son on a tour of WDI to see what appealed to him. The younger Eisner spotted a model of Splash Mountain (that had been shot down years before) stuck in the back and thought it looked really cool. Thus, one of Disney's best and most popular rides found it's way into Disneyland, and later WDW. Few of us ever get the priviledge of seeing what's inside those sacred vaults (Eisner! Send the kid back in!), so we can only dream about what wonders they have created, the possibilities that may be yet to come. Or not.

So, with that said, I have a few suggestions. Personally, I think one of the coolest jobs in the world has to be working in WDI. I can't imagine anything much more creatively challenging or rewarding, except for when your rides DON'T get built, or the suits destroy them with endless tinkering (like DCA's Superstar Limo). Here's what I'd like to see at Disney-MGM:

- Wizard of Oz Ride. It's called the "Disney-MGM" studios (sometimes), so where's the Wizard of Oz ride? Dorothy and her pals make a brief appearance in The Great Movie Ride (another good attraction with the potential to be a lot better), but are nowhere else to be seen. The best movie-based rides come from films that take you to another place, so that the Imagineers make you feel like you're really there. Wizard of Oz has theme park ride written all over it! I think it was Jim Hill who suggested using DCA's California Soarin' (one of DCA's few resounding successes) for an Oz ride. Your "car" could be a hot air balloon, just like the Wizard's. Sounds great to me!

- Mary Poppins. Wizard of Oz is MGM's greatest film, and Mary Poppins is certainly Disney's greatest live-action film. So, where is the Mary Poppins ride? Again, she appears briefly in The Great Movie Ride. This could be another Soarin' ride, or something completely different. Whatever it is, it should capture the feel of going from London, to jumping into chalk pavement pictures, to tea parties on the ceiling, and more. And don't forget the wonderful music!

- SpyKids. The first decent live action movie that Disney has made in a decade or more, and they didn't even release it under their own banner, but rather Dimension films, a subsidiary of Miramax, itself a subsidiary. Spy Kids should have taught Disney something about family films -- they should let people who know what they're doing making them, or hire big name talent and let them go at it. Spy Kids has oodles of material for a kicking theme park ride, and MGM is just the place to put it. Sure wish they could sell Buddy Packs in the gift shop.

- The Rocketeer. Here's another pretty good Disney film that could be great if they'd redo the ending (let Robert Rodriguez do it). While they're considering that, they could also make it into another cool ride. Buddy Packs are here, too! This movie is not only ideal for a ride, it's also ideal for MGM. It takes place in Hollywood! They already have the Bulldog Cafe and some of the planes on the Backlot Tour! Granted, Disney doesn't like to make rides from films that didn't do well, which explains why they don't have any rides based on any of their live action films.

- A Water Ride. MGM is the only WDW park that doesn't have a water ride. Magic Kingdom has four (could be five if they'd turn the old 20,000 Leagues into an Atlantis ride), Epcot has three, and Animal Kingdom has one (and could have two if they bring back the wonderful river cruise). The Sindbad ride that's been built for Tokyo DisneySea would be perfect here. They could gear a U.S. version towards the Ray Harryhausen movies.

- George of the Jungle Vine Swings. Okay, picture this: you're hanging from a swing, zipping through George's jungle with animatronic apes all around, fun sight gags, and narrowly missing trees that are right in your path. How hard is that? And this is based on a live-action Disney movie that actually made money. What could be better? George and Ape toys in the gift shop, what else?!

- Mickey and the Beanstalk. The last time I watched Fun and Fancy Free, I got an inspiration that this short would make a great ride. Not only that, but it could be the first ride based on a Mickey film. It would be kind of a big slide, but only at the end. You would ride up the beanstalk on the leaves, past animatronic scenes of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy dealing with the beanstalk growing up through their house. Then, when you get to the top, Willie the Giant comes after you and you slide back down to the bottom. Great fun for the whole family.

- Keystone (or Roger Rabbit) Trolleys. Roger Rabbit could be a gold mine for Disney, except that they haven't been able to do anything with him. I suggest they just buy out Spielberg's interest (assuming they can) and then they'll be free to make Roger Rabbit shorts and maybe even finally go ahead with the sequel. What's more, they can finally build the Roger Rabbit trolley ride they've had on the drawing boards forever. If they can't secure Roger, I suggest they change the ride to feature the Keystone Kops instead, with lots of slapstick gags. As it stands now, Disney-MGM has nothing to acknowledge the silent era. This would be a perfect opportunity, and loads of fun, to boot.

- Indiana Jones and the (fill in the blank). Yes, Indy is already represented at MGM with the Stunt Spectacular. I saw it once and it was fun, but I haven't been motivated to see it again. Besides, MGM has plenty of shows. What the park needs is more action, and when I think Indy, I think thrill ride, not stage show. The uber-cool Indiana Jones ride is in Disneyland (Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye). Man, I wish we had one of those on the East coast! That's one of the few things that Disneyland really has over WDW. If it were up to me, I'd rip out Stunt Spectacular (which isn't likely, since they just refurbished it) and replace it with Temple of the Forbidden Eye, or build the Indy ride that begs to be built but hasn't been, the mine car roller coaster from Temple of Doom (Paris has one, but from what I hear, it doesn't really fit the one in the movie)! How many different Indy rides does Disney have to build before they finally get to the one that's been staring them in the face from the day it hit the screen?!

- Tron. Okay, this is the biggie! Disney is finally realizing that one of the few things they did right in the 80s was Tron. Sure, it wasn't a big success at the time, but it was way ahead of its time. Remember, the Wizard of Oz wasn't a huge success when it first came out, either. Now Disney is putting out a super deluxe Tron 20th Anniversary DVD and even working on a sequel (Tron 2.0 -- perfect title, eh? Coming Attractions came up with it first as a joke, then life imitated art). In addition to the film, there were also two darn good arcade games. I spent many a quarter on the one with the light cycles. So, there it is. A light cycle ride! This could be a fantastic high speed dark ride using black light effects and state-of-the-art imagery. Plus, they could sell a lot of DVDs in the gift shop (Disney always builds a gift shop with every ride nowadays). This ride has great cross-generational appeal for us old fogies who saw the original as kids, and the new chumpers coming up. I'm salivating just thinking about it!

Okay, that brings us up to 26 (27 actually, but we're nixing Stunt Spectacular). Just past what DCA has to start with. Now we're talking about a whole theme park. Most of these are rides for the whole family, even the smaller kids, which also fits with Walt's original dream of what the parks should be -- a place for the whole family to play TOGETHER. MGM is pretty heavy on shows, and that's most of what they have for the smaller kids, like Bear in the Big Blue House. What they need is more ATTRACTIONS.

You know, "Lights! Camera! ACTION!"?