Saturday, April 15, 2006

Disney-MGM Studios (Disney Hollywood Studios)

In March Amanda and I decided to fly down to Florida, check out Disney, hang out in Kissimmee and Orlando, eat good food, and stay up late.  I think we were able to achieve a couple of those goals.  I’ve been working on this article forever, and there’s still three more in the series to come.  I’d heard that of the four Disney parks in Florida, this one was the least impressive.  Although it’s smaller than its counterparts, I thought it was just as fun and totally worth a trek.  I’m a movie buff, though, so that may have something to do with it.  Anyway, below you’ll see reviews of rides and attractions, food, and the debut of embedded video clips on the site.  I hope you have as much fun reading this article as I did compiling it and writing it.  Enjoy!

Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney Hollywood Studios)

Here we are, bright and early in the morning, on our way to Disney-MGM Studios.  I know it’s not the clearest photo, but I was shooting it from inside a rental car with a dirty windshield.  Who knows what the guy before me was doing to the windshield to get it this way, but if the photos I found underneath the driver’s seat were any indication, he’s a disturbed man.

That’s me, I’m baking in the sun, no, I’m serious… it was hot!  Maybe I just wasn’t used to it, coming off another classically cold Ohio winter and everything.  Some reason, thoughts of coldness just ran through my brain, and I visualized Wolverine naked walking around the snowy Canadian wilderness.  I was stoked here, of course, as I was getting nearer to entering my first Disney theme park.  Look at the flowers on the woman’s shorts to my left, just for the hell of it—or don’t.  You looked!

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith 

When the park first opened people of all ages ran straight towards the general region of this beast.  Although it wasn’t the first stop on my tour, it was close enough, and rightfully so.  This is an in-door roller coaster, which means it’s a fast-paced, winding, wild ride in near darkness.  It’s a themed ride, too; Aerosmith is running late for a show, so you hop in a limo and blast through Hollywood on turbo speed.  I think the inventors of this ride probably did some of the drugs Aerosmith also consumed in their heyday.   You need to experience this at least once, although for me, I definitely prefer my roller coasters like I prefer lizards… outdoors 


The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 

Yes!  This ride is freaking brilliant.  When you enter the building, you’re engulfed in this eerie old mansion that’s exquisitely designed.  The line leads through a broiler room, and then you’re seated with about a dozen others in an elevator shaft.  You begin going up, occasionally stopping at a floor where the door will open, and you’ll witness some form of depravity; my personal favorite being a pitch dark hallway where distant specks of light appear, and you feel like you’re actually in the opening credits of the classic TV show.  Sometimes it’s dark, and you’re not entirely sure where the elevator is going, as it appears to be moving sideways as well as vertically.  Then, you’re at the very top, 13 stories high—and you drop!  But, that’s not it thrill seekers, as the ride is now programmed randomly to drop you more times and at varying heights.  It’s an exhilarating experience, and easily one of the best thrill rides at any Disney theme park. 

Grade: A+

The Great Movie Ride 

The outside architecture is a replica of the world’s most famous movie theatre in Hollywood, CA.  Interestingly enough, I’ve actually been there (and have been thinking about selling copies of the video of my Cincinnati to Hollywood trek as it’s too bizarre to not share) and this replication is startlingly accurate, right down to the celebrity handprints in the cement in the front courtyard.  Inside, the line twists and turns through what’s designed as an old movie theatre minus seats.  When you finally board the ride, you have a host, ours sporting an accent that was one-half Jersey, one-half Broadway musical fan.  You’re taken through scenes from several Hollywood movies, getting the chance to experience them firsthand; the crowds seemed to enjoy the Alien and Casablanca scenes the most.  Another live actor, a female mobster, actually hijacked our tram after a shoot-out with a bunch of gangsters.

I didn’t think about taking pictures inside until near the very end.  Here’s the Wicked Witch doing what she does best.

I thought this was a nice shot, featuring our pals from The Wizard of Oz.  Overall, being a big movie buff, I enjoyed this ride.  I can see how youngsters might get a little bored, but it’s largely well designed and entertaining.  My only wish is that they’d incorporate some more films into the ride, including more contemporary cinema. 

Grade: A-

Journey into Narnia: Creating The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe 

What an extreme letdown and utter disappointment.  I grew up on the Narnia books, hell; I even liked the borderline lame major motion picture.  So, when I saw this on my guide map, a complete surprise attraction based upon one of my all-time favorite fiction series’ I was stoked.  The picture above taken outside was about the highlight of the experience.  After waiting in line for a little bit, a group of us got to walk through the actual wardrobe doors (I’ll admit that was cool) and into this dark chilly environment.  Now, we’re all expecting to actually “journey into” Narnia and explore it… nope!  There was no snow, just a white carpet, and a bunch of trees everywhere.  That stuff and a huge screen were we suffered through a rather long version of the film’s trailer.  After that, an actress playing the White Witch lip-synced to some bad dialogue from the film up on a perch, and then disappeared.  We were then quickly ushered out so the next suckers could come in and waste 10 precious minutes of their day.  On the way out, there was a small collection of actual props from the movie in glass classes, which were neat but not enough to defer everyone’s crummy feelings about what just happened.  Essentially, you have to wait in line to watch the film’s trailer in a dark warehouse with a group of complete strangers.  I’ll never look at Lucy and the gang the same way again. 

Grade: D-

Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show 

Out of all the live shows I saw during my week of Disney madness, this one easily takes the cake.  As you can see above, this was imported from Disney Studios Paris, and I have to sincerely thank them for bringing this abroad.  The show lasts a little over a half-hour, and you’ll see firsthand some of the craziest driving you’ll likely ever get a chance to.  I’m not even a car guy, and I dug this.  I mean, the only things I know about cars is mine gets broken into a lot, they’re good for transportation and occasionally impromptu sexual escapades, and I’d like a new one.

Here’s one of the stars of the show, and a stunt coordinator guy.  I don’t really have anything interesting or funny to say about this, so, let’s just pretend that one of those black barrels contains the corpse of any one of the race car drivers who have met their untimely deaths.

Herbie the Love Bug even made a cameo, but I wasn’t too impressed.  I wanted to ask him how it felt to have Lindsey Lohan’s ass on his face for weeks on end while filming that ridiculous movie last year, but I decided against it.

This is a short video clip showing one of the driving sequences.  Unfortunately, this is one of the lamer parts, but during the awesome ones I was too busy shitting my pants with the other thousand yokels.

Yes, in case you’re wondering, that red car did ramp from the top of one truck to the other; and yes, it was incredible.  The set was really neat, too—one of the biggest Disney has ever built.  There were little caf├ęs and stuff, not just random bland architecture.  You should definitely check this out if you get a chance before it’s gone. 

Grade: A

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure 

This isn’t a hot priority on many people’s list, and is basically a supped up playground, complete with loud kids crawling everywhere.  But, I still remember seeing the first film in theatres as a loud crawling kid myself, and wanted to check this out.  I had a lot of fun!  Yes, there are kids all over the place, and it’s hard to maneuver around, but there’s a lot to see once inside.

I love this picture.  I loved it the moment I took it, and will likely forever hold it dear.  The blades of grass are monstrous, that’s a can of Play-Doh, and in the background a Super Soaker shot water on passerby.  There were all kinds of neat eye candy like this, my absolute favorite being a large Lite Brite peg!

This is a video clip of Amanda riding the film slide.  How could we resist?

Here’s my descent as well, but please, don’t ask me what I’m doing with my arms.  It looks like I’m half West coast rapper, half Rain Man.

I’m still young at heart.  My burning question though, is, what in the hell is wrong with that woman next to me?  Now, if I had known at the time I was standing next to a Godzilla villain I wouldn’t have been smiling—I would have been running!  She’s ready to eat Tokyo.

Well, now I’m ready to fight back!  That’s my new friend, and “ant” he cute?  I made a funny! 

Grade: A-

So, if you’re patient and wait in line, at random spots throughout the park you can meet character.  When I saw that the Power Rangers were making an appearance, I knew I had to be there.  Now, I didn’t know which version of the team I’d be encountering, and I’d never had guessed there’d be Power Rangers from several different series’.  This was better than losing my virginity in a hot tub in ’99, or that time I ate ten tacos in one night.

I’m chilling with the Lunar Wolf ranger from Power Rangers: Wild Force and I couldn’t be happier.  We’re busting out our patented karate pose just to let you know that we can kick your ass like ninjas if things go down.

Muppet Vision 3-D 

I’ve always loved the Muppets.  I still contest that Muppet Babies is one of the all-time greatest cartoons.  When I heard about this attraction I knew I had to make a concentrated effort to fit it into my schedule.  It was totally worth it!  This is actually a 4-D show, meaning that you don’t just see cool things; you physically interact with them, too.  The 25-minute film takes you through a tour of Muppet Labs where all kinds of zaniness abounds.  The coolest thing for me is that the theatre you’re in is a replica of the one used in the classic The Muppet Show TV series.  At the end of the show, they shoot Gonzo like a cannonball right through the back wall of the auditorium!

Like I said above, this is a replica, along with the old grouchy critics in their box seats. 

Grade: A

God, I love Disney.  Anyplace where it’s totally normal behavior to shake hands with living giant plastic army men is okay in my book.

This is a picture of the interior of the Toy Story Pizza Planet Arcade taken from the second floor.  I didn’t eat here, but I broke a few high scores.  That’s how I roll.

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre Restaurant 

I’d read about this place in some guidebooks and saw pictures of its interior and knew, good or bad food, I had to eat there.  The theme of the restaurant is that it’s a miniature drive-in movie theatre.  Each and every table is a car, and there’s a huge screen showing all kinds of bad B-movie trailers.  We had reservations, and it’s a good idea to do so if you’re budgeting time, or have your heart set on a particular place.

How awesome is that?  Easily the coolest interior of any restaurant I’ve ever been in, and that covers a ton of ground.

I like this shot because it looks dramatic, due to the lighting I suppose.  Dig the wall in the background, painted and lit to look like we’re actually outside in the middle of the night at a drive-in.

Can you tell I’m enjoying the first day of my vacation?

I think I drank Dr. Pepper but I can’t remember.  I do remember I never got a refill, thanks to our less than impressive waiter.

They didn’t cheat me on the condiments, though.  There are enough onions and pickles there for four burgers, and easily enough mayo to kill a small animal.

Amanda got the turkey club with a side of BBQ sauce and raved about it.  She’s usually pretty picky with food, especially when it comes to eating out.  So, for her to gush about a meal is very rare, but according to her, this is about as good as turkey clubs come.

That’s my monstrous bacon cheeseburger.  Was it good?  Of course.  Was it worth how much I paid for it?  That’s questionable.  Still, I needed nourishment and sustenance so I could get back out there and do the rest of the park, and this was more than sufficient in those regards.  The burger was flame broiled just like Freddy Kruger’s face.  Overall, I didn’t think the food nor prices were spectacular, but it’s still such an odd theme restaurant that it deserves recognition. 

Grade: B-

Amanda got to pose with the monsters of Monsters, Inc.  Later, I played pogs with Mike and Sulley, but they got mad because I insisted on using a metal slammer instead of a plastic one… bummer.

I’m on an actual Star Wars sand speeder, something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was 5 wearing my pajamas and smuggling grape sodas under the covers with me at night.

Star Tours 

This flight simulator is supposed to be the ultimate Star Wars thrill ride.  It wasn’t.  Afterwards I was expecting to feel like I’d just traversed the galaxy like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker; instead, I just felt nauseas.  You’re basically seated uncomfortably close to some other strangers, where you then experience the illusion of flying through space.  I wanted to feel like an adventurer, and tried to get into it, but it’s just not that good (2013 Edit: In recent years it's been given a complete overhaul and is much better!).

Here are some photos from the interior while waiting in line.  These are actually more notable than the ride itself.

C-3PO was always one of my favorite characters.  Here he looks interested in hacking the planet, like those guys in Hackers, just minus the expository dialogue and dance music. 

Overall Grade: C

I don’t think this had any particular purpose, but it still looked really cool.  I wonder how many Micro Machines you could fit inside that hat?

Voyage of The Little Mermaid 

Amanda is absolutely obsessed with The Little Mermaid and always has been.  She’d actually seen this one before, a couple years prior, and insisted on going again.  It’s a live theatre show, that’s “under the sea”, or at least gives the illusion of being so.  It’s aimed at little ones, and fans of the film, but is still worth taking in.  Being in the refreshingly cool and dark theatre, I actually was trying to fight off sleep after such a rigorous day.  The show features laser lights, puppets, and live actors. 

Grade: B

The Disney-MGM Studios Backlot Tour 

Although it got mostly unfavorable reviews from what I’d read and heard, being a film fan, I was still interested in seeing this.  At first, while waiting in line for the main attraction, there’s a small special effects demonstration using audience members.  I’ve shared some pictures from it below.  The ride itself is a leisurely moving bus ride where a host will take you by the studios where they do some filming, both on sitcoms and movies, and then through the “junkyard” of movie props.  The highlight of this was an old car used in Dick Tracy, and both Steve Zissou’s helicopter and yellow submarine from the terrific film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.  There was another portion of the tour, where the bus gets awfully close to a set where a stunt is taking place, titled Catastrophe Canyon; it’s passable, if you enjoy hundreds of gallons of water and fireballs shooting at your face, which I sort of do.  Overall, though, it was a bit disappointing.  I wanted to see more, more of everything, but ultimately it’s a pretty limited tour. 

Grade: C+

Get ready… get set…

Get wet!

This is your brain.

This is your brain on Disney. (2013 Edit: Years later on our Honeymoon Amanda and I got selected to be up on the boat and dodge gunfire and explosions!)

This section was accessible after the tour itself, and was titled the AFI Showcase.  And when I say AFI, I’m talking about the American Film Institute, not the bad experimental goth punk band.  Anyway, we were in a rush, so we didn’t say here for too long—but I did see some pretty damn neat stuff.  On the far left, we see two outfits worth by villains from Superman II, before they were vanquished forever to the Forbidden Zone by the Man of Steel himself.  In the middle, a collection of props from Batman films, including the shirt Tommy Lee Jones wore in the role of Two-Face in Batman Forever.  On the right, this little guy is one of Oswald Cobblepot’s (The Penguin) creations, from the rad flick Batman Returns.

I’m not sure who the guy on the left is, I think he’s from Weekend at Bernie's or something, but I’m not certain.  In the middle, behold the wicked witch’s actual hat from The Wizard of Oz.  Lastly, that’s me posing by props from The Planet of the Apes, one of my all-time favorite sci-fi series’.  I own the complete collection on DVD, and it’s interesting to see how these films got progressively weirder as the series progressed—and I won’t even get into the short-lived animated series.

Apparently this fountain is from the mermaid movie Splash, which I somewhat remember—I think I recall Tom Hanks dancing on this giant electronic keyboard.  Wait, no that was in the film Big.  Well, never mind, just take my word for it!

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire—Play It! 

Amanda was really excited about this, having had watched the TV show regularly years prior.  It was actually kind of neat.  There was a live host, who was actually pretty entertaining, and everyone gets a chance to play along.  The prizes are pretty tame; pins, hats, etc.  Still, this was an interesting concept, and I’d recommend it to those interested in trivia games, or those inclined to win themselves a baseball cap. 

Grade: B

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! 

I remember being a kid, and seeing footage of this show on TV, wondering to myself if I’d ever actually see it in-person.  It’s a lot of fun; there’s thrilling chases, wild brawls, explosions, etc.  My favorite scene was when Jones was fighting these mysterious Arabian guys in this marketplace, and people were literally being knocked off roofs, etc.  This is a staple of Disney-MGM Studios, and truly a worthwhile experience. (2013 Edit: Years later on one of our many Disney trips I got picked out of the crowd to be one of the participants in the show! A memory I'll never forget!)

Here’s some of the cast discussing an upcoming stunt. 

Grade: A

While walking around, it’s always nice to grab an occasional snack or beverage.  As nightfall began, we felt the classic Mickey Mouse ice cream treat was a splendid idea.

And, although I enjoyed it, it was Amanda who really loved it.  It’s easy to see why, too; dark chocolate, premium vanilla ice cream, and everyone wants to take the first bite and chomp off an ear.

The Magic of Disney Animation 

I’m realizing now that I didn’t take any pictures inside the actual exhibits themselves for this attraction.  However, at the end, there’s a section called the Animation Station, which is where these photos come from.  It’s an interactive hands-on area, which is kind of neat.  Back in the day, before computer animation took over, this exhibit actually allowed you to watch real Disney animators working on drawings each and every day, right in their very own offices.  Now, the exhibit itself isn’t anything to write home about, as it feels largely uninspired.

One of the hands-on areas was voice dubbing, where you can do the lines for character in an actual Disney scene and then play it back with your vocals substituting the actual dialogue tracks.  Here’s the last few seconds of my rendition of a scene in The Lion King.

We just thought this was cool, as the lights were constantly changing and it was kind of hard to pull your eyes off of it, plus we thought it’d make an excellent wallpaper on your computer.

This hands-on activity allowed you to change the colors of classic Disney animated characters.  It’s relatively simplistic, but still worth sparing a minute or two for.

This is my creation—which I feel is 10 years ahead of its time and a truly remarkable mixture of color, hue, and unadulterated “asskick.”

Finally, we took an actual drawing class, which they hold every 15 minutes or so.  Each class teaches the drawing of a different character, and we just so happened to get Winnie the Pooh.  Anyway, Amanda’s is the really suave one on the right, and mine is the abomination on the left that looks like a hybrid of Winnie and The Toxic Avenger. 

Grade: B-


All four parks have some kind of nightly fireworks spectacular, but this park’s arguable got the best of them all.  Fantasmic! contains laser lights, water effects, music, live action, fireworks, and so much more in one of what they’ve dubbed an “incredible nighttime spectacular!”

These photos were taken before the show itself started—we had pretty good seats, but trust me, apparently this thing feels up to capacity each and every single night of the year, including the off-season.  You’ve got to wait in line exceptionally early, sometimes to just guarantee a seat whatsoever.  But, it’s totally worth it, as there’s nothing else like this show anywhere.

This is a blurry example of some of the water and light effects, these “dancing fountains” were doing all kinds of things, they even somehow projected video imagery on the mist of the water at various points, in a surreal visual.  In terms of pure aesthetic value, this show is mind-blowing.

It was nearly impossible to take any decent pictures, giving the lighting and pure pandemonium going on in front of us.  Near the end, tons of Disney characters appeared in a breathtaking scene, all leading to a crescendo of music and dance, and finally, a huge firework display.

This boat passed by contains a cornucopia of Disney characters, and although less popular titles like Atlantis and Little Bear were not showcased, dozens of others were in a spectacle of the highest order.  I don’t know if my meager descriptions have done this justice, but this show is truly a remarkable experience and totally recommended to all ages. 

Grade: A+

On the way out, we stopped at some of the shops and took the prerequisite tourist photos.  I’m holding some ridiculous multicolored plastic sword and a gyrating robed Mickey Mouse figurine, and wearing a special St. Patrick’s Day hat.

Amanda is overcome by Disney fever.

Other Stuff: 

There’s always some rides and attractions that you won’t have time to see, or stuff that just doesn’t interest you enough to warrant waiting in long lines to experience.  Here’s a list of the stuff we skipped: Playhouse Disney—Live on Stage! because you’ve obviously got to be three, or have children of your own, to enjoy holding hands with the cast of Bear in the Big Blue House and doing the tango; Beauty and the Beast—Live on Stage, which we considered but didn’t have time for, it’s advertised as a “magical Broadway-style production”, so if you like that sort of thing then go nuts; and lastly, Sounds Dangerous—Starring Drew Carey, which received horrid reviews, and used the word “wacky” in its advertisement, so that was about enough to encourage me to pass it up.

We did do Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, which is more for the older crowd interested in knowing background information on the main man himself.  It leaves out the dark side of the Disney empire, regretfully, but you can find access info on that online.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into our adventure at Disney-MGM Studios.  Over the course of the next several weeks, be on the lookout for reviews on three more Disney parks.  Share your comments, questions, and personal Disney stories in the blog; later!

Overall Grade: A-