The 2019 WDW Radio Magic Madness champion, as determined by reader votes, is The Great Movie Ride! While it could be easy to say that voters fell prey to recency bias and the still-too-fresh hole in their hearts left by this Disney Hollywood Studios attraction, it is undeniably an icon in the realm of extinct Walt Disney World experiences. Audio-animatronics, film, show scenes, special affects, Cast Member interaction and more all combined to create this memorable trip into the movies. When looking back on its legacy, it is hard to believe that it was deemed replaceable instead of updateable. Nonetheless, The Great Movie Ride took its last tour through cinema history on August 13, 2017. Celebrate its storied history with these interesting facts and maybe even 360 degree re-ride.
A Grander Plan
Before Disney-MGM Studios was a twinkle in then-Disney-CEO Michael Eisner’s eye, several Imagineers were developing a new pavilion for Epcot’s Future World. Set to be located between The Land and Imagination pavilions, this new offering would have focused on both animated features and live-action Hollywood classics. It was to include two attractions, one of which would have been much like what The Great Movie Ride came to be and the other would have been a dark ride that took Guests behind the scenes of the making of a Mickey Mouse cartoon short. After considering the wide-ranging possibilities of Hollywood-themed attractions, Eisner had Imagineers pivot away from a single pavilion and, instead, begin designing an entire park with its anchor attraction being a trip into the movies.
Replicating an Icon
During the development of Disney-MGM Studios, Disney was able to secure the rights to build a reproduction of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. As part of the agreement, it could only be referred to as “The Chinese Theater,” but Imagineers were allowed to use the original 1927 blueprints for the structure in order to complete construction on the 1:1 scale replica.
That queue deserved some props!
Over the course of its almost three-decade long run, The Great Movie Ride served as not only an attraction but a miniature museum of Hollywood memorabilia. Upon entering the room prior to the preshow theater, Guests were greeted by a rotating set of costumes or props from an array of cinema classics. Here are just a few of the items that graced The Chinese Theater‘s display cases:
- Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from Wizard of Oz
- Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Last Ark
- Dejarik board from Star Wars
- Mary’s carousel horse from Mary Poppins
- Green peacock gown worn by Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love
- Sam’s piano from Casablanca
- Cocoon from Cocoon
- Judge Doom hat, gloves and glasses from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
- Scarlette O’Hara’s green party dress from Gone With the Wind
Originally, the gangster who used the tram as a getaway vehicle, was only played by male Cast Members, and the role of the bank robber in the Western scene was always filled by a female Cast Member. In 2000, the stipulation was removed and a male or female could be cast as either character. The names given to the gangster roles were Mugsy (male) and Mugsi (female), and the bank robbers were called Kid Carson (male) and Kate Durango (female).
Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?
A quick eye and a good memory allowed observant Guests to recognize that two of the audio-animatronic gangsters had the same sculpted faces as two of the pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean. Also, the sheriff in the Western scene was none other than President Thomas Jefferson as he appears in the Hall of Presidents.
Names and Numbers
Imagineers love leaving textual and numeric gags and references throughout Disney attractions, and The Great Movie Ride was home to many. As the tour tram traveled through the Alien scene, off to the left side on the floor were computer screens that listed the names of the Nostromo’s crew members. These names were not referencing characters from the film. Instead, the screens were displaying the names of Imagineers who worked on The Great Movie Ride. Also, as the tram came to a stop in the gangster scene, a large overhead door would open to the right and a black car would pull out as the shootout commenced. The license plate on that vehicle showed 021-429. February 14, 1929, was the date of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, IL, when seven men from George “Bugs” Moran’s gang were gunned down by mobsters dressed as policemen who were believed to be associates of Al Capone.
“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.”
An actor or actress’ likeness and voice are their livelihood, and they are not prone to giving them up easily or without qualification. Because of this, Imagineers faced a number of challenges when obtaining rights to depict the actors and actresses from classic films:
- When James Cagney’s family was brought in to see the completed audio-animatronic, they did not feel that the period-appropriate attire was befitting the late actor’s memory. Instead, they donated one of Cagney’s tuxedos, despite the suit being anachronistic for the scene.
- Imagineers feared that Gene Kelly would not give approval for his Don Lockwood Singing’ in the Rain audio-animatronic, so legend has it that Mr. Kelly was taken out for a few alcoholic beverages prior to his ride-through of the attraction. True or not, he did give his consent.
- Casablanca‘s Ilsa animatronic does not feature audio because Ingrid Bergman’s estate signed off on Imagineers creating her likeness but did not allow for her voice to be used in any way.
- The cost of obtaining the rights to Judy Garland’s voice was so cost-prohibitive that Imagineers reached out to her daughter Liza Minnelli who recreated the voice of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz show scenes.
Of all the Jungle Cruises, in all the towns, in all the world….
In order to properly recreate the Casablanca scene for The Great Movie Ride, a plane was needed. While many like to claim that the plane that was used in the attraction was the same one seen in the film, this was never substantiated. However, Imagineers only need the front portion of the plane the show scene, so the back half of the aircraft can still be found crash landed, tail up on the Jungle Cruise.
Mickey, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.
There was a reason why there was so much manufactured wind in the Fantasia sequence of The Great Movie Ride, and it wasn’t just that Mickey Mouse had lost control of the broomsticks. That room was originally intended to be the first scene of the Wizard of Oz portion of the attraction. Instead of showing Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the curved wall was intended to mimic a tornado and the screen itself would have played footage from the film as the storm transported Dorothy and Toto to Oz. However, at the time the attraction was being developed, fees for the rights to show/depict any portion of the Wizard of Oz were determined on a by-the-minute basis, so that portion of the show scene was replaced to decrease costs.
A Great Movie Ride Playlist
Perhaps one of the most beloved portions of The Great Movie Ride was the closing montage. This short film featured clips from over 100 films perfectly arranged to a number of film scores. In fact, it is hard to hear any of those songs without immediately recalling the portion of the montage it played alongside. Here is the compiled playlist from the original 1989 medley:
“That’s Entertainment” / The Bandwagon
“The Entertainer” / The Sting
“Natchez” / Showboat
“Axel F.” / Beverly Hills Cop
“Also sprach Zarathustra” / 2001: A Space Odyssey
“Dance of the Hours” / Fantasia
“Tara’s Theme” / Gone with the Wind
“End Title” / Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
“Hooray for Hollywood” / Hollywood Hotel
Lead photo copyright Disney. Memorabilia photos from the author’s personal collection.
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