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Friday, May 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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30 things you may not know about Disney’s Hollywood Studios as it turns 30

The robots from “Toy Story guard the entrance to Alien Swirling Saucers. (Bruce Pecho / Chicago Tribune)
The robots from “Toy Story guard the entrance to Alien Swirling Saucers. (Bruce Pecho / Chicago Tribune)
By Bruce Pecho Chicago Tribune

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – On May 1, Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios turned 30 years old.

The theme park – much like the movie-star denizens of Hollywood itself – doesn’t look its age.

Originally called Disney-MGM Studios, this playground inspired by Hollywood’s golden age has undergone a lot of change since the early years, when it functioned as a typical theme park and working production facility creating movies, TV shows and animated films.

These days, the park is less about delving into behind-the-scenes aspects of entertainment production and more about giving people personal, immersive experiences into the world of film, television, music and theater through whiz-bang attractions, entertaining rides and cutting-edge technology.

To celebrate its 30th milestone, here are 30 things you may not know about Walt Disney World’s ageless Hollywood Studios.

1. Original plans called for Hollywood Studios to be an entertainment pavilion in Future World in Epcot. The idea was to provide a three-part experience revolving around movies, television and radio. But as concepts burgeoned among Disney’s “Imagineers,” it became clear that there was enough material to make this pavilion a theme park of its own.

2. Of Disney’s 12 theme parks worldwide, Hollywood Studios is the only one that’s been regenerated. None of the five rides and attractions offered on opening day has survived. The last original attraction – The Great Movie Ride – closed in 2017.

3. At 135 acres, it’s the fifth largest Disney theme park by area. But it’s the smallest of the four parks that make up Walt Disney World, where Animal Kingdom is four times the size.

4. Imagineers used 1927 blueprints from the original Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to build an exact scale replica – one that represents the way the famed Hollywood theater looked on opening night, as opposed to today.

5. Original concepts for the sorcerer’s hat – the park’s 122-foot-tall former landmark that lasted 14 years – called for the hat to be outside the park entrance and have Ferris wheels in place of its ears.

6. The park’s first movie-based parade was Aladdin’s Royal Caravan, which ran from 1992 until 1995. It featured camel figures that would sporadically spit water at guests lined along the route. Today, one of the spitting camels can still be seen at The Magic Carpets of Aladdin in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland.

7. When the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride debuted in 1994, its elevator cars made just one full drop from top to bottom. To increase the thrills, extensive computer upgrades were made, resulting in each ride having six to eight drops and lifts of varying height, performed at random so no two rides are the same.

8. The Tower of Terror is one of the resort’s most technologically sophisticated rides, with elevator cars seamlessly alternating between vertical and horizontal tracks. Above the elevator shafts sit two massive electric motors that pull the elevators up and down, intensifying the force of gravity.

9. A Hidden Mickey is a trio of circles in the shape of Mickey’s head; keep an eye out, and you’ll find them cleverly concealed throughout Disney parks and resorts. The main courtyard of the park’s Hollywood Boulevard forms a huge Hidden Mickey – the biggest ever created, visible only from the air. Various aspects of it have been altered over the years, but its basic form remains.

10. The former animation studio opened before the park. Three Disney animated films were almost entirely produced here: “Mulan,” “Lilo & Stitch” and “Brother Bear,” and Hollywood Studios animators contributed to the classics “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” Guests on the Magic of Disney Animation Tour got to watch the animators at work.

11. The Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster is the resort’s only indoor roller coaster that was built outside; the entire 3,403-foot track was constructed first, followed by the exterior shell built around the roller coaster.

12. The Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster was the first roller coaster at Walt Disney World to take guests upside down – something it does three times per ride.

13. Disney is renowned for its trademarked Audio-Animatronics, the robotic wizardry that brings historical figures and fictional characters to life. In the line for Toy Story Mania, guests meet a larger-than-life Mr. Potato Head who boasts some firsts of his own: Sound isn’t just piped through – his mouth appears to form actual words, and he can take off his ear and put it back on.

14. “Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage” made its debut Nov. 22, 1991, the same day the animated classic opened in movie theaters nationwide, marking the first simultaneous release of a live production and the film that inspired it. It’s the longest running stage show at any Walt Disney World theme park.

15. Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land is the first roller coaster in any Disney theme park to feature a double launch – two separate spots where riders are catapulted across the tracks. Midway through the ride, the coaster stops and a second high-speed launch propels the cars forward.

16. In the early years, the Inside the Magic: Special Effects and Production Tour took guests behind the scenes on working soundstages, where “The All New Mickey Mouse Club” was filmed from 1989 until it ended in the mid-’90s. Park guests had the chance to see rehearsals and tapings and watch Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake and other big names when they were starting out.

17. At the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular,” the huge boulder that threatens to crush Indiana Jones weighs 440 pounds. The set that forms the backdrop for this scene – a re-creation of the opening sequence in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – is built on a rolling platform that tips the scales at over 100 tons, making it one of the heaviest pieces of moving scenery on the planet.

18. Later this year, the park will welcome the Disney Skyliner, a gondola system connecting Hollywood Studios with Epcot and the Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, Art of Animation and Riviera resorts. The Skyliner will travel across 6 miles of Walt Disney World property around 11 mph.

19. In the nighttime extravaganza “Fantasmic!” the audience-surrounding moat that catches fire is 5 feet deep and holds 1.9 million gallons of water. The trio of 30-foot-tall water screens are created by pumping 2,400 gallons of water into the air per minute.

20. The cobra in “Fantasmic!” measures 100 feet long, and the 32,000-pound dragon has a 50-foot wingspan.

21. The yellow Pizza Planet delivery truck first seen in “Toy Story” has made a subtle cameo in nearly every Pixar animated feature since. Animators have sneaked in the truck once again at the new Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy attraction.

22. While there isn’t a Pizza Planet restaurant in Toy Story Land, the robot guards that straddle the entrance in the original film are here. They’re guarding the entrance to Alien Swirling Saucers, a game which, according to the attraction’s back story, Andy won at Pizza Planet.

23. The first phase of the much-anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens at California’s Disneyland on May 31 and Hollywood Studios on Aug. 29. The quality of sunlight differs between Florida and California, so different shades of paint were used in each park to ensure both lands look the same.

24. To replicate the look of C-3PO and other droids in Galaxy’s Edge, Imagineers borrowed Lucasfilm’s molds and skins used to make the droids in the “Star Wars” movies.

25. Not only will iconic characters and places in the “Star Wars” films be incorporated into Galaxy’s Edge, but new vehicles and other details will be introduced here and subsequently seen in future movies, giving the land a truly symbiotic relationship with the film franchise.

26. Galaxy’s Edge attraction Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run will put guests in the cockpit of the famous flying vessel to try their hand at navigation and firing canons, among other things. The complex technology will respond to the way guests use 200 cockpit controls.

27. Each trackless ride vehicle in Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will feature an interactive onboard droid. Guests will enter a massive First Order hangar and face animatronic Stormtroopers before riding into an encounter with a pair of towering AT-ATs and Kylo Ren.

28. Next spring will see the premiere of the first Mickey Mouse-themed ride at any Disney theme park: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Guests will feel as if they’re in the middle of a Mickey Mouse cartoon as they ride a train whose whistle mimics the one in 1928’s “Steamboat Willie,” the first cartoon featuring the famed mouse.

29. Just outside the park near Galaxy’s Edge, Disney will be building a “Star Wars”-themed resort aimed at making guests feel as if they’re living in a luxurious starship in outer space. The idea is to create a seamless, immersive “Star Wars” experience from the rooms to the rides.

30. To celebrate the kickoff of the 30th anniversary, a new nighttime show, “Wonderful World of Animation,” premiered May 1 on the facade of the Chinese Theatre. Using state-of-the-art projection technology, the show promises to be a magical journey through nearly a century of Disney animation, with nods to every Disney and Pixar animated feature film.

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