From Screen to Park: Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Updated: Apr 13
by Michael Renfrow
The two most iconic parks of Disney’s US-based parks are easily Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. The question, which of the remaining four theme parks is the most popular, could spark a discussion battle that makes Avenger’s Endgame look more like the scuffle between Merlin and Mad Madam Mim. But I believe once the dust had settled, Disney’s Hollywood Studios could possibly end victorious. Current park reservation demands certainly help support that conclusion. And there is no shortage of reasons for Hollywood Studios’ current popularity as it boasts many of the newest attractions merged with aspects of classic Disney. Let’s explore the movies and shows that have helped mold what use to be a “half-day park” into the unique can’t miss experience it is today.
Upon entering Hollywood Studios, you are immediately surrounded by Hollywood’s nostalgic feeling in its “golden days,” which starts around 1920 and continues for several decades. While taking it all in, the pull deeper into the park comes from the iconic Chinese Theater that sits boldly in the distance at the end of the street. The enchanting building is just as ornate and beautiful as the original Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, which it was based on. This inspiring building is now the home to the newest Disney ride and, hard to believe, the first-ever Disney parks ride-through experience to hold the namesake of our favorite mouse, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. While there is a number of Mickey Mouse movies and shows that could help endear you to this new ride, the look and feel of the attraction, designed to make you feel like you were sucked into a 3D animation, is primarily based around the more recent Mickey and Minnie shorts. These shorts started airing on the Disney Channel back in 2013, and as of my last count, there were around 94 total episodes, all of which can now be found on Disney+.
I have always found Hollywood Studios to be one of the oddest laid-out parks. While that has improved recently with the connection between Star Wars: Galaxies Edge and Toy Story Land, Sunset Boulevard on the other hand, always seemed to me as a dead-end road. Yes, a dead-end road with an amazing roller coaster and a fantastic, or should I say Fantasmic, show at the end. But still a dead end. And in classic Disney style, they entice you further and further down Sunset Boulevard with the promise of intrigue as the classic attraction, Tower of Terror, beckons you to “come closer” and see what all the screaming is about. Now, this blog is primarily about Disney movies and shows, but I would be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug to sit down and catch a few episodes of The Twilight Zone and the show’s iconic creator/narrator Tod Sterling who, even though had died 20 years before the ride’s opening, plays narrator once again for your hotel experience.
Once you find yourself down Sunset Boulevard staring up at the grand hotel, it is possible (in non-covid times) to find your ears perking up to the joyful sounds of “flatware entertaining.” Mesmerized by the hotel tower, it is easy to miss the Theater of the Stars, which has hosted the long-running Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage show for decades. To prepare for this show, I recommend the classic version of the “tale as old as time, ” however, the roughly 25-min stage adaptation is sure to connect with fans of the live-action version as well.
Before we head to the last stop off of Sunset, take a quick peek around past the Rockin’ Rollercoaster, and you will see the perfect show experience for fans of the movie Cars. It is called the Lightning McQueen Racing Academy. Lighting, probably one of Disney property’s most impressive animatronics, will host you in a circular theater “racing simulator” that sports a 360-degree screen. If you enjoy watching the Radiator Springs crew do their things, you won’t want to miss this show.
Finally, you will have to wait till the end of the night to wrap up Sunset Boulevard as the night-time spectacular Fantasmic is on almost everyone’s to-do list. A well-marked path situated back between the Tower of Terror and Theater of the Stars leads you to one of Disney’s most popular shows. There is no telling exactly how many different Disney movies are represented in this show, but there are a bunch. Hosted by Mickey himself, he takes on many famous villains, emerging triumphantly of course, and we are treated to a steamboat full of favorite characters at the finale. While parts of the show tend to flow from the ideas of Fantasia and the Sourcer’s Apprentice scenes, I am going to cheat and say “dealer’s choice.” Pick almost any Disney animation movie, and you are bound to see it represented in this nighttime spectacular.
If we back out of Sunset Boulevard and instead go to the left from Hollywood Boulevard, you will be in the Echo Lake section of the park. Echo Lake is designed to pay homage to the man-made lake in downtown Los Angles which was the backdrop for many silent film area comedies. From this area, there are two specific big-time movie franchises to explore. For the First Time in Forever: A “Frozen” Sing-A-Long Celebration is a great place to put all those hours of listening to Let It Go to good use. Taking place in the timeframe of the original Frozen movie, the show is enjoyable and adds in a bunch of great jokes that only parents will get. Down just a little further is one of my favorite shows, the action-packed Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. This show gives a glimpse behind the curtain of movie magic holding to one of the original ideas when Hollywood Studios first open under the name MGM Studios. If you have seen the original movie in the series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, you will be set up perfectly to get the most out of this show-stopping experience.
As we start our swing around the large loop portion of the park, exiting Echo Lake there is a small area to the left called Grand Avenue, which plays home to the Muppet 3D Vision movie experience and the quick service restaurant, PizzeRizzo. Both are enjoyable but watching a few classic episodes of The Muppet Show will enhance your experience.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Well, it will be no surprise what movies you should watch to prepare for this epic area of Hollywood Studios. With nine main saga movies, multiple spinoff movies and shows, along with several cartoon series, there is no shortage of Star Wars films to select from. Almost all of it will be represented in one way or another on the planet of Batuu (the technical location of SWGE). But if you wanted to narrow your selection on what to watch, catching the last three main saga movies that all feature Rey and Kylo Ren, would be the most helpful starting with The Force Awakens. Many will point you towards watching some of The Clone Wars, especially season two, to learn about Hondo Ohnaka who plays a major role in the ride Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run. No matter what you watch you can’t go wrong enjoying some pre-trip Star Wars movie nights with the entire family.
Toy Story Land
As we continue clockwise around the loop, exiting from a planet “in a galaxy far, far away,” we are greeted by the fun and whimsy of Toy Story Land. Based on the Disney Pixar movie franchise of the same name, the entire family is going to love what the land has to offer. So before arriving at Hollywood Studios, grab your favorite movie in the series and get ready to enjoy seeing Andy’s backyard come to life as you shrink down to the size of a toy. In the mood for some more Disney Pixar? Definitely give the Incredibles a watch because as you leave Toy Story Land there is a wonderful cove to the right full of opportunities to interact with the beloved superhero family and my personal favorite fashion designer, Edna Mode. Just remember, No Capes!
We will finish up our walk-through of Hollywood Studios just off to the right of the Chinese Theater in an area called Animation Courtyard. This area, while not having any rides, hosts a place for your youngest family members to really shine while meeting some of their favorite friends from Disney Junior. Capped off with a fun and energetic show called Disney Junior Dance Party, your kids can engage with characters from some of their favorite shows like Vampirina, Mickey and the Roadster Racers, and Doc McStuffins. Completing the area is a cute 17-minute inside stage production called Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The scaled-down version of the movie touches on some of the classic songs with delightful puppetry work. So if it has been a few years since you have seen this Disney classic, brush off the old VHS player and give it a whirl (or maybe just login to Disney+).
And that does it for our walkthrough of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I hope you found some inspiring movies and shows you can enjoy preparing your family for their next visit to one of the most popular parks in the Disney family.
Editors’ note: ConciEARS’ blog series Screen to Park is a guide to the essential movies to watch to understand or enjoy Disney Parks attractions. The series is not a comprehensive discussion of all movie references in every attraction. The next blog in the series Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, will be published Thursday. You can read the previous entry now: From Screen to Park: Disneyland.