The 122-ft Tall Sorcerer's Hat, Icon of Disney's Hollywood Studios
“The World you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood—not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was—and always will be.” ~ Michael Eisner (former CEO), May 1st, 1989
I continued to the Echo Lake area, distinguished by a small oval-shaped lagoon, and passed by the Star Wars: Jedi Training Academy (kids learn to "use the force" with a 30-minute live show of light-saber duels with Darth Vader and other characters) onto the NEW Star Tours attraction, a 5-minute, 40-seat, flight simulated ride that combines motion with an action-packed 3-D video to send passengers with droid pilots C-3PO and R2-D2 on a space flight which unexpectedly changes from a run-of-the-mill sightseeing trip to a perilous mission to protect a Rebel spy from the Galactic Empire. Designed by teams from both Walt Disney Imagineering and George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), it's awesome!
I hustled over to Sunset Boulevard, a section of the park with two outdoor amphitheaters, specialized shops with gifts themed to classic films and Disney characters, the Rock'n'Roller Coaster, and, most notable, the menacingly looming Hollywood Tower Hotel. With a large grin and Fastpass in hand, I excitedly entered the Single Rider Lane (another important factor for shorter wait times) for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, one of Disney's more exhilarating rides. As I winded my way through the queue, I entered the offices and recording studios of record label G-Force Records (a 68,131 sq-ft building), whose lobby is decorated with posters of real acts signed to labels owned by The Walt Disney Company. Next I was shuffled into a room modeled after a recording studio, where the five members of Aerosmith are shown finishing a recording session.
Behind the front desk is an elevator with "Out of Order" sign. The bellhop asks the guests to wait in the library while their rooms are finished being prepared. The lights go out, and the television comes on, apparently of its own accord, and gives the back-story to the ride, then guests are instructed to board the maintenance service elevator in the basement boiler room, where, in complete darkness, they are plunged 13 stories into the thrilling recesses of The Twilight Zone. FRIGHTENING!
I entered the Streets of America section of the park, originally the New York Street backlot set that was part of the park's original Backlot Studio Tour; the section is now open to pedestrian traffic. More recently, additional architectural treatments were added to create street sets resembling San Francisco, all done using very impressive forced perspective techniques.
After lunch al fresco at Pizza Planet, I experienced Muppet*Vision 3-D, featuring special effects and Jim Henson's The Muppets. Prior to the show, I entered the "Muppet Labs," a large room filled with Muppet "props" and humorously-labeled boxes, featuring a 12-minute video on three overhead television monitors with typical Muppet musical mayhem, serving as the pre-show. Then I took a pair of "3-D safety goggles" and took a seat in the plushly appointed 584-seat theater (modeled after the one depicted on The Muppet Show), where Waldorf and Statler sit heckling from the balcony.
The basic premise of the next 13 minutes is that the Muppets are putting on a variety show starring the multi-talented Miss Piggy. Kermit tries to make the cast and crew happy, but mishaps get in the way as Dr. Bunsen and Beaker begin a demonstration with disastrous results as they release Waldo C. Graphic, the world's first computer-generated Muppet. Aside from the Muppets on-screen, there are a number of in-theater Muppets that interact with the show, as well as special effects bringing you into the action, such as real soap bubbles blowing from the ceiling.
Next I embarked on the 35-minute Studio Backlot Tour, a behind-the-scenes guided walk and tram ride that offers insight into how some of the most spectacular special effects in movies are made. It began with a short walk to a special outdoor viewing area with a large water tank in front of it, with recreations of a battleship deck and engine control room, reminiscent of the movie Pearl Harbor. With the use of pyrotechnics and audience participants, we were treated to a special effects demonstration to discover how battles and storms at sea are created, which included underwater explosions, and simulated torpedo bursts and fireballs. When filming of the demo was finished, the footage was put together with previously recorded footage of airplane attacks and dialogue, and shown to us.
Afterwards, we winded our way through aisles of a prop warehouse with familiar items from feature films such as The Santa Clause, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and The Chronicles of Narnia. At the exit of the building we boarded an open-air, 200-seat tram that led us on a tour of the backlot, where lifelike sets seen in familiar television shows and movies mingle with delightful topiaries, production bungalows and vehicles used in Disney movies.
After the tram drives through a tunnel with windows into the impressive costume and materials building (2.5 million garments, making its wardrobe the largest working wardrobe in the world, with the help of more than 100 designers!), it brings guests through an outdoor "boneyard" of vehicles that have been featured in many films, like the escape pod from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, cars used in the Herbie the Love Bug films, bone cages from Pirates of the Caribbean, and vehicles from Indiana Jones.
Then guests taken on "a detour" through a "current movie set" dubbed Catastrophe Canyon, a rocky area with a fuel truck and water tanks, where we witness an earthquake, a flash flood, crashes and fire explosions, shaking the tram and possibly getting the closest guests a little wet. We're told how it was done as the tram goes around behind the set, exposing the back of it. The tour is wrapped up after passing the private airplane Walt Disney owned, and exits through a museum exhibit based on AFI's 50 Greatest Villains, showcasing life-sized figures like Darth Vader and Davy Jones in full costume with props.
The Walt Disney: One Man's Dream attraction, specifically created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth, is an interactive, multimedia gallery that allowed me to take a self-guided tour through exhibits of photographs, audio interviews, and 400 rare artifacts of memorabilia from the Disney archives that have never been available before, that tell the story of the legendary man who in 43 years won 48 Academy Awards and 7 Emmys, whose life accomplishments still intrigue and inspire people the world over. A trip through time that starts with his birth in 1901 in Chicago, Illinois and continues through his inventions, innovations and company's vision for the future. In addition, the attraction includes a short biographical film narrated by Julie Andrews, that explores the extraordinary hardships Walt overcame, as well as previously unseen footage like Walt talking about his creation, Mickey Mouse.
I made my way through the sea of people making their way into a 177,000-square-foot facility, and found a seat on the stadium-style bleachers (that can hold 5,000 people) that overlooked the set of a Mediterranean village, for the 33-minute Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, which centers around the filming of a spy thriller, with production crew members, stunt managers and a director and assistant director on the "live" set. Using a Tinseltown trick known as shooting "out-of-sequence," the director sets up the different stunts, and the cast of more than 50 people thrills the audience with high-flying, gravity-defying automobile, motorcycle and high-speed watercraft stunts, with more than 40 vehicles (including those in the maintenance garage) that are customized and modified, and piloted by a group of professional stunt drivers. The show includes high-speed spins, two-wheeled driving, jumps, pyrotechnic explosions, high falls and plenty of surprises created just as they are performed for the silver screen.
Segments of this energetic attraction are taped and shown on over-sized screens, highlighting how the different camera angles enhance the special effects. After each scene is "filmed," the director then combines the shots to create the completed scene that is played for the audience. Film-making secrets are revealed as you learn how Hollywood creates the memorable chase scenes that leave you on the edge of your seat. IT WAS AWESOME!
Then I hurried to catch the last showing of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! (stopping for ice cream on the way, lol), a 30-minute live show that recreates memorable scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and reveals the secrets behind the stunts and special effects. After the "Casting Director" steps on stage and selects volunteers from the audience and "auditions" them to appear as extras, the show opens against a temple ruins backdrop, where the Indiana Jones look-alike makes his grand entrance and escapes a 12-foot tall rolling boulder chasing him down a narrow path. He is seemingly crushed by the boulder, only to reappear moments later as the set is being deconstructed, and the director explains to the audience what's going on. The extras are part of the following Cairo street scene and, after a series of explosions and realistic swashbuckling fight scenes, the show concludes with even larger and louder explosions and pyrotechnics whose heat can be felt even in the audience. The show was kind of cheesy for me, yet entertaining enough; if I hadn't just come from the Extreme Stunt Show, I might have been more impressed, but certainly not with the lame humor.
I grabbed a Glaciers Cup (slushie) at Beverly Sunset Sweet Spells and a veggie cheeseburger and fries at Rosie's All American Cafe before catching The American Idol Experience Grand Finale Show, to watch, cheer and vote between 5 talented singers clamoring to win a special front-of-the-line pass for the popular TV series' real tryouts. The attraction is complete with hair and make-up and a vocal coach, and in addition to the "live" audience and Ryan Seacrest Wannabe, the contestants perform in front of a panel of American Idol judges that mimic Simon, Randy and Paula - all on a sweet replica of the American Idol set. After they all had performed I helped determine the destiny of the singers onstage by voting as a member of the attraction audience on my individual interactive keypad - my favorite won, woo-hoo! Other than the absence of all the seats being full, it did feel as if really at the show and was a lot of fun.
I ended the day with a bang as I claimed my seat in the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater, designed after the famous Hollywood Bowl and accommodating up to 10,000 people for Fantasmic!, a spectacular, 25-minute nighttime fireworks and water show extravaganza starring Mickey Mouse and a bevy of delightful Disney Characters, and featuring classic Disney music and songs, laser lights and amazing hydrotechnic effects. Because of its popularity, doors open 90 minutes before showtime for guests to start filling in; often the show is reduced to standing room only for last-minute spectators. I got there only 5 minutes beforehand, because I didn't sacrifice the American Idol show, and was just lucky enough to find a nice family with a little extra room for me on their bench. The show was awesome, definitely worth staying even after a long and tiring day.