The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Disney's Hollywood Studios' 1980s and 1990s Film Referencesby Tom Richards, contributing writer
Although Disney theme parks are famously timeless, they are also products of the era in which they were conceived and created. References to Disney films, past and present, permeate the parks. When Disneyland opened in 1955, for example, its featured attractions were inspired by two films that had already been released and one that would be released shortly thereafter—Peter Pan (1951), Alice in Wonderland (1953), and Sleeping Beauty (1959).
When Disney's Hollywood Studios opened in 1989 as Disney-MGM Studios, the Walt Disney Company was increasing the number of its annual movie releases, both live-action and animated. Films were released under two distribution banners at that time: Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures. During the Disney-MGM Studios' early years, Walt Disney Picture released films such as The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, and Beauty and the Beast, as well as live-action films like Hocus Pocus, The Mighty Ducks, and The Santa Clause. Three Men and a Baby, Sister Act, and Father of the Bride are examples of films released under the Touchstone banner. A surprising amount of Disney's live-action output found its way into the Studios, and a few of those mementos still remain at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Tucked away on the Streets of America is the Studio Catering Co., also know as High Octane Refreshments. This standard fast-food counter service location is less than spectacular, but there is a piece of movie history located nearby: the mermaid fountain from the 1984 film Splash. In the film, a charming mermaid, played by Daryl Hannah, exchanges her precious coral necklace for this huge fountain as a gift to the man she loves, played by Tom Hanks. This working fountain remains as a testament to the very first Touchstone Pictures release, a very successful box-office hit from director Ron Howard.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
In the Echo Lake area of the park, not far from the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, there are a few references to the 1988 hit Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Above the Hollywood and Vine Restaurant, sharp-eyed visitors might spy the office window of Eddie Valiant, Private Investigator. In the Streets of America, there's evidence that Roger Rabbit himself made a quick escape through a Roger-shaped hole in some window blinds. There is also a shop near the Studio Catering Company that features props from the film; look up and you might find a ton of bricks, torpedoes, and other hazardous "toon" props courtesy of the Acme Gagworks Company. When the Backlot Tour was in business, guests might have also encountered the Dip Mobile and other vehicles from this landmark 1988 film.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
In 1989, Walt Disney Pictures released Honey, I Shrunk the Kids starring Rick Moranis. This surprise hit spawned several sequels and the in-park film Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, which featured Professor Wayne Szalinski and the Imagination Institute. This film served as the "inspiration" for the less-than-inspirational Journey Into Imagination make-over at Epcot in 1999. The film is now part of Walt Disney World history, but the re-imagined attraction that accompanied it remains at the Imagination pavilion with a few Szalinski references intact.
The Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure is also alive and well. This play area features larger-than-life blades of grass, cans of Play Doh, Tonka Trucks, ants, rolls of film, spider webs, and lots of slides. While it's entirely possible that most of the tots playing here have no experiences with the films that inspired this playground, for people who were children in the 1990s the nostalgia factor can be a lot of fun.
In the summer of 1990, Disney had high hopes for its big Touchstone Pictures release Dick Tracy. With an all-star cast, including well-respected actors like Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Dick Van Dyke—as well as Madonna at a high point in her popularity—Dick Tracy seemed destined for a successful franchise for Disney. That did not happen, and plans for Dick Tracy inspired attractions never came to fruition. There are, however, some strong historical connections between the film and Walt Disney World. Pleasure Island hosted the world premiere of the film as Disney brought Hollywood to its new Disney-MGM Studios for all sorts of hoopla surrounding the film's release. The Backlot Tour included a small area of Brownstones painted in the Dick Tracy primary color palette to resemble a scene from the film at Tess Trueheart's apartment building.
The L.A. Property Warehouse shop at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, once featured a Dick Tracy inspired photography experience wherein guests could don the famous yellow trench coat and other stylish outfits from the 1940s. This shop was recently remodeled and now contains the Trolley Car Café, the newest Starbucks location at Walt Disney World. The Dick Tracy Diamond Double Cross live musical show was also once featured at the Studios. Located in the Theater of the Stars, originally located at what is now the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, this lively show featured music from the film along with many of its most memorable characters.
Another action adventure film from the 1990s that Disney had hoped would lead to a lucrative franchise was 1991's The Rocketeer. This stylish adventure starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, and Timothy Dalton was set in 1940s Hollywood, and thus was a perfect fit for Disney-MGM Studios. The Backlot Tour once feature the very large Bulldog Café set, and the Rocketeer himself once made special appearances during the "Sorcery in the Sky" fireworks show during the summer of 1991. There is one remaining reference to this vastly underrated Joe Johnston film: Peevy's Polar Pipeline, a small snack stand hidden behind Keystone Clothiers in the Echo Lake area. Peevy, played by Alan Arkin, was the character from The Rocketeer who rebuilt the rocket and designed the helmet for the title character. Look closely and you might even spy a replica of the fabled rocket pack near this little snack stand.
There are, of course, many clips of Disney films in the finale of the Great Movie Ride as well. Clips from Sister Act, Three Men and a Baby, and Roger Rabbit seem outdated and out of place in the montage alongside other clips from truly classic films.
The next time you are strolling through Tinsel Town, take a look and see if you can spot these obscure references to some of the good old Eighties and Nineties live-action output from the Walt Disney Studios.