Lights, Motors, Action! Preview

by Brian Bennett, contributing writer

Two days ago on Tuesday, March 15, I spent much of the day at the Disney-MGM Studios. The main purpose for the trip was to see one of the “soft opening” performances of the new Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show.

Two of the stunt cars beckon guests in to the stunt show area. Photo by Brian Bennett.

I was very surprised at the heavy crowds as I entered the park. I was a bit late, I didn't arrive at the park until after 10:00am, and the entrance was backed up all the way from the parking entrance back to Buena Vista Drive. When I eventually got to the parking attendant, I showed my AP to get my free parking and asked why the park was so busy today. She just shrugged her shoulders. I could only hope that the crowds weren't due to the show's soft opening run.

I parked and got onto a tram in short order and got up to the park's pedestrian entrance quickly enough. As I strolled in past the security checkpoint, I was amazed not only at the large crowds of folks queued up to enter the park itself, but also the large number of people lined up to buy admission media.

When I got inside the park, the crowds were just as bad. I wasn't there to ride rides or enjoy attractions. My destination was clear and I made a beeline to the back end of the park to get a Fastpass for the show.

A sign informs park visitors that the stunt show is conducting sneak preview performances. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Even though the park crowds were heavier than I had expected, there was absolutely no waiting for Fastpasses for Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show. There were several cast members milling about explaining the new show, helping folks obtain Fastpass tickets and so on, but the crowds really seemed to have stayed in the front part of the park.

Let me cut to the chase and remove all suspense about the crowd issue. I really think, looking back, that the crowds were just the spring break crowd. After seeing the lighter-than-normal winter crowds over the last few weeks, I guess I just forgot how busy a park entrance can be during the mid-morning hours. Certainly, when I returned at my posted Fastpass time of 2:25pm, there were a lot of people queued up to see the new show, but nothing like I'd feared earlier in the day.

I spent the next few hours working on some other projects, had a brief lunch at the Commissary, and so on. At about 2:10 p.m., 15 minutes before my allotted Fastpass time, I made my way back to the Lights, Motors, Action stadium. I was surprised that they were already allowing Fastpass holders to enter the queue and the time on the Fastpass apparently was inconsequential. A couple of kids just in front of me had Fastpass tickets stamped 2:35, mine, of course, was 2:25, and all of us were early.

We walked back behind a garage building that is, apparently, used to maintain the vehicles used in the show. Windows are thoughtfully provided so we could see inside, although only a handful of vehicles were there and only a couple of mechanics were in sight. As we rounded the garage building, were were herded into a series of four evenly sized queue pens. The pens were filled from left to right as we faced them, and I was about in the middle of the second pen.

After all four pens were filled, we stood around for 20 minutes or more. Then the left-most (first filled) pen was allowed to move on into the stadium, my pen (second filled) followed, and so on. It was a great example of Disney crowd control, but I am a bit unsettled because a lot of folks in the first pen were held up and we (in the second pen) preceeded them. I hope there was a known break point and that my group truly was ahead of the others. If not, there are some crowd control bugs to work on… but the basic concept is solid.

After leaving our pen area, we walked around the corner and right up to the stadium itself. I thought we would be ushered right up to the seating area, but instead we were herded underneath the stands and to the far end of the stadium seating area. In this huge, S-shaped queue area underneath the stadium bleachers, we waited again, this time for probably fifteen minutes or so.

The first few hundred people entering the stadium and being directed up into the left-most seating area (as you sit in the seats looking at the show floor). Photo by Brian Bennett.

After I found my own seat, I took a few pictures of the new Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show venue. All of the action takes place in front of the stands. As is typical in a Disney attraction, there really aren't any bad seats. Everyone has a pretty clear view.

The stunt show is performed “on stage” in what is constructed to look like a little village. Photo by Brian Bennett.

The one exception are the seats right in the middle of the stadium just above the show control box. Families with kids will want to avoid at least that one row because the concrete box comes up a bit high. I had originally taken one of those seats, then realized that even I, an adult male (although one challenged in the stature department), would not have a great view for taking pictures. I moved a bit to the left and ended up with a pretty good view over a stairway so my pictures are fairly clear of other people's heads and hats and so on.

By the way, in the following picture, you can clearly see the Fastpass crowd entering beneath me right in the center of the stands. Only after all of the Fastpass holders were seated were the stand-by crowd allowed to enter, and they did so at the far right-hand side of the stadium filling up the rest of the available seats.

A mass of Fastpass ticket holders crowd the seating area for the show. Photo by Brian Bennett.

After getting the lay of the land, I took a picture of the show billboard. Obviously Georgia Pacific's Brawny brand will get a bit of exposure.

One of the props for the show is a “billboard” for the stunt show (presented by Brawny). Photo by Brian Bennett.

What surprised me, though, was when the “billboard” started changing. It turns out that it's really a Jumbotron, and it provided a modicum of entertainment for a few minutes with trivia questions about motor-related stunts in the movies. Most of the questions were pretty tough, at least for me. Although I worked in the automotive industry for 22 years, I never really was a “car guy.” I certainly am not one to know the difference between two obscure sports cars made by British, Italian, and German manufacturers. I thought that an Astin Martin was a cross between a couple of Hobbit-playing and white-haired comic actors before I realized that Astin wasn't spelled right. Oh well…

Eventually, at about 3:20 or so, the show actually got started. We were told, straight up, that the show was only in rehearsal and that the actual opening of the show wasn't slated until May to coincide with the celebration of Disneyland's 50th anniversary. Then, the young lady shown in the next picture started speaking in French. After a bit, she laughed it off and said that she was just joking with us because this show had originated at the Disney Studios Paris. All of the sets, of course, are festooned with French atmosphere. For some reason, Disney is really hyping the fact that this show originated in France. Not that the origins of the show is a bad thing, but it's just odd that they push it so hard.

Photo by Brian Bennett.

After that little intro, we were shown a series of video clips, on the big screen, of several motor stunts in various films. Hopefully it was a technical problem that will be fixed, but the video ran without any audio. It really took away from some of the crashes and explosions to see them in clear detail, but without a sound. Perhaps Disney is still working out the royalty issues on some of those clips.

A cast member presents some technical information about what the audience is about to see. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Next, we were given another lecture about how the various stunts are shot out-of-order, and then are combined with other pieces of film (some shot on other days) and edited into a cohesive whole. Of course, we were also given the “don't try this at home” lecture for the first time (altogether, we were reminded to “not try this at home” three times before we left the area).

The “billboard” comes alive as it shows itself as a Jumbotron, as the audiencer sees a camera crew setting up on a truck bed. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Finally, the action began. First was a scene called “Ballet” in which a red car, driven by our “hero,” was chased by a group of five or six black “bad guy” cars. Very much lacking was the James Bond tie-in that I understand is a key part of the Lights, Moteurs show at the Paris park. Instead, this show just focused on the movie-making aspects of motor stunts.

The drivers did a great job of speeding around the area, pirouetting about each other with nary a fender bender. It really was a demonstration of great driving skills in some very maneuverable cars. It was no surprise to me how the cars were made to be that nimble. They were equipped with four-wheel steering, with both the front and the rear wheels turning out of phase (that is, when the front wheels turned left, the rear wheels turned right to reduce the car's turning radius).

The action starts, with several cars appearing on stage. Note the camera crew in the foreground. Photo by Brian Bennett.

We weren't told about the four-wheel steering; I suppose I just noticed it because I worked for GM's steering division for so long. However, during the show the point was made that each of the cars have four forward and four reverse gears.

The red car in the show is the “hero car,” while the other cars are black. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Another interesting thing is that the “hero car” has a double. Note that the driver of the car on the right side is getting out of the car… but that its rear end is actually its front! Some of those pirouettes were handled with two cars (the backstage switch between the two vehicles was shown on the big screen).

In the stunt world, everyone has a stunt double, including the “hero car” in the show. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Next, to give the little cars a break, Herbie the Love Bug was brought out for a little plug of its upcoming movie. During its “interview,” it was asked how it liked working with Lindsey Lohan on the flik, and its shook from bumper to bumper. Apparently Herbie liked working with Miss Lohan just fine.

As Herbie left the stage, it drove “the wrong way” under the stadium stands. When it came back, it was split down the middle and drove back off stage as two pieces of Volkswagen bug. Obviously, another backstage switch was responsible for that trick.

A familiar vehicle, the old-fashioned Volkswagen Beetle is none other than Herbie, the Love Bug. Photo by Brian Bennett.

“Blockade” was the next action sequence. In this one, the “hero car” is chased around by those mean ol' black cars and ultimately jumped through one truck, over another, and into a huge air bag on the ground. The footage just shot was then combined with some “shot yesterday” and we were favored with the completed sequence up on the jumbo screen.

A stunt sequence titled “Blockade” involves the hero car making some tricky maneuvers. Photo by Brian Bennett.

In yet another diversion from the plot a 12-year-old volunteer from audience was allowed to drive a radio-controlled version of the “hero car.”

A young volunteer from the audience gets to pilot a radio-controlled version of the hero car. Photo by Brian Bennett.

It turned out, however, that the radio-controlled car actually does have a driver. He's just mounted a bit to the side and out of view (until we were clued in to what was going on).

The radio-controlled hero car is actually driven by a stunt driver, cleverly hidden from view. Photo by Brian Bennett.

The next stunt sequence was simply called “Motorcycle.” This one reminded me a bit of a bad episode of 24 (not that there are any bad episodes of 24 mind you).

Now get ready, things are about to speed up here.

First, we were given yet another lecture about preparation and safety when performing stunts.

A cast member discusses the safety of stunts. Photo by Brian Bennett.

As that was going on, a crew spent some time hosing down the show floor area.

The crew hoses down the show floor. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Then the ninja-bad-guys with Uzis showed up, curses, and started shooting up the place.

“Bad guys” (who we can identify because they are wearing dark masks) appear on the building rooftops. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Our hero then jumps to his blue motorcycle. The guys on the black motorcycles (you can see one in the upper right-hand corner of this picture), kindly wait until he is on the bike, gets his engine started, pulls out his 9-milimeter pistol, and zooms off stage left.

The show's hero jumps onto a motorcycle to evade the bad guys. Photo by Brian Bennett.

A chase scene commences, with black cars tilting over to drive on two wheels…

A black car drives on two wheels. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Another view of a black car driving on two wheels. Photo by Brian Bennett.

…a few motorcycle jumps…

The hero on the blue motorcycle jumps from one ramp to another. Photo by Brian Bennett.

…a car jump or two…

A black car jumps over the same ramp that moments ago was used by the motorcycle. Photo by Brian Bennett.

…and finally a burst of flame as the bad guys manage to, well, cause a burst of flame to come up. Our hero manages to shoot a bad guy on a black motorcycle, who then has the misfortune of sliding through the wall of flame on his back side (the motorcycle preceeding him by a few seconds).

The stunt show includes some pyrotechnics, with one of the motorcyclists sliding through a wall of flames. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Unfortunately for him, he burst into flame…

The motorcyclist then bursts into flame. Photo by Brian Bennett.

…before the fire crew puts out the inferno.

The motorcyclist motions to the audience that he is fine, after the fire crew extinguishes his flames. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Although I was a bit sarcastic about how that scene was set up, I must say that the stunt actors and crew did a great job with it. We were given a little tutorial about flaming people. Apparently, the burning man wears five layers of clothing. A special gel material is slathered all over his body to keep him cool as he is torched. An outer layer of a different gel, pre-applied to his costume, is what really burns during the stunt sequence.

Can you say, “Don't try this at home?”


As the next scene is set up, one of the black, bad-guy cars was brought out to show us how it works. At this point in the show, they showed a clip of film of a driver controlling the transmission and brakes as he drove. Their point, I suppose, is that these cars “aren't your father's Oldsmobile.”

At last, the finale stunt is next. It's really more of the same, with a series of “ballet” moves and jumps.

Some final stunts in the show include various maneuvers such as jumping off of ramps. Photo by Brian Bennett.

The curtain call allows the audience to show its appreciation for all of the vehicles and performers and they really did do a great job.

The vehicles and stunt drivers “take a bow” as the audience applauds at the end of the show. Photo by Brian Bennett.

As to my own opinion of this “new” show, you might already have a clue from some of my sarcastic comments. It is well performed, but the show is very repetitive. The stunts are nothing new or special. Frankly, it just runs out of gas too early in the show.

This show did not wow me. The first time I saw Fantasmic! at Disneyland, Reflections of Earth at Epcot, and even Believe or Wishes, I was impressed. Those were shows that I wanted to see again. This one? Well, I'm sure my boys (ages 4 and 8) will enjoy it. My wife Barb will enjoy seeing it, too, I'm sure. After they've all seen it once, though, I think this show will be much like Catastrophe Canyon for us… something to see once every year or two but nothing to get excited about.

The crowd of more than 5,000 guests makes its way out of the stadium following the performance. Photo by Brian Bennett.

On the way out of the stadium, I overheard one cast member say that the stadium can hold over 5,000 people. That's a lot of attraction capacity. I don't know how much money Disney dropped on this new venue, the vehicles, equipment, and training for the cast and crew, but I predict that within a couple of years, Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show will be running to a pretty small crowd.