A Tip of the Hat – Theming Changes at Walt Disney World

Theming is part of Mousertainment in the parks – this is what makes you feel like you’re inside the story. Some theming, however, is more successful than others.

Over the past several weeks, the Walt Disney World Resort parks have said goodbye to some area and attraction theming. Only some of the replacement theming has been announced and we await more news on what is yet to come.

Today, Mousertainment would like to bid farewell and give a tip of the hat to some park icons and attractions that are leaving – some will be missed and some… not so much.

The Sorcerer’s Hat – Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Can you tell there is an attraction behind this thing?  I can't either.

Can you tell there is an attraction behind this thing? I can’t either.

Count me in with those throwing a hat up in the air cheering for the removal of this eyesore. It wasn’t so much the gigantic Sorcerer hat itself, which granted, was huge and rather cheesy-looking but might have worked well as a decoration at one of the value resort hotels or even in a parking lot. But using this monstrosity to block the view of the Great Movie Ride’s beautiful Chinese Theatre exterior was completely unacceptable and frankly, tacky looking. It also ruined the classic Hollywood theming of the street itself.

Better at night, but how does this say "Hollywood"?

Better at night, but how does this say “Hollywood”?

The hat was one of several destructive additions (Spaceship Earth wand, anyone?) to the visuals of Walt Disney World parks created for the Millennium and 100 Years of Magic celebrations which had long overstayed its welcome. Although because it has been there for so long, a generation has grown up with the hat as the Disney’s Hollywood Studios park icon and there are probably just as many people sorry to see it go as there are those thrilled to see it leave.

I, for one, am very much looking forward to the improved view down the Studios’ Hollywood Boulevard with the Chinese Theatre once again retaining its proper place as the “weenie” or visual enticement to draw you further into the park. As well as to the Earful Tower mouse-ear-capped water tower likely returning as the icon for the park itself. Every classic Hollywood studio (including Disney) had a water tower so at least the theming of that big hat in the park made sense!

I would say I’d miss the pin shop located underneath the Sorcerer hat – but all of that merchandise has been moved to a new location along the park’s Sunset Boulevard.

The Studio Backlot Tour – Disney’s Hollywood Studios

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In the earliest days of the then Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios), it attempted to usurp the mantle of Universal Studios in behind-the-scenes movie parks with its theming and attractions. And I think at that time, this must have been a better attraction than what it had become by the time I got to see it. With a good portion of the acreage of the tour removed years ago, along with the excitement of watching movies actually being created in this formerly-working studio, what was left was just a short trip through a few “danger” zones, along with a drive-by past a few props, leaving one feeling more bored than informed or entertained.

I think the part of the experience I probably enjoyed most was the AFI exhibit of movie costumes we passed through on the way to the gift shop. I was particularly happy to see this lovely dress from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on display:

Off with their heads!

Off with their heads!

However, I’d already seen costumes from this film shown previously at a San Diego Comic-Con exhibit and at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, so even this felt like a bit of a retread.

For me, both the Studio Backlot Tour and the Great Movie Ride (soon to be refurbished in partnership with Turner Classic Movies), were sadder, simpler versions of what Universal Studios has always excelled at and which I grew up enjoying at their original park in California – celebrating and explaining the filmmaking process.

I think the Tour’s time had come – it would not regain its past glories. Universal Studios does this kind of attraction better. Leave them to the behind-the-scenes peeks and let Disney focus on staying within the stories rather than revealing how it’s all done. Disney is about creating the illusion, not destroying it.

Although with the recent and upcoming Harry Potter-themed additions to the Universal parks, Disney may have a challenger in that arena too!

The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow – Disney’s Hollywood Studios

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I never actually got the chance to go inside this attraction since the wait was always close to an hour when I passed it and I didn’t want to spend that much time waiting for a walkthrough with a video screen and a few practical effects.  I preferred to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and attend Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial over at the Magic Kingdom instead to get my pirate fix!

But I look forward to something hopefully good replacing it. No word yet on what that might be, but speculation consists of everything from Pixar to Star Wars being added to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and as long as it’s not another walkthrough of a soundstage with video screens, I think whatever it turns out to be will be an improvement!

Maelstrom – EPCOT

Sadly, I have no pictures of Maelstrom to share with you today. I say “sadly” because of anything listed here, this will be the one I will miss the most. Was the attraction brilliant? No. It was honestly too short, a bit silly, definitely dated but also quite fun. I have two words for you: Backwards. Drop. This was exciting enough for kids and those of us “older kids” who don’t care for thrill rides but like some mild excitement in an attraction. Plus it was one of the few attractions left to ride in EPCOT which is definitely in need of an infusion of new things to do and see!

Clearly the Powers That Be at Disney also thought EPCOT needed the infusion of a new attraction – but instead of building one, they decided to reconfigure Maelstrom and re-theme it to the hit animated movie Frozen. While I actually look forward to the new version of this watery excursion, I’m sorry it had to take the place of one of the few fun adventures this park has left to offer. And I sympathize with the EPCOT purists who note that an attraction based on the imaginary land of Arendelle has no place in a pavilion about the real country of Norway. It also continues the impression that too much of Disney parks is becoming “Frozenland”.

The Lobby – Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

And finally, although I haven’t had the pleasure yet of visiting this beautiful deluxe resort, it too recently went under some serious cosmetic changes in its main lobby, losing its famous waterfall centerpiece.  This lush tropical spot was a favorite of tourists and the small lava rocks setting that replaced it does not seem equally popular.

So we tip our hat and say goodbye to the old theming and attractions – some with sadness, some with joy – and share our hopes for the parks’ futures that they will be even brighter than what came before.

Are you happy to see these theming and attraction elements change or would you rather have them left alone?

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