The Disney Community felt a great sadness this weekend as the last official opening day attraction of the Disney-MGM Studios, The Great Movie Ride closed its doors forever. To commemorate this event, two of the best fan clubs, Disney's D23 and TCM's Backlot, got together to hold a special early morning event the day before it the final wrap.
We found out right off the bat this was not going to be the same type of event that had been done by the Disney Parks Blog or of the dessert parties that had popped up over the past few weeks — this was going to be a walking tour conducted by two Disney Imagineers who had ties to this classic attraction. Diego Parras, who was actually a front line Cast member on the attraction in 1990, and Gary Landrun, who was a curator for the artifacts in the lobby for many years. Starting outside of the iconic Chinese Theater facade the duo went through the history of attraction starting back when it was part of a purposed pavilion for Epcot that would have housed a Great Movie Ride type attraction, a Superstar Television type attraction, and a version of the 50's Prime Time Café before Michael Eisner felt the concept could be expanded into the park that became the Disney-MGM Studios.
One of the most interesting things I learned was when WDI set out to build a replica of the Chinese Theater they went through every channel they could to recreate it as exact as possible even getting castings of the bells in the courtyard to have new ones made. They did such a good job that, when the original Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California started their own restoration process, they contacted WDI to help return it to its former glory.
Moving into the attraction we were told the story of the Hollywoodland sign and how when the attraction was being built WDI bought out the supply of lights from an actual movie lighting house in California that was going out of business, so who knows what movies those lights had actually worked on.
As we strolled from scene to scene with the actual work lights on, as opposed to the Parks Blog Meet-Up with show lighting on, Diego and Gary would give behind the scene stories like how the design of Gene Kelly's suit in the Singing in the Rain scene included "rain drops" on it to give the wet effect.
To show that Gary and Diego both really got this group, when we stopped in the rooftops of London scene, Diego held up a map of the track of the attraction to explain how the color palette flows from one film to another. Of course, as we all started snapping pictures, he let us all know that the map is in the old Imagineering book.
Heading into the seedy underbelly of Chicago area, Diego took center stage as he picked a guest from the group and relived his days as "Mugsy" one last time to show us how it was all done.
This event was amazing and full of many great stories and opportunities to take some one of a kind photos.
As we moved over the rainbow and into Munchkin Land, emotions definitely overtook me as this would be one of the last times I would be in this room. I am sure Gary told an amazing story as we stood there, but all I could do was take this photo and cry.
After taking one last look at the Emerald City we were moved back onto the load platform to do the first ride of the day, which was my last ride and by far one of my favorites because, just as every good Hollywood picture has, this one had a few outtakes!
After our ride, the group was escorted to the Brown Derby for an amazing breakfast and fun Q&A with Gary and Diego.
The three most important things I learned from this even were
- The Chinese Theater facade is staying
- The handprints in front of the facade are staying
- TCM: The Treasures from the Disney Vault with Leonard Maltin will continue
D23 and TCM Backlot are both for the diehard fans and this event was a perfect event for us diehard fans! It was a true behind the scenes event where we had the chance one last time to see what made The Great Movie Ride great! If you are not a member of either of these great fan clubs and love Disney and classic films, I can not suggest more you sign up right now at D23.com and tcmbacklot.com
Of course, no D23 event would be complete without a one of a kind gift and, in this case, we received this beautifully matted reproduction of the original concept art for The Great Movie Ride sign.