Stage One Company Store

There’s an old argument among parkeologists about what passes for theming. You can have a themed birthday party, in which kids wear cowboy hats and eat boot-shaped cake and try to lasso the cat. That fits the definition of “theme.” What Disney does is something else, something more story-based (though Imagineering heroes like Marc Davis will tell you it’s not quite a story either).

It’s one of the reasons I’ve never liked the All-Stars Resorts (or Pop Century, or the soon-to-be Art of Animation). These are passed off as themed resorts, and in the most common definition of the word, they are perfectly themed. There can be no doubt that All-Star Sports has a sports theme. Or that All-Star Music has a music theme. Or that All-Stars Stock Traders has a stock trading theme.

But they aren’t the Wilderness Lodge.

Look, just because you have a 30-foot-tall Pongo standing in front of your Motel 6 doesn’t mean I’m spending a week in a movie set. Take Pongo and the film canister bedsheets away, and I’m back on 192, in a decidedly un-Disney experience. But at least I have a pool shaped like a baseball diamond (read: I have a square shaped pool).

Anyway, I’m digressing into a rant about All-Stars, which was not my intent. Rather, I wanted to talk about what happens when you take away a 20-foot-tall Kermit the Frog. You might get this:

A normal building. Also for you sharp-eyed visitors, there’s a flaw in this picture. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, it’s hard to make two clocks chime at the same time.

I stumbled across this image in a book called Designing Disney’s Theme Parks, which is actually somewhat academic, in spite of a plethora of pictures.

Yes, this is the Stage One Company Store, though you probably think of it as The Muppet Store. It’s right at the exit to MuppetVision, and usually has the aforementioned Kermit, a pair of giant googly eyes, and a green globe shaped like Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

I don’t so much mind the store as it is today, as I marvel at how it used to look. I actually cannot recall a time when it didn’t have bright Muppet paint splattered on the side, or children climbing all over Kermit’s enormous webbed feet. Yet surely I must have seen it this way at some point. The Stage One store opened as part of this area, with the coming of MuppetVision. It probably was only a short couple of years before someone transformed it into a Muppet madhouse.

You can just make out a sign for the Studio Pizzeria in front of the store. The font is a very hard to read at this resolution, but I think it’s advertising “Pizza, Subs, Fried Hamsters, and More.” In case you’re wondering where the Studio Pizzeria is, it’s over in what is now called Pizza Planet, which at that time did not have giant Woody and giant Buzz Lightyear staring at a giant rocket next to a giant pizza.

In other words, before it was themed.

6 thoughts on “Stage One Company Store

  1. This shot has a fantastic back-lot feel to it. I didn’t go to MGM early enough to have seen pre-‘themed’ areas… and yes, that is the subtle difference in Disney magic – themeing that suggests or specifically spells out “This is a TOY STORY thing” vs…the subtleties that transport you to a place and time. You walk into Animal Kingdom Lodge and there’s not an animal in sight but the high airy banana leaf style fans the dark rich woods… they all do something to you to give you a feel of where you’d like to be.

  2. Whoa. What a picture. I know what you mean about the ALR… it’s almost too over the top crazy and I was not a fan of it at all. Why is it that a VR can’t be subtle? I guess that would take more money & more planning. Anyway, great early MGM picture. I, for one, never saw it like this and am amazed but knew what it was without even reading. I like this look. Classy.

    Another great blog.

    And btw, Woody & Buzz aren’t on top of the Pizza Planet anymore. They have run away it seems.

  3. The first two paragraphs make me think of those cheap Halloween costumes that consist of a character mask and a plastic poncho with the character’s name and logo in it.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, I have stayed at both Pop Century and All Stars a few times each. There are some aspects that still make them worthwhile (Disney service, early entry, etc). But they are not themed like all the other hotels. The others (even moderates) really take it up a notch.

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