Return to Opening Day: Disney MGM Studios 1989

Last week we embarked on a different path: The Opening Day Tour. Here is your chance to visit classic attractions as they appeared on opening day. Short shorts and feathered hair are optional.

We began in 1998, with the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Remember Nah-ta-zu? If so, you’re an AK Baby! We stopped by the Boneyard for some good old fashioned playtime, then queued up under the Tree of Life to watch It’s Tough to be a Bug, starring a whole bunch of strange Pixar characters that won’t debut on screen for several more months.

But today, our time machine is rotating backwards for our return to the 80s, that magical land of mullets, Max Headroom, and Milli Vanilli. The year is 1989 and You. Are. There.

This place is so old, even the name is gone.

This place is so old, even the name is gone.

Welcome to the Disney MGM Studios! Not only was it announced after the Universal Studios park, it managed to open a full year before. Quite a reversal from 2014, where we wait half a decade for a Seven Dwarfs coaster to appear while Universal rattles off Harry Potter Land 2 in the span of a few months. Here’s your Opening Day list of attractions.

  1. The Great Movie Ride
  2. The Magic of Disney Animation Tour
  3. SuperStar Television
  4. The Monster Sound Show
  5. The Backstage Studio Tour
  6. Hollywood! Hollywood! A Star Studded Spectacular!

Whoa, and you thought Animal Kingdom was light on things to do! It’s a little misleading. The two tour based attractions were rather long. And of course so is the Great Movie Ride and SuperStar Television. And let’s not forget about all those celebrities you were bound to see, what with all the actual movies being filmed there. But let’s see how much has changed in 25 years…

This guy has been directing the same shot for decades.

This guy has been directing the same shot for decades.

You can forget about the Hollywood Hollywood show. Pretty much everyone else did. It was a live theater thing in the Theater of the Stars, and it didn’t even last the year. By August it was gone, and the theater spent the next several months in the dark, gearing up for a Dick Tracy show. It seems odd, but the Theater of the Stars actually used to be very close to the Brown Derby, and made up one ear of the largest Hidden Mickey on property. Check out early guide maps if you want to see it. Parts of the giant Micky are still there today, including Echo Lake (right ear) and different colored pavement that forms Mickey’s eyes. It wasn’t until Sunset Boulevard was constructed in the mid-90s that the theater moved to its current location down near Tower of Terror.

Both tours are still operating in some form. The Backstage Studio Tour (now called the Studio Backlot Tour) featured both a walking and a riding portion, just as it does today. But today’s tour is a shadow of its former self. The tram has nothing to visit now except Catastrophe Canyon (still identical to its opening day incarnation). The rest of the backlot is gone, though many of the boneyard props are still scattered about (and look exactly as if they’ve been sitting in the Florida sun since 1989). The tram will still take you on a big loop, but there’s nothing to see except the Lights Motors Action theater and a topiary of the Earful Tower. Remember that back when the Studios first opened, New York Street was considered a live set, and guests were prohibited from moseying back there.

Mojave Oil has caused more disasters than all their competitors combined.

Mojave Oil has caused more disasters than all their competitors combined.

The walking tour portion involved the water tank, still in use today. It even used the big dump tank with the wheelhouse, which was a much more timid sea-captain-in-a-storm scene than today’s Pearl Harbor Attack. But the walking tour used to continue through a series of soundstage corridors with various celebrity guides, culminating in the Walt Disney Theater for a look at upcoming Disney movies. The same theater is now used for One Man’s Dream, and at least some of the sound stages have been eaten up by Toy Story Mania.

The Animation Tour is also a shadow of its former self. Gone is the Back to Neverland charm-fest with Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite. Now we get a forced interaction between Mushu and a Cast Member pretending to be an animator. And there’s no longer any Animation Studio tour. Just Mickey meet-and-greets and tired interactive games.

It’s a shame we are focusing on Opening Day and not Opening Year, because two more major attractions were added to Disney MGM Studios towards the end of 1989. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular debuted in August, and the show is still running strong. Though its script has changed over the years, most of the same elements are still intact. Star Tours opened in late November, but of course has been revamped completely since then.

Over on Echo Lake, we had Martin Short and Chevy Chase starring in the Monster Sound Show — which had the distinction of being the first opening day attraction to disappear completely (except maybe that Hollywood show). They tried to keep the same gag going, with a sound effects show based on the Disney TV cartoons, and then later with a stereophonic sound demonstration starring Drew Carrey. But that theater is empty now, only used on special days like Star Wars Weekends.

Next door was SuperStar Television, which introduced guests to the magic of the green screen. The shtick petered out and it was junked in favor of Doug Live, a live action show based on a forgettable cartoon character. Then it sat empty for many years until it was reborn as the American Idol Experience.

But all is not lost, Time Travelers! You still have the Great Movie Ride, which is as close as you’re going to get to Opening Day 1989. Let’s face it. The script has changed, and the ending montage has added a few different clips — but honestly, it’s not that different. You still have virtually all the same scenes, right down to the shoot-outs with cowboys and gangsters. The guides may give you some different lines, but otherwise it’s the same show. Even the trailers playing in the queue are the same (and the print looks like it hasn’t been replaced in 25 years).

The rare cowboy scene -- brought to you by Mojave Oil.

The rare cowboy scene — brought to you by Mojave Oil.

25 years is a long time. It’s amazing that we have any attractions from a quarter century ago that still look basically the same as they did back then. But our journey isn’t over. Let’s rewind the 80s even more. EPCOT Center awaits. Could there possibly be anything left from 1982?

Shane was raised on a steady diet of EPCOT Center and Kenner action figures. Parkeology is the happy result. He is the creator along with his friend Ted of the WDW47 Challenge and the WDW49 Challenge — featured by such media giants as CNN, ABC, FoxNews, and the in-flight magazine for Norwegian Air. With his brother Tristan, Shane is the author of the adventure fantasy novels Arabian Heist and Johnny Shipwreck. He currently resides in the Swiss Family Treehouse.

6 thoughts on “Return to Opening Day: Disney MGM Studios 1989

  1. Can’t wait for your post about Epcot. It should be the best one yet! 🙂

  2. I love this series, it is a great topic to explore. Kind of amazing to see how threadbare Disney MGM and Animal Kingdom were when they opened their gates. I looked up an old map and was totally surprised by the hidden Mickey. It’s gigantic! I’m not sure what year it was when I first visited, but I was in my early teens and probably let my take-charge father worry about the map, so I had no chance of noticing it. Going to see if I can find an aerial photo of the park from that time.

    I’m also looking forward to the EPCOT article!

    • I myself was a little shocked that AK had more attractions than the Studios, since AK is STILL derided as a half-day park. But the Studios had almost NOTHING

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