Saturday, August 19, 2006

Elemental Losses: Water



Initially The Great Movie Ride was going to be part of a show business themed attraction at Epcot but the powers that be felt it was strong enough to anchor an entire new theme park. And so, in May of 1989, the Disney MGM Studios was born.

If The Great Movie Ride was going to be the flagship attraction at the new park it was appropriate that the first in its more than ten movie set pieces be one of the most elaborate.

And elaborate it was; a faithful recreation of the five tiered cake of bathing beauties in 1933’s Footlight Parade, specifically one of Busby Berkley’s showiest numbers, ‘By a Waterfall’.

Imagineers didn’t scrimp on the details. Just as the set appeared in the film, each of the five tiers rotated counter to one another while fountains of water sprayed from ornamental gold deco jets trimming each layer. To top it all off, designers added three shimmering caped beauties on diving boards to the right of the set and filled the room with very real bubbles. When the switch was finally flipped on this extravagant movie musical recreation it was truly a sight to behold; a magical glittering tribute to the spectacular showmanship of Busby Berkley at the height of his craft and a fitting introduction to Disney’s Great Movie Ride.

But in perhaps one of park managements most egregious exploitations of the whole ‘If It’s Broke Don’t Fix It’ dictum, this was yet another spectacle that wasn’t going to last.

As with virtually all new attractions, technical and engineering issues are bound to crop up and this one was no exception. What the actual problems were depended on who you talked to; the mechanism that turned the giant cake was problematic, the foundation was cracking, water was leaking, mold and mildew was forming and/or the set was incurring water damage.

Maintenance staff whined up a blue streak, and eventually word came down from above that the expense of upkeep just wasn’t worth the payoff.

With the bane of unavoidable mechanical problems it certainly makes some sense to sacrifice a single show element here or there to save the intergrity of others, but the changes to this one Movie Ride set were so massive and all-consuming that one had to wonder if they weren’t inspired by someone in management who personally found the whole 1930’s Busby Berkley esthete morally and ethically repugnant.

Firstly, the entire cake set was curtained over by a giant scrim so that its reveal could be shortened. Then the art deco painting details on the walls faithfully recreated from the movie were removed as were the three bathing beauties and their diving board perches. Lastly, the mechanics that made each separate tier of the cake rotate were turned off, the animated lights unplugged and the bubble making machines removed.

And despite this being a recreation of a number called “By a Waterfall” guests would no longer see a single speck of water in the whole set. Those pesky water fountains were turned off for good.

So today visitors who enter The Great Movie Ride’s Footlight Parade set now witness a less than impressive slide show of Berkley formations on that giant scrim punctuated by sporadic hazy reveals of the Footlight Parade cake behind it; no deco details, no motion, no animated lighting, no bubbles.

No water.

Guests would just have to be trusted to not know what they were missing.


26 comments:

Thurl's Buddy said...

I recently visited the Florida parks (much to my dismay) and thought I had lost my mind upon entering the Great Movie Ride. It was just as you've described when I saw it right after the MGM park opening, and I couldn't believe how sad and still it had become. As my wife and I ventured further into the parks, I saw this same disregard for "show" begin popping up everywhere. What happened to the wonderful "Journey into Imagination"? Why had the staircase to the upper level, and all of the cool interactives been closed? Why was half of the ride gone, covered and forgotten? Did they really think that repeat visitors would simply forget these show elements existed?

I left after 3 days with a sickening feeling in my stomach. I vowed to  never return to the Florida parks again. It was just too sad to see all the wonderful work of the imagineering teams just wither and die.

I'm happy to say I spent 2 days in Anaheim last month, and my faith was (somewhat) restored. At least the Disneyland of my youth (1967 or so ;-) seemed to still be there in spirit. Although the lagoon was empty (ahhh those mermaids!) I could sit in the Tiki Room and watch those cool totem poles do their thing! No gimpy mouths, "stuck" eyeballs or mangy birds in the house! A joy to see (and hear!)

I certainly hope that someone, somewhere in the Disney organization will realize that there are some of us who haven't forgotten what made the place worth visiting in the first place!

tvt said...

Let me start by saying I agree 100% with the motivation behin dthis article. I also whole heartedly agree that the opening number in the Great Movie ride is an absolute joke, an embarssment and a true shame.

With that said I must admit that the orginal show scene as it appeared in 1989 was no great shakes. I recall going through and watching these static, non animated maniquines slowly revolve around while a few pittiful streams of water cascaded down and some bubbles floated by and I just though "wow, they sure cheaped out on this mess".

In other words that show scene ALWAYS sucked. it may suck in a different way then it once did but I cannot really say it sucks that much worse. It was a poorly executed scene from day one and remians poorly executed now.

Not EVERYTHING Disney has produced is worthy of keeping, or agonizing over when it is lost or changed. This is a exampleof one of those times.

If you want to talk about a loss of "water" to fit this series well then the obvious choice is Twent Thousand Leaugues Under the Sea. Now there was a wonderful, even magical (for say a 10 year old boy) attraction that did not deserve to go and was replaced by, well, more or less nothing.

I can live with the occasional loss of a show element or effect and in the case of this Great Movie ride "Spectacular" well it was a miss from opening day... but to shutter a great and unique attractin like 20K... THAT is a different story.

The changes in the Bugsby Berkley show scene is not even the worst thing to have happened to the great movie ride, that "honor" would be reserved for the HORRIFIC giant hat that now blocks the beautiful enterance (bot not quite all of it which is somehow even worse) and desctroys the charm in the only section of the park to actually have any chamr to start with. It is without doubt umong the worst decisions ever made at any Disney park. The only glimmer of hopw is that this horrible hat that serves no purpose of ther than to destroy the park's atmosphere can still be removed. TAKE IT DOWN! It has not caught on as a park icon, no one likes it and it is a lasting tribute to a very sad period in the parks history.... lose it!

Mellie Helen said...

Another "water" element missing is the breathtaking Cascade Falls that used to grace Tom Sawyer Island. I never have heard what became of Casacade Falls, why it was removed, etc. Just one day...it wasn't there. The Frontierland landscape has been just a little "less" ever since its demise.

And another water element that will also remain dear to my heart (because I was once proposed to in this area) was the colorful water feature in DL, where once stood the Monsanto Home of Tomorrow, and which is (I believe) the current location of the Little Mermaid themed Neptune water area. It wasn't big or splashy nor had a big "wow" factor, but it was soothing and pleasant, particularly in the evening. While it's good to have fun and thrilling attractions, I believe it's just as important to have spots of calm and reflection to balance the park.

Destino said...

You know, I thought that set rotated and has some water and bubbles. I never thought it was GREAT, as the figures didn't move, but it was fine. Last time I was there, it just sat there and I thought it looked really bad with no movement. And I agree with tvt. The loss of 20,000 leagues at WDW and CASCADE PEAK at DL is much more dissapointing. From what I know, Cascade peak was torn down because it was disintrgrating from the lack of...you got it...maintenance. Sad sad sad.

Anonymous said...

To tell you the truth, I thought the whole Great Movie Ride was a Great Failure. For one, the que Line get extremely wrong, and extremely stuffy. The one "theater" room, in which you stay for half an hour (if you're lucky), plays the same set of clips about 7 times while you're in the room! Then, you get into you're vehicle for a highly mediocre ride!

I was sorely dispointed with the ride, after all the hype I had heard .

BratStarMan said...

Longing for the good old days is great as long as the old days were good to begin with. I agree with tvt that the scene you talk about was lame from the start. The creepy mannequins were really helped by the addition of a scrim - some things are better not seen at all.

GMR is great in some ways and lame in others. I believe it was in a sense the point at which Disney parks "jumped the shark". It was the last real attempt at using animatronics, and not long after it opened the "great animatronic purge" began at Epcot.

My sense of it all is that the cost of maintaining rides became the driver, and if you look at many of the new features of rides, they appear to be designed to reduce upkeep costs. Either that, or features are simply turned off. This was not the way it was, but the way it was is the way it will never again be.

Merlin Jones said...

Cascade Peak at Disneyland is the water element I miss most (along with Skull Rock).

The Cascade falls served as a beautiful backdrop to no less than four current attractions (Mark Twain, Columbia, Tom Sawyer Island and Davy Crockett Canoes), not to mention being a lovely scenic for Frontierland in general. It's removal for lack of desire to mainain it was extremely short sighted and a huge blow to the area.

Time to rebuild it.

Anonymous said...

Funny story... I used to work in Operations at Disney-MGM and was a tour guide on both the Backstage Studio Tour (before it was renamed and moved) and The Great Movie Ride.

Maintenance had extra of the mannequins from the Busby Berkley scene and stored them inside the "Empty Nest" house facade on Residential Street (before it was torn down). One maintenance worker thought it would be funny to place one of the mannequins right up against one of the curtained windows with a light shining on it from behind.

The end result was a figure that looked like a silhouette in bondage from the tour trams. Notice in the picture that the mannequins had their arms up in the air and spread apart. It was really bad show, but it was pretty darn funny.

medallionhome said...

Well I'm glad to hear that the sorry version of this scene that I've seen isn't the original way it was presented. I remember thinking how lame a scene it seemed to be, not even knowing that there was a (slightly) better version before it. Often I think our opinions of attraction changes are skewed by an obsessive amount of knowledge about "what came before", but this was a case that clearly stood out as badly done- no comparison necessary.

I also remember thinking that the Mary Poppins and Fantasia scenes were less than impressive.

JiminyCricketFan said...

Water.. That was Walt Disney's secret to successful rides. Has anyone noticed how many "boat" rides that Walt created? There is something about just getting into a boat that is beyond the everyday. Walt even included a little "dip" into water for that Matterhorn. When ever he could get guests near water, he knew that they would feel more relaxed.

The Great Movie ride always had more potential than what was realized. While I never saw the full blown Busby Berkeley set piece, the Great Movie ride has gone down hill primarily because it has not been kept up to date. Younger people don't remember the great movies of the 1940's. To them anything before Star Wars is ancient history. I really like the concept for a ride about great movies, but it needs to be updated so that newer movies and newer shanrae are featured.

While one set piece is noticeable, it is really the abandonment of that ride that is the true tragedy.

Yojay said...

Well, Disney doesn't hate water, as Gene Kelly is happily singing in the rain right across the track. The Busby Berkley girls must have been a bad (Imagineering)design gone wrong. As far as these insightful comments go...

Thurl's Buddy: It was just too sad to see all the wonderful work of the imagineering teams just wither and die.
.....I could sit in the Tiki Room and watch those cool totem poles do their thing! No gimpy mouths, "stuck" eyeballs or mangy birds in the house! A joy to see (and hear!)


I was in the Tiki Room about a month before they overhauled it in WDW. I had the 45 record as a kid and know all the songs. In the course of the 20 minute show, I counted over half the families getting up and leaving, and the show was half capacity to start. I have no data as to how often that happens now, however.

anonymous: The one "theater" room, in which you stay for half an hour (if you're lucky), plays the same set of clips about 7 times while you're in the room! Then, you get into you're vehicle for a highly mediocre ride!

I believe the video of film trailers is about 11 minutes long, which the precise amount of time you spend in the pre-show if the ride is running at capacity.

JiminyCricketFan: ...the Great Movie ride has gone down hill primarily because it has not been kept up to date. Younger people don't remember the great movies of the 1940's. To them anything before Star Wars is ancient history. I really like the concept for a ride about great movies, but it needs to be updated so that newer movies and newer shanrae are featured.

Well, now we can't have it both ways, can we? On the one hand, the history of cinema is important, but James Cagney and John Wayne are boring? Yet, if Disney changes the rides too often, people get nostalgic for the mediocre past. GMR was cutting edge at the time. Live actors interacting with animatronics. If performed correctly, with a good gangster/cowboy and enthusiastic tour guide, Cast Members can get applause at times. If the performance is phoned in (as it often is by underpaid, overworked, untalented CM's), then, well, Disney gets what they pay for. Disney has thrown some money at updating the finale movie, more than once. It's no longer the 'greatest movies up until 1989'.

Maintenance is costly and attractions can become obsolete simply through their design. Imagineering has alwyas been the Walt side of the Walt vs. Roy philosophy, and the idea that they should be able to design anything they want and leave the parks to maintain it is yesterday's philosophy. Today, maintenance is involved in new attractions much earlier on, to help mitigate short-sighted design decisions and build maintainable shows and experiences.

Oh, and I believe you mean 'genre'.

medallionhome: I also remember thinking that the Mary Poppins and Fantasia scenes were less than impressive.

Another example of Imagineering not measuring twice and cutting once. The Fantasia scene was originally going to be the tornado from 'Wizard of Oz' with the Wicked Witch on her bike, which explains the entrance to Oz with the house crashed on Wicked Witch of the East. The deal with MGM only allowed a certain amount of time for each movie clip used, and the total scene time of the tornado and Munchkinland was too long, so the inpspired Fantasia looping movie clip was inserted. Imagineering needed a rebirth after that fiasco, for sure.

Personally, I would love to see GMR overhauled or returned to its slapstick roots. I also vote for the removal or relocation of the hat, to some futuristic Toon Town that will never be. Maybe they could move it to Downtown Disney and put a big curly slide in it.

Anonymous said...

I do hate that hat. It actually offends me. If you're going to create a Hollywood version of Main Street that evokes a glam movie feeling, WHY would you ruin your own design with something that has absolutely nothing to do with film?

Anonymous said...

I have been reading my way through this blog, nodding and yelling YES. Since getting my first job in the 1970s I was a regular visitor to WDW. I loved it.

My last visit was a couple of years ago and it will probably be my last for a long time because I just can't bear seeing what has happened to my beloved park. Just one example that sums up the ugliness: I was treated rudely by an employee. A rude employee in Disney? The one place in the world where we had always been treated as welcome guests. This year we went to Las Vegas.

Anonymous said...

Response to Yojay:
I notice that your perspective Blames imaginering for creating a mess and leaving others to deal with it. Have you ever noticed that Imagineering Neither holds the purse strings nor determines what the final result is allowed to be. Also, to say that junk about " ...idea that they should be able to design anything they want and leave the parks to maintain it is yesterday's philosophy." is exactly what has gotten Disney parks in the mess they're in Now. When that Was the philosophy, The parks flourished. The idea that Money and expense should come before providing the service which was promised/implied is a one-way ticket to failure for ANY business. Disney was known for cutting-edge and quality. People's expectations don't change just because it looks like money might be better used elsewhere. The parks are suffering a decline in tourism and it isn't because of the hurricanes or terrorism ( as some Disney accountants like to press) its because Disney isn't meeting expectations. If something Doesn't work or doesn't work-well,you can't just shut it off and chalk-it-up-to "those darn imagineers screwed up again". It has to be replaced with something equal or better. Regardless of whose fault it may be-- a customer only sees that Disney "Chinced" on yet another project.

Anonymous said...

Response to Yojay:
I notice that your perspective Blames imaginering for creating a mess and leaving others to deal with it. Have you ever noticed that Imagineering Neither holds the purse strings nor determines what the final result is allowed to be. Also, to say that junk about " ...idea that they should be able to design anything they want and leave the parks to maintain it is yesterday's philosophy." is exactly what has gotten Disney parks in the mess they're in Now. When that Was the philosophy, The parks flourished. The idea that Money and expense should come before providing the service which was promised/implied is a one-way ticket to failure for ANY business. Disney was known for cutting-edge and quality. People's expectations don't change just because it looks like money might be better used elsewhere. The parks are suffering a decline in tourism and it isn't because of the hurricanes or terrorism ( as some Disney accountants like to press) its because Disney isn't meeting expectations. If something Doesn't work or doesn't work-well,you can't just shut it off and chalk-it-up-to "those darn imagineers screwed up again". It has to be replaced with something equal or better. Regardless of whose fault it may be-- a customer only sees that Disney "Chinced" on yet another project.

Anonymous said...

I am always an optimist and I live in hope that some day (probably in a galaxy far, far away) that the Disney corporate clowns will suddenly realize that people are tired of being gouged by a theme park that is more and more like their local Six Flags.

http://goflorida.about.com/b/a/257601.htm

Panicked by their dropping stocks, they hastily build RETRO-DISNEY WORLD with all the old rides and attractions lovingly restored as they were before the Eisner pillaging. The public returns in droves, shelling out more money than ever, and the Disney beancounters sob their apology and promise never to touch Mr. Toad's Wild Ride again.

*sigh*

Epcot82 said...

Boy, I sure hope Disney's "new" management sees this. Most of them probably never even went on the ride when it was working.

The Great Movie Ride was always just a tad disappointing ... until you got to that final set and the final Chuck Workman film. Then it was truly dazzling and you forgot all that came before.

There's still some of that feeling, though it truly does feel you just stepped out of a time warp to 1989 ... something about the ride is strangely rooted in that late-1980s mentality. Nonetheless, it remains one of Disney's best creations, though the sad state of that less-than-exciting opening is well-stated here and truly shameful. Whether you liked the opening scene or not, it certainly is a bizarre, unimpressive way to start off the ride as it stands now.

GMR definitely could be updated. But Disney seems to have gotten out of the business of "simply" updateing rides. Now, it seems, rides require a massive overhaul, which, 9 times out of 10, ends up stripping them of any of their original charm or excitement.

Is anyone else coming to the conclusion that Disney is intentionally sabotaging it's own theme parks?!

Anonymous said...

I was on the ride yesterday, and there were plenty of bubbles falling from the ceiling in that scene.

Anonymous said...

Yeah there is alot of better examples of loss of water, like the loss of the jumping fountains outside of the world of Imagination, and the loss of several other attractions, around Walt Disney World.

at any rate, i sure hope that disney management is starting to notice this and other blogs, commenting on the state of the Disney parks

Anonymous said...

Wow. Maybe I missed the "hype" and I wasn't expecting much, but I went on GMR in 2003 and came away thinking that it was one of my new favorite Disney rides.

While some things should be called out, like a lack of preventive maintenance or show, this site just complains about everything.

Anonymous said...

New post please! :)

PARISINJUNE said...

come to think of it Rasulo is drowning pretty fast with his campaign of a million dreams. Ikept waiting for someone, anyone to make even a stab at it, but all anyone kept saying is to ditch it alltogether. Wrong choice. The piggybacking idea for the 50th is a smart marketing move, but the cheap giveaways are a dive--ditch them fast! Go to NASA and discuss with them ways to get the public once again interested in space. Perhaps have the winners get stars... officially named after them or they get to go to space camp- you get the idea. Year of a million dreams should be focusing on the Milkyway (because it gives the mental image of a pathway). Later you can build on this to redo Tomorrowland. But that's for later.

You're competition is slowing gaining on you. It's time DisneyPixar realize and start acting like one big company, not two. If you don't, expansion will be impossible.

China's pr problems can easily be fixed and so can the cm problem at DL. that we can do later. fix the marketing issue a.s.a.p. you are out of time.

Maurice Cano said...

It is hard for me to believe that the Imagineers can create things like the video-globe for Illuminations, but cannot for the life of them correct the Busby Berkely scene from GMR.

Brian Sibley said...

Bravo for this and your other mailings on elemantal losses...

The small details in the theme parks - as in the classic Disney animation - were what always attracted me to them... When those details go, the overall effect is seriously diminished...

The Bosses need reminding, perhaps, of the famous story of Walt pointing out Main Street detailing to a journalist and on being asked why bother since most people didn't look up at windows and weathervanes and, therefore, didn't notice, replied that if the detail wasn't there they WOULD notice...

How right he was...

Anonymous said...

The last time I took the GMR the "gangster" who hijacked the ride was played by a young girl.

I had to check my pass to make sure I wasn't at the local carnival.

Anonymous said...

Just come back from my 7th visit to Disney/Universal parks in Orlando. For the past 30 years, I've gone every 5 years or so. Also spent 3 days in Vegas, BTW, my second visit there.

This year the attractions were worse than ever. Universal Studios was the worse offender (with Back to the Future turned into lame Simpsoms, Hitchcock stuff closed, Kong closed and the rest obsolete, like Jetsons, most live shows, etc).

Only Terminator 3D held up somewhat, but the first half of it has never been all that great anyway.

But Disney was pretty bad as well. The great movie ride was one of the worst offenders. A lot of the animatronics weren't working or had been taken off, the scenery was just outdated and downscaled, the mob car didn't move, the witch in Wizard of Oz wasn't visible from the last cart, the Alien thing was a static joke ...

Imagination, also sucked, of course, but also the "new" Stitch one and even Soarin had a large spotch on the screen at all times. One of the projectors in the Energy attraction was jumping up and down permanently, Honey I shrank the audience closed .... Mission Space delivering FAR less than promised in spite of long lines... Chronicles of Narnia preview was ... a bad joke? WTF?

Only thing that saved the trip, other than Vegas, was the new Harry Potter section in Islands of Adventure. Not great, but at least something "new and nice" instead of "old-and-deteriorated" or "new-and-lame", like Mission Space or Toy Story or the Little Mermaid under-the-sea re-do.

On another note, I like the giant fantasia hat at MGM ... I mean ... Hollywood Studios ... and Animal Kingdom had not getting any worse, but probably a little better than before.