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