Remembering the Great Movie Ride: 10 Favorite Things!

Remembering the Great Movie Ride: 10 Favorite Things!

Shortly Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway Train will premiere at The Chinese Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But before we all get on board to this new attraction, perhaps we should pay homage to its ancestor, The Great Movie Ride. This post and podcast is a tribute to that experience, and my 10 favorite things about it.

The Chinese Theater readying for the Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

You can find the podcast itself with my own personal insights here on Podbean and here at iTunes. You can also type in “Disney at Work & Play Podcast” when you visit Spotify. Be sure to subscribe!

The Great Movie Ride opened with the rest of Disney-MGM Studios in May of 1989. As The Disney News summarized it: “Through the Chinese Theater, enter the magical world of movies. Favorite films from Hollywood’s earliest days to today’s hits come to life through the wizardry of Audio-Animatronics.”

10. Great Moments Movie Scene

My first favorite memory of The Great Movie Ride is actually the last part of the ride. It is the finale. There are roughly 120 films represented in this montage. Here are just a few of the great one-liners of the finale scene:

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces” Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard

“Wait a minute…you’ve ain’t heard nothing yet!” Al Jolson, The Jazz Singer

“I’ll be back!” Arnold Schwartzenneger, The Terminator

“I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz

“I feel the need, the need for speed.” Tom Cruise & Anthony Edwards, Top Gun

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse!” Marlon Brando, The Godfather

“Good morning, Vietnam!” Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam

“Here’s looking at you kid!” Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

“The Force will be with you always.” Alec Guiness, Star Wars, A New Hope

Chuck Workman developed the montage. it is based on a similar film for the 50th anniversary of The Director’s Guild. For his efforts he won an Oscar for best Live Action Short Film in 1987. You can see that film below.

Compare the original with the final finale created under the TCM sponsorship:

9. Neon Inside & Out

One of my favorite things about Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the beautiful use of Neon on Hollywood & Sunset Boulevards. That same look and feel is extended to signage for the Great Movie Ride.

Signage for the attraction. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

But the best part of all was the marquee when you entered the world of the movies. This was the most amazing use of lighting design in the entire park. All of it was timed to the song, “Hooray for Hollywood” and when it all came together, it was movie magic.

The Great Movie Ride marquee. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

8. Hooray For Hollywood

Speaking of “Hooray for Hollywood” The whole vehicle loading and unloading area of The Great Movie Ride is one of my favorite parts of the attraction. We are clearly stepping onto a sound stage, but one that showcases Los Angeles and Hollywood. It looks like a hot set, one that’s ready to be filmed. As we board our ride vehicles, we hear sounds similar to a film production getting ready to shoot. Soon the show is underway, as is our ride vehicles.

The dramatic Los Angeles backdrop. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

I love the song, Hooray for Hollywood which is not only used at the beginning of the ride, but as part of the finale as well. The song, first featured in the 1937 film, Hollywood Hotel, has been an anthem of sorts for decades. With lyrics like: “Go out and try your luck, you might be Donald Duck,” how could the song not be part of The Great Movie Ride. A great song is part of a great ride. And that’s why Hooray For Hollywood is on my top 10 list.

7. Hidden History–Hollywood & Otherwise

There were many hidden gems and details found in The Great Movie Ride. Some alluded to historical events, while others were about the movies themselves. Here are some examples:

There was a rare hidden Minnie in profile near the gazebo on the mural as guests boarded the ride.

The license plate in the gangster car is 021-429. This is a reference to the Valentine’s Day Massacre that took place on February 14th 1929 in Chicago.

Gangster car. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Movie westerns are noted throughout that scene. The Cochise County Court House is a reference to the county in Arizona where the town of Tombstone lies. Other Tombstone references can be found nearby.

A sign advertising Ransom Stoddard, Attorney was a reference to Jimmy Stewart and a film he made with John Wayne called, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

As you exit the frontier town, you enter Todd’s Livery Stable. This is a reference to the film High Noon.

A computer monitor in the Alien scene has lines of code that actually paid homage to the Imagineers who crafted this attraction.

In the Indiana Jones Well of the Souls scene hieroglyphics were all around the room. One showed R2-D2 and C-3PO. Another showed Pharoah Mickey and Donald as an Egyptian servant.

An official Disney Magazine noted that the plane in the Casablanca scene was the same one used in the movie. Other promotional videos did the same. But in truth, that was not the plane. Still, the other half of that plane served as the brunt for many a skipper joke in the Jungle Cruise.

6. Animatronics

There were 59 Audio-Animatronic figures incorporated into this attraction. Most of them were based on actors who appeared in the famed films featured. Included are:

  • Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood in Singing in the Rain
  • Julie Andrews as Mary and Dick Van Dyke as Bert in Mary Poppins
  • James Cagney as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy
  • John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers
  • Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name
  • Sigourney Weaver as Lieutenant Ellen Ripley in Alien
  • Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and John Rhys-Davies as Sallah in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indy and Sallah lifting the Ark of the Covenant. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
  • Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane, Cheetah, the monkey, and Timba the elephant from Tarzan
  • Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine and in Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca
A tender moment from Casablanca. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
  • Charlie Becker, Jerry Maren and a host of Munchkins from Munchkinland
  • Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West
  • Judy Garland as Dorothy
  • Toto, the dog
  • Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow
  • Jack Haley as the Tin Man
  • Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, all of which are from The Wizard of Oz

Plus other performers were added such as

  • Beans & Squid–Two mobsters on the side of the actor
  • 3 Mobsters in the car–referred to as the Boss and the Boys
  • Snake–The cowboy on the side of the actor
  • Sheriff–whose likeness was that of Thomas Jefferson
  • Two Alien Figures

Plus lots of snakes, rattling zombies, and 60 some manequin-size show girls from Footlight Parade.

These figures had to look like the actors who played them. In almost every situation, either the actor, or their families and heirs to their estate made approvals on everything from face to hair to costume. Here are a couple of tidbits about some of these characters:

Gene Kelly personally approved the portrayal of his character. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

John Wayne’s belt buckle was a request of his family. He had a certain belt buckle that he had created after shooting Red River. After that film, he never wore any other belt buckle.

John Wayne on horseback. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

It was said that Imagineers went to the estate of John Wayne first. The belief was that if John Wayne was in, everyone else would join in. But one actor did not get approval.

Clint Eastwood was actually a last minute replacement for Lee Marvin, whose descendants did not want him portrayed as the drunk he played in Cat Ballou. That’s why Client doesn’t have very many movements, due to the late timing in developing that animatronic.

The Wicked Witch of the West at the time was the most advanced audio-animatronic figure of its time. As an A100 figure it had some 17 body functions which allowed it to move quickly while absorbing the pressure on the entire body during a single movement by acting as a shock absorber. This is called “Compliance”. A combination of this software, customized hydraulic values, and hydraulic actuators took the so-called “shake” out of the figure. 

While there are more advanced animatronics such as the Shaman in Na’vi and Hondo Ohnaka in Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, many of today’s animatronics in the parks are A100 figures–from Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, to Washington, Lincoln and even Trump in The Hall of Presidents.

5. Great Cast Members

The Cast Members were truly part of the show. They had a lot of lines to memorize, even after the TCM revision came in, which then required them to spiel against Robert Osborne. Besides queueing, boarding and unloading guests, they were the hosts of the Great Movie Ride. And many of them played the role of gangster or robber as well. These actors made fantasy and reality come together. To move from scene to scene, they went on top of high catwalks above the attraction. They were deserving of applause, and they asked for it as well, as you would always hear them say…

Bank robber hijacking the ride vehicle. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

“And one more thing, when I yell action, don’t forget the thunderous applause for yours truly. Now places everyone…and Action!”

4. The Chinese Theater

Imagineers used 1927 blueprints from the original Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to build an exact scale replica — one that represents the way the famed Hollywood theater looked on opening night, as opposed to what it looks like today on 6925 Hollywood Boulevard. Architects and artists spent 2 years studying the original structure to replicate it faithfully. Here’s the current theater in LA:

Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

After all is said and done, The Chinese Theater is the castle at the end of Main Street, only this time it’s Hollywood Boulevard. The distance from the front of the park to the doorway of The Chinese Theater is the same distance as the train station to Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.

Details of The Chinese Theater, along with its roof. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The roof, weighing 22 tons, was built separate of the structure and then was hoisted in place. Down below, the Chinese Fu Dogs at the entrance were replicated precisely and faithfully by artists in China.

Chinese Fu Dogs. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

And at the feet of the dogs, are over a hundred signatures and prints by the stars.

Charlton Heston, Michael J. Fox, and so many others in stone. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Inside, artists have been faithful to the decor of the theater:

Interior details of Chinese Theater. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Within the lobby of the theater was an ever evolving showcase of props, costumes and other memorabilia associated with a number of great movies. The carousel horse of Mary Poppins was one such prop. So was the holochess board from the Millennium Falcon.

On loan from the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Replica of the Ark of the Covenant on display in the lobby. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Stubby Kaye’s costume for Marvin Acme, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

3. Mary Poppins

Long overdue even before The Great Movie Ride opened was the need for a Mary Poppins attraction. Mary Poppins is Walt Disney’s quintessential cinematic masterpiece. This was the first time any serious attempt was made at acknowledging that. So it’s a particular loss that it is now gone.

In a piece written by Bob Thomas, he noted:
Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke singing “Chim Cheree” in “Mary Poppins.” I remember Walt Disney’s pride when the Grauman’s Chinese premiere audience cheered the musical fantasy. He was especially proud of Julie, who brought the Disney Studio its first Academy Award for a human actor. But even as “Mary Poppins” proved his greatest film success, Walt’s head was already in the clouds dreaming of his next great challenge: EPCOT Center and the City of Tomorrow.

The only thing that is giving solace is the reality that Disney has some plans for an attraction at Epcot in the UK pavilion. Look forward to that!

Disney image of Cherry Tree Lane at Epcot’s UK Pavilion.

2. Wizard of Oz Scene

Somewhere over the rainbow came to life in this fully developed set that housed the munchkins. A yellow brick road led you past Dorothy’s home where it had landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, whose feet could be seen extending from the porch. Munchkins all erupted in joy singing Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead as both sets of ride vehicles came into the middle of the scene. Suddenly the Wicked Witch of the West appears, making threats. We ask how to get to get out of here and the munchkins join in singing Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

Land of the Munchkins. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

From there we pass by Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion along with Toto as they head toward the Emerald City themselves.

Dorothy and Company on the way to Oz. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Bob Thomas also wrote of this infamous film:

And now for a trip down the Yellow Brick Road. Funny thing about “The Wizard of Oz.” It is probably the most played and best-loved movie on television, yet it was a financial flop when first released in theaters. So were “Citizen Kane,” Fantasia,” Bambi,” and some other film classics.

1. Gave Birth to Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Originally created under the title, Great Moments at the Movies, this attraction concept was not meant for Disney-MGM Studios, but rather for Epcot Center. This would have been placed as an addition to Journey Into Imagination, filling in the space between that pavilion and The Land. With Kodak sponsoring Imagination, it made a very viable sponsor for building out this attraction.

Image by Disney Imagineering.

The concept was so good, and too big for this location, that it ultimately became a park in and of itself. So sure where Disney executives that Frank Wells noted: “Kleenex is going to double its business on that. It is so nostalgic, so warm, and when you get to the Casablanca scene–I mean…no one is going to hold back.”

That’s a Wrap!

The Great Movie Ride closed in 2017 to make way for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Labeled as the first major Mickey-themed ride-through attraction at Walt Disney World, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway Train will put guests inside the wacky and unpredictable world of a Mickey Mouse cartoon short where anything can happen.

New neon signage for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Once they step into the cartoon world of Mickey and Minnie who are preparing for a picnic. They drive alongside of Goofy’s train. Here guests will then board that train with Goofy as the engineer. One magical moment after the next leads guests to a zany, out-of-control adventure filled with surprising twists and turns. 

Disney rendering of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

Here guests will then board that train with Goofy as the engineer. One magical moment after the next leads guests to a zany, out-of-control adventure filled with surprising twists and turns in the same 90,000 square foot building that The Great Movie Ride was once housed in.

More Great Studio Memories!

If you like the heritage and history of this movie theme park, my book, Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz is something to check out. It was written before Toy Story Land and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, still it’s a “behind-the-camera” look at how Disney creates show biz magic and how you can get your own business ready for its close up. Included are over forty chapters of park history, Disney trivia, and business best practices, including:

  • How the experience starts in the parking lot
  • A tale of two movie moguls: Walt Disney vs. Louis B. Mayer
  • The valuable lessons of “merchantainment”
  • Adventures in partnership, with George Lucas, Jim Henson, and Aerosmith
  • Hidden secrets of the Tower of Terror, and how Disney exceeds its own high standards

Be sure to get your copy today, available on Amazon!

Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz. Written by J. Jeff Kober.

J. Jeff Kober

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