Home » 9 Misconceptions People Get Totally Wrong About Disney’s Hollywood Studios

9 Misconceptions People Get Totally Wrong About Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Disney-MGM Entrance

Just when you think you have it figured out, Disney’s Hollywood Studios comes up with new surprises.

Of all of the parks at Walt Disney World, you could say that DHS has had the most unpredictable run. What started out as a pavilion idea for Epcot quickly grew into a full park concept—a convenient rival to Universal Studios Florida which began construction around the same time. The park holds several unique accolades, such as being home to the largest hidden Mickey on Disney property (the layout of the park itself). It hosted the only attraction at Walt Disney World with references to an R-Rated film (The Great Movie Ride in the Alien and Fistful of Dollars scenes), and the park even had a live, downscaled version of the popular show, American Idol, that allowed guests to compete for a front-of-line pass to a real audition.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios fell into something of a lull the past decade, earning a reputation as one of Disney’s more stagnant parks. Fortunately, the park is in the midst of a major comeback, particularly thanks to the arrival of Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but there are still dozens of misconceptions about it that have spread over the years.

Continuing our series on the biggest misconceptions surrounding Walt Disney World’s parks, here are the top nine things everyone seems to believe about Disney’s Hollywood Studios—but that are totally wrong!

1. It’s stayed pretty much the same since opening

Disney-MGM Entrance

Image: Matt Wade, Flickr (license)

Probably no park at Walt Disney World has gone through more changes than Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The park opened in 1989 as Disney-MGM Studios—a curious name since MGM had nothing to do with the design or management of the park. Indeed, the only reason the MGM name was licensed-in-perpetuity was because the studio and its movie library was so prestigious. Things got sketchy when Disney started using the name for productions filmed in the park—something MGM was less-than-pleased about. Things got worse when MGM decided to build their own theme park experience across the country in 1993.

After a long series of legal battles, in 2008, the park’s name was changed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, mostly for marketing purposes. With the fizzling of the studio focus of the park’s vision, rumors abounded in 2018 that Disney would be changing the park’s name again (one of the more absurd options floated on guest surveys was “Disney XL”). Fortunately, this change never took place and looks to be off the table for now.

Almost everything has changed in this park since opening. With the closure of The Great Movie Ride, not a single one of the park’s original attractions remains. The only two that remain from the opening year are the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Star Tours (the latter of which is basically an entirely different ride). The studio and classic cinema elements of the park, in particular, are completely gone, shifting instead to a broader focus on Disney, Pixar, and Lucasfilm properties, past and present.

2. It never succeeded as a working studio

Sign for Magic of Disney Animation

Image: Michael Gray, Flickr (license)

It is true that one of Disney’s bigger mistakes in the inception of Disney-MGM Studios was attempting to compete with Universal as a theme park surrounding a working studio. We’ve touched on the story of Disney’s “meh” attempt to mirror Universal Studios Hollywood’s backstage tour before, but that isn’t necessarily to say that the park’s foray into the studio realm was a complete disaster.

Several major films did utilize Disney-MGM Studios for production, including Passenger 57, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, Newsies, Instinct, and From Earth to the Moon. The New Mickey Mouse Club also filmed at the park. The main problem Disney ran into was that they made production contingent on guests being able to watch the filming process. The studios lining the backlot tour had huge soundproof clear sides, and that created major privacy and liability issues for casts and crews to have to work with tourists watching their every move. Indeed, long before the backlot tour finally closed in 2014, production at the park had ceased.

Disney’s Animation department fared better. While the majority of Disney’s animation was produced at its studios in California, the studio located inside The Magic of Disney Animation attraction succeeded as a functional addition to Disney’s production network. Guests touring the attraction could watch as animators contributed to scenes from Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and other Disney Renaissance classics. The branch did so well that a majority of the footage for Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear was animated at the Orlando location within the sight of guests. The working studio component finally closed in 2004 around the time of the shift of Disney’s animation focus to their partnership films with Pixar. The attraction lasted until July of 2015.

3. The Chinese Theater has always been the park’s icon

The Earful Tower

Image: HarshLight, Flickr (license)

What is the actual symbol for Disney’s Hollywood Studios? When Disney-MGM Studios opened, there was little doubt that the park’s primary icon was The Earful Tower—an iconic Mickey-eared water tower located on the studio’s backstage tour. The tower even showed up in most park logos. However, even from its opening, Disney’s Hollywood Studios always had a competing icon.

The park’s replica of Mann’s Chinese Theater is stunningly accurate, detailed to 9/10th’s scale. While the Earful Tower could be easily missed by guests who never took the tour, the Chinese Theater ultimately acted as the focal point for guests entering the park. You almost couldn’t imagine Disney-MGM Studios without that first glimpse at the gorgeous theater.

So logically, in 2001, Disney covered it up with a giant sorcerer’s hat

The addition of the hat had nothing to do with the park’s name change—the park was still called Disney-MGM Studios. Rather, the hat was added for the resort’s 100 Years of Magic Celebration. The gargantuan thing was originally designed to be built outside of the park, but complicated plans eventually moved it smack into the middle of Hollywood Boulevard—an inconvenient spot as it completely blocked the Chinese Theater. Rather than removing it after the anniversary celebration was over, Disney left the hat in place as the park’s icon until 2015, when finally, it was removed and the sightlines to the Chinese Theater restored.

4. It’s a half-day park at best

March of the First Order

Image: Disney

It’s sad that for a large portion of the history of Disney’s Hollywood studios, this assumption held true—there just wasn’t enough to do unless you visited every attraction and show. However, it looks like with the arrival of Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge, this reputation is finally changing.

If you find yourself with a full-day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the most important thing to realize is that entertainment is a huge component of this park. While the park hosts some of Disney’s best thrill rides, including The Tower of Terror, The Aerosmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster, and Star Tours, if you skip the shows at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you are missing out. There is something for every age, from Disney Junior all the way up to Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular (the park’s current nightly fireworks display). Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast continue to wow fans of the Disney Golden Age, and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular has lost none of its thrills. The arrival of Star Wars at Disney parks added even more entertainment. Both The March of the First Order and Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away are excellent shows that will leave fans grinning ear to ear. Muppet Vision 3D also remains a timelessly hilarious option.

Both Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge will have a dramatic effect on how long you should spend at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. All of the Toy Story attractions continue to draw high demand from families, but the real game changer will be Galaxy’s Edge. It would be one thing if Galaxy’s Edge were just a large queue and shopping area surrounding Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run… Instead, the land is an immersive attraction itself filled with interactive guest experiences. If the opening of Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland is any indicator, guests planning to visit Batuu will likely need a half day alone just to queue up and experience it.

5. The Tower of Terror has always been the same

Tower of Terror Exterior

Image: Paul Beattie, Flickr (license)

Despite not being an opening day feature, The Tower of Terror is easily one of the most iconic attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Many guests may not realize the ride has actually gone through several different incarnations.

The opening version of the Tower of Terror centered around a single drop. Indeed, some guests even recall the chilling sound of a cable snapping before the elevator took its dramatic plunge. While this version of the ride felt very realistic, it was too short, particularly considering how long guests were waiting to ride it. The second version kept the same concept but doubled the length of the drop sequence. Guests moved into the tower shaft, some heard the cable snap, the elevator dropped, but then shot back up to the top again. The doors opened, and guests screamed for the camera before they were dropped a second time. Some fans still consider this version their favorite since it really highlighted the full drop.

This was still too short for many guests, so the third version introduced the random drop sequence most of us our familiar with now. In this version, guests can never guess how many drops and half drops they’ll experience. While this increased the ride’s length, the downside is that the drop can feel like more a yo-yo at times than that familiar terrifying plunge. Also, the mysterious cable snap some guests remarked on from early versions— we’re still not positive whether this was real or not– is gone.

As a side note, many people believe the Tower of Terror drops guests at the speed of gravity. Imagineers found that a drop at terminal velocity wasn’t thrilling enough, so the Tower of Terror actually drops guests faster than the speed of gravity, literally pulling them down instead of just allowing free fall.

6. The food is GREAT

Sunset Ranch Market sign

This one may be controversial, but it must be addressed. This is a park that has had some problems in the dining department.

It’s not that the food at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is bad, per se. The Sci-Fi Dine In Theater, 50’s Prime Time Café, Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano, and especially the Hollywood Brown Derby all have some dishes that are truly delicious. The problem is that so much of the food served at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the same— slightly adjusted variations on American theme park fare. When Mickey pretzels and lightsaber churros regularly top the list for best things to eat in a Disney park, you have a problem.

You could argue that the food in DHS is meant to match the Hollywood theme, but this argument just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. There’s no reason a Hollywood-centric park couldn’t have something a little more creative like a decent noodle shop, a Chipotle-style burrito bar, or somewhere to get decent health food (sorry folks—the fried green tomato sandwich doesn’t cut it). The quality of food at Disney’s Hollywood Studios across the board just feels like an afterthought compared to other parks. Even the Hollywood Brown Derby has suffered loss of quality over the years.

7. The boulder and extras are fake

Indiana Jones trying to steal idol

Image: Disney

Two of the park’s mini-misconceptions surround The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. It’s easy to assume that the boulder in the show’s iconic scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark is a hollow fake. After all, why would Disney roll a deadly mega-boulder after one of its stunt actors repeatedly day after day?

Because they can.

The stunt show’s boulder weighs a whopping 440 pounds. It would totally crush poor Indy if not for a convenient amount of space left underneath the boulder’s track for the stunt actor to fall. You can get an idea of its weight when the crew rolls it back into place.

Also, if you’ve seen the show, you might be aware of a spoiler– one of the extras is always a plant, a stunt man in disguise. This may lead some guests to believe all the extras are fake, but this isn’t the case. At every show, the other extras are real guests, and the easiest way to get picked is to arrive early, sit close to the center front, and be LOUD!

8. You can mind-control the Toy Story characters

Bo Peep

Image: Disney

This is another mini-misconception, one that was made popular by a viral internet meme. Supposedly, if you shout, “Andy’s Coming!”, characters from Toy Story will drop to the ground and play dead.

While this may have happened once or twice, common sense is all it takes to know the characters wouldn’t be able to do this every time. Children and adults alike would torment the poor cast members with this trick if it were real. The wear and tear on the costumes and the cast members would be insane. The characters may react to mention of Andy, but they won’t drop like rag dolls. No mind control for you.

9. Fantasmic is the same as at Disneyland

Fantasmic! at Disneyland
Video: YouTube, User: DarthVader92

Oh, Fantasmic… Where to begin?

Originally having premiered in Disneyland in 1992, Fantasmic might be the greatest nighttime spectacular Disney has ever produced. It has held decades long appeal among fans even after updates in 2017. It’s no surprise that Disney wanted to bring the magic of this incredible show to Walt Disney World, and they even went so far as to build an amphitheater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios specifically designed to accommodate the show.

It’s a wonder then that, when compared to the Disneyland version, Walt Disney World’s Fantasmic is… not that great.

If you don’t have any pre-conceived biases regarding its Disneyland predecessor, Florida’s Fantasmic is still an enjoyable celebration of Disney magic. However, the changes between the two shows are significant enough that the Walt Disney World version just doesn’t hold up.

The biggest difference is overall quality. Even though the Walt Disney World version is longer, the choreography, effects, and characters just don’t feel as crisp. On a more practical level, portions of the show are different. The pirate battle on the sailing ship Columbia is missing entirely, replaced with a baffling sequence from Pocahontas. Even with the teetering-on-goofy tweaks to incorporate Pirates of the Caribbean to the Disneyland version, it’s still heads and tails better than the DHS equivalent.

Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Video: YouTube, User: WDW Details

The Walt Disney World version also doesn’t include Kaa the snake (replaced by Jafar as a laser-eyed cobra in the villain sequence), the pink elephants on parade, or some of the dazzling new “Fantasmic 2.0” sequences. The biggest change, however, is in the villains section. In the Walt Disney World version, Mickey incurs the wrath of more baddies including Frollo, Hades, Scar, Cruella DeVille, and Jafar. There’s nothing wrong with these additions, though there is something comical about how the villains seem to burn with the hatred of a thousand suns for the Mouse.

The biggest let down is the dragon. In both versions of the Disneyland show, the reveal of Maleficent as the dragon is one of the most breathtaking moments in Disney parks. The animatronic is absolutely insane. The Walt Disney World version is bigger but in the wrong way. It’s essentially a dragon head on a pole surrounded by bizarre wire wings draped with streamers. The effect just doesn’t work, and Mickey’s iconic death blow to the dragon is followed by a uniquely macabre montage of every nasty Disney villain ever being electrocuted, concluding with a shrieking Maleficent exploding in a hail of sparks.

Curious about more misconceptions surrounding Disney parks? Check out our explorations of the biggest misconceptions everyone gets wrong about Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Epcot!