Animation was once the lifeblood to Disney. In a way, it still is. Just like ketchup is to Heinz, not all animated films are Disney, but they certainly have proved themselves the kings of the arena. So when Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, Disney finally had a chance to give guests a behind-the-scenes look at filmmaking. Not just how to do special effects or a tram ride through sets, but an exclusive view on Disney's animation process. Originally the show featured the charismatic Robin Williams being shown the process by the legendary Walter Cronkite, proposing a sequel to "Peter Pan" (I know, ludicrous, right? I mean, what else will they make sequels of?) From there you would walk along a hallway and watch animators hard at work on the next animated film. These animators helped on all the major films of the 90's, but only three were ever fully produced at the Florida studio: "Mulan", "Lilo and Stitch", and "Brother Bear". It was a genuine place to visit Disney animation for those on the east coast.
But that was a long time ago.
In 2004, during production of a film called "My Peoples", Disney noticed that their 2D animation ("Atlantis: the Lost Empire", "Treasure Planet", "Home on the Range") were doing rather poorly against the glory of CGI films ("Finding Nemo", "Shrek", "Ice Age"). Thus, the Florida studio was a forced cutback, and the Magic of Disney Animation still runs to this day, though it's obvious it's not in its glory days anymore.
This walking tour is laid out in a rather confusing manner, though you can't really get lost. There's no one starting or ending point, so it's freeing, but the opportunity sadly just disorients people when they're not told where to go. I usually start in the Production Gallery, where it's a waiting room for the Drawn to Animation show. This room is used to promote the next animated film for either Disney or Pixar with concept art, maquettes, and renderings. They're kind of nifty to look at. Once the show is ready, you enter a theater where an energetic cast member hosts the process of making animated characters. Mushu, the impish dragon from "Mulan", interrupts and bickers with the host, providing some funny commentary for the 9-minute show. The show concludes with a plug for the next animated show (Though this can run into well after said movie out on DVD/Blu-ray). What makes this work is the cast member host. Mushu's okay, but the show gets repetitive after a while. You usually go in just to see the trailer.
When you exit the theater, you can explore the rest of the building. There's an office where two ink-and-paint artists are still crafting their long-lost art into collectables at the gift shop. A room to view showing what a modern-day CGI artist's office looks like (Also used to promote the upcoming movies.). Then where animators once gave us "Lilo an Stitch" is now a place to meet Mickey Mouse a la "Sorcerer's Apprentice", Minnie Mouse in her dressing room, characters from a recent animated production (at the time of this review, it's Wreck-it Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweeetz.), and a few games: digital coloring with Kronk and a personality test with Cogsworth and Lumiere. But the Animation Academy is the highlight of the tour. Every 30-minutes, you can learn how to draw a Disney character from a Disney artist. It's fun, interactive, and they change up which characters to draw frequently. It's easily the best part of the whole attraction. Once you exit the academy, there's a hallway with Walt Disney's Oscars and animated film's backgrounds. It's short and soon leads into a gift shop. And don't forget the middle of the courtyard where there are handprints of Disney legends Ken O'Connor, Ken Anderson, Marc Davis, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston.
I wish this building could be what it once was. While Disney has provided some interesting diversions, it's a vapid reminder of what took place here. The charm of behind-the-scenes movie work has waned for many of the public, and animation is one of the least glamorous of that category, especially with CG taking over the industry. There could be so much more involving the characters, even the voice actors. I would love to see the actual animation process, even an abridged one, shown. But since the public's fascination with 2D animation has diminished significantly, it'd be hard, but there's enough die-hards out there to really impress.