This past week we were treated to some excellent articles by our friend Moviefan12 on the TV special’s Disney has done for the grand openings of their theme parks. Of course there was one missing. And by coincidence, a few weeks ago I found an old VHS copy of it! So today I decided to take a look at this show.

 

Before it became Disney Hollywood Studios this was known as Disney-MGM Studios. Why that name was added, and the trouble it caused, is a subject for another time. I don’t miss the name, but I do kind of miss the logowith Mickey laughing at the MGM lion. In 2008 the park was officially renamed.But I am talking today about when it first opened, back on May 1, 1989. The day before, as per usual, NBC had a TV special about it!
 
-Disney MGM Studios Theme Park Grand Opening Special
Plot-

 

Of course the special is introduced by Michael Eisner. I always liked his intros, it made these specials uniquely Disney.  So the special finally opens on the recreation of the Chinese Theatre, and we pan back to get a special song from Smoky Robinson. The song is, ok. During the song we see actors in different costumes from famous movies. The song is basically them all inviting the audience to come and “experience the movies”. Is that replica of the Chinese Theatre still there?   Then John Ritter appears to guide us through the park, showing us all the Hollywood landmarks that were recreated around the working movie studios. There is a storyline in this, sort of; it appears John has less than two hours to get the park ready for the big grand opening!  So basically the special is John checking out all the attractions to make sure they are ready.

We also get interviews from celebrities on their favorite movie memories. These include Kate Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Lech Welesa, Margaret Thatcher, Mickey Rooney, Jane Fonda, James Stewart, Stephanie Powers, and Walter Cronkite to be specific.

 

In the final segment we cut to John on the Earfull tower (anyone remember that??) ready to get the celebration under way. We see a parade down the main street filled with celebrities. Not going to try to list them all. Michael Eisner then cuts the ribbon, and then music numbers followed by the finale in front of the Chinese Theatre with fireworks. You can’t help but watch and realize how far that place has come since it opened.
What I Liked-
-Kate Jackson introduces a segment on the New Mickey Mouse Club which was filmed in that studio. This natually leads to a song and dance number. They do a medley of Disney pop songs. I never watched that show, but have heard good things. After that we see John Ritter at the Catastrophe Canyon portion of the backlot tour. This was an awesome attraction which simulates a disaster with an exploding oil truck. I still remember seeing that, you could literally feel the heat from that thing!
-In the strongest portion of the show, Harry Anderson discuses special effects like the blue screen effect used in movies, in this case the famous bee scene from Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. We then get a look at the special effects area with some cool props. Remember the days before CGI when they had to use models? Ah, the good old days. Harry Anderson then shows John Ritter a special demonstration of the wheel house, which is designed to simulate a boat during a major storm, including rain, wind, and waves. The idea is to show how the footage is intercut with special effects in disaster movies.I always remembered this sequence; it was one of the stronger one’s and seeing it in person was really cool.
-John Forsythe talks about how movies use stunt doubles. This is kind of pointless. My tape does not show anything of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, I thought it looked like the tape skipped a part so I assumed that was the part I missed since there is no way that was not featured. Later in the special was a Willie Nelson concert which was held at that location so I know it was there then, and must have been mentioned in the special prior to that.Right? But I watched it again and not so sure, so either I missed it or they glossed over the Indiana Stunt Show maybe because it wasn’t ready yet.
-Dick van Dyke talks about The Great Movie Ride! This is thehighlight of the whole park (at the time), and totally worth it. Hey, am I reviewing the park or the special? Sorry let’s get back on track. The specialshows how many movie scenes are duplicated in the ride.
-Tony Randall introduces us to a segment on the SuperstarTelevision attraction. Never heard of it? Cause it isn’t there anymore. But this was really cool; they would take audience member and insert them intofamous TV show footage. Including I Love Lucy, The Golden Girls, and TheTonight Show. As a TV lover, this was heaven for me. Sad to hear it’s gone. Movies are great but television deserves some love.
-The first part of the look at the backlot tour, including the facade used for The Golden Girls house. I still have a picture I took of that. Sadly it was all torn down so it could be turned into Westeria Lane on Desperate Housewives. They still have a backlot tour of course, but it’s changed a bit. Then a cute moment of Mickey and Goofy playing with Herbie before we see a mock movie being made on New York Street. This launches into afull blown song and dance number. And then….well, check out my Hated section.
-The grand finale was awesome! After the pointless musicnumbers (more on that in second) we see the real opening ceremony, and this was cool as we see a full blown Hollywood production with the Disney characters in front of the Chinese Theatre! This is what I’m talking about. It was a flashy montage of memorable Hollywood songs with all sorts of Hollywood flare, and Roger Rabbit too!! Hooray for Hollywood! Then the fireworks to finish it off, fantastic end!
What I Hated-
-One criticism is all the film clips tossed into this special. We get the idea, it’s all about movies!

 

-The story, if you can call it that, was lame. It’s basically John Ritter getting into one strange situation after another including drenched by Catastrophe Canyon, getting stuck in the mud in front of the Chinese Theatre, almost getting impaled by some spikes during a stunt demonstration.Why do the facade of a story to get him into these situations? It’s so lame.
-Before he shows us the Great Movie Ride, Dick Van Dyke shows the Creel Triplets around the park. Wait, who? Monica, Leanna, and Joy Creel were doing a new version of Parent Trap at the time. I sort of remember it. They were the daughters of Haley Mills character from the original movie, or something. Anyway one of the area’s they see is an area called The Loony Bin which has all sorts of cartoonish things. Sound effects, etc. Then they show the Monster Sound Show.yay, sound mixing. Boring. What a waste of Dick Van Dyke.
-Suzanne Somers shows off one of the many soundstages on the lot and discusses how a program is produced. Interesting, but since no tourist will ever see this stuff kind of pointless. I guess since it was a workingstudio they had to show that off too. They show every step of a production and it leads into a pointless song and dance number.
-John Forsythe showing off the Disney animation department,which is no longer there. When opened the park was also supposed to be a real,working studio but that idea kind of got squashed over the years. This segment is as boring as the attraction was, we know how animation works this isn’t interesting. If only they’d had a cool ride, like a big tower which was scary or something…….
-Remember what I said about the part on the backlot tour? The segment moves to New York Street for an elaborate and pointless song and dance number.When that is done…we get another. Then another! Fast forward button anyone?The idea is to demonstrate that the street can be made to simulate any season,environment, or location, but did we need four separate song and dance numbers to convey that????? A Disney Christmas Special later will do the same thing in two minutes! This portion was just long, tedious, and boring! Why couldn’t they show any of the Disney related shows? Oh right, none of them existed yet.
-The final half hour or so. The Pointer Sisters, Willie Nelson, and George Burns? Pointer Sisters kind of made sense, but Willie Nelson? Why?? Oh, and we got two songs! Yawn!! Even worst, we get George Burns who appears….for some reason. His stand-up was classic but, why are we getting it in this special exactly aside from the need to kill ten minutes? It has NOTHING to do with the park except maybe that it was happening there. Even the show knows it’s pointless. The promo for his spot says he is appearing with a “special message”. Well I guess that’s better than saying “Coming up, George Burns kills ten minutes we didn’t know what else to do with!”  I get showing the celebration of the grand opening but this got boring. How about showing the Disney characters or something?
-Too bad this special misses all the new stuff that has been added. The Tower of Terror which was pretty fun, Echo Lake, The Muppets, The New Star Tours that I would LOVE to see, and even that awesome Sorcerer Hat I would have loved to get a picture in front of. Among other things. The truth is when it first opened there wasn’t much to this place, a lot has been added over the years.
Final Thoughts-

 

The reason this was recorded waa because my family and I went there that year! I am happy that I got to go the year the place opened.This special was not as good as I remembered, clocking in at two hours meant we got lots of padding. Pointless song and dance numbers and other things which are just here to pad out the run time. I mean, the audience has seen a movie before. The stuff about the park was really interesting but the “behindthe scenes” stuff got boring, especially that endless backlot portion.Also wish they had done more interaction with the stars, the few that they did felt forced. There was one cute moment when Kate Jackson thinks she recognizes John Forsythe’s voice, but isn’t sure (anyone get that?). The other decent one was John Ritter and Harry Anderson who had decent chemistry. But least NBC didn’t make it a cheap commercial for themselves this time. The special does show what was cool in the park and really did get us psyched to go and see the place at the time. So mission accomplished as far as this special is concerned,even if it is a tad dated now. If you find it and decide to watch, I recommend you have a remote with a fast forward button.

 

Got lots of other Disney specials I hope to get to down the road. For now, hope you enjoyed this.

By richb

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