They Couldn’t Make The Movie Ride Great Again
Written by Paul Oren
Disney has been killing off parts of my soul for nearly 20 years and the Mouse is taking a big chunk out of it this weekend. The Great Movie Ride at MGM Studios (sorry, I’ll never call it Hollywood Studios) is closed down on Sunday, August 13th 2017 after 28 wonderful years at the heart of the park.
The Great Movie Ride plays an interesting role in an even more interesting part of my life. Before I dive into Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, let me take you back to the spring of 1999 where I was trying to find some direction in my life following my freshman year of college. I didn’t want to go home for the summer and I knew I was transferring schools, so I was kind of a man without a country. My roommate at the time had just discovered that his girlfriend was cheating on him and he asked me to help him write a “Fuck You” email. Maybe he thought because I was a writer I would have a better way to start the email with an “F” and end it with a “U,” but alas, I volunteered to help. We went down to the school’s computer lab and while he was trying to find his inner-Shakespeare, I went about cruising the information superhighway. Remember, that’s what we called it back then as Al Gore’s internet was still in its infancy. A woman walked into the computer lab with a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt on and I decided to check out Disney’s website. I’d never been to the site before. The first thing I saw was a banner ad that said “Want to Become a Cast Member?” Um, yes.
My roommate was asking me for help and suddenly I couldn’t possibly care less about his adulterous girlfriend. Within five minutes I booked a phone interview to work at Walt Disney World for the following day. Of course I nearly bungled the whole thing when I forgot to account for the change in time zone and I slept through the 8 a.m. phone call. Once I got that out of the way. I aced my phone interview. They asked me if I’d be in the Orlando area anytime soon for a follow-up interview and I lied, telling them “Of course I’ll be there next week!” They called me back an hour later and schedule an in-person interview.
|The Disney Casting building near Disney Springs|
It didn’t take a lot of convincing my family to let me drive the 1,250 miles from Milwaukee to Orlando. At best, I was getting a kick-ass summer job. At worst, I was getting a fun mini-vacation to start off my summer. I started telling classmates about my interview and soon after my friend Julie also made the call and setup a job interview for the following week. This was good for two reasons. 1) Julie could help with the drive and we could go straight through the night. 2) Julie had relatives that lived close to Orlando so we wouldn’t need a hotel.
The job interview was simple enough. I walked in and the guy asked what brought me to Orlando. When I told him the job interview was the reason, he expressed surprise that I would drive 1,250 miles just for a job interview. “With that kind of dedication, the job is yours!” Then he goes on to tell me that he’s giving me my choice of where I want to work. I love movies, so I told him MGM Studios, but I made it clear I didn’t want to work at The Great Movie Ride. My reasoning was that I knew working at Disney would pull the curtain back on the Happiest Place on Earth for me and I always wanted The Great Movie Ride to be a place that I could go to where I could feel what it was like to be a guest (fancy word for a paying customer or tourist).
Ultimately I decided to work at Backstage Pass (a 25-to-30 minute guided walking tour taking you behind the scenes of Disney’s live action comedy 101 Dalmatians as well as our three production sound stages. Please stand behind the yellow lines, the doors about to open toward you. Let’s begin your Backstage Pass). I was told by my trainer, Jim Wirt, that I set the record for being the fastest to ever memorize the script for the tour. Even in 1999 you weren’t allowed to leave property with the script, so I brought a tape recorder into the office and I recorded the 45 pages of dialogue. I then walked around the park taking in the sights while I listened to the script over and over again. By the time we came back after lunch I had the entire thing memorized and I was giving tours three days after I was hired.
Backstage Pass shared a break room with the Studio Backlot Tour. While the Backlot staff wore red shirts and the Pass staff wore blue shirts, we were a family. I’ve had some pretty crazy jobs in my day. I worked at a hip-hop urban clothing store in high school, I sold the first computers with DVD drives in them, and I worked in radio for several years where I had a drink in Marylyn Manson’s dressing room, took Yellowcard to see The Matrix Reloaded and played dodgeball with Three Days Grace. I’ve been a sportswriter for 15 years, writing about the biggest college basketball programs in the country, and I’m about to enter my 13th year as a college professor. None of those jobs compare to the $6.25 an hour I made working for the Mouse in the summer of 1999.
It was the greatest job in the world and it’s something I can never recapture. First, I’m not sure I can ever truly go back to Walt Disney World. I had an entire summer where I went to the parks for free, no, check that, I got paid to go to the parks. They literally paid me to work at the Happiest Place on Earth. Now they expect me to pay to get in? No thanks. *Editor’s Note: I will still gladly pay you Disney, like a lot.
Actually, I would pay if it meant I could get my 1999 attractions back. First they gutted Backstage Pass of the 101 Dalmatians sets and turned it into some sort of Home Improvement deal. Then they removed the attraction altogether. Next they threw some “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” show in the soundstages that used to house Mortal Kombat and Petsburg USA. The Backlot tours, which was once the top attraction at MGM Studios, was slowly scaled down over the years until ultimately it was closed in 2014. The Mickey Tower was taken down last year and the entire attraction has been removed. I know it’s been nearly half my life since I worked at WDW, but it still pains me to think those attractions are gone.
Walt Disney World is a lot like Vegas, designed to give the guest a new experience every four years. I understand that, but what if you don’t want a new experience? I want to go back to Pleasure Island. I want to go dance the night away at Mannequins or 8Trax or Beach Club. I want to countdown along with the PI 2000 dancers as the clock hits midnight every night to the sounds “Insomnia.”
You can never go home again, but you can always go back to the movies…until this weekend. I told myself that despite all the attraction closures and all of my friends and coworkers that have moved away, despite all that, I’d still return to Walt Disney World one day so I could feel the magic of the Great Movie Ride one more time.
I chose not to work at that attraction because I always wanted a place to go where I could feel the Disney magic. I knew the script backward and forward despite never working the attraction. I knew the order of the films in the montage at the end. I knew the words to “Hollywood!” I knew where all the hidden Mickey’s were. Movies are a place of suspended disbelief and The Great Movie Ride was my happiest place on earth.
Here’s looking at you kid.
That’s a wrap CB.