The Best Attraction from a Bygone Era: The Ok Radio Ride
Welcome back to Not Club 33, the new home of Cynical Disney!
Today we’re going to cover the very first attraction at Hollywood Studios, which has since closed but it’s worth doing an article on. If nothing else, it explains why there has since been a change. Remember Attractions from a Bygone era? Let’s go deep on one of the best, The Great Movie Ride!
The Great Movie Ride opened May 1st, 1989 and operated with few renovations until August 13th, 2017. During its tenure, guests of all ages were introduced to classic films that makes this cinephile blush, for if not for this attraction I’d have never seen classics like Casablanca. It introduced me to two of my favorite movies of all time, and it included the most complex live action cast member/audience interaction at all of WDW. Sure, there are performers at other attractions, but none of them, including the much ballyhooed Jungle Cruise, wielded a firearm (more on that in a bit).
Because the attraction was beloved by many, it went a long time without receiving the attention that it would so desperately need to remain open. No matter how much you love a dark ride attraction, without regular updates or some sort of forced nostalgia like that of Carousel of Progress or Small World, the attraction will ultimately be doomed. For instance, Pirates of the Caribbean was updated to include the film franchises biggest character. All of Epcot’s dark rides have undergone some sort of renovation which included new narration or an integration of intellectual property. The only remaining original part of many of these attractions is the ride track itself. This is ultimately what led to the closing of GMR, but more on that in a bit.
The queue of the attraction began at exterior of the ride building, which is modeled after the Grumman Chinese Theater in Hollywood and served as the park icon until the addition of that ridiculous Sorcerer’s Hat. Upon entering the theater, guests were treated to trailers for films long since released, but the trailers were for movies that obviously are considered great, seeing as how they were on The Great Movie Ride. In 2014, coinciding with a sponsorship from Turner Classic Movies, a new pre-show was added that starred Robert Osborne, the voice of that network. Osborne also added prerecorded narration for the actual attraction itself.
After walking back and forth through the theater a few times, guests were loaded on to the ride vehicle, which was basically an electric car that could drive on carpet, and a much smaller version of the ride vehicle at Ellen’s Energy Adventure. The glitz and glamour of a theater marquee, along with the tune of “Hooray for Hollywood” greeted guests as the boarded the attraction, and a cast member with a microphone directed the traffic to move all the way over to the left and fill in the gaps. Towards the end, at least until the announcement of its closure, this was not necessary, as guests could fairly easily spread out and in some cases lay on the actual benches of the ride vehicle if Disney had allowed it.
The cast member (we’re going call them Chris from Orlando) would then get the ride in gear, with the actual song “Hooray for Hollywood” blaring. Guests would then be taken on a tour of film genres, starting with Musicals, followed by Gangster, Western, Science-Fiction, Adventure, Horror, and Family/Other. The ride started off innocuously enough, with scenes from Mary Poppins and Signing in the Rain being recreated by animatronics, but as if guests sleeping in the air conditioned car were the queue, things took a turn.
Following the Musicals section, a 1930’s Chicago was recreated, and a combination of live action and animatronic hijacked the ride vehicle in an effort to rob the vehicle. Armed with a revolver, stereotypical New York-Italian accent, and a butter knife sharp wit, the live action mobster (Mugsy or Mugsi depending on the gender of the gangster) removed Chris from the vehicle only to have the robbery thwarted by a shootout with a rival gang. It was basically the streets of LA in the 1990’s, but much better dressed. After shooting a traffic light to turn it green, something that obviously works in real life, the Mugsy gets the ride vehicle going, only to be perplexed by everything that happened afterward.
Before we get any further, it wasn’t always the Gangster set that got our poor tour guide Chris into trouble. Sometimes it was the following scene which did Chris in, which was a Western genre scene. Here, riders encountered John Wayne on horseback, but the bolted to the ground Duke was no match for a bank robber a little further down the line. Chris was always doomed, but which scene caused his demise was determined by which ride vehicle they were in control of. Because the ride vehicles set off in pairs, one would get stuck in the Gangster area while the vehicle in front proceeded to the Western area. This provided variety in the experience, but either way, you were hijacked by a gun wielding criminal. In the Western scene, your hijackers name was Kate Durango or Kid Carson.
The remainder of the ride was the same for either vehicle. Guests proceeded to the Nostromo, the ill-fated ship from the movie Alien. Wise-cracks were made about the hijacker not really understanding what was going on, and as guests approached an animatronic Ripley, with fog machines and alarm sounds blaring, the titular Alien poked its big head and little mouths at guests. Moving past this Science-Fiction/Horror classic, guests then entered into the tomb of the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark, driving past a Sallah and a not- Harrison Ford Indiana Jones animatronic pair slowly lifting the Ark from its enclosure. These back to back scenes make my inner child Chalupa Batman go crazy! These are easily two of my favorite movies of all time, and to have them represented at Disney World in such a manner is something that I will never forget.
Moving past the Ark, a second Egyptian room with a gigantic ruby enticed our hijacker, be they of gangster or western origin, to stop the ride vehicle. A robed figure with an authoritarian voice warned the hijacker to chill the BLEEP out and not actually steal the ruby, but it’s too much for our armed captor to pass up. Upon placing their hands on the ruby, smoke bellows and apparently the hijacker is straight up murdered/disintegrated behind the smoke screen, as all that remained was a skeleton of Halloween store quality. The robed figure then revealed themselves to be…Chris! Our intrepid tour guide has escaped the bowels of hell and returned to take us on a tour of the rest of the movies.
The remainder of the ride was much less exciting, as riders passed through a typical Tarzan scene, then the final goodbye of Rick Blaine to Ilsa in Casablanca. The ride then goes corporate, as we pass through the Sorcerer Mickey scene from Fantasia, before moving on to the final animatronic based scene from The Wizard of Oz. Chris kills off the Wicked Witch of the West, and we enter the final scene of the ride, which is a three minute montage of films you’ve just seen play out in animatronic form and other classics like Star Wars and Independence Day, all mashed together in a spine tingling super cut that made me appreciate the movies. The vehicles returned to the starting point of the cinematic journey, and guests disembarked.
The Great Movie Ride was far from perfect. Especially towards the end of its attraction life, it became dated and droll. I had hoped when TCM agreed to sponsor the attraction in 2014 that this would mean an infusion of films to be animatronically acted out. Unfortunately, we got little more than a coat of paint. The cast members used to be much more into their roles, but I suspect a couple of mothers named Karen with the “I need to see the manager” haircut complained that the hijacking stuff was too realistic when their kids got scared. God forbid that a child get a little scared by a BLEEP-ing movie. That being said, I remember specific times when the cast member who was super into their role made the ride worth riding, even without the addition of new films.
Now the attraction is closed and is currently being gutted for a Mickey based attraction that is supposed to be a 3-D experience without the need to wear 3-D glasses. I’m glad that Mickey is making a triumphant return to the parks with an attraction that is solely based on him, make no mistake. I do wish that there was room for a renovated GMR with new films on display and a Mickey attraction, but with all of the money being sunk into Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land, there was no room in the budget.
-The Disney Cynic
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