Saturday, August 9, 2014

What Could’ve Been: Sunset Boulevard

By Ryan Reed

Recently, rumors have been going around claiming massive changes to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. They’ve ranged from the removal of day one attractions to entire lands dedicated to Star Wars.  I felt it would be a fitting time to take a quick look at the very first expansion to Disney’s MGM, err, Hollywood Studios. Continue after the page break and have a look…

Disney's MGM Studios in 1989 prior to Sunset Boulevard

When the park opened in 1989, there were only a few attractions for guests to take part in.  While most were well executed, guests were yearning for more.  This eventually led to the Sunset Boulevard expansion.  Adding major attractions the park is now known for, such as Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, made the Studios a “must do” for any Disney guest.  But what else did the Imagineers have in mind for their newest park?  Lets take a look at some early concepts that got very close to getting the green light.


One of the major ideas kicked around by Disney revolved around a movie that had been recently released: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  Released in 1989, the movie was groundbreaking for its mix of live action and animation.  For the general population, this was the first time they’ve seen something like this.  In fact, most believe it was the first movie to don this special effect; truth is Walt Disney was a pioneer for this effect decades prior to this movie’s release.  Roger became a household name due to the great success of the film.  Wanting to take advantage of this, the Disney Execs pushed Imagineers to brainstorm ideas for the expansion in the Studios.  They came up with three different Roger Rabbit attractions within a themed land that could’ve led to a very different park than we’re used to today.  Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood Land or Maroon Studios were possible names for the new land that eventually became Sunset Boulevard.  One of the ideas took up all of Sunset Boulevard and would even have had red trolley cars to take guests up and down the streets.   The other idea would’ve been mostly Sunset Boulevard with the Roger Rabbit land beginning where Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is today.

Baby Herman’s Run Away Buggy
Baby Herman and his buggy

Baby Herman’s Runaway Baby Buggy was one of the ideas the Imagineers had come up with.  The attraction would’ve loaded guests into baby carriages and put you in a cartoon with Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman.  Loosely based off the Roger Rabbit short “Tummy Trouble”, guests were going to zoom through a hospital, crashing through walls and flying downstairs as the baby carriage had lost control.

Toontown Trolley
Concept Art for Toontown Trolley
Next in this proposed themed land was the Toontown Trolley.  This attraction would’ve been similar to Star Tours in that it would’ve been a motion simulator, but it differed greatly in one major aspect: instead one screen, there would’ve been three – one in the front and two on each side.  Their hope was to fully engulf you into the world of Toontown.

Benny the Cab Ride
Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin in Disneyland

Benny the Cab Ride was the third and final ride the Imagineers thought would fit well into the Roger Rabbit themed land.  Those of you who have visited Disneyland may have already ridden this attraction.  Although it never came to fruition in the then Disney’s MGM Studios, it made its way out to the Disneyland resort under the new title of “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin”. 


Dick Tracy’s Crime Stoppers
Concept Art for proposed attraction
Dick Tracy’s Crime Stoppers would’ve put guests right in the world of Dick Tracy.  The surrounding area of the ride would’ve been a fully theme land to immerse guests into the film before even stepping onto the ride.  Dick Tracy would’ve recruited guests to help him fight off his enemies in a high-speed chase complete with a shootout.  The technology planned for this ride was to use the eventual ride vehicles now found in Dinosaur and in the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland.

The Many Ideas Leading to the Tower of Terror of Today
Some Tower of Terror concept art
The Tower of Terror took quite some time, along with some trial and error, to come up with what we love today.  The original plan from Imagineers was to get Mel Brooks involved in the project.  They initially came up with a working title of “Castle of Young Frankenstein”; this was to include some intricate details, even involving a drawbridge.  This morphed into an attraction they were calling “Mel’s Hollywood Horror Hotel”.  With Mel on board, they were attempting to put his trademark humor in the ride along with a few frights.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t come up with an idea together.  With Mel moving on, Imagineers focused solely on frights, not humor.

More concept art of the attraction
This spawned an ambitious idea to have the hotel be exactly that: a hotel.  With half of the structure to be the attraction and the other being one of Disney’s fantastic resorts, the idea seemed perfect.  They wanted guests to find doors in their resort leading up to the attraction building for them to be blocked off with a sign reading “Condemned”.
Some earlier concept art
The last variation of Tower of Terror had to do with its story.  Originally it was planned to have Cast Members play a role throughout the ride and have guests try and solve a haunted mystery only to be plummeted at the end of the attraction. 


If you're looking for more insight I would recommend The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios. The book provides an experience: pointing out details and telling stories, backstories, and Imagineering insights never before heard, condensed into a portable, easily referenced park guide. You'll never spend time at the Studios the same way again.

Each spread contains fascinating textual information and related images (drawings, photos, graphics) such as:

• Layouts, backgrounds, and origins of each park/land/miniland

• Concept art to compare to the finished show

• Timeline information (opening dates, previous shows in the same venue, alterations, and updates)

• Photography of the details and pictures being discussed

• Special props, design sources, artistic inspirations, nomenclature gags
Have a look in the link below:

Those of us who were lucky enough to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios since its inception might have a vague memory to what the park was like prior to Sunset’s existence; others (like me) were much too young for any recollection.  Regardless, this expansion proved to be a great success.  It redefined an already great park and added a much-needed icon to its landscape.  Though this expansion has proven to be a fantastic addition to the park, it’s still fun to look back at what might have been.  So what do you think?  Do you feel any of these ideas would’ve been a better choice than what we have now?  Be sure to look for more What Could’ve Been articles in the future and share your comments below.

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