Saturday, October 25, 2014

Marvelous to Mediocre: Beautiful Theatre to Huge Hat

By Keith Mahne

There are times in life when a hat comes in handy... blocking the sun, keeping the sweat out of your eyes, a day at the horse races, even to cover a bad hair day. When a hat is used to literally block a beautiful theatre it becomes just downright unacceptable! Continue after the page break for what entering MGM Studios use to be like before a huge fiberglass hat fell from the sky and what we hope it will return to with the recent news that it will be relocated...

The Great Movie Ride located inside a recreation of the famous Hollywood landmark Grauman's Chinese Theatre once lured park guests up Hollywood Boulevard. However, the beautiful façade was almost completely blocked from view in 2001 when a giant replica of The Sorcerer's Hat was built directly in front of the building. Sadly, the hat has served as the park's symbol ever since. Disney’s idealized street put guests into “the Hollywood that never was and always will be” and was designed to be more intimate than it's Main Street counterpart. The Chinese Theatre at the end of the street was exotic, yet familiar, and completely appropriate to the period and theme of the park. Imagineers couldn't have picked and designed a more beautiful symbol for a park based off of Hollywood's golden years. Given the real Chinese Theatre’s long history of Hollywood premieres and exclusive first runs of many of the biggest Hollywood movies, it was a perfect match.

View down Hollywood Blvd before the Sorcerer's Hat

On September 28, 2001 Disney built a 122-foot-tall Sorcerer Mickey hat between Hollywood Boulevard and the Great Movie Ride. Inspired by the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” section of Fantasia, the tacky jumbo icon was out-of-place in the richly detailed Hollywood street scape. Instead of leading up to a detailed replica of the famous movie palace, Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard now led up to something that looked like a very large blue plastic cone. Yes, the Chinese Theatre and The Great Movie Ride were still there, but guests wouldn’t know it from the view up Hollywood Boulevard unless they brought a pair of X-Ray glasses with them and God only knows how hard that would be to get through airport security.

View down Hollywood Blvd after the Sorcerer's Hat

Many people began to wonder why in the world Disney would want to block their park's symbol. A story began circulating on the Internet that Disney had to block the direct view of the Chinese Theatre in 2001 due to legal reasons. The story goes something like this... After the Mann’s Theatres chain, which included the Chinese Theatre, was sold in 2000 to a partnership of Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, Disney could no longer use the theater façade as a symbol for Disney-MGM Studios. They had to block the direct view. In one version of the story, Disney lost the rights to use the Chinese Theatre façade, but somehow didn’t have to remove it if they put something in front of it. In another version, Disney had to pay a royalty to the owners of the Chinese Theatre every time it was photographed, so Disney did something to limit the ability of guests to take photos. It’s a classic Internet rumor that gets repeated over and over, until a lot of people assume it to be correct.

The real story makes a lot more sense...  just as Cinderella Castle was horrendously done up in pink birthday cake decorations for Walt Disney World’s 25th anniversary celebration and Spaceship Earth at Epcot grew a Sorcerer Mickey hand and magic wand for the Millennium Celebration, so Disney-MGM Studios would wear an oversized Sorcerer Mickey hat for the “100 Years of Magic” marketing campaign. This “celebration” officially commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Walt Disney on December 5, 1901, although that wasn’t always clear to the casual guest. That still raises the question why any Imagineer would do something that would so intensely weaken the authenticity and “story” of this idealized Hollywood neighborhood. The answer is that Imagineers ultimately are not the people who make such decisions. Think of the hat as a non-creative Disney executive’s “brilliant” idea to infuse Disney-MGM Studios with more “Disney Magic.”

Lets take a look at some places we have seen the Sorcerer's Hat before. The first major Sorcerer Mickey hat appeared in 1995 as part of the new Walt Disney Feature Animation building across the street from the Disney movie lot. The hat serves as the entrance and was originally the office for Roy E. Disney higher up in the cone. Robert A.M. Stern was the architect responsible for the new building as well as Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club and Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas.

Walt Disney Feature Animation Sorcerer's Hat

When Walt Disney Studios Paris theme park opened in 2002, another giant Sorcerer Mickey hat graced the Art of Disney Animation building. Although the rest of the building did not look like the building in Burbank, the hat was an appropriate nod to the Animation Studios in Burbank, as well as to the great animation of Fantasia.

Walt Disney Studios Paris Art of Disney Animation Sorcerer's Hat

The Disneyland Hotel has served Disneyland guests since October 1955. Beyond its name, some use of Disney characters on printed material, a now-defunct miniature golf course, and some of the merchandise in its gift shop, there really wasn’t much that was “Disney” about the hotel. The Walt Disney Company didn’t even own the hotel until 1988. When the Disneyland Hotel’s original buildings were torn down in 1999 to make way for Downtown Disney, the remaining buildings got a Disney makeover. The entrance to the hotel grounds from Downtown Disney was marked with a giant Sorcerer Mickey hat and gold stars.

Disneyland Hotel Sorcerer's Hat

When “100 Years of Magic” ended, the hat unfortunately stayed put. There is hope however, over at Epcot, another oversized Sorcerer Mickey structure—a giant arm, glove, and wand—dwarfed the elegant Spaceship Earth sphere for eight years. It seemed to be a permanent “temporary” structure as well. In 2007, as part of the redo of Spaceship Earth for new sponsor Siemens, Epcot’s Icon Tower was finally removed. Thankfully, Disney must have heard the cries of its fans to remove the structure as the company announced to its cast members recently that it will be removed and possibly relocated to the entrance area of the park. I can't wait for the day when I walk down Disney's Hollywood Blvd and see that gorgeous Chinese Theatre staring me in the face... without X-Ray glasses on that is!

1 comment:

  1. Great news! Now, if they could just fix the original overhead-view Mickey face they destroyed when they added Sunset Blvd., that would be good, too!