Disney Hollywood Studios at 35: 5 small things we miss about the original park

As what was once the DIsney-MGM Studios celebrates its 35th anniversary, here are 5 small touches we miss from Opening Day 1989!
At 8:15 p.m. on opening night of Jollywood Nights at Disney's Hollywood Studios, crowds of guests
At 8:15 p.m. on opening night of Jollywood Nights at Disney's Hollywood Studios, crowds of guests / Photo by Christina LaFortune/FLORIDA

It’s been 35 years since what was then the Disney-MGM Studios was opened. So much of the park has changed, including the name so finding remnants of the original Opening Day is tricky. Many will note the huge rides and attractions long gone yet some wonderful smaller touches of the Studios were what made it so special and worth remembering for the anniversary.

The Studios have changed a lot since 1989. The original concept of an actual working studio with a theme park has passed by, with Disney cutting down on such productions. Thus, most of the attractions tied to moviemaking, like Superstar Television, Sounds Dangerous, and the backlot tour, have long been erased. 

Some popular attractions are still there but weren’t opening day ones. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular didn’t open until August of 1989, while Star Tours opened in early 1990. There are some bits around, like the Dockside Diner and Dinosaur Gertie fast food spots and the replica of Grauman’s theater. But there are the smaller touches of the Studios on Opening Day that are long absent and something to remember. 

1. The Earfel Tower

It’s ironic Disney did so much work making the replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theater right only for this to become the symbol of the park for years. That Disney didn’t plan it was obvious from how it was placed near the rear of the park. Yet the sight of the 135-foot tall tower with the mouse ears on top was one that adorned Studio merchandise for years and the logo on the old videos run on Disney resort TVs.

It became so popular that Disney constructed a smaller version covered with topiary. It lasted until 2016 and many feel the Studios hasn’t been the same without what was once the literal symbol of the park. 

2. The Boneyard

No, this isn’t the play area at the Animal Kingdom. The boneyard was one bit of the tram ride many ignored at the time, but it was actually one of the best parts. Taking a name from aviation, it was a field of vehicles used in various movies and TV shows that could shift over time.

It was a fun showcase for vehicles and not just from movies or shows as Disney would also showcase vehicles from closed Disney attractions like Horizons, World of Motion and more. It closed down with the rest of the tram ride in 2016, yet for fans of vehicles in films, this was a highlight of the Tram. 

3. The Splash Mermaid statue 

Micahel Eisner always had a soft spot for the 1984 movie Splash. It was even what inspired the Splash Mountain name. When the Studios opened, he made sure the mermaid statue used in that film was given a spot for guests. It came in the New York section at the “break” period between the tram tour and walking tour which also had the Backlot Express eatery.

Fans could take in the statue of a mermaid with the fountain, and it stuck around even with various changes in the area. It was damaged in a 2004 storm and repaired before being lost with the rest of the New York section for Galaxy’s Edge. It may be mostly forgotten now, but it's interesting how this mermaid made it to a Disney park long before Ariel did. 

4. Studio Gate busts

The huge gate with the Studios logo was set by the Chinese Theater and marked the shift from “theme park” to “Studios.” It was designed to emulate the old-styled Hollywood studio gates, with Disney paying tribute to films. That included bronze busts set on the sides of the gate with figures meant to emulate the genres of film: drama, comedy, romance, sci-fi, crime, horror, etc. 

The gates were changed over time with the park and so these busts were lost. It’s too bad, as they were a fun tribute to the Hollywood lore that inspired the Studios in the first place. 

5. The Hidden Mickey

This wasn’t obvious for a while but as soon as aerial shots of the park got around, fans began to love how it was home to the biggest Hidden Mickey ever. The area around the Chinese Theater has the smile, the various topiary form eyes and nose, the small lake is one ear, the Brown Derby and Little Mermaid show are another and it looked amazing.

As the years have gone by and the park changed, the Mickey has been marred and no longer as prominent as it once was. The original Mickey remained a marvel for Imagineers to pull off and set the Studios apart. 

There are more to remember, yet it’s always the little touches we love on Disney parks and why so many still refer to the Studios as Disney-MGM 35 years later.