Originally starting as the main focus of the planned Movie Pavilion in Epcot Center in the 1980s, that was later expanded to the park, Great Movie Ride, which was to be called "Great Moments at the Movies."
Opening with Disney-MGM Studios on May 1, 1989, the ride takes guests on a journey into the movies, and makes them apart of the movies.
The queue line winds through a recreation of the Chinese Theatre lobby past glass display cases containing actual costumes, props, and set pieces from various films. The queue then takes guests into a small pre-show theatre where guests view a series of condensed movie trailers for the various films that are featured on the ride. The queue line ends at a pair of automatic doors at the front of the theatre that lead into a 1930s era Hollywood soundstage where guests are loaded onto waiting ride vehicles.
As guests reach the end of the queue, they enter a 1930s-era Hollywood soundstage where they are loaded by cast members into one of two sets of open, theatre-style seating ride vehicles. The vehicles utilize a "traveling theatre"-style ride system similar to the Universe of Energy attraction at Epcot. However, here the ride vehicles are much smaller in size, are grouped together in pairs of two, and feature an open cab in the first row of the front vehicle for a live tour guide to stand, provide narration, and operate the ride vehicle. When the attraction is operating during the peak season, both sets of ride vehicles are used. Otherwise, only the second set of ride vehicles is used.
The movie set within the soundstage features a large neon theatre marquee and a cyclorama of the 1930s-era Hollywood Hills complete with the original Hollywoodland Sign. As the ride begins, the tour guide on the ride vehicle welcomes guests and informs them that they will be taking them through scenes from different classic movies throughout history.
The first genre of movies introduced are musicals, which begins with a pyramid of audio-animatronic starlets in a scene from Busby Berkeley’s Footlight Parade. The next musical scenes include audio-animatronics of Gene Kelly singing from a lamp post from the film Singin' In The Rain, followed by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke singing on the rooftops of London in Mary Poppins.
The next scene is a tribute to gangster movies. The ride vehicle passes through the dark and seedy backstreets of 1930s Chicago and past an audio-animatronic James Cagney in a scene from The Public Enemy. During peak season, the first set of ride vehicles continues on to the next scene while the second set is stopped by a red light above a tunnel entrance. The tour guide stops the ride vehicle and waits for a green light. While stopped, a live gangster named Mugsy (male) or Mugsi (female) and their audio-animatronic sidekicks Squid and Beans show up and get involved in a shoot-out with rival mobsters in a car on the opposite side of the street where the ride vehicle is stopped. Although Squid and Beans are shot, the live gangster chases away the tour guide and hijacks the ride vehicle. When the gangster notices the red light, they shoot it out and make their getaway aboard the ride vehicle.
Next is a tribute to the Western genre. Here, guests encounter audio-animatronics of Clint Eastwood standing near a saloon and John Wayne sitting atop his horse. If the ride vehicle is already being driven by the gangster, it continues past a shoot-out between the town sheriff and an audio-animatronic bank robber named Snake. During peak season, the first set of ride vehicles stops here while the robbery is in progress and a live bank robber named Kate Durango (female) or Kid Carson (male) appears from inside the bank. After getting into a shoot-out with the town sheriff and chasing the tour guide away, the bandit blows up the town bank with dynamite and hijacks the ride vehicle. Following this scene, the remainder of the attraction is the same for both sets of ride vehicles.
As the ride vehicle continues into a spaceship, a narrator's voice states that this is the Nostromo, the ship from the movie Alien. The narrator then tells guests of the alien lurking within the ship waiting to claim its next victim. Hearing this, the hijacker becomes nervous and speeds the ride vehicle through the ship. But not before the Alien appears and attacks the guests, popping out from both the ceiling and the wall. Before exiting the spaceship, the ride vehicle passes a scene of an audio-animatronic Ripley holding a flamethrower as she prepares to confront the alien.
The ride vehicle next enters a scene set in an ancient Egyptian temple filled with snakes. The narrator informs guests that they are in a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark as audio-animatronic figures of Indiana Jones and Sallah struggle to lift the Ark of the Covenant. A second room within the temple features a large altar in the form of the ancient Egyptian god Anubis. Near the top of the altar, a large jewel is being watched over by a cloaked temple guard. The hijacker sees the jewel, stops the ride vehicle, and disembarks to retrieve it. Before touching the jewel, the temple guard gives a warning that those who disturb the jewel must pay with their life. Ignoring the warning, the hijacker reaches to grab the jewel. Suddenly, a plume of smoke shoots from the ground. When it disperses, the hijacker is now nothing more than a skeleton (still reaching for the jewel) and the temple guard is revealed to be the original live tour guide who reboards the vehicle and continues the ride.
The next film genre introduced is the horror movie as the ride vehicle travels through an ancient burial chamber full of mummies who have come to life. The ride vehicle soon leaves the tomb and enters a jungle, which is home to Tarzan the Ape Man. Here, audio-animatronic figures of Tarzan swinging on a vine, Jane sitting atop an elephant, and Cheeta the chimpanzee can be seen. The ride vehicle then moves past the classic final scene from Casablanca featuring audio-animatronics of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as they stand in front of a waiting airplane. Next, the ride vehicle passes a film projection of Mickey Mouse in his role as The Sorcerer's Apprentice from the classic Disney animated film Fantasia.
The ride vehicle then enters into the Munchkinland scene from The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy's house has landed on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. During peak season, both sets of ride vehicles meet up here and come to a stop in the middle of the scene. Audio-animatronic Munchkins begin to appear from various places and sing as they welcome guests to their home. However, a plume of smoke suddenly rises from the ground as an audio-animatronic Wicked Witch of the West appears and asks who is responsible for killing the Wicked Witch of the East. The tour guide aboard the first set of ride vehicles answers her before she finally disappears in another puff of smoke. The Munchkins finally reappear from their hiding places and begin to sing again as both sets of ride vehicles follow the Yellow Brick Road out of Munchkinland past audio-animatronic figures of Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Toto standing in front of the Emerald City, and onto the ride's Grand Finale.
For the Grand Finale, both sets of ride vehicles enter a large, dark theatre where they line up side-by-side and come to a stop in front of a large movie screen. There, a fast-paced three minute film montage of classic movie moments is shown. At the conclusion of the film, both sets of ride vehicles exit the theatre, line up single-file again and return to the 1930s soundstage where the ride concludes and guests disembark the vehicles and exit the attraction.
Unlike many Disney dark rides that feature separate embarkation and debarkation areas, the Great Movie Ride has only a single combined unloading and loading area. The last people to exit the vehicles often pass the next group of guests waiting to board the vehicles.
In this attraction’s history there has been many modifications.
For example, the first sequence of the ride, Footlight Parade, was plagued with engineering and technical problems from the beginning. When the ride was newly opened, the Footlight Parade segment was different than it is today. The entire portion following the neon lighted entrance was fleshed out. All the walls leading up to, around, and beyond the "cake" were painted in art deco style patterns as seen in "By A Waterfall". Approximately three "diving boards" with three mannequin "dancers" wearing capes were perched on the right hand side of the wall as you enter the ride segment. The five-tiered "cake" was prominently displayed at a left hand turn. It was in the open air illuminated with an array of animated lights. During this pass through the Footlight Parade segment, riders would hear a "loop" of "By A Waterfall" (a song featured in Footlight Parade) lasting approximately 40 seconds as bubbles fall from the ceiling. For approximately the first year, the "cake" actually rotated and was adorned with water jets as seen in the movie. Allegedly, the rotating "cake" mechanism was constantly breaking down, causing frequent repairs and downtime. In addition, the water pumps would constantly fail, flooding the ride path. Park operations believed it was much cheaper and less problematic to leave the "cake" in place with lighting effects used to provide what imagineers term as "kinetics" to the segment. This is what guests see today.
Another change, though not major was in the Wizard of Oz scene. The Wicked Witch animatronic character was replaced with a newer-design "Sarcos" figure. The Sarcos robots are capable of a great deal more movement possibilities than the original "limited animation" figure designs, and can move much more quickly. As a result they can be made much more lifelike. The new witch was reprogrammed to take advantage of the underlying robot, and as a result is one of, if not the, most lifelike characters in the attraction.
The Great Movie ride has always been planned to head to Disneyland Resort and in Disneyland Resort Paris, but never has made it. The attraction was said to go into Disneyland’s rumored Hollywoodland in the 1980s/1990s, then rumored in the Disney-MGM Studios California, and also rumored for Disney’s California Adventure’s Hollywood Pictures Backlot, all of which have never come to fruition. Disneyland Resort Paris’s has a different story, originally planned for Disney MGM Studios Europe, a planned second gate for DLP, but never came to be, then planned for the actual park of Walt Disney Studios Paris. It went to Paris in a different way, CineMague, a video/show in which Martin Short goes through various movies, similar to The Great Movie Ride.
Adding to the list of things that haven’t happened related to The Great Movie Ride is the extended Wizard of Oz scene originally planned. The ending of the attraction was originally going to have more of a foundation in The Wizard of Oz, with the Fantasia scene being the Cyclone, and also a divider down the middle of the theatre separating the A and B vehicles in the final (film clip) scene. Where the screen is now was where the Wizard would have appeared surrounded by flames. The Wizard would say his famous line, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" and the show would be "interrupted" as the curtains to the left or right of the screen would open to reveal either your live bandit (on the A vehicle side) or gangster (on the B vehicle side). Along the outer walls of the theatre (to the left of the A vehicle or to the right of the B vehicle), is currently large empty carpeted areas. Here was supposed to be large platforms where models of all of the animatronic characters seen earlier in the ride would be standing and would take a bow.
We’re going to conclude this long post with two pictures of “blueprints” and track layout of the attraction, just to show the size and expanse of this attraction.
Finally, what’s your favorite Great Movie Ride scene? Please vote in our GDP Weekly Blog Poll.