AttractionsWalt Disney World (FL)

Attraction Archaeology: Studio Backlot Tour

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Of all the parks at Walt Disney World, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has arguably changed the most since its opening in 1989. While originally intended to be both a functioning studio and destination for educating guests on the film industry, the park today is all about putting guests into the movies. So for today’s installment of Attraction Archaeology, we’re digging for relics from a past attraction which best captured the park’s initial vision: the Studio Backlot Tour!

What was the Studio Backlot Tour?

When the park first opened, its main attraction was the two-hour Backstage Studio Tour. Guests boarded a tram where Star Wars Launch Bay is located today to tour outdoor sets and experience a special effects demonstration at Catastrophe Canyon. The second half of the tour was a walking tour. Guests experienced other special effects demonstrations, as well as illustrations in sound, editing, and animation.

Over the next few years, the Backstage Studio Tour experienced frequent changes, and its length was significantly shortened. In 1996, it was renamed the Studio Backlot Tour. The entrance was moved to where the walking tour once began. Also, the water tank special effects demonstration, which would have a Pearl Harbor theme throughout the 2000s until the attraction closed in 2014, served as the attraction’s pre-show.

by Yesterland

After the demonstration, guests entered a prop warehouse displaying props from films and television shows. It served as the queue for the tram portion of the attraction.

The tram portion changed quite a bit through the years. Some of the sights guests enjoyed consisted of the park’s greens department with character-shaped topiaries, a costume department, the Boneyard filled with prop vehicles from different films and television shows, and the best view of the park’s original icon, the Earffel Tower.

Courtesy of Yesterland

For a number of years, the tram drove guests down residential street where the exterior shots for the Golden Girls television series and Ernest Saves Christmas was filmed. However, this street was removed, and the tour was rerouted for the Lights, Motors, Actions! Extreme Stunt Show in 2003.

by Yesterland

The finale and highlight of the Studio Backlot Tour was Catastrophe Canyon. Here guests experienced an incredible special effects display consisting of a simulated earthquake, falling power lines and fire effects, and then a massive flash flood and additional water effects.

Why Did it Close?

Unfortunately, the original vision of the Studio Backlot Tour was never fully realized since actual production never really got off the ground at Disney-MGM Studios. The attraction closed September 27, 2014 and was replaced by Toy Story Land and portions of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Where Can You Find Remnants of the Studio Backlot Tour?

Darth Vader
©Rikki Niblett

When entering Star Wars Launch Bay, guests may notice a large opening at the rear of the structure. This was the original entrance for the Backstage Studio tour before it became the Studio Backlot Tour. The rest of Star Wars Launch Bay is what remains of the Magic of Disney Animation. This pavilion was part of the tour during the attraction’s early years. Even today, there are still signs and design elements in the nearby area inspired by the attraction’s original signage and color palette.

While this has yet to be confirmed, some say the toy airplane and helicopter displayed in the exit of Toy Story Land’s Toy Story Midway Mania may be a nod to the vehicles from the tour’s Boneyard. Also, the rock work behind Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run may be an ode to the rock canyon of Catastrophe Canyon since they both occupied the same vicinity.

Lastly, the old mining equipment found around the Boulder Ridge Cove Pool at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge was re-purposed from Catastrophe Canyon.

While I enjoy what the Disney Parks have to offer now, I also enjoy discovering relics and tributes to the magic and memories that came before and their presence in the parks today. Did you ever experience the Studio Backlot Tour? If so, please share your experiences!

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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

5 thoughts on “Attraction Archaeology: Studio Backlot Tour

  • Yup, these are the only two rides that I have been truly disappointed to hear were going. Very fond memories of both.

  • I used to LOVE this ride! We are big movie fans so I soaked it all in. I loved the Rocketeer outfits and other movie relics afterwards too. As a kid, I probably didn’t appreciate walking through and watching the artists do their work but looking back…how cool was that?!

  • I remember the Animation tour. They were working on Mulan. You could look down into the offices and over the artists’ shoulders.

  • That was always one of our “must-do” rides, along with “The Great Movie Ride”.

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