Walt Disney World (FL)

Samland Visits the Studios: Sunset Blvd & Animation Courtyard

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Samland continues on his visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This time he looks at Sunset Boulevard and the Animation Courtyard. If you like this sort of design stuff come visit Samland’s Disney Adventures.


Sunset Boulevard is based on the same design principles as Hollywood Boulevard and Echo Lake. It has restricted itself (with one exception) to facades of historic buildings from Los Angeles built before 1945. The most notable building would be the Carthay Circle Theater (1926) where Snow White and Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937. Down the block, the spiral marquee belongs to the Academy Theater (1938) in Inglewood. There are two building from Pasadena, the Winter Garden (1940) and a bar called the 35r. Sunset Ranch Market is based on Los Angeles’s famous Farmers Market (1941).

You will notice that there are two styles of architecture, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne, which dominate the Studios. Art Deco uses geometric designs, bold colors and modern materials and combines them to be elegant and make an optimistic statement. Streamline Moderne is a style that celebrates the machine age and is influenced by modern aerodynamic designs. Sweeping curves, symmetry, and repetition are part of the design language.

Imagineer John Hench said the use of these distinctive and familiar architectural styles gives the park “archetypal truths.” The stylized buildings are out of context and the scale is different but you accept that you could be in Hollywood set in the 1930s because all of the visual clues add up and create the underlying emotional appeal of a “glamorous, dreamlike Hollywood of the collective consciousness.”

What is the tallest attraction at Walt Disney World? The answer is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It tops out at 199 feet. Why 199 feet for a 13 story building? If it were any taller it would require a warning beacon on the roof and that would not confirm with the theme.

You will notice trolley tracks left half uncovered below your feet. These were laid in anticipation of a major Roger Rabbit themed expansion that would have included the Toontown Trolley Ride, Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride, and the Benny the Cab attraction that ended up at Disneyland.


In 1989, the Studios were more than just a theme park. Disney created a real working studio with live production facilities and an animation studio. Films such as Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, and Home on the Range were produced in Florida. You used to be able to take a tour and watch animators working at their desks plus there was an informative film featuring Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite that made every adult male in the audience sob uncontrollably. The architecture for this area is based on the work of Kem Weber who designed Walt Disney’s Burbank Studio (1939).

The courtyard is surrounded by Playhouse Disney-Live on Stage!, which used to be a restaurant where you could dine on a soundstage amidst props from Disney feature films. The Walt Disney Theater used to be a preview house for upcoming films and was converted to a live action theater featuring the Muppets. It now home to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show. The Magic of Disney Animation is a shell of its former self. This area has seen significant change.

The idea for this park was launched in 1985 and for the first time a Disney theme park was opened merely to fit a business need and be a model of controlled growth in reaction to anticipated demand. At the time, this half-day park was designed to compliment a visit to Typhoon Lagoon and Pleasure Island. Just as important was dual function of being a real production studio with three sound stages, production offices, a postproduction audio and video facility; it’s own wardrobe, property, camera, and lighting departments. The facilities featured glass walls so that visitors could peek inside a working movie-making facility. Projects shot on the back lot include Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, Passenger 57 and TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Wheel of Fortune.

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Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennaway is an Urban Planner who runs the fantastic SamLand’s Disney Adventures blog. Sam visits Disneyland on a frequent basis and toured with the Unofficial Guide team on our recent Disneyland Trip.

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