Last month Disney’s iconic Great Movie Ride attraction closed its doors for good. The Great Movie Ride was the last original attraction from the opening day of what was then known as Disney’s MGM Studios in 1989. In 2014, the ride was given an upgrade when it partnered with Turner Classic Movies. The ride was refurbished with the addition of Robert Osborne as a narrator and an updated ending montage. The TCM Backlot organized a special goodbye celebration with Disney’s fan group, D23 the day before the ride bid farewell. I was one of the lucky few that was able to attend the event (I was told the registration for the event filled up within seconds, I still can’t believe I got in) and it was only fitting that my plus one be my mother. I loved being able to share this experience with her because it brought me back to my childhood. I must admit it was a lot more emotional than I expected because sitting with her felt like I was transported to the late 90s at the peak of my classic movie adolescence obsession.
When it was announced that Disney was closing it to make room for a Mickey and Minnie-themed attraction, I was devastated. It sounds dramatic but it’s honestly true. I grew up in Orlando and yes, I used to go to Disney World all the time. My dad worked there for over a decade so I’ve experienced countless birthdays, character breakfasts, you name it. My mother even tells the joke that at one point when she asked me if I wanted to go to Disney I once said, “again?” in an exasperated tone. Growing up as an awkward classic movie fan, The Great Movie Ride was my place. It was the ride I always looked forward to and I would drag my parents to take me on it every time.
Being on The Great Movie Ride felt like you were in a classic movie. I felt like one of those small town girls who go to Hollywood and sees the bright lights of tinsel town as their dreams of stardom occupy their thoughts. From putting my handprints on Audrey Hepburn’s in the forecourt of the Chinese Theater facade to walking into the building and waiting in the queue looking at memorabilia worn by iconic stars, Disney created a tribute to the Hollywood dream factory. I was already a big classic movie fan before I road the ride but the Great Movie Ride’s trailers before the attraction and montage at the end introduced me to films and actors I love ’til this day. This was more than just a theme park ride. This deepened my life long love affair with film.
What I didn’t realize about the Great Movie Ride was that it was inspiring me to learn more about these films and the people who made them come to life. There was also a camaraderie created by the ride host that made it a communal experience. If you stopped and looked around, you could see people being moved by seeing the clips of the films and parents telling their kids about the movie on the screen that they saw “in the good old days.” For someone who felt alone liking these movies at a young age, this showed me a community I didn’t know existed.
We arrived at 7 am for the event to check in. It was so early and before the park opened but excitement filled the air. There were people in custom made Great Movie Ride shirts, people dressed in vintage clothing, some Backlot t-shirts and even a guy dressed up as Indiana Jones. When we all huddled in the forecourt of the theater, we were greeted by two imagineers who were instrumental in bringing this ride to life. They then led us on a guided walking tour where we could see just how detailed the ride was and get an up close look at the animatronics.
During the tour I gained a much deeper appreciation for the ride in particular the gangster and Alien sets. These were always my favorites because they were so immersive but being able to walk inside them I got to see so many details like a pair of heels, just what was written on the headlines of the newspapers on the floor and the detailing of the Ripley animatronic. When we got to the gangster set, one of the imagineers who started his Disney career as a Great Movie Ride tour guide recreated the gangster part and still had the dialogue memorized. It was a real treat! After our walking tour we got to ride the ride for one last time. When the tour guide gave his final spiel and said goodbye, there was a long thunderous applause. It was really special.
After the ride, we were treated to a brunch and Q&A session with the imagineers. I asked them what it was like working with Robert Osborne and why they thought that was a good fit for the ride. These two men didn’t actually work with him the day they shot his intros and recorded his track but they did tell me that adding him gave the ride the emotional component they felt it was missing. They elaborated saying that films are passed on either generationally or from a friend and having Robert there was like seeing a friend because he’s not just an icon when it comes to classic movies but an ambassador of the art. It’s his familiar face that reminds viewers of that uncle they watched movies with or that friend who gave you the copy of The Wizard of Oz. I was a bit bummed that I didn’t hear about the day of the shoot but I got a tap on the shoulder after the question was asked and it was from Michael Roddy, the Show Director for creative entertainment at Disney World. He told me that he was the one who directed Robert that day and actually wrote his scripts. Michael said Robert could not have been nicer and was so enthusiastic during the shoot. He added that you could just tell how much he loved movies and that he took the time to talk to everyone involved in the small shoot from the camera man to the person giving him water. When one of the TCM staffers gave a toast before the brunch, she told us Robert really loved being a part of the ride adding he was really thrilled and honored TCM collaborated with Disney for it.
I have to say the brunch was very bittersweet. It was then that it hit me that I was never going to see animatronic Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart again, never mouth the words “we had faces” when Gloria Swanson says them in the montage and feeling heart eyes at seeing William Holden sitting next to her, I was never going to wonder if we were going to get the gangster or the cowboy as our tour guide because The Great Movie Ride is no more. I’ll miss what The Great Movie Ride did for me and how it inspired countless other filmgoers but I will cherish these memories and share them in hopes that it will inspire a love of the classics for others like Disney did to me.