What A Disney Survey Says About The Immersive Future Of Theme Parks

Despite being home to a few of the finest attractions in Walt Disney World, the Hollywood Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida currently isn't worth the price of admission. But that will change in a few years, when the massive construction projects that have reduced the park to a half-day experience are finished and you can visit entire worlds based on Star Wars and Toy Story (with even more reportedly in the pipeline). Hollywood Studios is in the process of completely remaking itself – in a few years, it'll be a brand new park.

With these big changes may come a new name. A new survey reveals that Hollywood Studios may undergo a name change in the near future and a new mission statement – heavily themed and highly interactive worlds based on your favorite movies. And this feels like the future of theme parks in general.

The Brief History of Hollywood Studios

To understand why Hollywood Studios is undergoing such a radical change at the moment, it's important to know the history of the park and how it was designed in its earliest incarnation (if you're already a Disney parks aficionado, you'll be safe to just skip ahead to the next section).

The park original opened in 1989 as Disney-MGM Studios and it was part of a crafty (some would say crappy) move to beat Universal Studios at its own game. When Universal made plans to transplant their popular studio-style theme park to Orlando, Disney threw together a park of their own, one that offered the same "behind-the-scenes" experience that Universal did back in Hollywood. In addition to the regular rides, guests could embark on a tram tour that drove past various film locations, large props, and studio spaces.

However, the production facilities never truly took off and Disney-MGM Studios eventually had to drop the pretense of being a working studio and just become a movie-themed park. (Interestingly, Disney's attempt to ape their style forced Universal Studios to pivot with their Florida park, resulting in a very different experience and ultimately sending them down a very different path...one with Harry Potter at the end of it.) In 2008, the park was rechristened as Dinsey's Hollywood Studios and it has since struggled to find an identity. While it was home to masterpiece attractions like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Star Tours, and Rock 'n Roller Coaster, it was a park without a clear identity – a collection of rides with a vague Hollywood theme. Unlike The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom, it didn't have a clear mission statement.

And then Disney announced new lands themed around Star Wars and Toy Story land, both set to open in the next few years. And that's why roughly half of the park is a construction site. And that brings us to right now.

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The Survey

Like any multi-billion dollar company, Disney proceeds slowly and cautiously, very carefully examining what their customers want before they pull the trigger on anything. That's how we learned about that immersive Star Wars-themed hotel months before it was officially announced – Disney asked guests about them on customer surveys.

In other words, ideas that appear on Disney theme park surveys have a habit of becoming reality, which makes this newest survey about the future of Hollywood Studios, discovered by Mickey Views, so very interesting.

Let's start with this paragraph of text, posted under the following statement: "We now want to show you the description of what this park wants to stand for." In other words, here is a potential mission statement for a park that has been crying out for one for well over a decade:

Enter this newly named Disney Theme Park and completely immerse yourself in the realm of some of your favorite stories. Step into imagined worlds made real and take the lead in an adventure that surrounds you at every turn. From the edge of the galaxy to the imaginative world of toys, familiar locales become the settings of exhilarating quests to call your own. Explore them all alongside world-renowned Characters and a supporting cast made up of your family and friends. Magnificent memories are unbound as you discover this collection of amazing adventures together.

If you're a regular /Film reader (and especially if you're a regular /Film reader who enjoys theme parks), you already know that Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is poised to be a next-generation experience. It will be home to several high-tech attractions and heavily themed shops and restaurants, but it will also be a truly participatory experience. What you do, how you do it, and who you interact with will genuinely impact your time in the land. Disney's plans for Galaxy's Edge sound cutting edge, the kind of thing that could reshape the entire theme park experience if it works and if people enjoy it.

And this mission statement suggests that the fully interactive immersion of Star Wars land could extend to Toy Story land...and to other potential lands. Universal Studios used to be the place where you could "ride the movies," but Hollywood Studios seemingly wants to position itself as the place where you can live the movies. Forget about VR – this is the next step in immersive entertainment.

With the direction also comes a new name. Possibly. In addition to Hollywood Studios, the same survey asked guests to pick a favorite from a number of other names:

  • Disney Kaleidoscope Park
  • Disney Storyverse Park
  • Disney Hyperia Park
  • Disney Beyond Park
  • Disney Cinemagic Park
  • Disney Legends Park
  • Disney XL Park
  • Disney Cinemagine Park
  • Some of those are better than others (XL Park? Really?), but they suggest a common theme. Magic. Imagination. Story. Hollywood Studios began its life as a place to learn about how movies are made. Now, it's going to become place where you get to step into your favorite movies and embrace the fiction.

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    The Future

    Earlier this month, Hollywood Studios officially closed The Great Movie Ride, the classic (and aging) opening day attraction that offered riders a tour of film history. It will soon become a ride based on Mickey Mouse, taking the most centralized location in the park and handing it over the Walt Disney Company's flagship character. The times, they are a'changin.' At this point, only the Tower of Terror and Rock 'n Roller Coaster seem safe from the facelift coming to Hollywood Studios, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them get makeovers in the coming years to better fit in with the rest of the park as it is reshaped around them.

    Interestingly, it was the massive success of Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter that inspired Disney to up its game this way. Those lands, immaculately themed and lovingly rendered, changed the theme park game in a profound way and acted as a kick in the rear for Disney Imagineering. For the first time in theme park history, another company made Disney realize they had something to prove. Considering that it was Disney-MGM Studios that forced Universal down an alternate path back in the early '90s, there's tinge of irony to all of this. Hollywood Studios was created to stamp out Universal, but it only created a beast it now has imitate and overcome.

    So here's what to look for in the future: more rides and attractions based on beloved intellectual properties; more rides and attractions that utilize cutting edge technology to immerse you in the experience and give you agency; Universal attempting to once again beat Disney at their own game, elongating this theme park cold war. It's going to be an interesting decade.