Picks and Pans Review: Hollywood Goes East

updated 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT


Once upon a time, going to the movies in itself was the entertainment. Now going backstage has become big business in the film industry, and in central Florida, the Disney and Universal organizations are at war as both studios create back-lot theme parks.

It's a billion-dollar battle, and Disney has won round one, opening its park near Orlando last week. (The nearby Universal edition will open next spring.) Disney chairman Michael Eisner calls his new $500 million facility "a marriage between the motion picture side and the Imagineering side" of the Disney franchise. But it's also an attempt to satiate the public's feeding frenzy for inside information about anything connected with Hollywood.

This theme park is an anomaly: It celebrates the magic of moviemaking by demystifying the process. Lights! Cameras! Action! $30.65 adult admission! And you thought movie tickets were expensive.

For the movie lover, however, it's money well spent. At its best, this expedition explains in basic, instructive and amusing terms how movies—and not just Disney movies—get made. Mickey, Goofy and Donald yield the spotlight to the new Disney characters—Roger Rabbit, Robin Williams and Bette Midler. The park's centerpiece is a two-hour back-lot tour featuring short films of such stars as Warren Beatty and Bill Cosby explaining various aspects of movie and TV production. The first half of the tour is taken on a tram through a back lot and includes a rollicking special-effects demonstration, including earthquakes, rain and fire. The second half is a walking tour in which other mysteries of the movie universe are explained.

Disney's animation attraction features an odd couple of hosts: Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams on film. To explain the animation process, which they do brilliantly, Cronkite turns Williams into one of the Lost Boys in the animated Peter Pan. Two audience participation shows are crowd pleasers too. Four members of the audience create the sound effects at the Monster Sound Show. Through a combination of live TV and old clips, the SuperStar Television attraction lets selected audience members share the screen with TV's greats. For instance, you could find yourself as Ethel Mertz alongside Lucy in the famous candy-wrapping production-line sequence. And fortunately, in this case, the magic isn't defiled because the process is never explained.

The Great Movie Ride re-creates classic cinema with Disney's classic automatons. At its end, the vehicle stops in front of a film screen for a rousing montage of great movie moments compiled by Chuck Workman. It's a welcome reminder of Hollywood's accomplishments, and, to its credit, the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park honors what lures movie lovers in the first place: the primal pleasures of sitting in the dark as Scarlett and Rhett or Butch and Sundance flicker in front of us. After all, that's entertainment. So is this extravaganza.

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