At the close of business on January 6, 2008, the Walt Disney World Resort theme park known as Disney-MGM Studios officially shut its doors after almost a decade of operation. Fans didn’t have to worry too much, however, as the park would reopen the next morning under its new name, Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Debuting on May 1, 1989, Disney-MGM Studios was the third theme park to open at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, after the Magic Kingdom in 1971 and Epcot Center in 1982. The project began with an idea for a movie-themed pavilion, resembling a film soundstage, to be built at Epcot; it was later expanded into its own theme park, which now stretches over 135 acres. The name of the park was the result of a 1985 licensing contract between Disney and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio, which allowed Disney the right to use the MGM name and logo for a studio-themed park.
In its original conception, Disney-MGM Studios was to operate not only as a theme park, but also as a fully functioning television and movie production studio. Several feature films, including the lightweight comedy Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), were produced there before its opening as a theme park. This caused trouble with MGM, who filed suit against Disney in 1988 alleging that using the park as a working production studio violated the terms of their contract. Disney later countersued, and the case was settled in 1992. The verdict allowed Disney to continue using the MGM name and logo on films produced at the theme park facility and MGM to open a movie-themed theme park of its own, which it did in Las Vegas in 1993 (the park closed in 2000).
On opening day in May 1989, Disney’s then-president, Michael Eisner, dedicated Disney-MGM Studios to Hollywood, which he called “not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine.” By 2007, the sprawling theme park was hosting close to 10 million visitors in six themed areas, including the “Hollywood Boulevard” main entrance; the Great Movie Ride, a tribute to classic films such as Casablanca; and a motion-simulator ride based on the Star Wars movies.
The change in the name of the park in January 2008 was clearly intended to reinforce the openly symbiotic relationship between the theme park and the movie capital of the world. As Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney World, put it in the press release announcing the change: “The new name reflects how the park has grown from representing the golden age of movies to a celebration of the new entertainment that today’s Hollywood has to offer–in music, television, movies and theater.” In addition to the name change, the resort announced an ambitious roll-out of new and upcoming attractions, including interactive exhibits based on the mega-hit movie High School Musical and its sequels, the animated award-winner Toy Story from Disney and Pixar Entertainment, the big-screen version of The Chronicles of Narnia and the blockbuster TV reality show American Idol.