The ride is located inside a recreation of the famous Hollywood landmark Grauman's Chinese Theatre. However, because the Walt Disney Company was denied permission to use the name "Grauman", the proper name of the building is simply "The Chinese Theatre". (Also, at the time the attraction was opened, the actual Grauman's Theater was officially known as "Mann's Chinese Theater" as it was owned by the Mann film theater group.)
The facade was almost completely blocked from view in 2001 when a giant replica of the Sorcerer's Hat was built directly in front of it. It served as the park's symbol until it was demolished in 2015.
- Relive some of the greatest movie moments in history during a tram ride that puts you in the middle of the magic.
- Step back in time as you behold a full-scale reproduction of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Featuring handprints, footprints and signatures of some of Disney’s greatest stars embedded in the cement outside, the theater meticulously captures the pageantry of the legendary movie palace that has become a symbol of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
- Parade inside the art-deco-inspired grand lobby and view a dazzling menagerie of props, set pieces and costumes from classic films.
- Stroll onto a soundstage designed to recall 1930's-era Hollywood and board a tram for a captivating tour of some of Tinseltown’s greatest film scenes. Glide beneath a flashing movie marquee and cross over into a world that could only exist in the movies.
- Featuring nearly 50 lifelike Audio-Animatronics replicas of legendary movie stars, lavishly produced set pieces and wondrous special effects, the Great Movie Ride immerses you in the thrills, chills and romance of some of the most memorable moments in motion picture history.
- Your informative tour guide will set the stage for the scenes you’ll visit. Just don’t be surprised if something unexpected happens along the way. Keep telling yourself, it’s only a movie.
The Queuing Area
The queue winds through a recreation of Grauman's Chinese Theatre lobby past glass display cases containing actual costumes, props, and set pieces from various films. The queue then takes guests into a small pre-show theatre where guests view a series of condensed film trailers for the various films that are featured on the ride. The queue line ends at a pair of automatic doors at the front of the theatre that lead into a 1930s era Hollywood soundstage where guests are loaded onto waiting ride vehicles.
Props that have been displayed in the queue area throughout the ride's existence
- Mary's carousel horse from Mary Poppins
- Susan's costume from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- A green peacock Elizabethan dress worn by Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love
- The Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz (Another of the 5 known pairs is in the National Museum of American History administered by the Smithsonian)
- Indiana Jones' Machete and Monkey Heads from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
- The Dejarik board used aboard the Millennium Falcon in the original Star Wars
- The Dip Machine model and bullet case from Who Framed Roger Rabbit
- Spacesuit and various props from the films Alien and Armageddon
- Sam's piano from Casablanca
- A dress worn by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music
- The title object from Cocoon
- The model Nautilus submarine and a dive suit from Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
- A suit from Guys and Dolls
- Liza Minnelli's kimono from Cabaret
- Alex's bowler hat from A Clockwork Orange
- Iceman's uniform from Top Gun
- A costume from Beverly Hills Cop II
The neon theatre marquee inside of the 1930's-era Hollywood soundstage at the beginning of the ride. As guests reach the end of the queue, they enter a 1930's-era Hollywood soundstage where they are loaded by cast members into one of two sets of open, theatre-style seating ride vehicles. The vehicles utilize a "traveling theatre" style ride system similar to the Universe of Energy attraction at Epcot. However, here the ride vehicles are much smaller in size, are grouped together in pairs of two, and feature an open cab in the first row of the front vehicle for a live tour guide to stand, provide narration, and operate the ride vehicle. When the attraction is operating during the peak season, both sets of ride vehicles are used. Otherwise, only the second set of ride vehicles is used. On some occasions (most likely to occur during performances of Fantasmic!) when the park is not crowded, only one vehicle will be used.
The film set within the soundstage features a large neon theatre marquee and a cyclorama of the 1930's-era Hollywood Hills complete with the original Hollywoodland Sign. As the ride begins, the tour guide on the ride vehicle welcomes guests and informs them that they will be taking them through scenes from different classic films throughout history.
The first genre of films introduced are musicals, which begins with a pyramid of Audio-animatronic chorus girls in a scene from Busby Berkeley's Footlight Parade. The next musical scenes include audio-animatronics of Gene Kelly swinging from a lamp post from the film Singin' in the Rain, followed by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke singing Chim Chim Cher-ee on the rooftops of London in Mary Poppins.
The next scene is a tribute to gangster films. The ride vehicle passes through the dark and seedy backstreets of 1930's Chicago and past an audio-animatronic James Cagney in a scene from The Public Enemy. When the Bandit show is running, the lead ride vehicle continues on to the next scene while the second car is stopped by a red light above a tunnel entrance. The tour guide stops the ride vehicle and waits for a green light, not wanting to "break the law, even if it is just a movie." While stopped, a live gangster named Mugsy (male) or Mugsi (female) and their audio-animatronic sidekicks Squid and Beans show up and get involved in a shoot-out with rival mobsters in a car on the opposite side of the street where the ride vehicle is stopped, resulting in Beans getting badly wounded. Although Squid and Beans are left behind to "give [the gangster's] regards to the warden," the live gangster chases away the tour guide and hijacks the ride vehicle. When the gangster notices the red light, they shoot it out and make their getaway aboard the ride vehicle.
Next is a tribute to the Western genre. Here, guests encounter audio-animatronics of Clint Eastwood standing near a saloon and John Wayne sitting atop his horse. If the ride vehicle is already being driven by the gangster, it continues past a shoot-out between the town sheriff and an audio-animatronic bank robber named Snake. On this version of the show, the ride vehicle stops here while the robbery is in progress and a live bank robber named Kate Durango (female) or Kid Carson (male) appears from inside the bank. After getting into a shoot-out with the town sheriff and chasing the tour guide away, the bandit blows up the town bank with dynamite and hijacks the ride vehicle. Following this scene, the remainder of the attraction is the same for both sets of ride vehicles.
As the ride vehicle continues into a spaceship, a narrator's voice states that this is the Nostromo, the ship from the film Alien. The narrator then tells guests of the alien lurking within the ship waiting to claim its next victim. Guests can also hear the Nostromo’s mother computer warning of the imminent self-destruction countdown. Hearing this, the hijacker becomes nervous and speeds the ride vehicle through the ship. But not before the Alien appears and attacks the guests, popping out from both the ceiling and the wall. Before exiting the spaceship, the ride vehicle passes a scene of an audio-animatronic Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) holding a flamethrower as she prepares to confront the Alien. Behind her is a steady drip of slime. This can only be seen if the rider pays close attention to that part of the corridor.
The ride vehicle next enters a scene set in an ancient Egyptian temple filled with snakes. The narrator informs guests that they are in a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark as audio-animatronic figures of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) struggle to lift the Ark of the Covenant. A second room within the temple (though not from the film) features a large altar in the form of the ancient Egyptian god Anubis. Near the top of the altar, a large jewel is being watched over by a cloaked temple guard. The hijacker sees it, stops the ride vehicle, and disembarks to retrieve it. Before touching it, the temple guard gives a warning that those who disturb it must pay with their life. Ignoring the warning, the hijacker reaches to grab it. Suddenly, a plume of smoke shoots from the ground. When it disperses, the hijacker is now nothing more than a skeleton (still reaching for the jewel) and the temple guard is revealed to be the original tour guide who reboards the vehicle and continues the ride.
The next film genre introduced is the horror film as the ride vehicle travels through an ancient burial chamber full of mummies who have come to life. The ride vehicle soon leaves the tomb and enters a jungle, which is home to Tarzan the Ape Man. Here, audio-animatronic figures of Tarzan swinging on a vine, Jane sitting on top of an elephant, and Cheeta the chimpanzee can be seen. The ride vehicle then moves past the classic final scene from Casablanca featuring audio-animatronics of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as they stand in front of a waiting airplane. Some incorrectly claim that this plane, a Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior, is the actual one from the film, but it isn't as no full-size one was actually used in it The one on the attraction was allegedly used in Tarzan's New York Adventure and other films in the 1940's before being purchased by Disney. The back half was cut off and can be found resting along the shoreline of the Jungle Cruise attraction at the Magic Kingdom. Next, the ride vehicle passes a film projection of Mickey Mouse in his role as The Sorcerer's Apprentice from the classic Disney animated film Fantasia.
The ride vehicle then enters into the Munchkinland scene from The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy's house has landed on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. During peak season, both sets of ride vehicles meet up here and come to a stop in the middle of the scene. Audio-animatronic Munchkins begin to appear from various places and sing as they welcome the riders to their home. However, a plume of smoke suddenly rises from the ground as an audio-animatronic Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) appears and asks who is responsible for killing her sister. The tour guide aboard the first set of ride vehicles answers her before she finally disappears in another puff of smoke. The Munchkins finally reappear from their hiding places and begin to sing again as both sets of ride vehicles follow the Yellow Brick Road out of Munchkinland past audio-animatronic figures of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and Toto standing in front of the Emerald City, and onto the ride's grand finale.
For the grand finale, both sets of ride vehicles enter a large, dark theatre where they line up side-by-side and come to a stop in front of a large film screen. There, a fast-paced three minute film montage of classic film moments is shown. At the conclusion, both sets of ride vehicles exit the theatre, line up single-file again and return to the 1930's soundstage where the ride concludes and guests applauds for the tour guide and exit the attraction.
Unlike many Disney dark rides that feature separate embarkation and debarkation areas, this one has only a single combined unloading and loading area. The last people to exit the vehicles often pass the next group of guests waiting to board the vehicles. At the time the ride was designed (the mid to late 1980's), it was common throughout the theme park industry to have all major rides exit into a merchandise store selling novelties associated with the attraction the guests just exited. The ride does not exit directly into a store.
Since its inception, the ride has had some modifications worth noting.
Footlight ParadeThe first sequence of the ride, Footlight Parade, was plagued with engineering and technical problems from the beginning. When the ride was newly opened, the Footlight Parade segment was different than it is today. The entire portion following the neon lighted entrance was fleshed out. All the walls leading up to, around, and beyond the "cake" were painted in art deco style patterns as seen in "By A Waterfall". Approximately three "diving boards" with three mannequin "dancers" wearing capes were perched on the right hand side of the wall as you enter the ride segment. The five-tiered "cake" was prominently displayed at a left hand turn. It was in the open air illuminated with an array of animated lights. During this pass through the Footlight Parade segment, riders would hear a "loop" of "By A Waterfall" (a song featured in Footlight Parade) lasting approximately 40 seconds as bubbles fall from the ceiling.
For approximately the first year, the "cake" actually rotated and was adorned with water jets as seen in the film. Allegedly, the rotating "cake" mechanism was constantly breaking down, causing frequent repairs and downtime. In addition, the water pumps would constantly fail, flooding the ride path. Park operations believed it was much cheaper and less problematic to leave the "cake" in place with lighting effects used to provide what imagineers term as "kinetics" to the segment. This is what guests see today.
Today, this segment is still the "opening act" of the ride, but significantly toned down. The guests now enter a segment with its lighting significantly diminished. The outer walls are dark with practically no art deco recreations from the film set. The "diving boards" have been replaced with art deco style wall sconces. Instead, guests pass through a deco inspired archway to find themselves facing a large scrim-lined proscenium decorated with grey/blue clouds and remnants of the art deco set designs. Throughout the segment, three large rotating projections of Busby Berkeley-style kaleidoscope dance sequences appear on the scrim (from By A Waterfall, 42nd Street, and Shadow Waltz). These disappear to expose the "cake", which is behind the scrim, and is simultaneously illuminated with washes of light and reflective water effects. The caped dancers on diving boards are now located to the far left of the "cake" behind the scrim. The art deco style wall panels still reside behind the "cake". The looping song segment and bubbles remain.
Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz scene did not have major structural changes, but Walt Disney Imagineering replaced the Wicked Witch audio-animatronic character with a newer-design figure utilizing Sarcos technology. The Sarcos-equipped animatronics are capable of a great deal more movement possibilities than the original "limited animation" figure designs, and can move much more quickly. As a result they can be made much more lifelike. The new witch was reprogrammed to take advantage of the underlying robot, and as a result is one of, if not the, most lifelike characters in the attraction.
The ride retrieved a sponsor from Turner Classic Movies, and made it undergo some big changes. The queue area has been updated with screens displaying animated movie posters, and the props and costumes exhibits have been updated with electronic screens as a suitable replacement to the paint covering the old ones, which aged and left the text obscured. The pre-show has also been updated to a short documentary on movies instead of showing numerous classic movie trailers (some are still shown) hosted by Robert Osborne. The electronic narrator has been changed to Osborne, and has taken over more of the live host's role, though the live host still has some role, such as still being confronted by the bandit/gangster, thus the vehicle still gets hijacked. The finale has also been updated.
- Alien appears in the ride despite that it was released by 20th Century Fox rather than MGM or Lucasfilm. Disney had acquired the rights to use the film from Fox several years earlier for a planned ride at the Magic Kingdom, based on it. While it was cancelled, the overall concept later morphed into the Tomorrowland attraction ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, although the creature from the film was not used on the basis that it was "too frightening".
- A 3D adventure called the "Chinese Theater's Villain Ride" was planned (but never built) for replacing the ride. More information about this can be found on the list of never built Disney attractions page.
- The ride directly inspired the creation of Disney's Hollywood Studios. In an Imagineering book, it was revealed that it was actually going to be the main attraction in a show business themed pavilion at Epcot, which was to be called "Great Moments at the Movies." However, the newly assigned Disney CEO Michael Eisner and WDI president Marty Sklar decided the idea was strong enough to lead an entire new theme park. The idea for the ride was expanded, and the Disney-MGM Studios went into official development.
- Plans called for the ride to be the main attraction for the Disney-MGM Studios Paris theme park, which was scrapped due to the early financial difficulties of the EuroDisneyland Resort. Years later when the resort began turning profits, a show business themed theme park went into development again, and the Walt Disney Studios Park opened in 2002 at the Disneyland Resort Paris, although minus the ride. A show called CinéMagique was built in lieu of it due to claims by Disney management that the French preferred shows to ride-through attractions.
- Three separate attempts were made by Walt Disney Imagineering to bring the ride to California. First were plans to incorporate the attraction into the proposed “Disney-MGM Studio Backlot” project, a 40-acre (160,000 m2) film studio themed retail and entertainment district that was planned (but ultimately never built) for downtown Burbank, California during the late 1980s. Several years later, plans called for the ride to serve as the centerpiece of the proposed Hollywoodland at Disneyland, which would have been added to the park during the planned Disney Decade in 1990s. Due to budget cuts, however, that was canceled. Later, plans called for the ride to be built as part of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area of Disney California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort. But budget cuts in the park's original development planning forced the ride's projected cost to be spent on smaller, original and less expensive attractions.
- On November 25th, 2014, it was announced that Turner Classic Movies would take over the ride's sponsorship, adding a new pre-show and post-show film hosted by TCM host Robert Osborne. Additionally as part of the deal, Disney and TCM have agreed to a new periodic programming block titled "Treasures of the Disney Vault", focusing on vintage Disney material.
- When Muppet Vision 3-D opened at the park, the area surrounding the ride was going to be developed into a Muppets-themed area, with another attraction being The Great Muppet Movie Ride, featuring Muppets such as Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy and their chaotic attempts at making their own versions of classic movies. Again, budget cuts at the stalling theme park forced the idea to be scrapped, along with "The Great Muppet Movie Ride".
- On the park's opening day, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Roger Rabbit and other Disney characters placed their signatures, handprints, and footprints in front of the ride's façade.
- The ride's ending was originally going to have more of a foundation in The Wizard of Oz, with the Fantasia scene being the Cyclone, and also a divider down the middle of the theatre separating the A and B vehicles in the final (film clip) scene. Where the screen is now was where the Wizard would have appeared surrounded by flames. He would say his famous line, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" and the show would be "interrupted" as the curtains to the left or right of the screen would open to reveal either your live bandit (on the A vehicle side) or gangster (on the B vehicle side). Along the outer walls (to the left of the A vehicle or to the right of the B vehicle), is currently large empty carpeted areas. Here was supposed to be large platforms where models of all of the audio-animatronic characters seen earlier in the ride would be standing and take a bow.