Yester California Adventure at Yesterland

DCA Then & Now, Part 7:

Hollywood Pictures Backlot
& Hollywood Land


Hollywood Backlot

This is the seventh (and final, for the time being) installment of Yesterland’s Disney California Adventure Then & Now series. Last time, we looked at Hollywood Blvd. Today we’ll look at more of what was originally the Hollywood Pictures Backlot and is now Hollywood Land—with comparisons of similar photos from 2002 (or 2001) and 2013.

If you missed any part of this series, there are links to the other six photo essays at the end of this one.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, January 17, 2014.


Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

Entrance to Hollywood Pictures Backlot (2002)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Entrance to Hollywood Land (2013)

This set of photo comparisons begins outside of the Hollywood-themed section of the Disney park at what was originally Sunshine Plaza and is now part of Buena Vista Street.

The original portal to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot was supposed to look like a movie studio gate, complete with the Babylonian elephants from D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance. The pachyderm portal is now gone. Surprisingly, the pedestals remain, apparently to mark the transition from Buena Vista Street to Hollywood Land.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

Muppets’ USS Swinetrek spacecraft behind barricades (2002)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Muppets’ USS Swinetrek spacecraft in a planter (2013)

Muppet*Vision 3D was an opening day attraction when Disney’s (now Disney) California Adventure opened February 8, 2001. The 3D movie had premiered almost ten years earlier at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) at Walt Disney World.

Originally, the USS Swinetrek spacecraft—from the “Pigs in Space’ episodes within The Muppet Show—was displayed with barricades set up around it, as if it had crashed-landed onto the pavement outside the theater.

The Backlot had been designed to look industrial, just like a typical movie “factory” in Hollywood. The problem was that the bare concrete, steel beams, utility poles, and wires were ugly and uninviting—even if that’s how most real studios looked. Then again, the campus-like Walt Disney Studios in Burbank never looked like that.

A “placemaking” project in late 2005 and early 2006 made the Backlot somewhat less industrial. A planter was added near Muppet*Vision 3D and the USS Swinetrek was moved into it. In the two photos above, USS Swinetrek is not in the same location.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2002

Muppet*Vision 3D sign (2002)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Muppet*Vision 3D sign (2013)

As part of the placemaking project, the sign for Muppet*Vision 3D moved to a new location and was dressed up with pictures of some of the Muppets who appear in the movie—Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Beaker, and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. Apparently someone at Disney felt the attraction would draw more guests if the sign showed more characters than just Kermit.

The new version of the sign no longer included Jim Henson’s name. Muppet*Vision 3D was the last project directed by the creative genius before his sudden death in 1990 at age 53.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

Rizzo’s Prop & Pawn Shop (2002)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Studio Store (2013)

As part of the Backlot’s placemaking project, Rizzo’s Prop & Pawn Shop became the Studios Store. The building was cleaned up using the same color scheme, graphics, and font as found at the Studios park at Walt Disney World—eliminating the shop’s direct tie-in with Muppet*Vision 3D.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

The Hollywood Backlot Stage (2002)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

The Hollywood Backlot Stage (2013)

The Hollywood Backlot Stage has kept the original “gritty movie studio” esthetic of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot—and still has “Backlot” as part of its name. Over the years, the stage has hosted a number of smaller live shows, including “Lights, Camera, Chaos!” “Goofy’s Beach Party Bash,” “D.U.H. - Department of Untapped Hilarity,” “Drawn to the Magic,” and “Disney Dance Crew.”

The major difference between the 2002 photo and the 2013 photo is the addition of a shade roof over the seating. That change happened in April 2002, around three months after the 2002 photo was taken.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

Ice Cold Refreshment Drive-In (2002)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Mad T Party House of Cards (2013)

The Drive-in restaurant “set” outside the Hollywood & Dine food court originally sold Coca Cola products from a cooler, provided outdoor seating for the food court, and featured a hot rod.

Located in a corner of the park largely devoid of guests— especially after its neighbors, Hollywood & Dine and Superstar Limo, both closed—the Drive-in restaurant became little more than a neglected relic of the park’s early missteps.

The photo from 2013 shows the Drive-in restaurant dressed up for Mad T Party, a nighttime dance party.

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Backlot façade (2001)

Disney California Adventure Then & Now, Part 7

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Monsters University façade (2013)

The final pair of photos shows a stark contrast between the original movie backlot theme and the park’s current emphasis on putting guests into Pixar movies.

The 2001 photo shows a backlot façade being repainted and redressed for a movie shoot. Barricades, klieg lights, and movie props are supposed to make guests feel they’re on a “working” set.

The 2013 photo shows the same façade cleverly transformed into a photo opportunity based on Monsters University, the 2013 Pixar release.

Micechat.com published a MiceAge Update (April 9, 2013) describing unannounced WDI plans to transform a part of Hollywood Land into “a fully realized Monstropolis environment” with a thrill ride based on the door hangar scene in Monsters Inc. and a new façade on the existing dark ride, Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!. On top of all that, “the cheap ‘studio backlot’ theme of this area would be removed entirely, and the backside of the Hollywood Blvd. façades would be built out and repurposed as new dining and merchandise locations.” Brilliant plans!

Micechat.com subsequently published a disheartening MiceAge Update (November 26, 2013). MiceAge’s sources disclosed that the Monstropolis plans had been cancelled because “the NextGen project kept demanding more money and more time.” (NextGen was Disney’s internal name for the technology project that includes MyMagic+, MagicBands, gateless theme park entrances, Fastpass+, and even RF door locks at resorts.) According to the report, “There are some in WDI who feel the completed plans for Monstropolis at DCA will never see the light of day again.”

Hollywood Land at Disney California Adventure desperately needs to be brought up to the high standards of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street. Transforming the tired and not-so-magical Backlot into an immersive Monstropolis seems like the perfect plan. The Walt Disney Parks and Resorts business segment has a history of holding on to good ideas and reusing them in the future. Let’s hope this could happen with Monstropolis.


Here are the six previous photo essays in this series:


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Updated January 17, 2013.