Recently, at the D23 Expo – the Official Disney Fan Club convention – the Walt Disney Company made a lot of announcements regarding big changes coming soon to Walt Disney World.
As a Disney geek, current Walt Disney World College Programmer, and aspiring long-term Disney Cast Member, most of these announcements have me very excited. EPCOT is getting Ratatouille and Guardians of the Galaxy attractions. Magic Kingdom is getting a new live entertainment theatre and a Tron attraction. Hollywood Studios, my current workplace, will have a Star Wars land that will be, in the words of Walt Disney Imagineer Scott Trowbridge, “unlike anything that we’ve ever done before.”
But one announcement has given me pause: The Great Movie Ride (GMR), the only attraction at Hollywood Studios that has been there since the park opened on May 1, 1989, will be replaced with a new ride, “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.”
Now, I have no doubt that the Runaway Railway will be an incredible attraction. The concept art presented at the D23 Expo is adorable and intriguing, and the ride will reportedly include immersive 3D-like effects that do not require special glasses to view. But I cannot help but sigh at the thought of losing GMR, which will close its doors on August 13th, just a few short weeks from now.
I first rode GMR on my last College Program, two years ago. I gleefully climbed aboard that journey through the movies, laughing at the jokes our tour guide cracked and humming through the musical scenes. I gasped out loud in a mixture of surprise and delight when a gangster stepped away from his animatronic companions and hijacked our vehicle, blurring the line between film and reality. I cringed away from the alien, sang along with the Munchkins, and never stopped smiling through the film montage finale.
As soon as the ride was complete, I was ready to try it again. I have ridden it several times, sometimes on my own and sometimes with friends. I never have gotten used to the alien – on one occasion, amusing in hindsight, the friend I was riding with had to “protect” me because I did not know that the alien attacked from the side of the car as well as from above – but every other scene on that journey through the movies has always been a pleasure for me. I love stories, and I love how that ride uses simple effects to tap into the imagination and take its visitors into the stories.
For those twenty-two minutes, the actors and animatronics let us believe that we are truly there in the world of movies. In this way, GMR is representative of the overarching magic that Walt Disney World gives its guests. Walt Disney World gives us a day in which we are not in the everyday world, but a world of wonder and adventure, a world where stories come to life and dreams come true.
Again, I have no doubt that the Runaway Railway will be a wonderful part of the magic of Walt Disney World. I look forward to climbing aboard the train and seeing where Mickey and his friends take me next. But a part of me will always look fondly back on GMR, with some regret at how I was never able to take my parents on it, and also with a lot of happy memories.