The Sorcerer’s Hat is no more. For some this is a moment of triumph and restoration. For others it represents a seismic shift in Disney’s Hollywood Studios ethos and theme. My family and I are both excited about it as well as a little sad to see such an icon of so many Disney trips say goodbye. Regardless of your personal reaction, the decision to remove the hat allows Hollywood Studios to return to its original intent and design as well as to restore the park to its more purely “imagineered” vision.
By now most of us know the story. It was 1984. Michael Eisner and Frank Wells had just accepted roles as CEO and COO of Walt Disney Productions. Early in their leadership Walt Disney World added Captain EO, Mickey’s Toontown, the Norway Pavilion, and two new resorts. To generate interest beyond Walt Disney World’s only two parks at the time, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, plans for what was then referred to as “The Third Gate” were in motion at WDW.
According to Jeff Kurtti’s Since the World Began, plans for a third park grew out of concepts for a new EPCOT pavilion. In addition to the Norway Pavilion, Disney leaders Eisner and Wells as well as the Imagineering community had been developing a “Movie Pavilion” that would tell the story of Hollywood with a unique Disney “bent.” Once they got into the concept, however, the decision was made to abandon notions of a new pavilion within EPCOT and instead expand the idea into a new park that became MGM Studios, which became Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2008.
Thematically, this new park was created in the spirit of 1930’s and 1940’s Hollywood. This is significant because, if you’ve visited the real Hollywood, Walt Disney World’s iteration is nothing like Hollywood is now nor ever has been. Here is what Michael Eisner read from the dedication plaque on the park’s opening day:
The world you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood—not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was—and always will be.
The “state of mind” referenced on the plaque probably comes closest to capturing the essence of the park. I’ve heard Matt Hochberg, host of www.studioscentral.com, talk about the design of Hollywood Boulevard from the entrance to the original Studios centerpiece, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, as a metaphorical journey from 1935 Hollywood to the present with Prime Time 50’s Cafe squarely in the middle. It’s a fascinating take on the park’s tight thematic design and Imagineering vision. And it makes sense. The net effect is this: Disney’s Hollywood Studios was created to be a representation of all Hollywood could have been, perhaps should have been, but actually has only existed in our imagination. This vision naturally culminated in the full-scale replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which premiered Disney’s Mary Poppins in 1964. So it is with good reason that Mickey’s Sorcerer Hat was not original to MGM Studios. It was added an an attraction during 2001’s 100 Years of Magic Celebration at Walt Disney World.
Over countless trips early in my Disney park experiences I never really gave the Sorcerer’s Hat much thought. It didn’t really fit aesthetically, but it wasn’t terribly dissonant in its theming. Because “Hollywood” in my mind always implied a sense of magic, at least to a degree, the Sorcerer’s Hat felt consistent enough. It wasn’t until we were at rope drop one morning with a long, straight-down-Hollywood-Boulevard, view that I realized just how intrusive Mickey’s Sorcerer Hat was to the park described on the dedication plaque.
You can see in the photo above, as the Hat disappears an ever better Hollywood has emerged. Even given the size of the Hat, the impact removing one visual element from an environment is surprisingly dramatic. Similar to the recently completed work on the Magic Kingdom hub, removing the Hat really opens the area up for guests. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the only structure built to full-scale on Hollywood Boulevard, is also the perfect icon for the “Golden Era” Hollywood the Imagineers have captured. It makes everything better from the Citizens of Hollywood characters to the sense of nostalgia, and we haven’t lost Mickey’s Sorcerer Hat completely, we’ll just have to make our way to Anaheim to see one now!