EDITORIAL: Why Removing the Sorcerer’s Hat from Hollywood Studios is a Good Thing

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Used with permission.
A fixture at Hollywood Studios since 2001. Used with permission.

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.

The Sorcerer's Hat contributed to a very "unDisney-like" departure in thematic direction and purpose. Used with permission.
The Sorcerer’s Hat contributed to a very “unDisney-like” departure in thematic direction and purpose. Used with permission.

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:

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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.

Hollywood Boulevard in Disney's Hollywood Studios today. Used with permission.
Hollywood Boulevard in Disney’s Hollywood Studios today. Used with permission.

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!

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  • I have never been to Hollywood Studios…yet, so I don’t have a strong opinion about the hat one way or the other. If the purpose was to recapture the idea of Hollywood then it makes sense that they removed the hat. I feel like the only reason they built the hat in the first place was because they wanted something like Cinderella’s castle or Epcot to be the central focus of the park. Looking at your pictures it is quite incredible how the park just opened up with all the new found space, and the view of the Chinese theater is quite spectacular.

  • Well written article. Glad beyond words that the hat is finally where it was always meant to be…in fond memories.

  • Opinions can be written that it;s better without the hat, but the opinions of many are that it should’ve been kept in place. The theater is ugly. The Hat offered whimsy. And to say there’s more room for guests? That doesn’t fly since the plaza it was in is so large plus you could walk under the Hat. At least they could have moved it somewhere else.

  • I am hoping with the hat gone the parade route will now having more viewing space. The parade during Star Wars weekends is always a mess.

  • I agree with Mike, “… The theater is ugly. The Hat offered whimsy…”

    My family has yet visit the park without the hat. If you liked the hat or the theater better possibly depends on ones age (IMO) for how we see or remember Hollywood. But I don’t associate the theater with Hollywood. I see it as a (pardon the reference, no pun intended) cheesy reference to a Hollywood that (the) Disney (I knew as a kid had) seemed to have little association with. I feel the hat represented Disney’s Hollywood much better.

    Having said this, I will reserve my final judgement until after we visit this fall and see it for myself.

    • Terry ,
      First , If you don`t associate the Chinese Theater with Hollywood , then you`d better start .
      Because the original Chinese Theater itself is in Hollywood , California .
      And that’s what Disney actually wanted to capture with the park .
      Second , I`m amazed how there is and was so much attention given to the sorcerer’s hat that everyone is forgetting about
      the Earful Tower there .
      So while you are spending over $100 + dollars to visit , You should take some time to do some research on things before you visit . It amazes me how a number of repeat visiting adults think that they know everything about the Disney Way
      creatively when they are not the ones creating The Disney Magic .
      – Dwight ( djthereplay )

    • And Plus , Terry ,
      If you did your research , You would find out that there is at least a bit of a Disney Connection with the Chinese Theatre.
      Because Mary Poppins premiered there in 1964 .
      So please , do more research on things before you start to throw ignorant money at the mouse .
      Because the time is coming when you might find a big hole in your wallet all from visiting a place that you are trying to
      creatively control .
      – Dwight ( djthereplay )

  • I too think the theater is hideous, but my opinion of that stems from the fact that I have no idea why there are “devil”-like spikes all over it, and now there’s tale that the phallus reminiscent spires which used to top the walls are returning. (In my saddest Mickey mouse voice: “Oh, boy.”) If they could improve these, and brighten the roof back up I’d be fine with the theater.

    • How would you know there are ” devil ” – like spikes all over it , outside of Your Perception , Kim ?
      Ok , I`d like to see them put the spires back on top of the theatre , so that it looks closer to the original one that they are trying to capture . Otherwise if you weren`t acting like such a Bigoted DisneyBRAT ,
      trying to cross – examine things that you do not produce and do your research on things before you start talking ,
      Maybe that would be a greater step forward in coming to peace with the theatre .
      I wonder how Mickey would feel about those who come to Disney to ruin the magic without producing the magic?
      It amazes me how today`s self proclaimed Disney Park Fan loves to get something from Disney , for little or nothing .
      – Dwight ( djthereplay )

  • Personally, I never minded the hat, but with it gone, I will admit it was easy to forget the sheer size of the theater. It holds up well as an icon, and when the construction walls come down, it’ll look that much better.

    In my opinion, the removal of the hat is a good thing because it signifies the company’s mindset that this era of the Studios park is over. The entire Backlot Tour is gone, Superstar TV/Sounds Dangerous/American Idol are long gone, LMA is ready to go, TSM is expanding, GMA is getting an update, and with their new ownership of Lucasfilm, they have a wide open pathway to the Star Wars expansion fans are calling for.

    It’s pretty clear they’re prepping for a big announcement and overhaul of a park that is very much ready for it, so whether you loved, hated or didn’t care about the hat, I’m confident everyone will love what comes next.

    • “It’s pretty clear they’re prepping for a big announcement and overhaul of a park that is very much ready for it, so whether you loved, hated or didn’t care about the hat, I’m confident everyone will love what comes next.”

      You do realize what fanbase you are talking about right?

  • It’s funny now that the hat is removed, the icon now shifts to the Tower of Terror. We were just at Disney last week and hardly anyone was getting their picture taken with the Chinese Theater in the background. More photographers are now located on Sunset Blvd. with Tower of Terror in the background.

  • I liked the hat, I just never liked where it was. It was very un-Disney like to block the sight-lines of one of their heavily themed buildings. It should have been the entrance to the animation studios or outside the Disney Junior show where everyone parks strollers. That area could have desperately used some shade.

  • I’m sure that Disney removed the gaudy in your face American hat to please their Chinese overlords. Now a stately Chinese theatre is front and center in an American park. I’m a red blooded American, I like my castles birthday cake pink and my Spaceship earths named so I know the year or where I am. I think they should turn the Earful tower into a giant Mickey premium bar

  • Being born in 1999 the sorcerer hat is one of my oldest Walt Disney World memories. It will be hard to see it go, but it will also offer a new experience the next time that I go. I think that there will be a mainly positive outcome but its also hard to let such a monumental piece of Disney history go…

  • Well… Correct me if I’m wrong.. Last time I was there I was 10 years old… But I beleive there is enough room for the hat in the “American Idol Experience’s” land plot and that just closed… Maybe they will put the hat there..?

  • I am just leaving Hollywood Studios. I was shocked and saddened tp see the hat gone. I have read the article and the thread of comments. To say that Mickey’s sorcerer’s hat has nothing to do with Hollywood and the intent of the park is a pretty harsh slap at the movie Fantasia. Besides – over the years when I visited the park it gave us a recognizeable landmark to meet at. I guess I’ll not be saying “Meet me at the hat” again.

  • This is stupid! The Mickey Hat is an original and should be left alone… We will never see a great shows center anymore, Fantasia is the best show and i would NOT be surprised if they changed that into a stupid frozen show.

  • A lot of you are missing the bigger picture. Yes, the idea of the park was to create a Hollywood that exists in one’s imagination. Therefore, having the Chinese theatre, a location where many classic films premiered, would make sense. However, Disney World isn’t Universal Studios. Their brand is Disney. Disney is much more than just a park. Mickey’s hat from Fantasia was symbolic for something important. Mickey’s Sorcerer Hat was symbolic for good conquering over evil. Mickey wore the hat and suddenly he could defeat all of the villains, even the most powerful. So, removing the hat symbolizes something as well; a loss of good. Plus, I’m not crazy about the theatre’s appearance either. I can appreciate it’s history, but a six-year-old, who has no idea why the heck a Chinese-style building is in the center of the park, won’t understand this at all. And, isn’t that what Disney is for? A park where children and adults can have fun together, right? The Magic Kingdom has Cinderella’s Castle, Epcot has Spaceship Earth, Animal Kingdom has The Tree of Life, and Hollywood Studios has Mickey’s Sorcer- wait what?….The Chinese Theatre. I wonder if that’s what Walt would have done.