‘Once Upon a Studio’ References Robin Williams in Former ‘Magic of Disney Animation’ Attraction at Disney-MGM Studios

Shannen Ace

‘Once Upon a Studio’ References Robin Williams in Former ‘Magic of Disney Animation’ Attraction at Disney-MGM Studios

Disney’s new “Once Upon a Studio” short film references the defunct Magic of Disney Animation attraction at what was previously known as Disney-MGM Studios. When Disney’s Hollywood Studios first opened as Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, it was a production studio as well as a theme park. The original version of The Magic of Disney Animation was a full behind-the-scenes look at the process of animating a feature film and began with the short film “Back to Neverland” starring Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams.

The Magic of Disney Animation

robin williams walter cronkite back to neverland

In “Back to Neverland,” Williams portrayed a Disney’s Hollywood Studios guest plucked from the crowd by Cronkite. This was three years prior to the release of “Aladdin” starring Robin Williams as Genie — and Genie’s tourist outfit at the end of the animated film is actually a reference to Williams’ costume in “Back to Neverland.”

Cronkite asked Williams about his favorite Disney film and Williams said it was “Peter Pan.” (This was also before Williams portrayed an adult Peter in “Hook.”) Cronkite declared that Williams would be turned into an animated character. The two were transported to a magical storybook land by Tinker Bell. Cronkite showed Williams a storyboard for the animated “Back to Neverland” film they would be creating. They then appeared in a sound studio, where Williams recorded lines, becoming just a voice.

walter cronkite robin williams back to neverland lost boy

An animator then brought Williams’ unique Lost Boy character to life through sketches. The character was a small boy in a yellow animal suit with pointed ears and a skinny tail. The Lost Boy was then transferred to cels, colored, placed in backgrounds, etc. until the animated film was completed.

See the full “Back to Neverland” film:


After watching “Back to Neverland,” guests would get to walk through the actual animation studio, where they could watch animators work from an elevated walkway behind glass windows.

Once Upon a Studio

once upon a studio genie olaf

For “Once Upon a Studio,” honoring 100 years of The Walt Disney Company, Disney brought back Williams’ Lost Boy for a brief cameo. He’s seen flying past a window and looking in at Olaf at an animator’s desk — just like guests would watch animators at The Magic of Disney Animation.

once upon a studio genie olaf 2

Timon and Pumbaa then walk by the windows, too.

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The Lost Boy cameo comes seconds before Olaf’s sketch comes to life as the Genie from “Aladdin.”

once upon a studio genie olaf 4

Disney used archival audio of Williams and several other late or unavailable actors to put “Once Upon a Studio” together.

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In addition to using archive audio, Disney brought back over 40 voice actors to record new lines. The short uses a mix of 2D and 3D animation, on top of live-action footage.

“Once Upon a Studio” is now streaming on Disney+. You can also see it playing throughout the day in Disneyland Park.

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  • Shannen Ace

    Shannen has been a Disney Parks fan and lover of dogs since childhood, despite Pluto's attempt to eat Shannen's Minnie Mouse doll the first time they met. They've made up now. You can email Shannen at shannen@wdwnt.com.

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