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The Disney Dish with Jim Hill Ep 451: What does the future hold for the Animation Courtyard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

This episodes is brought to you by Agent of Excellence and TouringPlans Travel


Normal Open: Welcome back to another edition of the Disney Dish podcast with Jim Hill. It’s me, Len Testa, and this is our show for the week of Shmursday, October 30, 2023.  Happy birthday to my mom, Carol, who’s always been like a mother to me.  And happy anniversary to Laurel, who’s the love of my life.


On the show today: News! Listener questions! And Universal asks how much you hate QR codes at restaurants.  Then in our main segment, Jim tells us about all the behind-the-scenes negotiations that go into limited-time shows like Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee, which opened on this day in 2009.


Let’s get started by bringing in the man who says that “bandwidth issues” is a perfectly valid reason for leaving a Zoom call. And you don’t have to specify whether it’s emotional bandwidth or, you know, the internet.  It’s Mr. Jim Hill.   Jim, how’s it going?


iTunes:  Thanks to new subscribers Colleen Finnegan, Paul Lang, Dana Sharp, and Narwhal Dave, and long-time subscribers R Stevens, Sherron 614, Jennifer Swart, and Brian Ansell.  Jim, these are the Disney mixologists coming up with clever drink names based on classic Disney rides and attractions.  Look out for cocktails like the ‘Wildest Rye in the Wilderness”, craft beers such as “Dead Men Tell No Ales”, and a hot appetizer made with canned, freeze-dried cheese called “A Grand And Miraculous Space Dip” coming soon to a bar near you. True story.


We’re moving the show off of Bandcamp and on to Patreon beginning with our show on January 1, 2024.  Visit for more details, including the first episode of our new video series with Imagineer Jim Shull, showing how Jim built the various Aladdin attractions around the world. So while you’re listening to the show, close down your Bandcamp subscription and sign up at


The news is sponsored by TouringPlans’ travel agency. TouringPlans can help book your next trip.  Plus it comes with a free TouringPlans subscription. Check us out at



  • Disney Cruise Line announced a Haunted Mansion-themed bar for its next ship, the Disney Treasure.
  • The Ghoulish Delight will combine ube fudge, oat milk and tapioca pearls into a glittery purple concoction, garnished with a gummy eyeball.
  • A ghostly twist on a classic margarita, presented to guests amidst a swirl of flavored smoke, will be another signature drink at the Haunted Mansion Parlor. Topped with a lemon salt foam, this tequila-based cocktail will contain a secret message, only to be revealed by black light.
  • Sympathetic Libations, will invite you to sip on sour cherry and blood orange flavors in a specialty tiki mug.

  • Disney’s announced After Hours events for 2024
  • Wednesdays: DHS Jan 10-Apr 10
  • Mon/Thu at MK Jan 11-Apr 8
  • Thu at EP Feb 2-Apr 4 (the first one is the only Friday on the schedule)
  • TRON Lightcycle Run will not use a VQ for the park’s After Hours events in 2024
  • This makes sense because it’s a hard-ticket event. Makes you wonder why VQ is used during MNSSHP and MVMCP.  My initial guess is that vastly fewer guests do the After Hours events, probably because they’re not tied to a holiday.
  • Speaking of After Hours, Disney’s said that the Enchantment fireworks show is returning to the Magic Kingdom during 2024.
  • Speaking of virtual queues, Rise of the Resistance WILL USE a VQ during Jollywood Nights.  This is almost certainly because the ride is unreliable, and Disney doesn’t want to refund your ticket when you wait in line for it and it breaks down.
  • Disneyland has announced a re-opening date of January 30, 2024 for the PIxar Place Hotel.

  • Speaking of openings, Blizzard Beach re-opens in a couple of weeks - November 6.  Expect Typhoon Lagoon to close at that time for its annual refurbishment.


Universal Orlando has a new, and surprisingly long survey about the use of QR codes for menus in restaurants.  Lots of listeners sent in their screencaps, too. Thanks to Clay, Shane, Rob, Jeff, James, Caroline, and everyone who sent this in.  Here are the highlights:







Jim, a couple of interesting things about this survey:

  • I’d love to see if there’s a generational divide around questions like “disregards basic dining etiquette”
  • I don’t know that Disney’s done a similar survey asking about the use of paper menus.  So what’s the baseline for comparing these survey results?

Also, Jim, our friend Annie Middelberg wrote in about thae Disney survey she got after visiting Gasparilla Grill at the Grand Floridia.  Annie says that her answers to Disney’s survey questions were all variations on the phrase “I have very strong feelings about the cheese danish there.”  And Jim, let me say that I’ve never related more to a listener email than that.  Danishes are the perfect breakfast food.  

Listener Questions

An update on this question listener Adam Varrenti wrote in with last week:

I was in EPCOT last week and decided to ride grand fiesta tour. It was busy and the line was wrapped around into the shopping area. When we got on the ride I noticed we were really moving through the show scenes.  Then other people in the boat were making comments about the speed.  

Does park ops increase the speed of boat rides if they know the day will be busy?  

Len says: As far as we can tell, the ride speeds are the same.  

Listener Nic Dris sent in this question about Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

Have you or Jim heard anything on whether Voyage of the Little Mermaid is coming back? I’m hearing they are refurbishing it, but then I’m hearing it’s due to be demolished. Is any of this true?

Len says: VOTLM closed on March 15, 2020, with the rest of the resort for COVID-19.  When the resort re-opened, the theater was briefly used as a line for Slinky Dog Dash, of all things, when we were social distancing in line.  

I’ve heard that a crew from Disney was in the theater in 2020 to do a 3-D scan of everything in the theater. That’s generally an indication that it’s closing up shop.  And I’ve not heard anything about it coming back.  It was, at the time, a 28-year-old show in need of an update. And it probably took a lot of equity performers to run.

In terms of guest satisfaction, it was average at best, maybe a little lower, as compared to the park’s other attractions. So I don’t think it’s coming back.

But Jim, if you think about it, Animation Courtyard is a largely empty space right now.  VOTLM is closed. There’s a ton of space committed to the SW Launch Bay right now, wayyyyy more than is needed.  There’s a Vampirina meet-and-greet next to the Disney Junior show that could move anywhere in the park.  And so the only thing that’s keeping Animation Courtyard open is one show for kids.  

Doing some quick research with Google Maps, it looks like the unused parts of Animation Courtyard and some support buildings between it and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, are around 7 or 8 acres.  That’s about 2/3rds of a Toy Story Land and half a Galaxy’s Edge. So maybe not enough for a full land, but definitely enough to tie in that part of the park with the Sunset Boulevard theme.  The

Research/Patents (use query "disney enterprises".as AND "theme park".ab)


We’re going to take a quick commercial break.  When we return, Jim tells us about the behind-the-scenes negotiations that have to happen for us to get movie and TV tie-ins like Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee in the parks.  We’ll be right back.  

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Disney movies in the Parks
Feature piece

It’s part of the special sauce of the Disney Parks. As you arrive at the Tickets & Transportation Center, you’d pass a kiosk that had a poster for the Studio’s latest release to theaters. Or – as you strolled up Main Street, U.S.A. – you’d notice that the windows at the Emporium had animated dioramas that … Well, depending on what year it was, would either promote whatever Disney Classic had just been released on VHS or what new animated feature was due to debut shortly at your local multiplex.

And Disney’s been doing this for … Well, 68 years now. You don’t have to look any further than Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park (Which – as you’ll learn if you listen to Len & my’s most recent Bandcamp / Patreon show – was once upon a time supposed to be called Robin Hood Castle and then, later on in its design process, Snow White Castle) …

Anyway, the Studios’ PR team eventually persuade Walt that Disneyland’s central icon – that 77-foot-tall castle – needed to be named after “Sleeping Beauty,” the animated feature that Disney Studios had first started working on April of 1951 and was still (as of early 1955, anyway) a full four years away from being released to theaters.

Quick aside: Why did “Sleeping Beauty” take eight years to complete when it takes the typical animation feature at Walt Disney Animation Studios just 3 & a ½ years to move through the Mouse’s production pipeline. Two specific things tripped this project up / slowed production down.

  • This movie was initially put into production during that time in Hollywood history when the Studios saw television as this enormous threat. And since that broadcast medium was limited at that time by its screen size (just 8 inches in most cases). More importantly, that the networks couldn’t broadcast in color (Not yet, anyway) … Well, the Studios would now bury the needle in the exact opposite direction. Bigger AND in color.

This is why “Sleeping Beauty” was produced in one of the largest film formats available at that time: Super Technirama 70. Not only that, but the art direction for this specific film (to make it look different from the two Disney fairytale films that had proceeded it, “Snow White” & “Cinderella”) was deliberately handled in such a way that “Sleeping Beauty” was supposed to resemble a moving tapestry.

I don’t know about you, Len. But when I’m looking for film entertainment, that’s the very question that I always ask myself: “Is it big and slow-moving?” Because I like my movies to lumber. To be like a big vat of molasses. In fact, if I could watch a documentary about the making of a vat that would eventually hold a lot of molasses … That would be an ideal evening of entertainment for me.

  • Back to “Sleeping Beauty” now: To make this new animated feature seem more like a cinematic event, Walt also committed to producing “Sleeping Beauty” ‘s soundtrack in six track stereophonic sound.

Any of this starting to sound familiar to you yet, Len? Disney putting extra time & effort into the making of an animated feature that will be full of beautiful imagery which also have a have a stereophonic soundtrack?

Yep, it’s “Fantasia” revisited. That animated feature with its Fantasound system cost Disney $2.28 million to make. And when it was finally released to theaters in November of 1940, “Fantasia” then did so poorly at the box office that the Studio actually lost a million dollars on this production.

Jump ahead 12 years to February of 1959. “Sleeping Beauty” finally opens in theaters after eight years in production. This animated feature had cost Disney Studios $6 million to make and had then only sold $5.3 million worth of tickets. “Sleeping Beauty” wound up being such a drag on the Company’s earnings that – for Disney’s next fiscal year (1960) – for the first time in a decade, Walt Disney Productions is forced to admit to Wall Street that the Company had suffered a significant financial loss.

And you have to remember that this was when Disneyland is making money hand-over-fist for Walt Disney Productions. So for the Company to experience a loss even when it had that lucrative new revenue stream chugging along … Well, that should then give you a sense of how big a drag “Sleeping Beauty” ‘s failure at the box office had been on Disney’s corporate earnings back in 1959 & 1960.

And Walt … He’s just beside himself when it comes to “Sleeping Beauty” ‘s failure. To have worked so long & so hard (and to have spent so much of his Company’s money) on a movie that just didn’t connect with audiences was beyond aggravating. Not to mention giving the poor guy a real sense of déjà vu.

I mean, few people today remember that – when Walt stood onstage at the Academy Awards in
February of 1942 to receive the Irving Thalberg Award – he actually apologized to the Hollywood community for making “Fantasia.”

Seriously. Here’s the quote from that night (And the Disney Archives just hates when I bring this story up):

"'’Fantasia.’ In a way, I feel like I should have a medal for bravery or something. We all make our mistakes, I know. but it was an honest mistake."

Okay. So now it’s the Spring of 1959. And Walt is looking at the box office totals for “Sleeping Beauty.” And he’s like “God damn. I did it again. I made another stupid ‘Fantasia.’ That’s it. I’m getting out of the animation business.”

Seriously, Len. That’s another part of Disney history that the Archives hates whenever I bring it up. The lay-offs that occurred at Walt Disney Animation Studios in the Spring of 1959 in the wake of “Sleeping Beauty” bombing at the box office. Hundreds of people lost their jobs. They just came into work one day and found a letter on their desk. “Your services are no longer required.”

It was brutal. Disney cut its animation staff to the bone. Where hundreds once worked in the Feature Animation building, now only dozens toiled inside the Mouse Factory.

I honestly don’t know what would have happened at Disney if “101 Dalmatians” hadn’t been a hit when it finally arrived in theaters in January of 1961. It was just too far along in production to cancel when “Sleeping Beauty” spun in. “Dalmatians” was produced for half of what it cost to make “Beauty” (i.e., $3.6 million versus $6 million). Also sold $14 million worth of tickets. Moved a mountain of puppy plush as well.

And just like that, Walt Disney Animation Studios (which had been teetering on the brink of extinction for nearly two years at that point. Ever since “Sleeping Beauty” was released to theaters in February of 1959) was once again safe. For now, anyway.

Jump ahead another 12 years. It’s now 1973. Which is when Walt Disney Productions is celebrating its 50th anniversary. And Walt Disney Animation Studios finds itself at yet another crossroads.

Walt had died in December of 1966. But before he died, Walt had signed off on the idea that – for the Studio’s next animated feature after “The Jungle Book” (which had finished story work at this time and was now in full production at the Studio. Disney’s “The Jungle Book” would be released to theaters in October of the following year. Anyway … )

Now prior to passing, Walt had signed off on the idea that – after work was done on “The Jungle Book” – his animation studio would then make “The Aristocats.” Which would eventually be released to theaters in December of 1970.

Mind you, after Walt was gone, studio execs became obsessed with containing costs at all costs over at Feature Animation. This is why Thomas O’Malley (i.e., the tomcat in “The Aristocats” voiced by Phil Harris of Baloo-the-Bear fame) went from being a calico cat with stripes to just an orange tabby with a white face & paws.

“Remember how expensive it was to put all those spots on the puppies in ‘101 Dalmatians’,” was the battle cry coming out of Card Walker’s office (He was the COO – Chief Operating Officer -- at Walt Disney Productions at that time). “So no stripes on the cats in ‘Aristocats’ !”

“Aristocats” had cost about the same as “The Jungle Book” ($4 million). But it had then gone on to sell $11 million worth of tickets in North America and an additional $17 million overseas. Worldwide box office total of $28 million total. That’s nearly $230 million in 2023 dollars.

But then came the question that Company execs constantly found themselves asking back in the early 1970s: What would Walt do?

They had already made “The Aristocats,” the one idea for an animated feature that Walt had left behind prior to his death in December of 1966.

And just so you know: They were also stingy when it came to the “Aristocats” presence in the Parks back in 1970. They only created three walk-around character costumes for WDW’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park out in Anaheim:

  • Scat Cat – the character from that film voiced by Scatman Crothers
  • Hit Cat – the hippy-themed feline with sunglasses & love beads
  • and Peppo – the Italian-themed pussycat wearing a tryolean hat & cravat

So now that they had burned through the one idea that Walt had left behind for a new animated feature … Now what? Studio execs were temporarily stymied. But then they asked themselves a variation of the question Company officials constantly asked themselves in the 1970s. NOT “What would Walt do?” But – rather – “What had Walt done in the past?”

And … Well … Walt Disney Productions had made a movie version of the legend of Robin Hood in the early 1950s. This film – which was entitled “The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men” – had been released to theaters in June of 1952 and was the Studio’s second-only completely live-action / no-animation production (Behind Disney’s live-action version of “Treasure Island.” Which had been released to theaters in June of 1950).

So the thinking was … Well, why not revisit that material – take a story that was tried & true, one that Studio executives already knew would work (because they’d previously made a live-action film based on this same story) and then turn that into an animated feature?

Side note: This is kind of an inversion of what Disney Studios does today. Which is take one of its already successful animated feature and then turn it into a live-action movie. Like this past Spring’s version of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Anyway … Disney puts an animated version of “Robin Hood” into production. But – again – the mantra coming down from on high in Card Walker’s corner office (Following Roy E. Disney’s passing in December of 1971, Walker then became Company President at the Mouse House) was “contain costs at all costs.” Which is why “Robin Hood” – in the years since its November 1973 release to theaters has become … Well, infamous from the amount of footage that it recycled from earlier Disney animated films like “Snow White,” “The Jungle Book,” and “The Aristocats.”

Now the irony here was … While Walt Disney Productions may have cheaped out when it came to the actual production of “Robin Hood” (the animated feature) … When it came to bringing this film into the Parks, to make sure that Guests visiting Disneyland Park in Anaheim or WDW’s Magic Kingdom down in Florida, the company spared no expense.

We’re not talking about something like a trio of cat costumes to promote “The Aristocats” back in 1970. In 1973 (Because – again – this was when Walt Disney Productions was celebrating its golden anniversary with the Company’s “50 Happy Years” celebration), the Parks poured all sorts of money into promoting the animated “Robin Hood.”

To make sure that the public was familiar with the lead characters from this new animated feature, the Park had its wardrobe department create character costumes for:

  • Robin Hood
  • Maid Marion
  • Little John
  • Friar Tuck
  • The Sheriff of Nottingham
  • Prince John
  • and even Toby the Turtle

To make sure that all of these walk-around characters from Disney’s animated “Robin Hood” made a big splash whenever they appeared in the daily character parade at the Parks, they also had a full-sized version of Prince John’s royal coach created. And whenever that rolled through the Park (with Prince John aboard, waving to all the peasants along the parade route), that film’s villain was always accompanied by:

  • Four royal hippo attendants
  • Four royal elephant bearers (They’re the ones that pulled Prince John’s coach)
  • Four rhino guards
  • a crocodile herald
  • and a really lethal-looking rhinoceros executioner

Just in case you’d like a head count here: That’s 21 performers all taking part in just one unit of the 3 o’clock parade. All to remind you that Disney made an animated version of “Robin Hood” back in 1973 as part of the Company’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Just so you know: This wasn’t the only over-the-top thing that Walt Disney Productions did back in 1973 to celebrate the Company’s 50th anniversary. There was also that 48-foot-tall replica of Cinderella Castle from Walt Disney World that rolled through the streets of Manhattan as part of that year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Given that this float had to collapse down to just 12 & a half feet in order to fit through the Lincoln Tunnel.

“Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee” ended in January of 2010. Paid for by Studio / too expensive for Park to continue. Tied up the Liberty Belle & Mark Twain for hours at time. Great show, though. More entertaining than the movie it was based on.


Disney accelerated his already impressive scale of production during the late ‘30s. He planned to release a new animated feature every year, producing them on a three-year schedule. In addition to “Fantasia” and “Pinocchio,” which was released earlier in 1940, he had nearly a dozen features in various stages of production from 1938 through 1940, including “Dumbo,” “Bambi,” “Peter Pan,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Wind in the Willows,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter and the Wolf,” “Till Eulenspeigel” and sequels to “Bambi” and “Fantasia.”


That’s going to do it for the show today.  You can help support our show and JimHillMedia by subscribing over at, where we’re posting a brand-new exclusive show about the SpectroMagic parade and on Disneyland’s Robin Hood Castle, plus our new behind the scenes videos with Imagineer Jim Shull, who created the Aladdin attractions for Disney theme parks all around the world.

Bandcamp: That’s going to do it for the show today.  Thanks for subscribing and supporting the Disney Dish.

ON NEXT WEEK’S SHOW: Jim tells us about laminar flow, Imagineers fighting, and all of the things that go into making a jumping water fountain. It’s Physics Fun week on the Disney Dish!


You can find more of Jim at, and more of me at

Also, Jim and I will be doing a live podcast from the Theme Park Play Workshop at MIT’s Game Lab, at 6:30 pm on Thursday, November 9, 2023 - that’s next week - at the Stata Center, room 32-155.  It’s free and it’s open to the general public.  Jim, the last time I was on MIT’s campus I was delivering an extra large with cheese, so this is a real treat.

iTunes Show: We’re produced fabulously by Aaron Adams, who’ll be tossing the caper and skirling his bagpipes at the 62nd Scottish Gathering and Highland Games, for 3 days starting Friday, November 10, 2023 at the Thomas Arnold Elementary school, in beautiful, downtown Salado, Texas.


While Aaron’s doing that, please go on to iTunes and rate our show and tell us what you’d like to hear next.

For Jim, this is Len, we’ll see you on the next show.