Please Remove Your Hat

May 22, 2008
WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com

There are times when wearing a hat is polite and appropriate.

And there are times when it’s impolite—even downright rude—to wear a hat. For example, wearing a hat inside a movie theater blocks the view of the screen for the people behind you.

It takes a really big hat to block the view of the outside of a movie theater. And it’s a particularly rude when it destroys what once was a memorable and delightful vista.

Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard, leading to the most famous movie theater in the world
Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard, leading to the most famous movie theater in the world

Disney-MGM Studios—now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios—opened in 1989. Guests were drawn up the park’s skillfully designed Hollywood Boulevard toward a replica of Hollywood’s famed Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Disney’s idealized street put guests into “the Hollywood that never was and always will be.” More intimate than Main Street and Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park, the street had a charm similar to Main Street and Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. The Chinese Theatre at the end of the street was exotic, yet familiar, and completely appropriate to the period and theme.

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Grauman’s Chinese Theatre replica, entrance to The Great Movie Ride

Master showman Sid Grauman opened the real Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1927. With celebrity footprints, handprints, and autographs in the cement blocks of its forecourt, the Chinese Theatre has long been one of Southern California’s top tourist attractions, even though most tourists don’t go inside to watch a movie. The real Chinese Theatre doesn’t sit majestically at the head of a street; it’s mid-block and faces a boxy commercial building across the street.

Disney’s replica of the Chinese Theatre houses The Great Movie Ride, one of the biggest, longest, most elaborate indoor rides at any Disney park. Given the real Chinese Theatre’s long history of Hollywood premieres and exclusive first runs of many of the biggest Hollywood movies, it was a perfect match.

Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard, with the hat hiding Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard, with the hat hiding Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

In 2001, Disney built a 122-foot-tall Sorcerer Mickey hat between Hollywood Boulevard and the Great Movie Ride. Inspired by the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” section of Fantasia, the cartoony jumbo icon was out-of-place in the richly detailed Hollywood streetscape. Instead of leading up to a detailed replica of the famous movie palace, Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard now led up to something that looked like a very large blue plastic cone. Oh, the Chinese Theatre and The Great Movie Ride were still there, but guests wouldn’t know it from the view up Hollywood Boulevard.

The closer you get, the more the hat detracts from ambience of Hollywood Boulevard.
The closer you get, the more the hat detracts from ambience of Hollywood Boulevard.

There must be a logical reason why Disney did such thing, right? Surely, they had no other choice, right? Why else would Disney block the impressive theater building with a cheap-looking hat?

A story began circulating on the Internet. According to this story, Disney had to block the direct view of the Chinese Theatre in 2001 due to legal reasons.

The Sorcerer’s Hat with swirly, starry, vaguely Mouse-ear-like things
The Sorcerer’s Hat with swirly, starry, vaguely Mouse-ear-like things

There are different versions of the story, but it goes something like this... After the Mann’s Theatres chain, which included the Chinese Theatre, was sold in 2000 to a partnership of Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, Disney could no longer use the theater façade as a symbol for Disney-MGM Studios. They had to block the direct view. In one version of the story, Disney lost the rights to use the Chinese Theatre façade, but somehow didn’t have to remove it if they put something in front of it. In another version, Disney had to pay a royalty to the owners of the Chinese Theatre every time it was photographed, so Disney did something to limit the ability of guests to take photos.

It’s an Internet legend—a story that’s repeated over and over, until a lot of people assume it to be true because they’ve seen the explanation so many times.

The Sorcerer’s Hat is a pin shop. Yes, a pin shop!
The Sorcerer’s Hat is a pin shop. Yes, a pin shop!

The Internet legend doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. Guests can still see and photograph the Disney version of the Chinese Theatre—just not from as many angles as previously. To believe the legend, you would have to accept that Disney is stuck with a contract that allowed them to build a replica of the façade of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1989, but, if the theater were sold, would only allow guests to see it if they were looking from an angle or standing very close in front of it.

The real Chinese Theatre opened in 1927. Architectural works from prior to 1976 are not protected by U.S. copyright law. In 1976, Congress changed the law for anything new since then.

Trademarks are another matter. Disney might have a problem if it used the name Grauman’s Chinese Theatre without permission from its owners—but Disney doesn’t do so. The signs on the building all say Great Movie Ride, not Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

The centerpiece of the “100 Years of Magic” celebration in 2001
The centerpiece of the “100 Years of Magic” celebration in 2001

There was simpler explanation. Just as Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park broke out in pink birthday cake decorations for Walt Disney World’s 25th anniversary celebration and Spaceship Earth at Epcot grew a Sorcerer Mickey hand and magic wand for the Millennium Celebration, so Disney-MGM Studios would wear an oversized Sorcerer Mickey hat for the “100 Years of Magic” marketing campaign. This “celebration” officially commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Walt Disney on December 5, 1901, although that wasn’t always clear to the casual guest.

That still raises the question why any Imagineer would do something that would so grossly weaken the authenticity and “story” of this idealized Hollywood neighborhood. The answer is that Imagineers ultimately are not the people who make such decisions. Think of the hat as a Disney executive’s “brilliant” idea to infuse Disney-MGM Studios with more “Disney Magic.”

The hat as a backdrop for the High School Musical live show in 2007
The hat as a backdrop for the High School Musical live show in 2007

When “100 Years of Magic” ended, the hat stayed.

There is hope! Over at Epcot, another oversized Sorcerer Mickey structure—a giant arm, glove, and wand—dwarfed the elegant Spaceship Earth sphere for eight years. It seemed to be a permanent “temporary” structure. But in 2007, as part of the redo of Spaceship Earth for new sponsor Siemens, Epcot’s Icon Tower was finally removed. (Hey, if any executives from Siemens happen to be reading this, how would you like to take over sponsorship of The Great Movie Ride?)

There are other Sorcerer Mickey hats around The Walt Disney Company that aren’t so objectionable.

Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California
Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California

The first major Sorcerer Mickey hat appeared in 1995 as part of the new Walt Disney Feature Animation building across the street from the Disney movie lot. The hat serves as the entrance at the ground level and was originally the office for Roy E. Disney higher up in the cone. Robert A.M. Stern, the architect responsible for the new building (as well as Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club and Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and Villas), had previously used a similar conical shape for a temporary information kiosk at Disneyland Paris.

The Art of Disney Animation exhibit at Walt Disney Studios Paris
The Art of Disney Animation exhibit at Walt Disney Studios Paris

When Walt Disney Studios Paris theme park opened in 2002, another giant Sorcerer Mickey hat graced the Art of Disney Animation building. Although the rest of the building did not look like the building in Burbank, the hat was an appropriate nod to the Animation Studios in Burbank, as well as to the great animation of Fantasia.

The entrance to the Disneyland Hotel from Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort
The entrance to the Disneyland Hotel from Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort

The Disneyland Hotel has served Disneyland guests since October 1955. Beyond its name, some use of Disney characters on printed material, a now-defunct miniature gold course, and some of the merchandise in it gift shop, there really wasn’t much that was “Disney” about the hotel. The Walt Disney Company didn’t even own the hotel until 1988. When the Disneyland Hotel’s original buildings were torn down in 1999 to make way for Downtown Disney, the remaining buildings got a Disney makeover. The entrance to the hotel grounds from Downtown Disney was marked with a giant Sorcerer Mickey hat and gold stars.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can add a Yester Studios entry about Sorcerer Mickey hat at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with a description of how the park was restored to its earlier glory.


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© 2008-2013 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated January 25, 2013.

Photograph of Hollywood Boulevard with Chinese Theatre: circa 1997 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre replica: circa 1997 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Hollywood Boulevard with Sorcerer’s Hat: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Sorcerer’s Hat detracting from ambience: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Sorcerer’s Hat with swirly, starry decorations: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of pin shop at base of Sorcerer’s Hat: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of “100 Years of Magic” at base of Sorcerer’s Hat: 2002 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Sorcerer’s Hat with High School Musical live show: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Art of Disney Animation at Walt Disney Studios Paris: 2005 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of entrance to the Disneyland Hotel from Downtown Disney: 2007 by Werner Weiss.