magicofdisneyanimation magicofdisneyanimation
DisneyTheme Parks

Magic of Disney Animation, R.I.P.

The magic of Disney animation is literally dead. On July 12, Florida’s Hollywood Studios theme park will close down its Magic of Disney Animation attraction.

It’s a bittersweet ending for an attraction that introduced many young people to the art of hand-drawn animation and inspired untold numbers of budding artists to consider animation as a career. One of the park’s original offerings after it opened as Disney/MGM Studios in 1989, it gave attendees the chance to watch Disney animators at work.

Its launch in 1989 was attended by Roy Disney, Jr., as well as luminaries of the Golden Age Disney studio:

The opening of Disney-MGM Studios on May 1, 1989 was attended by (l. to r.) Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, Ward Kimball, Ken O'Connor, and Marc Davis. (Click to enlarge.)
The opening of Disney-MGM Studios on May 1, 1989 was attended by (l. to r.) Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, Ward Kimball, Ken O’Connor, and Marc Davis. (Click to enlarge.)
Ward Kimball, Marc Davis, Roy Disney Jr., Ollie Johnston, Ken O'Connor, and Frank Thomas, attend the opening of Disney-MGM Studios. (Click to enlarge.)
Ward Kimball, Marc Davis, Roy Disney Jr., Ollie Johnston, Ken O’Connor, and Frank Thomas, attend the opening of Disney-MGM Studios. (Click to enlarge.)

Visitors to the attraction were able to watch artists at work from behind glass-paneled overhead breezeways, as they labored on memorable features like Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, as well as Roger Rabbit shorts.

The revealing opportunity to see animators at work disappeared in 2004, when Disney shuttered its Florida animation studio, leaving only art lessons in the attraction’s Animation Station, a character meet-and-greet area, and a short film detailing how Disney’s characters are created. An adjacent animation gallery displayed artwork from Disney productions; that, too, will also be shuttered in August.

The attraction’s closure has been all but inevitable since 2004. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the closure is but one in a recent series, including the loss of the Studios Backlot Tour, but that Disney World is working on a new attraction and that specific details would arrive in the future.

The Sentinel also noted that Hollywood Studios (which is expected to soon change its name) is a “natural choice” for Disney to build some of its promised Star Wars attractions, although the corporation has not yet stated its plans on that front.

Rest in peace, Disney’s hand-drawn animation process. We’ll see you when we see you.

  • I haven’t been here and now I’ll never get the chance to. So sad.

  • UsaMiKo

    I want to say that I’m shocked and offended, but , in all honesty, I’m not. This kind of thing is pretty much expected of Disney at this point.

    The fate of 2D animation rests in the hands of other studios now.

    • Benjamin Smith

      and by other studios, we mean Japanese anime

      • And the occasional European outfit.

      • Boogur

        Aw come on don’t forget the French too :/

  • droosan

    I visited a friend on the studio floor (the inside of the ‘fishbowl’) twice: once in 1993, during the production of Pocahontas — when the building was alive with activity, in every nook-and-cranny .. and again in 2005 — when it was quiet as a tomb, but still had scattered piles of personal effects on a few random desks. -_-

    I watched a How to Draw Joy from Inside Out video on YouTube last week, and was surprised to realize that the drawing attraction was still going. I’d assumed it had been shuttered awhile back. How bittersweet to learn that it’s now actually gone, only a week later.

    • Strong Enough

      no wonder they shut it down. that looks nothing like Joy lol

      • That’s the art style that they’ve been using for some merchandise though

  • Ceebs

    It was an amazing place to visit as a kid in 1990-1991. Haven’t been back since, but do remember visiting the attraction two or three times in one day. I’m sure the tour guide was on to me, but I bet I wasn’t the only animation fanatic who did this!

    • I remember it when productions were going on and also in the aughts. It got really boring when nothing was being made there. I always figured that they moved the character artists over there who make the fake production art for sale in the stores.

  • Dan

    Woaaah, that was my favorite part of mgm! Dumbasses! That place inspired the hell out of me to animate and gave me a backdoor look!

  • Googamp32

    I don’t think they’re shutting it down because it has hand drawn animation in it. If anything, MODA had more CGI stuff in it than hand drawn. Disney has just been taking down Hollywood Studios attractions left and right. Even the Sorcerer’s hat, the park’s icon is gone, now. The fact that “Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster”, “Muppet Vision 3D”, and “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” haven’t been replaced or updated is kind of a miracle in itself.

    • CoffeeJedi

      Well, I’m glad that the hat is down, it looks so much better with the theater in full view. As for the attraction closures, I’m 90% certain it’s to make way for a Star Wars themed land.

    • RasielD

      The Tower of Terror has received a few updates over the years. Granted, they haven’t been major overhauls or anything, but they have rerouted the ride a few times.

    • Treadwell

      The Sorcerer’s hat was originally there for some anniversary year or other, and then never removed. It was never an originally planned feature of the park. The view down the boulevard was supposed to be dominated by the Chinese Theater. Good riddance.

      • Joey Gallagher

        Correct. Hat was put up for the Walt Disney’s centennial birthday celebration, 100 Years of Magic, and then overstayed its welcome just like that Epcot Millennium wand. They’re also closing the One Man’s Dream exhibit they installed for that.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Don’t they have a similar attraction at Disney’s California Adventure? Any word it it’s also on the chopping block?

  • Anonymous

    I heard it’s going to be replaced with Disney’s Magic of Marketing exhibit.

  • lance

    This is horrible news! I remember being a kid and spending nearly 4 hours pressed against the glass watching the artists prepare for their next feature (Mulan) by drawing Pocahontas scenes. That was the icing on the cake that would eventually lead me to my current career.

  • George Comerci

    Let me guess, to make room for more Frozen attractions?

    • Guest

      It said for Stars Wars attractions.

  • CG Animator

    I think people think this attraction is a lot more then what it actually is…

    This attraction hasn’t been about the “art of hand-drawn animation” for a long time now and pales in comparison to the original attraction when the Florida studio was still running. I went a year or two ago and there’s not a whole lot to it.

    Now it’s basically just a character meet and greet spot. The “art of animation” show that they have going is extremely basic compared to the original “Back to Neverland” show.. It’s about ten minutes long, and serves more as a spot to showcase their movie trailers then educate people about animation.

    It was kind of cool seeing the artwork from the new films up on the walls, but even that wasn’t much. The drawing “classes” are alright I guess, depending on who’s teaching.

    If you want to actually learn something about Disney history, I’d suggest checking out “One Man’s Dream” exhibit next door. It has a really nice museum filled with artwork and such from the classic Disney films and the theme parks. Plus the movie they show at the end is quite fun.

    I’ll be kind of sad to see the attraction go, but it’s not the end of the world by any means.

    • Treadwell

      I visited the attraction not too long after the animation unit was closed, and it was sad. The Robin Williams preshow was still in place, preparing you fully for what you were NOT about to see. A pegboard with storyboard sketches was behind the glass in lieu of animators. A lone worker inked sericels at a desk close to the glass. In the guest area, an artist at an animation desk chatted semi-informally with the guests, and drew Mickey sketches for the kids. The fact that he was simply a cast member who could draw instead of an animator was clear when he didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked an animation-related question.

      It was sad to see it go, but as has been said, it’s been gone for a long, long time. I’m surprised they’ve shuttled people through its empty shell for so long.

      • Alexandria Lynn

        Isn’t the show that replaced BTNL the opening of the 1999 VHS tape of Mulan?

  • Riley Taskman


  • rnenno

    I was in the College Program back in summer 2008, and would spend my days off at the MODA just attending the drawing classes over and over. Sad but not surprised to see it go. It was hidden in a little nook in the park that was easy for guests to overlook.

    • Rick Dolishny

      I was in the CP waaay back in 1985 and would have done the same thing if that park was open back then. My days off were spent riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and hanging out in Communicore at EPCOT Center where they had a ‘world of communication’ globe with TV feeds from all the major networks in the world. I’d get my CBC (Canada) fix once or twice a week.

  • Mister Twister

    Not a big deal. Disney is not the only source of animation in the world. It never was.

  • sunny S

    Very upsetting, hand drawn/painted animation was absolutely beautiful. example lion king, the backgrounds and such. Such a sad time. I understand “computers” play a big role but to get rid of hand drawn process because of it is absolutely ridiculous and plain stupid period!!! Something that should never die out.

  • Peter DiDonato

    It’s unfortunate, but the animation studio hasn’t been functional for years and the art class and showcase has has a constant lack of popularity. It has nothing to do with the public opinion on 2D; that’s a whole nother topic.

  • Tomm

    Meanwhile here in Kilkenny Castle in Ireland we are setting up an exhibition based on the hand drawn techniques used to make our latest film Song of the Sea. We have an animator in residence with both a light table and cintiq , workstations for kids and adults to try their hands at some hand drawn animation and an extensive exhibition if the watercolour background art and storyboard art etc. So maybe animation fans might choose lovely medieval Kilkenny over Florida for their animation themed vacations ;-)
    The exhibition opens tmrw and runs until October …

    • That sounds cool Tomm. I wanna come see it! Sign me up.

  • Tre

    Is there a Mary Blair mural on it that they’re going to tear down like previous ones they destroyed?

    • donspeirs

      There isn’t a Mary Blair mural there. However, if you note the picture above you see the Disney Legends signing their names in concrete. They used to be in an area only the animation staff had access to, but now are installed in a central courtyard that everyone passes on their way inside. Sadly, none of the cast members I asked knew about them, or if they will be saved after the attraction closes.

    • donspeirs

      Correct photo…

  • Jon-Peter Smith

    On the one hand, this saddens me terribly, especially with the news that Brad Bird wants to do a new hand-drawn feature. I had hoped that my daughter would take one of those “classes” on our next trip, if for nothing more than inspiration. On the other hand, I’ve thought that park needed an overhaul for some time, and I’d bet that besides new Star Wars attractions (I honestly can’t wait for new Star Tours updates) and considering the renewed interest in the franchise, hopefully a new Indy Jones attraction, the park seems a perfect fit for Marvel stuff that Universal parks doesn’t own the rights to (Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, maybe Shield/Hydra, Antman, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Deadpool, Black Panther, Blade…)

  • Aaron S

    It’s probably better they don’t continue to inspire kids to seek out careers in 2D animation. Why encourage people to seek out something that doesn’t exist?

  • Lizbit

    Hollywood Studios should keep some sort of shrine to the art and creation of animated films. Thinking that this 1990’s place didn’t matter to huge amounts of artists and guests is a mistake that current success can’t really eclipse. Nostalgia is a big element in Disney parks and some sort of memorable element- such as the Disney Animation sign should remain somewhere in the park.

  • A friend of mine briefly worked for Disney animation a dozen or so years ago. He said one of the worst parts of the job was having to be on display while he worked. He said it was always the newer hires who had to sit in the most visible areas, and that the veterans refused to be displayed. If that’s the case, I’m surprised the exhibit wasn’t closed out years ago.

  • This is sad news for me indeed. My brother Tom and I were two of those first employees there opening day with the remaining Nine Old Men in attendance. The Florida Studio was something special. A place where Disney magic was on display everyday. The traditions of Disney traditional animation was kept alive in our hearts and work; at least for awhile. The first blow was long ago when they closed the studio down and laid everyone off. This is just the long coming final nail in the coffin. Oh well, we will have to do a podcast about it now.

  • Tg

    As much as it saddens me, it was already a lost cause the moment they closed the real thing in 2004. :( It became an empty shell beyond its original existence.

    I have a lot of good memories of that place before 2004. I got to see them making Mulan. Other times I went in there, and the animators have gone home for the day, I was disappointed to not see them there. However, I loved looking at their desks. :) Good times.

    I really wish hand drawn animation comes back to America. It just doesn’t feel right….

  • Milan P.

    Ah man. I was really looking forward to seeing this some day… :(

  • Philip

    The last line in your article is incredibly stupid, an over-exaggeration and should not be here. 2D animation is not dead despite what you naysayers wish to think and just because an attraction is closing does not mean anything! >:(

    • AmidAmidi

      if you read Cartoon Brew regularly, then you know that we’re one of the biggest proponents of drawn animation and would never say it’s dead. In fact, there’s a ton of great drawn animation being produced today.

      The article specifically referenced the end of “Disney’s hand-drawn animation process,” which is an accurate statement for the time being as the Disney corporation doesn’t currently have the capacity to produce major hand-drawn projects.

  • Alexandria Lynn

    Like a zoo. I know that I had this crazy idea that instead of being put “on display” there could be a Peoplemover ride with windows overlooking the top of the studio while the animators could down with their open-concept design. (if you’ve ever been on a factory tour to Ben & Jerry’s main plant, you know what I mean, even though it’s a walking tour).