Seeing Stars: The Movie Studios


500 S. Buena Vista Street,
Burbank, CA. / (818) 560-1000

This is Walt Disney Studios, home of the greatest fantasy & animated films ever made. Starting with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1937 (the first full length animated movie), the list of Disney hits reads like a "Who's Who" of classic animated films:
"Pinocchio" (1940), "Fantasia" (1940), "Dumbo" (1941), "Bambi" (1942), "Song of the South" (1946), "Cinderella" (1950), "Alice in Wonderland" (1951), "Peter Pan" (1953), "Lady & the Tramp" (1955), "Sleeping Beauty" (1959), "101 Dalmatians" (1961), "Mary Poppins" (1964), "Jungle Book" (1967), and "The Rescuers" (1977).

And that's in addition to Disney's live action adventures ("Treasure Island," "Old Yeller," "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Swiss Family Robinson"), their live action comedies ("The Love Bug," "The Absent-Minded Professor," "That Darned Cat"), and such TV hits as "Davy Crockett," "Zorro" and "The Mickey Mouse Club."

Walt Disney still holds the Guinness World Record for the most Academy Awards won by any individual - walking away with 31 Oscars. And Disney was the first major movie studio to make programs directly for television (beginning in 1954).

The studio went through some lean times following Walt's death in 1966, but in recent decades, Disney animation has undergone a glorious renaissance, with such new classics as "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty & the Beast," "Aladdin," "The Lion King," Pocahontas," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Hercules" and "Mulan" joining the Disney roster, together with live action movies such as "Flubber," "Mighty Joe Young," "Angels in the Outfield" and the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" series. And "Lilo & Stich" proved a success.

Their last few animated efforts, though, such as "The Emperor's New Groove" and "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" have missed the mark. Their CGI efforts, such as "Chicken Little" and "Meet the Robinsons" had taken up some of the slack, but it was partner Pixar Films that had enormous success with CG films such as "The Incredibles," "Toy Story," "Monsters Inc.", "Cars" and "Finding Nemo". So, in 2006, Disney bought out Pixar for $7.4 billion.

In 2007, their animated department released the successful "Ratatouille".  In 2010, they had a big hit with "WALL·E". In 2009, they hit again with "Up", and also released "The Princess and the Frog". In 2010, they hit twice with "Toy Story 3" and "Tangled". 2012 saw the Oscar-winning "Brave", and the well-received "Wreck-It Ralph".

If that wasn't enough, in 2009, Disney bought out Marvel Comics, the creators of such superheroes as "Spider-Man", "Thor", "Iron Man", "Captain America" and "The Hulk".  They had a huge hit in 2012 with "The Avengers", which assembled many of those superheroes in a single movie.

Meanwhile, Disney's two other divisions, "Touchstone Pictures" and "Hollywood Pictures," produced a remarkable streak of hits over the decades, including "The Sixth Sense," "Down & Out in Beverly Hills," "Three Men and a Baby," "Sister Act" and "Pretty Woman," making them one of the most successful modern studios in Hollywood. (The studio made at least one big mistake, though: they turned down Steven Spielberg in 1982, when he offered them "E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial.")

In recent years, the studio has released the "Chronicles of Narnia" movies, the "Pirates Of The Caribbean" franchise, the "High School Musical" series, "Prom", the Tim Burton live version of "Alice in Wonderland", "Secretariat", "The Proposal", "Old Dogs", "Enchanted," "National Treasure: Book of Secrets", "Sky High", "The Santa Clause", "Apocalypto", "The Shaggy Dog", "The Aviator," "The Princess Diaries," "Freaky Friday," "Lilo & Stitch," "Signs," "Pearl Harbor,"  "Spy Kids,"  "Bridget Jones' Diary," "Gone in 60 Seconds,"  "Coyote Ugly," "Fantasia 2000," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Runaway Bride," "Inspector Gadget," "Tarzan," "Life is Beautiful,"  "Shakespeare in Love," "The Waterboy," "Enemy of the State," "Angels In The Outfield," "A Bug's Life," "Armageddon," "Beloved," "The Parent Trap," "Good Will Hunting,"  "Jackie Brown," "George of the Jungle,"  "Face/Off," "Con Air," "The Rock," "Evita," "Ransom," "Starship Troopers," "Emma," "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" and "The English Patient."

Disney has also found major success recently in the television world.

The studio is currently the second largest provider of prime time TV programming, behind only Warner Bros. In 1995, the Walt Disney Company bought out ABC, the television network which first televised The Wonderful World of Disney. ABC's current shows include "Once Upon a Time", "Modern Family", "Suburgatory", "Revenge", "The Middle", "The Neighbors", "Castle", and "Nashville".

Previous recent ABC hits included "Desperate Housewives", "Ugly Betty", "Pushing Daisies", "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy," "Dancing with the Stars," "According to Jim," and "Boston Legal". Before that: "Home Improvement," "Alias" and "Dharma & Greg".

But it's not all G-rated anymore at Disney. In 1994, their Hollywood Pictures division released "Color of Night," an erotic thriller not exactly in the Disney tradition. And the Disney studio has also acquired Miramax Pictures which released such controversial films as "Pulp Fiction," "Bad Santa," "Kill Bill," "Sirens," "Wings of the Dove," "Priest" and "Kids." Meanwhile, the coming out of ABC's sitcom "Ellen" sparked a boycott of Disney by some Southern Baptists.

Disney's very first studio (where he made "Snow White" and such early animated shorts as "The Three Little Pigs") was located just east of downtown Los Angeles, at 2719 Hyperion Avenue (near Los Feliz Blvd). They worked out of that tiny studio for 14 years. But it no longer exists - a supermarket now stands on the spot.

In 1937, needing to expand, Disney used the profits from "Snow White" to buy 51 acres in Burbank (in the Valley), where he built a state-of-the-art animation studio, next to Warner Bros Studios and NBC Studios. All of Disney's classic animated films since 1939 were created at this Burbank studio.

A recent addition to the studio is a large, eccentric, brick & glass building, which faces the main studio gate on the north side of the Disney Studios (at Alameda and Lincoln). It certainly adds "character " to the neighborhood. Seven characters, in fact. Across the south face of the building stand seven 160-foot-tall stone Dwarfs (yes, dwarfs!), arms raised overhead as if holding up the roof. Six of the seven famous dwarfs from Disney's animated classic "Snow White" (Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Sleepy, & Bashful) are lined up across the front of the building; the seventh dwarf, little 'Dopey', stands above them, in his oversized clothes, at the apex of the tiled roof.

Just across the street from the studio (to the south) is another recent addition to the lot: the new Animation Building, which looks like something out of "Toontown." With its 85-foot-tall Sorcerer's Apprentice hat, red and white stripes, and the word "ANIMATION" in tall letters, the colorful new complex is easy to spot from the Ventura freeway. The new building houses 600 employees; Roy Disney has his office in the hat.

But other than these huge dwarfs and the Animation building, Disney Studios a looks a lot like most other Hollywood studios, surrounded by a high wall, with only a few of the usual, factory-like sound stages visible from the street. The only other notable landmark visible from the outside is a tall water tower bearing the Disney logo and the colorful cartoon image of Mickey Mouse.

Alas, Disney Studios doesn't offer a studio tour, and no part of the studio is open to the public. Unlike Universal, Disney chose to build his theme park far from his movie studio (see the separate page about Disneyland). So, most people will have to be satisfied with just driving past the studio and admiring the giant dwarfs. ("Giant dwarfs" ? Now that's an oxymoron, if ever I've heard one!)

But before you despair, there are three roundabout ways to get into Disney Studios (short of getting a job there as an animator):

    1.  Get tickets to a live taping of one of the few sit-coms that are taped at Disney Studios. Recently, such shows as such as "8 Simple Rules," "My Wife & Kids," "Less Than Perfect" and "Home Improvement" were taped there. Contact "Audiences Unlimited" to see if there are any shows taping there right now. If so, with ticket in hand, you'll be able to breeze past the guarded gates and see at least some part of the fabled studio.

    2.  If you have $2,000+ to spend on a Disney/Hollywood vacation, Disney offers a special 6-day vacation package which includes a guided tour of Disney Studios, lunch in the Disney studio commissary, a visit to the Jim Henson studio (formerly Charlie Chaplin's studio), a behind-the-scenes tour of the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood (as well as the Jimmy Kimmel Live show), in addition to stays at both the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in Hollywood and the Grand Californian hotel at Disneyland, plus multi-day admission to (and a VIP tour of) DisneylandDCA theme parks. Click here for details.

    3. If you join the D23 Club (the official Disney fan club), they offer members the opportunity to tour the Disney studio, on certain special days (about four times per year). D23 Club membership costs $50 to $75, and then the tour will cost an additional $50 on that day. But for a diehard Disney fan, that's not an unreasonable price, and I've heard good things about the two-and-a-half tour.

The studio's normal business hours are Mon Fri: 8 AM - 6 PM.

(Incidentally, if you would like to see a few mementos from the early Burbank days of Disney Studios, visit the nearby Gordon R. Howard Museum, located at 1015 W. Olive Avenue (at Lomita Street) in Burbank, where you'll find posters, early Disney sketches, animation cells and lots of photos from classic Disney productions.)

 Getting there: Walt Disney Studios is located in Burbank, right next to NBC Studios (and not far from Warner Bros.). The studio is bordered by Buena Vista Street on the west, Keystone on the east, Alameda Avenue on the north, and Riverside Drive on the south. From the eastbound Ventura (134) Freeway, take the Pass Avenue exit, turn right and go one block south to Alameda Avenue, then turn left (east) on Alameda and go one mile to Disney Studios (at Buena Vista Street). / From the westbound 134, you can get off right at Buena Vista Street, then just turn right (north) past the studio. To reach the giant dwarfs, turn right (east) when you reach Alameda Ave. / From Hollywood, take the Hollywood (101) Freeway north, exit at Barham Boulevard, turn right and go north on Barham (which turns into Olive Street) about two miles, to Riverside Drive. Turn right (east) on Riverside Drive, go less than a mile east, and then turn left (north) on Buena Vista Street. The main gate is on the right.


[For more information on this subject, you can access Disney Studio's own website at: http://www.disney.com/StudioOperations.]

[Or for more info about Walt Disney Pictures, try: http://www.disney.com/DisneyPictures/index.html.]

[For more info about Touchstone & Hollywood Pictures, try: http://www.movies.com.]

[For more information about Miramax films, try: http://www.miramax.com
.]



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Copyright  2014-Gary Wayne
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