Disney MGM Studios – The Birth of a Themepark

The Disney MGM Studios opened in 1989. One year before (sorry, Uncle Walt, but this has to be said) Universal Studios Orlando. There is a lot of misinformation about what really happened as the two studio projects came to life.

Don’t worry, Dad knows THE TRUTH and will be happy to share “the rest of the story.”

Sit back, grab a nice cool drink and some popcorn and let ole Dad tell you how it really happened.

Fine Print: The following is based on true life events,


In the early 1980’s Universal decided it was time to take on Mousedom and build an East Coast Theme Park. They had some plans, but needed some help developing some of them.

In 1982, Universal approached Paramount Studios to talk about a joint venture in Florida. Paramount declined to participate and for a few years Universal shelved the plan.

Oddly enough the Orlando park idea was ressurected by Steven Spielberg and his new movie Back to the Future. Spielberg had been teased by George Lucas (who was secretly working on Star Tours with Disney) that Universal could never develop a successful attraction based on Back to the Future.

The Controversy

In the mid 1980’s, Universal announced and started construction on their spiffy new Orlando Theme Park. The plans included attractions base on mega-blockbuster movies like Jaws and Back to the Future. It was a great big project.

What the Universal didn’t know was that Disney was in the process of sabatoging their plans. The executive from Paramount that had denied Universal’s overatures was none other than Michael Eisner (yes, that Michael Eisner). Who was now the president of Disney.


Disney’s Official Version

Disney’s Ministry of Propaganda has quietly (shouting from every treetop) released the story that for years Disney imagineers had been working on movie based pavillions for EPCOT. They even named Marty Skyler and others as having been working on the project for years.

So when Universal started construction on the new theme park, Disney was ready to go and with proudly opened Disney MGM Studios a full year before Universal could open their park. (With a whopping 4 attractions, whoopeee!)

How Disney MGM Studios Really Started

It was a dark and stormy night.

As soon as Mr. Eisner was named chairman he called a special meeting of the board to discuss Universal’s plan and how Disney was going to respond.

All the big names were there. Mickey sat at the head of the table in his usual red and black. Donald spewing all over the place. Pluto was sitting at Mickey’s feet. Goofy and Minnie were talking about the children outside and Cinderella (the Princess representative of the month) sat serenely smiling at everyone.

Promptly at 10:00, Mr. Eisner called the meeting to order.

It has come to my attention that Universal Studios is planning to encroach on our territory here and build a movie based theme park somewhere on the East Coast and probably in or near Orlando. (Mr. Eisner was always a little long winded.)

Pandemonium erupted. There was absolute chaos. As Bill Murray once said “Dogs and Cats living together”. It was unbelieveable.

All of the sudden a familiar whistle was heard. The Big Man wanted attention. The big cheese. The top dog (or in this case Mouse) wanted the floor.

Quiet, Mickey yelled.

“This is not a problem,” Mickey said. “Michael, take this down.”

“Yes, Boss.” Mr. Eisner said.

“We will start our Studio project tomorrow. We’ll use all the magic we can muster to finish first. We will open the Disney MGM Studios long before Universal opens their pitiful excuse for park. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Sir!” Mr. Eisner said, “and let me say that it’s a pleasure to work for a company that can make decisions quickly sir. But what if the rides at Universal are better than ours.”

“Don’t worry about that” Mickey said, “I’ll just send a bunch of my friends over to gum them up. They’ll never work right.”

“Now that’s why I signed up with this company.” Mr. Eisner said.

That’s the true story of how Disney MGM Studios really began.