Disney's Folio: Disney-MGM Studios, A Pictorial Souvenir

Released in 1989, in conjunction with the opening of Disney-MGM Studios, the Disney-MGM Studios - A Pictorial Souvenir was a brief snapshot of the park at the time, a way to sell the guests on this new theme park Disney was rolling out. It had only been seven years since the previous park opened (to significant grandeur). However, while EPCOT Center opened at the dawn of the ‘80s, Disney-MGM Studios opened at its twilight just as culture and wonderment were about to take a massive shift into the new decade and towards the advent of new media and a more cynical culture.  

While EPCOT in theory may have seemed a tricky concept for adventurers and youth, Disney had the advantage of its decades-old legacy and of course its original conception by Walt himself. It turned out that the decade was ripe for looking to our past and future with reverence and awe, supported by the movies of the time and the positivity of ‘80s pop culture and music. In turn, EPCOT would feed back into that vibe and enroot itself as a very part of that pop culture. 

Disney-MGM Studios probably didn’t need a lot of description as the concept of a studio theme park was not only in many of Walt’s original themed concepts pre-dating Disneyland itself, but also executed previously by Universal Studios in Hollywood. However, the company needed to appeal this third gate to the guests and these souvenir booklets were part of how they reeled people in. It’s hard to believe it now, but at the time there were plenty of guests who visited Walt Disney World completely unaware of all of its parks, and perhaps without the means to visit these parks. (Remember, the concept of “park hopping” was relatively new, as was the idea of a spending a week solely at WDW.) 

The souvenir accurately showcases the Studios’ mix of Old Hollywood, Backlot tours and faux filmmaking, strategically utilizing its key characters to sell the concept. In retrospect, I imagine the concept made it tricky to lure in families who had to envision how well their young children would enjoy a visit through the costuming department or the craftsmanship of reproducing ‘30s era Hollywood architecture. (Similarly, as cool as Grauman’s Theatre is, it wasn’t as spectacular an icon as Cinderella’s Castle or Spaceship Earth.)  Of course, that’s where George Lucas comes along. By advertising both an Indiana Jones stunt show and using the inside back cover to promote the imminent arrival of Star Tours, the Studios pulled its best aces out of the hole and essentially defined the first era in the Studios’ history. 

I actually didn’t become aware of this pictorial souvenir until I had a little run of Disney book-hunting a few years ago on eBay and used-book sites. I always loved the concept art and construction photography that was found in similar EPCOT printed products and wanted to investigate same in the other three parks. The book reminds me of the smaller EPCOT pictorial that was released in advance of that park’s opening, with concept art, photos, and descriptions of the rides, entertainment and shops. This pictorial also uses die-cut pages to effectively convey the concept of taking a look behind the scenes and into the elusive mystique of Hollywood. The opening illustration (above) of the Studios at night is a dazzling presentation. It’s not an angle the park is often shown at, and seeing it before the many additions and changes to the park is a great nostalgia trip. (And keep a look out for the world’s largest ever Hidden Mickey, now sadly chopped off by a big hat and Sunset Boulevard!) 

I’d recommend this souvenir only for the most fanatical completists or collectors. (Though you could probably get it for cheaper than other, lengthier books and pictorials.) It’s a fun collector’s item but at 24 pages, quite a light read that won’t beg for much repeated viewing.