ABD Backstage Magic: Day 3 (part 1)

Hard to believe we have made it this far through the trip so fast, already it was time to pack our bags to leave Hollywood and move right along. This was a big day, making up for lost time in Los Angeles from the holiday and getting us to Disneyland for the evening. Our morning spunk was starting to defect us but we were still not yet pushing our meeting times so we were in the black. It was good that we still had energy as this would be a very busy day, my most favorite of the entire vacation. 

Catch up on the planning, pre-tour (day 1), pre-tour (day 2) and day 1, and day 2.

Another breakfast in the hotel, which was quite a wonderful spread, before saying goodbye to the Loews Hotel and on to the bus. We had to squeeze in returning the car which turned out more trouble than it should have been in part because of the logistics of the road closures from the Academy Awards. Before long the car was an old memory as we were on to the happiest place on earth, no not Disneyland, Jim Henson Studios! (Confession: The Muppets have been a very big part of my life. I remember Jim Henson’s death and still get emotional thinking about the impact he has had on my life.)

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How to describe something you have wanted to see you whole life? Yes, that is how much this space meant to me. Just turning around the corner to have Kermit looking down brought tears to my eyes. These set of buildings are not only the current home of the Muppets, but also were A&M Records for decades, one of the many DesiLu television studios, and originally Charlie Chaplin’s film studio. This little space has housed every aspect of entertainment of the last hundred years and that is what first strikes you, how little the space is. The buildings of Los Angeles butt right up against the road, but past them lays unknown wonders of courtyards and oases. By the way, if you are not familiar with the Muppet Studios you may notice that many of similarities to the MuppetVision 4D area in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

A mural from the Brownstone offices of Jim Henson in New York containing every Muppet made prior to Jim's death.
A mural from the Brownstone offices of Jim Henson in New York containing every Muppet made prior to Jim’s death.
From the live action film 'The Flintstones.'
From the live action film ‘The Flintstones.’

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Are you a Miss Piggy?
Are you a Miss Piggy?
Or a Kermit?
Or a Kermit?

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Charlie Chaplin's footprints
Charlie Chaplin’s footprints

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Where "We are the World" was recorded.
Where they recorded “We are the World.”

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Eventually, they made us leave but only to move to something even bigger (and better?). Our snack filled bus rolled into Glendale and pulled up to a building on Flower Street, we had arrived at Imagineering. Ok, now I don’t know if this was the was the better visit or the Muppets, but the good thing is I don’t have to choose since I got to go to both. Unfortunately, squeezing Muppets into day 3 curtailed our time at Imagineering. The good news is that since I’ve never been to Imagineering before (or since) so I do not know what I may or may not have missed.

What is inside those plain doors? Highlight to see. Imagineering was celebrating their sixtieth year and had a lovely display. Our Imagineer guide for the day walked us through the halls and past doors as we craned our necks to spy something new being created and worked on. Alas, we saw nothing, we know nothing. It was just a number of winding halls that looked much cooler to work at than any other place I’ve been. Eventually we found ourselves in a sound recording room and were given a demonstration of the precision and creativity in the 3D stereo sound formerly found in ExtraTerrorestrial and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Both of these attractions were touchstones in our family so it was fun to see, or hear, them again. Sometimes it can be easy to think of artistic creation at Imagineering, painters and sculptors, and not the scientists and engineers. We also got to pop into the sculpture room, which I suspect is just set up for the tour, the home of the original sculptures and models for props and AudioAnimatronics. Finally, we got to peak through a working studio on some upcoming figures for New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom.

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The rain and grey clouds had not yet let up, but we had fun shopping in Mickey’s of Glendale, the Imagineer only store. Normally, I’m not one for shopping, but this store seduced me. Some of the selection mirrors that in the parks, and more of it is available in general Cast Member only stores, but a small amount is unique to Imagineering. Our guides provided us with in-store coupons to entice our wallets, and it worked as I bought my only two souvenirs of the tour. Most of our fellow travelers got sweatshirts and cold weather gear which quickly became semi-permanent fixtures. Outside of the store is an inviting patio area that we did not get to explore as the rain intensified and we hopped back on the bus.

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As if that wasn’t enough fun for one day we then moved along to Burbank and the Walt Disney Studio lot. Yes, our day wasn’t even half over. Can you believe we still needed to eat lunch? Side note: this was one of my two most “Hollywood” moments of the trip as I recognized the shaggy man walking the blond kids next to us as Brad Pitt. A few of my fellow vacationers then got locked in the studio store with him as they shopped. People often comment that the Walt Disney Studios are small, and they are right. I haven’t experienced other studios to compare, but there is a sense of an intimate campus. The second thing that struck me was its proximity to Griffith Park. If you do not know the lay out of Los Angeles, Griffith Park is a mid-sized mountain/large green space plopped in the middle of dense development.

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The crossway over the tunnel used to keeping drawings dry on days just like this.
The cross-way over the tunnel used to keeping drawings dry on days just like this.

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Our guides set us free for a lunch break in the studio cafeteria and a chance to pop into the studio store (see how it’s like a cruise, eat and shop). Having had many a meal in the Walt Disney World cast cafeterias I was very impressed with the offerings, though I overheard some complains from those around me so I guess it is all perspective. We had a voucher for an entrée, dessert, and drink which was plenty to fill us up as we also had a constant stream of snacks and treats on the bus. Sadly, the rain continued to come down so we were not able to use the lovely courtyard for seating. I must admit,  I did attempt a few times to strain to hear some of the conversations of our table neighbors in hopes of cracking a hint to upcoming shows and movies. I got nothing.

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The retired Guest Relations Tour Guide outfit.
The retired Guest Relations Tour Guide outfit.

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We regrouped to start a walking tour of the grounds. If you don’t have a chance to tour the studio you can get an extremely close approximation by watching The Reluctant Dragon (1941), which lets you see the studio in its prime. It is both very special and disheartening to walk through the old animation building as you are in the presence of greatness and are reminded of the days of animation past. No matter what your opinion about the present state of animation (which has some excellent showings recently) there is wistfulness to envisioning people in the 1940’s an 1950’s fluttering about with hand painted cels and paper drawings. Many of these rooms are now home to production offices and reception for film and television partnerships, like Bad Robot and Once Upon A Time. Still, the buildings hold a special air of excitement of the movers and shakers of yesterday and today.

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Top corner was Walt's office.
Top corner was Walt’s office.

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We boarded our bus to say “Goodbye” to the first leg of our journey as we began followed old Tinkerbell’s route to Disneyland. On top of the exclusive access to amazing places that day, this was one of the times we were very grateful to have someone else taking care of the trip for us. Getting to sit back and watch “Up,” stretching our legs on the coach bus, or even napping was better than dealing with Los Angeles traffic during rush hour. It was also pretty great to pull up to the Grand California, be given our room keys by the guides, and walking straight to our room where our luggage was waiting. We had just enough time to freshen up, and bundle up, before meeting our group again in the lobby for the evening activities. Typically, they tell us, travelers are given an hour or so to relax, nap, or take a dip in the pool, but because of our full day and traffic it was a tighter schedule.

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IMG_2206And that’s only the first half of the day, up next...

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