The Grand Opening promotional button is a white and blue circle button with text that reads “The Walt Disney Studios Welcomes Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park to Our Team, May 1, 1989.” Mickey Mouse holds a clapboard in the center of the button, embedded in the Disney-MGM Studios logo.

Virtual Gallery: The Early Years of Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Like the name “Disney,” there is inherent magic in the word “Hollywood.” It represents a cache of cultural nostalgia for the movies we love. When the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park opened at Walt Disney World on May 1, 1989, its dedication plaque described the park’s Hollywood experience as “a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic.” The resulting park history has become one part memory lane, one part dream factory, and one part starring role for every guest who finds themselves immersed in the mythology of Hollywood, the moviemaking process, or the worlds of their favorite television shows and films.

Upon its debut, the park unveiled an impressive roster of new and unique attractions but could also legitimately boast of being a real production facility supported by state-of-the-art soundstages, an expansive backlot, and a functioning animation studio. Disney films of the era were also heralded and promoted throughout the park, oftentimes by way of special costume and prop exhibits, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and celebrity appearances which helped to further tie the in-park experience to its Hollywood roots.

In 2008, the park officially changed its name to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, reflecting a new direction—away from actual production and a behind-the-scenes focus to wholly immersing guests in their favorite TV and film experiences through new and exciting attractions and environments. Still, the park perfectly retains its fantasy aura of classic Hollywood seemingly filled with stars, sky-tracing klieg lights, and cement handprints, successfully creating a nostalgia for “a Hollywood that never was and always will be.”

To celebrate Disney’s Hollywood Studios on its 35th anniversary, the Walt Disney Archives proudly presents a virtual gallery of iconic merchandise, ephemera, and props that chronicle the park’s early years, including its Grand Opening Spectacular weekend (April 28 to May 1, 1989):

Opening text adapted from A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of the Most Magical Place on Earth (2021) by Disney archivists Kevin M. Kern and Steven Vagnini and Disney author/historian Tim O’Day, now available from Disney Editions.