Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Walt Disney World, Florida
GPS: 28.354966, -81.559315
Introduction: A Glimpse into the Muppet Dreamland That Never Was
In the world of entertainment and creativity, there are stories that remain untold. There are dreams that never materialized, and projects that exist only in the realm of “what if.” One such captivating tale revolves around the Muppets and their ambitious venture into the heart of Disney/MGM Studios. This is a project that never saw the light of day. Join us on an exclusive journey as we peel back the curtain on the lost dream of Muppet Studios. We explore the tantalizing details of the lost rides, attractions, and restaurants through an in-depth interview with Imagineer Marcelo Vignali.
Muppet Studios – Marcelo Vignali Interview
The Unseen Collaboration – Jim Henson and Disney’s Vision
Delve into the late 1980s, a time when Disney courted the visionary Jim Henson to bring his magic to The Walt Disney Company. While it may have appeared to be a simple acquisition of the Muppet franchise, the truth runs deeper. Disney was after the creative genius himself. Uncover the strategic move that could have transformed Muppet Studios into a creative powerhouse within Disney/MGM Studios.
A Creative Odyssey with Imagineer Marcelo Vignali
Meet Marcelo Vignali, the artist who found himself at the crossroads of animation and Disney Imagineering. For the first time he invites us to embark on a whirlwind journey with Jim Henson’s Muppet Studios. Hear the firsthand account of Marcelo’s experiences, from his early days in animation to the exhilarating challenges of contributing to the Muppet dreamland.
Artist Marcelo Vignali was only 23 years old when he joined the Walt Disney Company as an animator.
However, a rapid series of ‘being in the right place at the right time’ circumstances propelled a young Marcelo from art school, to Disney animation, to Disney Imagineering, and then placed him as part of the core team developing Muppet Studios under the direction of Jim Henson.
The Unfinished Masterpiece – Phase One Attractions
Unveil the curtain on Phase One of Muppet Studios. Themed restaurants, stage shows, and the groundbreaking Muppet★Vision 3D promised chaos, mayhem, and laughter at every turn. Explore the creative process behind Muppet★Vision 3D and the live stage attractions that set the stage for a larger-than-life Muppet presence in Disney/MGM Studios.
Meet the Muppets
Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses
Muppet Studios Giftshop
The Dream Within Reach – Phase Two’s Envisioned Attractions
Imagine the Muppets taking over Disney/MGM Studios with dark rides, attractions, and restaurants – that was the vision for Phase Two. For the firs time ever, take a peek into the Muppets Movie Ride. Join us on a backstage journey into the whimsical world of Muppet filmmaking. We’ll finally see Muppet Studios through the concept art that has been locked away for almost 35 years.
The Great Muppet Movie Ride
OmniMover / OmniTram
Marcelo Vignali explains how he created the OmniTram concept:
“The first drawing that I completed, I included an Omnimover ride car, like we have in the Haunted Mansion. But then I started thinking. ‘I don’t want to just do an Omnimover.’ ‘I want to do something more theme related.’ What if these vehicles were like Omnimovers, but when they’re in the station and you are boarding them, they’re all together, and it looks like it’s a tram? So you board the tram, and then as the tram takes off they start to separate.”
The Great Muppet Movie Ride – Indiana Jones Scene
The Great Muppet Movie Ride – Ben Hur Scene
It seems that no iconic film is safe from the Muppets, and soon your OmniTram approaches the chariot race scene from the 1959 film Ben-Hur.
But behind the screen, the horses are actually on stationary bikes, that seem to be part of a more rigorous workout program. The Ancient Roman chariot race seems to have been invaded by World War II fighter planes. Of course this is a great time for the rat tech crew to take a pizza break. And Gonzo, the director, has completely lost it.
The Great Muppet Movie Ride – Dr Zhivago Scene
If you are wondering how the Muppets would capture the passion and drama of a love story set in Russia during World War I, you are about to find out. As your Omnitram enters a scene from the 1965 film Dr Zhivago Kermit and Miss Piggy are in a frozen embrace, in a giant snow globe. Fozzy bear and the rats are gently rocking the snow globe to maintain a bit of a flurry. But the director has gone to sleep, and the rat at the bottom of the drawing, is sending a clear message that this whole thing stinks.
The Great Muppet Movie Ride – Pigs in Space Scene
By 1990 Disney had already partnered with Lucasfilm for the StarTours attraction. Star Wars was still a relatively young and extremely hot franchise. And its popularity initiated a massive wave of cinematic space epics. So obviously The Great Movie Ride needed a ‘Pigs in Space’ scene.
The Great Muppet Movie Ride – Peter Pan Scene
There are also scenes from this ride which were illustrated by Marcelo’s colleague Joe Lanzisero.
In the Muppets Live-action Peter Pan scene, Kermit, as Peter, is trying to get his group off to Neverland. However, Miss Piggy has demanded the roll of Tinkerbell. The Rat technicians clearly do not have the strength to gracefully glide Miss Piggy through the scene, so she ends up terrorizing the entire cast and crew as she flies out of control, destroying all of London, and crashing right through the backdrop.
The Great Muppet Movie Ride – Frankenstein Scene
In this scene, Kermit and Miss Piggy have stumbled through a hidden passage and discover a secret laboratory. This scene is taken from the 1931 iconic horror film Frankenstein. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew attempts to create life by assembling a creature from body parts of the deceased, and in the process he has created a ten-foot tall Beaker.
The Great Gonzo’s Pizza Pandemonium Parlor
“The Great Gonzo’s Pizza Pandemonium Parlor,” a full service restaurant managed by an easily distracted Gonzo and his chaos-infested friend Rizzo the Rat. Here, your meal comes with a side of mayhem.
At any moment, the kitchen doors might burst open, sending a cloud of chicken feathers into the air.
The Swedish Chef often in a life and death battle with the poultry and seafood. Overhead television monitors would capture the culinary mayhem for all to see.
The Hard Luck Cafe
And then there was the Hard Luck Cafe. This would have a quick service restaurant at Muppet Studios.
But that didn’t mean that there would be any shortage on design detail.
Tragedy Strikes – Jim Henson’s Untimely Passing
On May 16, 1990, the dream took an unexpected turn with the sudden passing of Jim Henson. Uncover the devastating impact of his loss on the collaborative venture and how it altered the dynamics of the Disney-Henson deal, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the expansive Muppet Studios.
Legacy – Toontown and Beyond
Yet, from the ashes of the Muppet dream, a new creative venture emerged. Learn how the spirit of mayhem and play found a new home in Toontown, designed by Marcelo Vignali for Disneyland, California, and Tokyo Disneyland. Discover the echoes of Muppet Studios’ enthusiasm in this vibrant community.
Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin
Conclusion: Uncovering the Remnants of Muppet Studios Today
While Muppet Studios may exist only in the realm of lost dreams, traces of its legacy linger in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Unearth the subtle nod to the unrealized project in the preshow area of Muppet★Vision 3D – packing crates filled with Miss Piggy’s fancy satin gowns. Join us on this enthralling journey, where the untold stories of Muppet Studios are finally brought to light, revealing the magic that almost was. Stay tuned for an exploration into the heart of creativity, chaos, and the timeless charm of the Muppets.
Vignali’s artistic career began with The Walt Disney Company at DIC Entertainment in 1987. Later, at Walt Disney Imagineering, he served as a Concept Designer leaving an indelible mark on projects such as Disney America, Tokyo Storybook Gardens, ToonTown, and Muppet Studios.
Beyond Disney, Marcelo has been involved in a wide range of projects in the realms of family entertainment, themed entertainment, and animation, boasting an illustrious career that spans across renowned studios and projects.
Marcelo’s tenure at Sony Pictures Animation from January 2003 to April 2019 his creative fingerprints are evident in blockbuster films such as Vivo, Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse, Smurfs – The Lost Village, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Surf’s Up, Open Season, and the Hotel Transylvania trilogy. Marcelo also spends a considerable amount of time mentoring young artists and encouraging the next generation.
For more information about Marcelo Vignali’s career and online galleries of his art, visit his website at: Vignali Studio.
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