The screech of tires, the smell of burning rubber, the snap of a gun, a burning wall of flames, and a death defying fall. No, these weren’t film scenes from the dearly departed Great Movie Ride, nor were they demonstrations along the once great Studio Backlot Tour. These were the sights, sounds, and smells of the Lights, Motors, Action!: Extreme Stunt Show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This fantastic stunt show lived a short life, tucked in a corner of a park in transition, only to be “Forced” out in favor of a whole new depth of theme park immersion. But in just a little over a decade, this stunt spectacular made its mark in the memories of many Hollywood Studios guests.
Let’s get revved up for some high-octane entertainment in this edition of Dearly Departed Disney.
The story of Lights, Motors, Action started in a land far, far away…in the country of France, to be exact. Auto racing has a rich history in French culture. I don’t know exactly why this is true, but I’m sure the legendary Formula One Monaco Grand Prix road race and the Monaco International Auto Show have something to do with it. With the nation’s rich racing history, it is only fitting that Disneyland Paris (previously known as Euro Disneyland) would be the original home of a Disney auto stunt show.
Moteurs… Action! debuted at Walt Disney Studios Park in March 2002. During its 18-year run, the performance was seen by over nine million people, making it one of the world’s most-viewed vehicular stunt shows. With such a successful run that started right out of the gate, it only made sense to carry a version across the pond in the United States.
The Happiest Celebration on Earth
The year 2005 was a big one in Disney Parks history. It marked the 50th anniversary of Disneyland – Walt Disney’s park that started it all. In May 2005, Walt Disney World began the 18-month long “Happiest Celebration on Earth” to commemorate the momentous occasion. As part of the celebration, new attractions were opened in all four Walt Disney World parks.
Magic Kingdom celebrated the opening of Cinderellabration – a salute to one of Disney’s most famous princesses, fittingly located at Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage. EPCOT welcomed the Soarin’ attraction to the Land Pavilion. Animal Kingdom opened Expedition Everest, home of the world-famous (and now famously immobile) yeti. And Disney-MGM Studios imported Moteurs, Action! from Disneyland Paris, renaming it Lights, Motors, Action!: Extreme Stunt Show.
Crashing Through the Neighborhood
A super-charged, super-sized attraction like Lights, Motors, Action! couldn’t just slip into a tiny corner of an already-crowded theme park. This stunt show was huge, and it needed space to breathe. Where better to move in than the Studio Backlot Tour’s Residential Street? With the complexion of Disney-MGM Studios starting to shift away from making movies and towards living the movies, much of the Studio Backlot Tour was full of underwhelming empty spaces. So that peaceful space known as Residential Street moved out, and the extraordinarily loud neighbors moved in.
If you are wondering why a park moving away from making movies would introduce a show about making stunts for movies, you’d be correct in your confusion. Disney’s auto thriller stunt show would only operate for a little over a decade, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Let’s Start the Engines!
Lights, Motors, Action! Was such a complex production that it only ran two times a day, except on exceptionally busy days, when it might run three times. But despite the limited runs, the show’s sizable stadium ate up enough people to absorb the crowds on those extra busy days.
Let’s take a run through the show.
The pre-show primed guests for what was to come, showing clips of scenes involving car chases from various action thriller films including The Rock (1996), Con Air (1997), Enemy of the State (1998), Gone in 60 Seconds (2000). All of these films resided under the Disney/Touchstone film umbrella, whereas the Great Movie Ride spotlighted films from other studios as well.
Act 1 – The Ballet Chase
The show started off with a carefully choreographed “ballet” car chase starring an adorable little red “hero” car hotly pursued by five black “pursuit” cars. Jumps, gunshots, spinouts, and all sorts of high intensity action got the crowd immediately hooked. Who would’ve thought a half dozen cars could sync so closely together, without so much as a scratch? I would even consider it a form of dancing!
Lights, Motors, Action! wasn’t just a stunt show. It was a look behind the scenes – much like the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! – in the vibe of the original Disney-MGM Studios theme park mission of showing guests how movies are made. A cast member “director” and “stunt coordinator” took the crowd through a step-by-step explanation of how particular movie stunts are performed. Several camera people assisted with the show, displaying multiple camera angles (including behind-the-scenes shots) of the action on the stage’s big screen.
Spoiler Alert (which is fine, since the show is no longer performing): There were TWO hero cars in this scene – one with front-drive steering, and one with a rear-mounted steering. The two cars alternated backstage in mid-scene, allowing for the hero car to drive equally well backward as it did forward!
Cameo Time – Herbie the Love Bug and Lightning McQueen
Following the opening act, guests were greeted by a delightful Disney hero – Herbie the Love Bug. This semi-sentient Volkswagen Bug tooted to swooned his way around the stage, eventually “splitting” the scene – quite literally – in a way that only Herbie can do. Functionally speaking, Herbie’s appearance helped eat a few minutes of time while the set hands prepared for the show’s next stunt scene.
Trivia Tidbit: Herbie’s appearance was replaced in 2011 with Lightning McQueen. While incorporating Lightning McQueen into a car-based show made sense, Herbie was simply better at doing stunts. Heck, it’s what he was known for!
Act 2 – The Remote Controlled Hero Car
A brief scene set in a downtown village marketplace saw a car defy gravity off the back of a cargo trailer (thanks to a bunch of behind-the-scenes safety equipment). After the crew explained the scene, they would invite a young guest from the audience to “steer” the hero car using a remote control. After a moment or two of director-induced anxiety, the remote was revealed to be a decoy, and the hero car spun to reveal a hidden driver sitting in a seat/steering cradle mounted to the opposite side of the car. The demonstration was all in good fun, and illustrated another clever trick directors can employ when filming a stunt scene.
Act 3 – Fire and Water
Cars took a backseat for Act 3, and motorcycles, jet skis, and human beings took center stage. After a brief scene setup, our hero stuntman spun through town on a motorcycle, picking off bad guys with his pistol. One even fell (safely) to his doom from a third floor ledge. After dismounting from the motorcycle, our hero splashed around for a quick lap on a jet ski before running through the scene on foot. In his last heroic action, our hero shot a pursuing biker off his motorcycle, sending him sliding through a fiery wall. Of course, the driver caught fire and flailed around helplessly for a few moments before falling and being extinguished by the on-staff safety team. It was quite a scene to see – intense and a little bit frightening!
Grand Stunt Finale
The show’s finale scene was a clever combination of edited film footage and one final stunt. The stunts performed earlier in the show were edited together, along with other supporting clips, to show a fully formed action scene. After a couple minutes of the final film footage displayed on the stage’s big screen, the hero car made one final appearance, jumping across a fiery moat to successfully flee his pursuers. The finale only lasted a couple of minutes, but it was the icing on the cake of a show that was well worth the 38-minute run time.
The Stunt Vehicles
Lights, Motors, Action! used over 40 vehicles for the show – three of which were used as the “hero” car in the demonstration. The little red car was a custom-built design, and was not a specific make and model. Of course, as we learned, there was more than one hero car – there were three! One had a traditional seating and steering configuration. One had the interior seat oriented backward to allow the driver to appear to be driving in reverse. The third hero car had the seat and steering wheel bolted onto the side of the car away from the audience, so that the car would appear to be moving without a driver (hmmm, sounds a little like Herbie). In case you were wondering, the black pursuit cars were German Opel Corsas.
The Final Cut
Lights, Motors, Action! was a fantastic stunt show, worthy of its place in a theme park based on movie magic. But it was unfortunately a victim of terrible timing. By the mid-2000s, around the time of the show’s debut, Disney-MGM Studios was starting to move away from making movies and television shows, and therefore was also moving away from attractions that celebrate the “making of” films.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – established over a decade earlier – was a game changer in themed entertainment, and Toy Story Midway Mania let guests play in their own toy world. It was clear that guests enjoyed being a part of the experience, even more so than simply watching it.
The move away from making movies accelerated even further when the park was renamed Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While the word “studios” remained a part of the park’s name, the concept of including working studio components continued to fade.
The final nail in the coffin for the working studio concept came in 2015 when Disney announced the development of Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at that year’s D23 Celebration. With the writing on the wall (or in this case, the pavement), Lights, Motors, Action! performed its final stunts on April 2, 2016.
In Memoriam…In a Galaxy Far, Far Away
In the Disney’s Hollywood Studios version of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, there is a fitting tribute to the show, since it once called this corner of the theme park home. When walking through the marketplace of Batuu, look for three small vehicles between shop entrances.
The green hoverbike in the middle sports three letters written in Aurebesh (the official language of the Star Wars Galaxy), which translate in English to LMA. This, of course, stands for Lights, Motors, Action!
One of the most often debated Disney questions surrounds Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Do you prefer living the movies, the way the park is currently themed? Or do you prefer the magic of making movies, which was the original mission of Disney-MGM Studios? Let me know by reaching out on social!
Thanks for coming along for the ride in this flashback to one of Disney’s great action shows. Please follow along here for additional articles in this series. We’ll continue to explore many other former attractions and experiences from Walt Disney World, including Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. We will also visit Disneyland and other Disney destinations!
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