As I mentioned in Part I, this second group of studios isn’t necessarily open to the general public. I’ve listed them in order of difficulty to visit, starting with the easiest. But only relatively speaking.
The Walt Disney Company
This is my favorite studio lot, largely for sentimental reasons. It looks like a college campus. It’s pretty small (but never lost any acreage), and has lots of character. Pun intended. At the corner of Mickey Avenue and Dopey Drive is the Animation Building, which was also Walt’s domain (third floor corner). The Animators were kicked out years ago (to the new Animation Building across the street), as was Walt’s office after he passed away. The latter has returned, however, having been lovingly re-created after Saving Mr. Banks.
Fun Fact: In the film, when P.L. Travers is picked up at Stage A and taken on a harrowing golf cart ride across the lot to meet Walt, she actually ends up right across the street from where she started.
The other buildings are also named for the various animation departments (Ink & Paint, In-Between, Special Effects). The old (and tiny) back lot was torn down in the 80s for the Team Disney (Michael Eisner) Building (with the Seven Dwarfs holding up the roof) and the Frank Wells Building (Studio Archives).
Because they don’t have regular tours for the general public, it’s tricky to get on the lot. But it’s not that impossible. My first time was a guided tour via Adventures by Disney, which is awesome, but very pricey. My second time was a special screening of Saving Mr. Banks. Disney also hosts tours via their D23 fan club. You’ll have to do your homework on this one. Fortunately, these days I happen to know somebody (not to brag), but it still excites me to visit every chance I get.
The Jim Henson Company (formerly Charlie Chaplin Studios)
Even though this isn’t one of the majors, I still have to include it. The Jim Henson lot is my other favorite studio (a very close second), also for sentimental reasons. Because I’m a huge fan of both Henson (see my author bio) and Charlie Chaplin, who built it in 1919. That’s why there’s a statue of Kermit the Frog dressed as the Little Tramp over the studio entrance. And the Tramp is painted on an outside doorway.
I stopped by and peered longingly through the gate on my very first trip to Hollywood. And multiple trips afterwards. It’s smaller (but like the other studios, used to be bigger) than the Disney lot and is also full of history. Chaplin shot many of his shorts and features there. After he sold the studio in 1953, it was used for television production (The Adventures of Superman, Perry Mason) before becoming A&M Records from the 60s through the 90s. The Jim Henson Company purchased it in 2000 and lovingly restored and upgraded it to a studio once again.
The best part is the Creature Shop (of course), which is like a cross between Frankenstein’s laboratory and Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There are amazing puppets and parts of puppets everywhere. Thankfully, Brian Henson is a firm believer in displaying their work, so there are multiple creations on display throughout. My favorite was an original Skeksis we saw in the lobby.
My one visit was with Adventures by Disney (same as above). Occasionally, they host performances of Puppet Up (their improv group) there. Fortunately, you can get a good glimpse through the gate, and there’s a number of videos and other resources online.
Call me Ahab, because this was my great white whale. The one studio lot I hadn’t visited and the most out of reach. Fortunately, I was able to score a meeting there last year (thanks to my old Planet of the Apes fansite) and finally mark this one off my list.
As studios go, Fox is closer in size to Sony (though, you guessed it, it used to be much bigger), and still has everything you expect in a studio: soundstages, historic office buildings, and a back lot. But what makes it cool are the odes to Fox properties (now Disney) all around. Several of the soundstages have giant murals painted on them. In fact, I was greeted by Bruce Willis in the air ducts (“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs”) in Die Hard as soon as I stepped out of the parking deck. There are also murals of Star Wars(of course), Young Frankenstein, The Simpsons, and The Seven-Year Itch, featuring Marilyn Monroe.
Outside the Simpson’s bungalow is a giant yellow hand holding a pink donut. My favorites were the life-size statue of Napoleon Dynamite clutching a tetherball (complete with pole and rope) outside another office, and the life-size figure of Deadpool in the gift shop.
To my knowledge, the only way to get on the Fox lot is via a friend, a meeting, or a sitcom taping. But there is one bonus: the Die Hard Building (aka Fox Plaza) is right next door.
And that is definitely worth a stop for a photo!