This year, Disneyland’s Disney California Adventure (DCA), which has changed the name from Disney’s California Adventure, finishes its long-planned makeover.
I first reported the changes here. The Little Mermaid attraction is one I am pretty sure I was the first journalist to call for back in 2006, when I made a case for it in my DVD review and asked Disneyland President Ed Grier about it in my column. This summer, DCA is scheduled to open Cars Land, Carthay Circle Theatre and the Buena Vista Street entry into the park, which is adjacent to Disneyland. A recent promotional feature – and Disney plants those everywhere – detailed the new additions, which will mark the completion of the studio’s five-year DCA expansion. Previous additions include Toy Story Mania, the laser/water World of Color show and the forementioned The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. Disney also plans to open the unfortunately named Mad T Party this summer at DCA, with what the company describes as nighttime family fun inspired by Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
World of Color is fabulous when it’s logistically feasible and comfortable to experience – no small feat – and other additions are fine, and I’m especially excited by the new theater and the Buena Vista Street, in the hope that Imagineers, in studio parlance, considered my 2005 argument for honoring the creative spirit of California, including the tremendous achievements of Walt Disney. We shall see. But Cars Land – and readers may know that I’ve never been a fan of the Disney•Pixar series on which it’s based – sounds like a dud.
According to Disney, Cars Land sits on a 12-acre expansion which includes three all-new attractions, retail shops and food facilities, all built and inhabited by characters from the movie Cars (Sally, Ramone, Lightning McQueen and Mater), including Radiator Springs Racers, a twisting, turning, high-speed adventure through Ornament Valley and the town of Radiator Springs, “the cutest little town in Carburetor County.” The scenery is inviting enough. But apparently no one wins the race in the four-minute Radiator Springs Racers.
Or, rather, in the words of Imagineer Kathy Mangum: “When Guido and Luigi drop the ﬂag, you take off out of the building at a high speed and now you’re racing each other side by side all around the mountain and the monuments, and it ends with a ﬁnish line where one of you wins. It’s always a random ﬁnish so you never know who’s going to win.” By my judgment, that’s a win without a victory, with no real chance for a guest of superior ability to win. It takes the race out of racing and spoils the fun of competition, the premise of racing. I know we live in an egalitarian age of scoreless children’s games and gradeless tests and courses, but I remember when racing bikes and go-karts and sprints across a field allowed people to compete in the benevolent spirit of play. Kids learned what it means to win, lose, practice, try harder and win the next time. They learned what it means to fail and, most important, they learned what it means to succeed – to be rewarded by effort – and win; to be good at something. This ride turns winning into a random accident. I may be wrong but I doubt boys and girls will want to repeat the experience of passively “racing” once they catch on to the fact that their most dedicated efforts to win are meaningless. Cars Land’s engine sounds like a killjoy.
Other Cars Land attractions will include Luigi’s Flying Tires, which may bear a resemblance to bumper cars, and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, where guests ride baby tractors as they whip to the left and right in rhythm to the music. Guests in this land also will enjoy new, “Cars”-themed dining and shopping locations such as Flo’s V8 Café, Radiator Springs Curios, Sarge’s Surplus Hut and Ramone’s House of Body Art.
Buena Vista Street sounds better than Cars Land. Disney reports that DCA guests will be welcomed through a new entry and onto Buena Vista Street, depositing guests into an atmosphere similar to what Walt Disney experienced upon first arriving in Los Angeles, California, in the 1920s. Buena Vista Street will feature Red Car Trolleys, inspired by the transportation system that once served Southern California, and the Carthay Circle Theatre, modeled after the site of the 1937 world premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Carthay Circle Theatre will become home to a new lounge and an elegant restaurant, designed to be DCA’s premier dining location. Imagineer Coulter Winn recently explained that the concept is to transform DCA’s entry into a period street, the way Main Street at Disneyland takes guests to Walt’s Midwestern hometown. “We decided to re-create the Los Angeles that Walt Disney experienced when he ﬁrst arrived here in 1923,” Winn said, “a street that told the story of the ﬁrst couple of decades of Walt’s experience in California. There are a couple of buildings that were re-created that are signiﬁcant. The ﬁrst is the entry turnstiles, which take design cues from the Pan-Paciﬁc Auditorium that was designed in the 1930s by Welton Becket, a friend of Walt Disney’s. Walt went to Becket in the ’50s when he was planning Disneyland, and Welton Becket told Walt that he already had all the talent he needed to do his Park at the studios. And that group of individuals that Walt picked later became Imagineering. So, that’s the Disney connection to the Pan-Paciﬁc.”
As guests enter Buena Vista Street through the turnstiles, they come into a forecourt or a small town square, Winn said. “One of the main things we’ve done with Buena Vista Street is to introduce a ride onto the street, re-creating the California Red Car trolley network. So we have a Red Car stop at the front, and the Red Car runs between the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the entry to Buena Vista Street, with a total of four stops. What was formerly the Golden Gate Bridge we’re replacing with a re-creation of the Glendale-Hyperion Avenue Bridge. Hyperion Boulevard was where Walt Disney located one of his early animation studios. So, again, that has a connection to the story of The Walt Disney Company. As you proceed under the bridge, you get into a little bit more of an upscale recreation of early commercial Los Angeles, which took some of its design cues from Wilshire Boulevard and early Westwood.” Now, if Disney does manage to recreate an early vision of the lives and settings of singularly exceptional artists, such as Walt Disney, who sought to make money from their work, that would be a uniquely daring and amazing California adventure.