Disneyland fandom is jam-packed with people who hate Disney’s California Adventure. Though many of those hardcore Disney fans kinda creep me out, I believe many of their criticisms of the “second gate” theme park—located where Disneyland’s hundred-acre parking lot used to be—are perfectly valid, in particular the received wisdom of Michael Eisner opening the park with too many shops and too few attractions—in essence a mall with rides. Some parts of the park aren’t particularly attractive, owing to the the designers’ choice of a “current” look that was dated by the time the park opened its gates.
And there’s this inescapable fact: Nearly anywhere you can go in DCA, Disneyland is never more than a few hundred feet away. That’s enough to give any theme park an inferiority complex.
Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Disney is going to spend a billion dollars over the next five years to remedy DCA’s many problems. (I would have linked to this story months ago when Disney gadfly Al Lutz first broke it, but this blog didn’t exist back then. Plus, he creeps me out.)
Disney’s Imagineers have all manner of Golden State-themed goodies ready to drop, including a new Main Street-like entry plaza themed to Hollywood of the 1930s, complete with a replica of the Carthay Circle Theatre; a top-to-bottom redo of Paradise Pier that includes new “Toy Story” and “Little Mermaid” dark rides; an updated “Walt Disney Story” (wonder what will become of the WDS attraction in Disneyland proper?); a Bellagio-style fountain show; and an entirely new land based on Pixar’s “Cars,” provisionally (one hopes) called “Cars Land.” The latter will bring the only E-ticket ride of the expansion, using a next-generation version of the technology used on EPCOT’s Test Track.
Good stuff. My only hope is that in adding all this jazzy new shit, Disney doesn’t remove the things that I like in DCA right now. My top five:
5. The Sun Wheel (pictured). If a Ferris Wheel was good enough for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, it’s good enough for Disneyland Jr. Many of the annual pass-holding NIMBYs who choke the fun out of the Disneyland-related chat boards hate this thing so much that I have to wonder if some childhood trauma is involved. The Sun Wheel’s coming to get you, Barbara!
4. Ariel’s Grotto Bar. It has a great view of Paradise Pier — which actually looks pretty spectacular at dusk — and they serve a potent highball. My friends and I call it “Ariel’s Blotto.” Oh, to be part of that world right now.
Note: The downstairs restaurant serves a “character dinner,” populated by Disney’s tiara klatch, that will make you feel uncomfortable if you’re not three-to-nine-years old or in the immediate company of a three-to-nine-year old. By the by, since when is Mary Poppins a princess? Oh, P.L. Travers would have so called polite British bullshit on that.
3. Seasons of the Vine. This short film, narrated by a dryly erotic Jeremy Irons (is there any other kind?), affords a modestly poetic window into the making of good old sneaky pete. The Bruce Broughton score is quite lovely, and the cinematography more crisp and colorful than many Hollywood movies that don’t involve long, lingering shots of wine grapes. The whole enterprise reminds me of old-school EPCOT films like “Impressions du France” and “Symbiosis.” Most days, there’s no one staffing the theater, so you’ll have to ask a cast member at the nearby wine bar to run the film for you. Ask nicely, because you’ll be returning there immediately afterward, with a thirst unlike anything you’ve known.
2. The main lobby of Disney Animation. Scenes and production images from Disney’s animated films screen continuously on a 360-degree panorama of overlapping screens. It’s a stunningly beautiful piece of cinematic bricolage, one that stirs the emotions while blowing out the senses. (This YouTube clip barely does it justice.) The entire loop is about a half-hour in length, and yes, I’ve watched the whole thing from start to finish more than once.
1. I realize that there’s absolutely no danger of Disney removing Soarin’ Over California; it’s the park’s only critical and commercial success. However, if anyone from Disney is reading this, I ask two things: Please don’t sue me, and please never remove or modify Jerry Goldsmith’s gorgeous “Soarin'” score. It transforms this attraction from a mere IMAX flying simulator to a spiritual experience. Nearly six years after opening day, people still fucking applaud when the ride ends. Every time.
Having said all that, I am nonetheless excited for this expansion. I do get to missing California sometimes, especially in the deep gray Seattle winter, and it’s nice to think of Disney’s concentrated California Adventure — a California that never ages, never loses its optimism, never elects a former action star to the governor’s office. This California only exists in the fever-dreams of those old enough to remember its last panicked, dying gasps in the early eighties – just around the time Michael Eisner took the top job at Disney, come to think of it.