Since this past summer we’ve been telling you in these updates all about the new attractions and entertainment coming to Anaheim for 2015, and this Thursday morning Disneyland Resort President Michael Colglazier will address a crowd of DCA managers to finally begin announcing some of what’s coming to the Anaheim parks in the weeks and months ahead. That internal presentation to management on Thursday will be followed up by a public media announcement on Friday. In this update we’ll fill you in on the upcoming projects Michael Colglazier will admit to in his Thursday presentation, and what upcoming projects he won’t announce, along with the latest TDA gossip and rumors.
On Thursday morning at the stroke of 8 o’clock the lower and middle management of Disney California Adventure Park will shuffle in to the Magic Kingdom Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel for a rare “Salaried Update” by Michael Colglazier. Michael will host this presentation just as he begins to count down the final year in his three year Anaheim contract. As the previous three DLR Presidents weren’t allowed to stay past their 3 year contract, if history repeats, Michael will be here to kick off the 60th in May but likely won’t be here when the celebration ends in ’16.
Introducing Michael on Thursday morning will be new DCA Vice President Kris Theiler, a refreshingly down to earth yet very sharp businesswoman who took over DCA earlier this year when Mary Niven moved over to take the reigns as Disneyland’s Vice President for the 60th anniversary. The Vice Presidents stick around Anaheim much longer than the Presidents do.
Frozen in Time
Michael will present his thoroughly polished script to the troops, approved by Disney’s Legal team as all executive communication is nowadays, as he finally announces what we’ve already been talking about for months; the nearly complete takeover of DCA’s Hollywood Land Backlot area by Frozen. While splashy artwork appears on the overhead screens in the ballroom, Michael will reveal the following additions to DCA that will open to the public on Saturday, December 20th.
Replacing MuppetVision 3D will be “For The First Time In Forever; A Musical Sing-Along”. This will be a live action musical production show, similar in scale to the Fantasyland Theater shows. The MuppetVision theater will be rebranded the “Crown Jewel Theater” for the run of the show. MuppetVision has been closed since November 1st, and you’ll hardly recognize it as the same venue when the new show opens on the 20th.
Next door, Stage 17 will be remade into Olaf’s Snow Fest, a snow playground where you’ll be invited to build a snowman and play in the snow while you wait to meet Olaf. Using snow making machines and an industrial strength air conditioning system, the interior of Stage 17 will be made into an Arendelle snowfield. Borrowing an idea from WDW’s Dumbo the Flying Elephant play-queue, visitors will be issued a pager and sent out into the snowbanks to play while they wait to be paged to go meet Olaf.
Elsa and Anna will move in to an updated Disney Animation attraction across Hollywood Blvd. The girls will take over the Character Close-Up portion of the building, an area that was originally designed for rotating character meet n’ greets. But when that building opened in 2001, an era when dismal films like Atlantis and Treasure Planet were underwhelming audiences, the temporary meet n’ greet concept for that space was quickly abandoned. Frozen’s Scandinavian visuals and secondary characters will also take over the building’s other lobby spaces.
And last but not least, a late addition to the Frozen menu of offerings is a new cocktail-fueled dance party that will replace the Mad T Party. The latest version of this uniquely DCA concept is called Freeze The Night, which will bridge the gap nicely to the kickoff of the 60th Anniversary and the new Paint The Night parade coming to Disneyland in May. You do remember previous updates where we explained why TDA suits chose the secret code word “Project Bridge” for this big Frozen initiative, right? Get ready to line up for that ice bar this winter.
Meanwhile, over at Disneyland, WDI has been working feverishly to install a new Frozen vignette into the classic Storybook Land Canal Boats ride in Fantasyland. While Storybook Land receives regular refurbishments for cosmetic and horticulture work, it hasn’t had a new addition since Agrabah arrived and moved Toad Hall to a new spot along the canals back in 1995. The addition of Frozen in Storybook Land not only slots the blockbuster fairy tale into the top tier of Walt Disney’s classic animation, but it ensures Frozen remains in Anaheim long after the temporary additions in DCA are scrapped next year.
The overall goal for this major Frozen push into DCA is to keep the AP’s and the tourists alike happy and entertained during a rather aggressive winter refurbishment schedule for both parks, before a barrage of new 60th Anniversary entertainment can begin in May. TDA suits from several departments went to Florida and experienced the Frozen offerings at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and came back with the guiding principle that their Frozen offerings can’t look as chintzy or feel as flimsy as WDW’s offerings at Hollywood Studios, even though most of the DCA offerings will only last until early May. TDA’s ability to secure a healthier budget from Burbank will help.
The one wild card in all this is the new musical stage show in MuppetVision; if that tests well with park visitors by Disney’s Guest Research department, it’s likely that the Frozen sing-along will remain in DCA through 2015, and the original MuppetVision will not return to Anaheim until a new Muppet show can be created by WDI.
60th Anniversary Preparations
While all these Frozen additions will be announced by Michael Colglazier on Thursday morning, there’s a lot more coming to Anaheim that he won’t be talking about. In no particular order, here’s what’s been either green lighted or nearing a green light for both Anaheim parks:
At Disney California Adventure…
Soarin’ Over California refurbishment: Using new 4K digital projectors, a new audio system, and in-theater effects, the lone breakout hit from DCA’s opening in 2001 will be upgraded for 21st century audiences. This refurbishment will also prep the theaters for the eventual arrival of the Soarin’ The World film after that attraction opens at Shanghai Disneyland sometime in 2016. (And what a mess the muddy Shanghai Disneyland project is with its horribly delayed timetable! Bog Iger’s claims to opening the park in November 2015 now seems improbable.)
Not only will DCA’s Soarin’ Over California attraction get a huge technical upgrade, but the entire Condor Flats area will receive a cosmetic upgrade and themed makeover placing the area in an idyllic post-war era and the dawn of jet-age aviation. Gone will be the last vestiges of Paul Pressler’s “hip and edgy” late 1990’s aesthetics and his cheap design standards. Taste Pilots Grill will close for the winter for a major cosmetic refurbishment, and the entire area will have a newly themed look and feel when Soarin’ reopens in May.
Luigi’s Flying Tires closure: As we told you in past updates, Luigi’s Flying Tires will be floating away for good in 2015, with the closure now pushed back a month to February. An entirely new ride is planned to be installed over the basic foundation of the existing ride, with riders zipping around in WiFi controlled dancing cars in an attraction with the current working title “Luigi’s Festival of the Dance”.
World of Color upgrades: World of Color, the night spectacular that signaled the first shift in DCA’s fortunes from laughingstock to hot spot, is scheduled to receive its first big refurbishment since it debuted in 2010. The Paradise Pier lagoon will be drained this winter, and the massive grids of fountains dubbed the “aircraft carrier” by Disneyland’s entertainment team will be thoroughly upgraded with new equipment. An updated and improved World of Color show, using new technology and lots of tweaks learned from the past few years of programming and observations, is set to debut as part of Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration anniversary this spring.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty more coming to Disneyland that Michael won’t be allowed to mention on Thursday…
Fantasyland Dark Ride Upgrades: We’ve been telling you since early 2013 how WDI wants to upgrade and remake all five of Fantasyland’s classic Walt-era dark rides for the 60th. That plan continues to move forward, and the revamped Alice In Wonderland that opened last July was just a small preview of what’s in store. New projection-face animatronics will be installed in Alice In Wonderland, after they were purposely held back at the last minute this past summer. Peter Pan’s Flight, as the most popular of the dark rides, will receive the most attention and funding in this plan, and it will close in January for several months. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride will also receive a lot of attention during its winter rehab, as the work there will center mainly on the new technology of digital mapping projection effects to plus up its show. Snow White and Pinocchio will be the last to get upgrades, although Snow White already got the first generation of digital mapping several years ago from a separate Tony Baxter project.
Matterhorn Upgrades: After a rather disastrous refurbishment in 2013 that saw the debut of uncomfortable new sleds made with shoddy materials, the original E Ticket attraction needs help. The Matterhorn will close in January for several months for another upgrade, focusing on new Abominable Snowman animatronics to replace the 1978 versions (the snowman’s name is Harold, as the Matterhorn Cast Members will be happy to tell you). New special effects and other cosmetic upgrades will also be installed throughout the mountain.
During the closure, Disneyland’s entertainment department will try to figure out how they are going to install the new version of the 1960’s Christmas star on top of the mountain next December as part of the 60th and its nostalgia campaign.
Paint The Night and 60th Anniversary Additions: Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration will kick off in mid May, 2015. Thus far the aesthetics and design scheme that’s been approved is a classy mixture of modern good taste and nostalgic kitsch. A diamond encrusted overlay is coming to the Castle, with lots of royal blue bunting and crystals draped around the Resort to help celebrate. The big entertainment offerings are a new fireworks show by Steve Davison, and a longer and plussed up version of the new Paint The Night parade that recently debuted at Hong Kong Disneyland. Those new backstage crowd control alleys they just finished behind Main Street will come in handy a lot during the Diamond Celebration. A formal media announcement on the 60th Anniversary is slated for January, but that media event has already been cancelled before so that’s still a bit iffy.
While this list of upcoming offerings may sound exciting to the average Disneyland fan, there’s a more exciting offering that’s already opened for Disneyland Cast Members. Backstage at the Harbor House entrance to the parks, a new Cast Members only, full service Starbucks recently opened to long lines and rave reviews. The new backstage Starbucks, which looks exactly like a Starbucks in any upscale suburb, has already had to add staffing and four extra hours to its daily operation as hordes of arriving Cast Members wait in line for their caffeine fix or their lunch. For Disneyland and DCA Cast Members, it’s a dramatic change from the dingy and greasy backstage cafeterias run by Sodexo, especially the notoriously bad InnBetween cafeteria behind the Plaza Inn. The Starbucks locations in the parks and Downtown Disney also continue to operate to huge crowds and pull in numbers that put them among the most successful Starbucks locations in the world. Starbucks couldn’t be happier with its decision to sign up as a Disney Parks sponsor.
And while the Cast Members stay caffeinated and TDA execs stay mum on the future, there’s an even bigger project on the horizon. The plan to add an entirely new Star Wars themed land to Disneyland continues full steam ahead. It’s ironic that the Toontown Cast Members will soon be debuting colorful new costumes, which they’ll only get to wear for about 18 months as the Star Wars project is currently planned to kick off and bulldoze Toontown before the 60th Anniversary celebration ends in 2016.
Okay, that just about wraps things up for this update. While the great freeze spreads across the Disneyland Resort for this winter, the Force awakens at Disneyland as Star Wars finally prepares to settle into its own land. With plans changing by the minute, we’ll keep our eyes on these and other developments.