There is a lot of discussion that focus on what many contend makes Disney parks just so "Disney". Support is drawn from attractions and offerings past, present, and even future. In all of this, I have noticed one attraction that rarely comes to the forefront of discussion, an attraction that comes from, of all places, Disney's California Adventure. I am talking Soarin' Over California. In a park plagued with trials and tribulations, Soarin' Over California proved to an attraction so popular that the attraction was built at EPCOT Center and rumors persist of similar additions at Disney resorts throughout the world. I am of the opinion that Soarin' Over California, in a time when Disney parks must change in order to be "culturally relevant", proves that the "old" ways can, and do, still work.
The Disney park experience has always been one of story. Most of the time today, the story of a Disney attraction is quite explicit. The "something goes horrible wrong" story has become somewhat cliche as the standard Disney attraction story. Such a story is not present in Soarin' Over California. Guests are left to merely experience scenes of the state of California.
There is no synergy present at Soarin' Over California. No famous Disney animation characters. No Stitch. No Captain Jack Sparrow. No Disney Princesses. Nothing. The attraction stands entirely on its own. While Patrick Warburton appears in the preshow with a few announcements during the ends of the show, he does so as our flight attendant, Patrick. He does not appear as Krunk (Emperor's New Groove and related properties), Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger (Buzz Lightyear of Star Command) or Steve Barkin (Kim Possible). At the most, I imagine a few recognizing Elaine's on and off boyfriend, David Puddy.
At its root, the attraction is a film. A film shown in a ridiculously complex and expensive manner. Disney could have presented the film is several different, and cheaper, manners, but the attraction is not.
Soarin' Over California is a recent attraction that is extremely popular. Popular despite being built in a time when it is said that a successful attraction needs a set story and recognizable characters. I believe Soarin' Over California is a success because it follows the classic Disney guidelines. The attraction allows guests to experience a pure experience in a manner that goes above and beyond expectations and what others are doing.