A different look at Disney...

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Defending the Kingdom

Summer is winding down, the out-of-towners are heading home, and the end of Disney's 2007 corporate fiscal year is just a month away. While August is usually a very quiet time when it comes to company rumors and backstage buzz, (didn't we tell you patience was a virtue when it comes to these updates?) the massive changes that get underway for Anaheim with the start of the new fiscal year in October mean there's still a few new juicy rumors percolating in the late summer doldrums for us to comment on.

Of course there are the two big stories that have dominated most of the summer for Disneyland fans; the fight with the Anaheim City Council over high-density housing proposed a few blocks from Disneyland, and the unprecedented 1.2 Billion dollar California Adventure (DCA) fix-it budget that Imagineering (WDI) secured from the board of directors.

But before we start, an extra special thanks must go out to photographers David "Darkbeer" Michael, MiceChat's Fishbulb and David Lane for providing most of the images used in the update today. Without their extra efforts (most of these shots are less than a day old!) the gray wash of text on the page would be unbearable to read through.

Now let's make sure that pot of coffee is already brewed and that Danish is unwrapped, as we have a big update for you today - and yes, we even welcome those few who still just can't seem to understand that we cannot plan or schedule these things. For the rest of you who kindly continue to support the site, even between longer than desired waits for updates, thank you for helping us keep the server bills paid. You keep us alive.

Let's get this puppy started! - Al

D-isney C-hanges A-ll

First lets update you on the plans to start spending that big budget on DCA, as a few of the tricky construction timeline issues seem to be falling into place in the last few weeks. As it stands now, the two new entertainment offerings already planned for DCA before the 1.2 Billion was approved look like they should be able to debut as previously scheduled. The first offering, the new Pixar Play Pals parade we broke the news on last March is still on its way to make a Spring, 2008 grand opening. There had been concern that DCA's parade route would be too torn up at the park entrance to be able to stage a major parade in the park during construction.

That problem will be worked around by changing the DCA parade route entirely so that parades begin in the Pacific Wharf area and head west towards their conclusion in Paradise Pier. As the park boundaries of DCA eventually expand into the Timon parking lot, the parade route will expand with it and gain back some length it lost by avoiding the "Sunshine Plaza" area at the park entrance. And the first summer of the new Pixar parade may still use the original parade route, as the construction in DCA's entrance area may not begin until later in 2008.

Remember, the guiding principle of DCA's extreme makeover is to go in and tear apart an area only once, and so the plans and goals and timing for each area must be in their final form before the bulldozers move in. The DCA entrance area had been considered for major changes for many years now, dating back to the early Matt Ouimet era when a frank and fresh approach towards DCA's problems suddenly became fashionable. But the budgets and scope that Matt Ouimet was working with was much smaller than what's available now, and the old plans were classified as a "Placemaking" project of the existing structures and building footprints. Matt had budgets in the tens of millions to work with, where now the budgets are in the hundreds of millions.

Why not start early? Like, um... NOW.

The huge new budget now allows for blowing out practically every structure that is there now, and building new 1920's themed buildings and facades instead of just trying to dress up what was already there on the existing footprint. DCA itself would actually expand just a bit to the north in the current plans, with new entrance turnstiles moved out to where the California letters currently stand, before visitors entered a Mission Moderne styled street that would resemble Los Angeles in the roaring 20's.

Lonely days, lonley nights...
Photo: David "Darkbeer" Michael

Hooray for Hollywood

Tied in with the project to radically remake the entrance is a plan to rebrand and retheme the current Hollywood Pictures Backlot section directly to the east of the existing Sunshine Plaza. Instead of a fake Hollywood backlot themed to being a fake Hollywood, the area will be redone to actually be Hollywood during the Golden Age of the 1930's. It will purposely be an era just slightly later than the 1920's entrance, and will be fleshed out with real stores and experiences behind what are now just false fronts and empty buildings.

MuppetVision, currently on the north side of the street, is scheduled to be replaced with Mickey's Philharmagic, but with a 1930's era pre-show designed specifically for DCA's new mission statement to play up the Walt Disney era. As they rebuild that 3-D theater, it will provide the opportunity to fill in the empty facades with real stores that can be entered instead of just looked at through shallow display windows.

Faux you.
Photo: David "Darkbeer" Michael

And of course the "isn't this clever" fake skyline painted on the Hyperion Theater warehouse building would go too. Instead, the Hyperion is planned to have a dramatic upgrade that will install a full size façade on its exterior and mercifully enclose the ugly industrial stairwells on the buildings northern flank. You read that right, the most notorious example of cheap DCA architecture will mercifully be addressed, and the big ugly duckling should finally turn into a swan.

Pave parking lot to put in paradise...
Photo: David "Darkbeer" Michael

The bland cement plaza that currently pretends to be a lobby will be enclosed, and a fully equipped and very legitimately fancy lobby will be built that leads to the newly enclosed escalators and elevators that will take the audience up to their seats.

Pressler Memorial Steps
Photo: Fishbulb

The interior of the theater itself will get remade as well, as the two-dimensional mesh coverings that were supposed to be hip and "suggest" a grand old theater will be replaced by intricately detailed walls and a proscenium that will literally look like a fancy 1930's entertainment palace. The plan is to make the Hyperion a self-contained and state-of-the-art theater facility that could possibly host major awards shows or concerts, an idea that you readers may remember from my columns years ago was actually part of DCA's early proposal but was axed from the budget early on.

The new exterior of the Hyperion lobby building is planned to be themed to a 1930's Hollywood street, and new stores and visitor amenities will be included as visitors walk along the street south towards the Tower of Terror. And remember, this snazzy 1930's Hollywood land will be buzzing with streetcars and open-topped limousines that will ferry visitors around the area just like the old-fashioned cars and trolleys on Main Street USA.

Only when you venture into the northern courtyard of the land around Monsters Inc. will the literal 1930's theme give way to a more modern "studio backlot" theme. But even then the Imagineers are trying to figure out how to get that concept to mesh with the clearly 21st century stories in the Philharmagic and Monsters Inc. attractions that will be there. But the dramatic makeover planned for Hollywood, in addition to the new 1930's theme, is going to be much more thorough and in depth than the mild amount of modestly budgeted "Placemaking" that went into that area in preparation for the opening of Monsters Inc. in 2005.

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© 2007 Al Lutz

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