A different look at Disney...

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A few quick things before we start today:

First the title of today's column comes from a quote I gave the Times when they asked me what I thought of all the changes coming to California Adventure (DCA). Second, this is basically a recap of what Disney presented to their cast members yesterday, so it's not a typical update. Finally, some of the art used today is not the best quality. I did my best to fix it, but you'll get the idea and I'm still grateful for the kind person who made it available.

Let's get that lid off the Starbucks and get started shall we? - Al

After we posted last Saturday that yesterday's big DCA announcement was finally coming, there were some folks in Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) and in Burbank spitting mad that their stealth media event had been foiled. Luckily the executives in Burbank stuck with the original announcement timeline in spite of the cat being let out of the bag, and the result was the rather unprecedented (for Disney) announcement of the dramatic and sweeping changes about to descend on DCA in the months to come.

Everything to be included in Phase One, essentially a five year plan that takes DCA through the summer of 2012, wasn't released yesterday however. But there were still enough new rides and additions announced, along with some surprisingly candid images of concept artwork and scale models released through several media outlets, that the online message boards were at a fever pitch not seen since the formal announcement of the 50th Anniversary plans was made four years ago.

For Cast Members in Anaheim, an extra surprise on an already big day showed up in the form of an afternoon Town Hall Meeting in the old Millionaire building in DCA. Hundreds of the salaried folks from TDA and managers from the parks and hotels were invited to the meeting, while the hourly Cast Members were allowed to watch via closed-circuit television on the resort's CastTV network. The Town Hall Meeting would be an ultra rare chance to see the reclusive Ed Grier and the nearly nonexistent Jay Rasulo together in Anaheim, as well as a chance to meet the creative mastermind behind the WDI makeover, Bob Weis the Executive Vice President from Walt Disney Imagineering who was lured to the DCA project by John Lasseter.

The meeting began with the two large video screens hanging above the stage coming to life with a video greeting from Bob Iger. Dressed casually in a black sweater and seated in front of artwork of the new Cars Land section of the park, Bob was his usual laid back self and extended a warm thank you to the Cast Members assembled. As Bob explained to the audience, all of the exciting details about to be revealed were possible because of the hard work they had put in to make the 50th so successful. Without their amazing results and the record breaking attendance and continuing financial gains Disneyland has been enjoying each year since 2005, expansion of the Resort on such a grand scale would not have been feasible.

With Bob's simple and sincere thanks out of the way, the meeting turned to the live stage in DCA and Ed Grier and Jay Rasulo. Reading from their scripts, both Ed and Jay echoed the basic sentiment of Bob Iger and spoke for a few minutes about how unprecedented this level of investment truly is in a theme park that is only six years old. Jay surprised the audience by being candid enough to admit that while some of the individual attractions in DCA like Soarin' or Tower of Terror are popular with customers, the park as a whole has not resonated with the audience and that customers feel the park lacks enough warmth and emotion to make them want to stay for more than a few hours at a time.

Mickey Douse
The new lagoon show will help retain visitors.

With the scripted and rather stiff introductions concluded, it was then time to get to the real star of the show, Bob Weis and his personal run down on the first batch of projects to be revealed for Phase One. Bob began his presentation by explaining that the expansion and makeover of DCA would be following a few basic guiding principles, including the need to add the character of Walt Disney to the property, the need to make the entire environment more detailed and park-like, and the need to include more of the family-friendly Disney rides that has made Disneyland next door so popular. With that, Bob began a presentation on the three major areas of work that were announced yesterday; the completely rebuilt main entrance area, the remake and retheme of Paradise Pier, and the 12 acre Cars Land expansion.

First up was the news of the dramatic remake of the main entrance area. As we had told you in previous updates, the two-dimensional and sterile entrance area with a contemporary feel from 2001 will all be gutted. Never before has Disney had to go in and rebuild an entrance area to a theme park before, but Bob and his team feel this is absolutely necessary for DCA to not only fix the cheap looking and unattractive entrance that leads to a barren cement plaza, but to also set the stage for the rest of the park and create a unique and welcoming buffer zone between the outside world and the experiences beyond.

Since we first told you about the plans a year ago, the original concept of entrance turnstiles framed by Craftsman architecture hung with bougainvillea has morphed into the jazzier version of the Pan-Pacific Amphitheater facade as inspiration for the new entrance (the Studios park in Orlando has a similar entrance). Set where the California letters currently stand, the new turnstiles lead to a space similar to the Town Square in Disneyland.

Art Disney

Here's where the Pacific Electric Red Cars will stop to pick up and drop off passengers, surrounded by new Mission Moderne buildings that will house the Guest Relations office, stroller rentals, lost and found desk, and all of the standard infrastructure a fancy Disney theme park needs near the front gate.

The Red Cars were a major plot point in the Roger Rabbit movie.

In the middle of this square will be a flagpole and statue, finally fixing the oversight DCA had on opening day of not containing a flagpole for the American and California flags. The statue at the base of the flagpole is planned to be a new spin on the Walt statue in the Hub at Disneyland. Except this time the statue is of a much younger Walt arriving in Los Angeles in the late 1920's with a cardboard suitcase and a much more wiry and and wide eyed version of Mickey Mouse at his side. It is in this opening entrance area where the Imagineers hope to lay out the concept of this being a park celebrating "Walt Disney's California."

Art Disney

Moving down the street, you pass under the art deco bridge that hides the monorail beam. This bridge won't be too much of a focal point however, as the long term plans for transportation around the Resort may have the monorail moving from that circa 1961 path. The newly rebuilt street reminiscent of Los Angeles 1920's architecture will still house stores and dining facilities, and Bob spoke repeatedly about "pulling in" the scale and scope of that entrance area of DCA, making it more intimate and approachable.

The entry street leads to a circular plaza with the trolleys and antique cars circling the street. The entire area will receive curbs and sidewalks and traditional street furniture. The current broad expanse of cement known as the Sun Plaza is universally derided amongst Imagineers for having no curbs and no welcoming feature that invites people to stop and sit. The parade route will no longer pass through this section of the park, and that gave the Imagineers leeway to make the streetscapes a bit narrower and add in architectural texture and design elements that would not have been possible if they had to plan for a big parade passing through there each day.

Bob explained that all of the new buildings would be very individualized and distinctly broken up, much like Main Street USA. He went into detail about the vast amount of work WDI has put in to creating shops, restaurants and architectural features that will bring a distinctly period and realistic feel to the area, all unlike the broad, bland, and cartoon-ish two dimensional surfaces that are there now.

The northern edge of the new Walt Disney Plaza will be bounded by the big new eye candy, and a structure that may become the parks signature icon, a remade Carthay Circle Theater. (This was the Wilshire area theater Snow White was premiered at in 1937.) Bob made the announcement that the theater would house a "New version of the Walt Disney Story," which effectively ends Whoopi Goldberg's reign as the Queen of California. For a time there was a concept to move a slightly revamped version of Golden Dreams into this theater, but Bob and John Lasseter want to pursue the Walt Disney angle completely, especially at the front of the park. So long Whoopi, it's back to Universal's trams for her. The trolley cars circling Walt Disney Plaza will take a left turn and rumble down Hollywood Blvd., before traveling south past the Tower of Terror and ending right at the entrance to the Cars Land expansion.

Bob then turned his attention to Paradise Pier, and explained all about the Victorian remake for that area that we've been telling you about all year. Midway Mania (yes, that really is the title for DCA's version), was included in the presentation, even though it is not formally part of the Billion dollar budget. Bob went on to explain how the midway games will all be rethemed to Disney or Pixar characters, instead of using the gimmicky California place names in their theme. Sketches were shown demonstrating the elaborate detail work that will soon sweep through Paradise Pier, and the sprawling beer garden and new viewing terrace for World Of Color were mentioned.


Above left: Lagoon show viewing area, right: Little Mermaid ride exterior
 Below: The SunWheel gets a new face, based on cartoon short title art
Art Disney


The modern Mickey Mouse symbol on California Screamin' will be replaced by a period looking sign advertising Paradise Pier. Mickey will instead take up residence on the Sun Wheel, with its new Victorian loading area rebuilt around it. Bob also explained how a new LED lighting system will be installed on the Sun Wheel that will offer dramatically improved effects over the existing conventional lightbulbs that always seem to be partially burned out.

In place of the Ratatouille coaster once planned for the area, the existing Mulholland Madness coaster will be rethemed as Goofy's Flying Academy, although this area and the space to the east where the sunglass store and corn dog stand currently stand will be held for future expansion.

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2007 Al Lutz

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