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Monday, September 12, 2016

How the Imagineers Saved Disney California Adventure

By Jimmy Wienholz



Disney California Adventure has been perhaps the most troubled theme park ever built by the Disney Company. When the park first opened in 2001 it was immediately the subject of controversy among die-hard Disney fans who felt that the park was built on the cheap and quite tacky. Thankfully in 2007, Disney announced a major expansion as well as a major overhaul of a significant portion of the park. Construction lasted for five years and was completed in stages, culminating with the opening of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land in June 2012. The evolution of Disney California Adventure is fascinating and is a real testament to how talented Disney Imagineers truly are. Let's take a look at how Disney saved the park in today's new article...

For the sake of this article I am assuming most of you have been to California Adventure before, however if you haven’t I included a park map below for you to reference and understand where we are when I describe certain things. Got the visual? Ok good, here we go!




Click to enlarge




There has been two real major changes in the park from opening day to present day and one is the front gate/entrance area. On opening day the park had huge eight-foot tall letters spelling out C-A-L-F-O-R-N-I-A along with a beautiful tile mosaic that was made to look like a post card complete with a working Golden Gate Bridge that the Monorail would travel over...








Currently the entrance has been converted into a vintage Hollywood feel to replicate the feeling of when Walt Disney first came to California, and the Golden Gate is now just a normal looking bridge...








What one would consider the “Main Street” of Disney California Adventure (DCA) was once stores that took on the appearance of a typical tourist trap...








The new look of Buena Vista Street is simply beautiful and is now the proper Main Street of the park when you first enter...








These new, old school style Hollywood storefronts really immerse you in the right frame of mind upon entering. What was the stand in for Disney California Adventure's Sleeping Beauty Castle was simply a sun fountain, with a simulated wave...








After the remodel the sun was replaced by the outstanding Carthay Circle Restaurant. Modeled after the theater where Walt Disney premiered Snow White, this restaurant is a huge improvement by providing wonderful meals and memories (including my engagement)...








Moving counter clockwise we come into “Hollywood Land” which is an area that represents Los Angeles, an area only 45 minutes away from the park itself. This land has had two major attractions evolve throughout the 15 years it has been open.  The first would be Super Star Limo, a very interesting ride with a bit of a creepy look...









The ride took you through L.A. to your movie premiere. Along the way you drove by celebrities that where weird, cartoon looking versions of themselves...








Replacing the limo ride is the upgraded Mike & Sully To The Rescue, a very fun dark ride taking you through the world of Monsters Inc...










The second major attraction that has evolved would be Muppet Vision 3D. Although this was a fun 3D experience that showcased the Muppets gang, and while it still remains pretty popular in Orlando, the attraction never took off in California...








Replacing Muppets was a Frozen sing along show, and now the theater is used for movie previews that feature special in-theater effects and a fun interactive kiosk found in the theater’s lobby...








Hollywood Land has had a number of experiences come and go such as: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire - Play It!, Electronica, and Mad Tea Party. As we move around to the back of the area we will pass The Tower of Terror which opened in 2004 and played a big part in the park’s revival...








Next year this will be the next attraction to evolve and the beloved attraction will become an experience that will feature Guardians of the Galaxy. The verdict is still out on this one as thousands of Disney fans love the original and feel it should remain as it is. We shall see...








If you keep walking past Tower of Terror you walk right into “A Bug’s Land,” a fun land for children that depicts characters from A Bugs Life.  Here the little ones can ride Francis’s Ladybug Boogie or Flick’s Flyers just to name a few...









Before this land existed the area was called Bountiful Valley Farm. The Farm area showed off the newest advances in agriculture and farming...








As a guest that attends California Adventure pretty regularly, this section mainly felt like “filler” when you walked by. We would often hear guests saying, “Man they couldn’t have put anything else here?” Luckily the answer to that question was a resounding “Yes!” with the installation of Bugs Land and the amazing Cars Land...








Cars Land may very well be the best themed area in the entire Disneyland Resort. This area features Radiator Springs and captures all the beauty Pixar brought forth in the feature films by bringing it to life right in front of our eyes...








Where else will you be able to visit The Cozy Cone Motel and pay a visit to Mator?? The beauty of the architecture in this land is right up there with any other Disney Park. The entire experience is topped off with Radiator Springs Racers. Half dark ride and half thrill ride, R.S.R. gives you the chance to race just like Lighting McQueen and see some of the more advance audio-animatronics to boot! This ride is a must for any true fan of the Cars movies and simply Disney Parks in general..








Another major change to DCA to notet is how Golden Dreams became Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.  Golden Dreams was a short film hosted by Whoopi Goldberg showcasing the dreams that take place all over the golden state of California...








It showcased everything from immigrants coming from overseas, people who traveled across country during the gold rush, and even Steve Jobs creating Apple. The film, while enjoyable, wasn’t something that most felt the need to go see again and again, and that is why the Ariel dark ride that replaced it was a nice step up. The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel's Undersea Adventure takes you through The Little Mermaid much like the Fantasyland dark rides do, but in a grander and updated fashion. Again here we are able to see just how far audio-animatronics have come, and the ride is something that families enjoy doing again and again...








During the transformation of the park, Paradise Pier got a nice face lift. The installation of Toy Story Mania, brought to life a rather dull mid-way themed section prior to its addition. Toy Story Mania gives guests the chance to play midway games in 3D with their favorite characters from the Toy Story Franchise... 








There are still around half a dozen midway games (balloon darts, etc.) that you can play on the pier as well. Disney didn’t rip out a lot of the rides as much as re-theme them along the pier. The Giant Peach Swings got a Mickey overlay and Mulholland Madness became Goofy’s Fly School. Without question, the best thing to happen to the pier was the addition of the nighttime entertainment with World of Color...








W.O.C. uses hundreds of water jets, screens, and projections to bring your favorite Disney franchises to life in the middle of Paradise Pier Lagoon. If you haven’t seen this show yet, it is definitely worthy of your time, and if you time it just right you can usually get over to Disneyland in time for fireworks if you hurry...








These are just some of the changes that had the biggest impact on my family and I over the course of the California Adventure Transformation. The park has seen a drastic change in foot traffic since the addition of these marvelous improvements, and with the rumored “Marvel Land” installation taking place after the completion of Star Wars Land, I can only assume that it’s popularity will continue to grow as time goes on. The current state of DCA is certainly a testament to what the Imagineers can do when given the opportunity to thrive. I think we can all agree that Disney California Adventure has now earned the right to be a Disney Park we can all be proud of.






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Jimmy Wienholz has had Disney in his life for as long as he can remember. He often recalls family vacations to Disneyland and memories of being thrilled to ride the newest attraction or take pictures with his favorite characters. As he proceeded to get his degree in theater and film, a new appreciation developed for all things Disney. Jimmy loves the feeling he still gets when he enters a Disney Park and the cast members that bring joy to thousands of guests each day all around the world.  Jimmy started his own Horror/Science Fiction podcasting and film company based in Northern California entitled "The Horrific Network" in 2014, but always yearned to be part of a team of Disney enthusiasts as well.  He is thrilled to be part of the Disney Avenue team and hopes his articles will inform and entertain you for years to come.

You can find all of Jimmy's article here.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice summary/recap of the changes to DCA, Jimmy.

    One extra tidbit that you might find interesting is that the bridge that replaced the Golden Gate is not "just a normal looking bridge." It is actually the Glendale Hyperion bridge. Built in the late 1920s, it spans the L.A. River, and both Walt Disney & many of his staff would have seen & driven over it frequently due to its proximity to the studio. (As an extra side note, it's also a location in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". :) )

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