Today marks a momentous occasion in this history of Disney parks. Not only does Carsland premiere, but Disney California Adventure completes a 5 year overhaul of the park’s themeing. It is on one hand an admittance of failure of the late Eisner era and the singularity of thought persisting from the early 90s that all America needed to be cool was sun-soaked Southern California. Yet, that fad of L.A. Gear and Bayside High passed with the unpredictability of shifting winds (which Southern Californians should be all to aware of), will the delight in Lightning McQueen do the same?
I visited the park back in Spring of 2002, my family has stumbled its way into the inaugural year of Disney parks a number of times by happenstance. While I delightfully “oohed” at the newness my surroundings and my first visit out West our day left much to be desired. Many of the attractions could have been any amusement park, with the sole distinguishable character of SoCal overlays. How can I forget my favorite attraction, the Orange Stinger, which brought to mind my long lost Horizons’ scent with the added glee of swings?
I would be remiss not to mention the glaring failure of the park, the assumed fascination and fandom of celebrity culture. My brother recently returned from one of his business trips to L. A. when he noted that the only way to “see” the place is to know what you are looking for. Imagineers thought they could tell Guests what they want to see, a formula that only works when that dictation comes with innovation. While I marveled at the blinding flashbulbs and celebrity caricature spotting of SuperStar Limo, my family bored at the lackluster movement and their unfamiliarity with the stars.
I bring these remedied disappointments up as a warning for the imagineers of the future, and those of the present who have banked on themeing a whole land around not an idea or emotion, but a singular movie (albeit a franchise, but they truly are sequels). Will this singularly of vision be the second downfall of DCA?
Look at the fine re-themeing of the Grizzly Peak area to support the continued fondness for UP which adapts a portion of the land to continue the storytelling from the film. The area maintains the autonomy necessary to allow for future plusing because it is not tied to one storyline. This same process saved DinoLand in Disney’s Animal Kingdom from being wildly outdated after Countdown to Extinction was over zealously re-tooled for the forgotten film Dinosaur.
While I marvel at the rock work and craftsmanship of the new Carsland I worry that it may be the west coast’s version of the now reduced princess emphasis of the new Fantasyland. Does creating a whole land around one story reduce the land’s appeal and market? Where does the park go in the future to expand, enhance, and adapt the offerings? Can we imagine if instead of making a New Orleans Square Walt went all out in focusing on Pirate of the Caribbean by developing the whole land as an expansion of popular ride (Walt passed away before the attraction was completed, but was well aware of the growing excitement for it)? If Disney is recreating whole worlds around their most successful movies can I have my Cherry Tree Lane?
I wish today’s events lots of luck, if only because of my own enthusiasm for California to experience the quaint joy of Buena Visita Street that Disney’s Hollywood Studios has appreciated for years, and for Carsland’s re invigoration of imagineers’ care and precision.