Why Theming Works: How Carsland is like a Castle

As the crowds race into the newly re-dedicated Disney California Adventure (last pun) it brings to mind the excitement Guests have for experiencing a story in three dimensions. While the setting of most major motion pictures serves as little more then a casualty of the hero and villain’s battle, one large conglomerate providing repetitious awestriking views, Radiator Springs of Cars pluses with a lifeblood granted by the care we see characters have for it. It is no surprise that audiences want to join with the townspeople (or towns-cars as it may be) in celebrating the small village.

Pixar has revitalized storytelling in the past twenty years by returning to the simplicity of focused storytelling based on strong character choices. In doing so they have imbued not only their main players with spirit and heart, but also the places those characters care about. Radiator Springs is no exception, and in fact, the emotional impact of restoring the small town may be one of the most satisfying characterizations I have seen in years.

Walt Disney capitalized on this desire in building Disneyland, creating such immersive environments as Peter Pan’s Flight and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. These places serve as a way for the audience to enter into the story though the buildings most identified with the characters. In Peter Pan the Guests get to become fellow lost children and fly over London. The castle, associated with a film which premiered five years after the building opened, allows Guests to envision royalty here in America. Both of these attractions create a moment of interaction between the audience and film facilitated by a space.

Interestingly, Disneyland began with very few attractions outside of Fantasyland directly depicting their films, however over the years Disney responded to the desire of living the stories by dedicating more and more space emotionally tied into characters from the movies. Even with the close tie between the studio and the parks, the representation of films has remained primarily limited to discrete attraction locations. Each of these contain a complete storyline representative of the tone and emotion of the film and Carsland is no different, save for the expansion of space to include the necessary character of the town. Although I continue to have misgivings over locking a land into a single film, I do grant that of all the locations included in the Disney film library the town of Radiator Springs may exhibit the most reasonable defense to be actualized for the enjoyment of the public. Its new place within Disney California Adventure represents the time honored Disney tradition of realizing their most beloved characters in the park, be it a princess, a mouse, or a town.

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