March 19, 2009

"Bargain Basement" Imagineering- California Adventure 1.5

Once the Grand Opening of Disney's California Adventure was behind them, the executives of The Walt Disney Company waited for the crowds to come- and waited and waited and waited.

Early renderings, models and posters of the park communicated poorly- or maybe accurately, prominently featuring the carnival side of California Adventure and the film making aspects, things that could be found at other southland amusement parks.

Bad weather, the economy, misunderstanding of the park- all these reasons were given as to why the crowds didn't materialize. Why didn't the public appreciate groundbreaking attractions like a small area of crops and a tractor display? What was wrong with carnival attractions that could be found at state fairs? Eventually, reality set in: Disney had tried to sell the park as the peak of Imagineering efforts, but the public saw through all the hype and advertising.

The original Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, was doing just fine, thank you, but its newer sister park was clearly the less favored ugly duckling. The numbers were dimsal. Park managers and sponsors were less than delighted.

From the guest standpoint, surveys seemed to indicate that Disney had forgotten much about what made a beloved park. There were too few attractions for families, too many film-based theater shows, clones of secondary draws from Walt Disney World, and overall very little magic and theme.

The most oft criticized area was Paradise Pier, a modern version of an old seaside amusement park. Unfortunately, this area was executed as a cheap version of a Six Flags park- full of iron rides with little originality or dressing. The park entrance, dubbed the Sunshine Plaza, was said to create a "hip and edgy" vibe for the park, but more excitement was to be found at the very places it emulated: Southern California shopping malls.

The only true new and winning area seemed to be the Golden State, an area that most celebrated the California theme. Even that district was not without it problems, as fans realized the park's icon was a beautifully designed mountain that held a mundane and off the shelf raft ride. Adjacent was an imaginative children's play area themed to California's mountain landscapes. The raft ride, what should have been an incredible attraction, was just passable- much like most of the park. There was one bright spot- Soarin' Over California, and that soon made its way to Epcot, stripping this struggling park of its one jewel.

Something had to be fast as the park was quickly becoming the laughingstock of the theme park and entertainment industry. When it became impossible to change public opinion, the next best plan of attack was to add to the park and add to it quickly. So now, here is a compilation of concept art for the next stage of this poorly executed second theme park at the Disneyland Resort.

A quick addition was made to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Play It! This guest experience was based on the over exposed television show. It was a fun attaction, but really did nothing to bring in the crowds. Once the television show lost its audience, so did the attraction, closing quickly thereafter.

This rush to bring in guests had another down side. Once proposed attractions for the Backlot area were now abandoned. This included the immensely fun Armageddon special effects show built at Walt Disney Studios Paris.

In an effort to bring more Disney to the park, characters were added and the unique California flavors were decreased. The wonderful Eureka parade gave way, and Disney announced that Flik's Fun Fair, a kid oriented play area, and a reworked (but less impressive) Twilight Zone Tower of Terror would soon be added.

One of the odder choices for an attraction in Disney theme park history was Superstar Limo. This journey through Hollywood streets was so unpopular that it was shuttered in 2002. Speculation on a replacement ranged from a reworking of the original theme to a classic Disney character filled excursion to appeal to children.

The characters did end up inhabiting the stopping ground of Superstar Limo, however, they were Pixar characters from the popular Monsters Inc. film. Making its debut in 2006, this attraction made great use of its previous work on a fairly reasonable budget. Certainly, the attraction was as good as any smaller dark ride in Disneyland, but all these changes were not enough. Additionally, this choice signed a new change in strategy- California seemed to be on its way out, characters, and Pixar chracters in particular, were on its way in. This trend would start with the earlier inclusion of A Bug's Land in 2002.

Once Disneyland's 50th anniversary was complete, the focus would reshift to its smaller, less charming sibling. It seems the Disney executives finally understood they couldn't fool the consumer with a second rate park. With a new Chief Executive came a big announcement and much money accompanied with it. Did the company really understand? Time will tell. They have one last chance to convince the public that California Adventure is a real Disney quality park. Will they follow through with the eleborate plans, concepts and models in the Blue Sky Cellar? Stay tuned...

(All concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Special thanks to Brett Garrett from Visions Fantastic for his photo of the first piece.)
As my computer has recently crashed and I lost a lot of files, feel free to send me pieces of concept art YOU have. I will gladly add them to this or future posts! Thanks.

1 comment:

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Excellent post! Great research and pics! I didn't even go to DCA until 2005 and only once again in 2008. On my first visit I was sooooo disappointed. It really was depressing. I only stayed about 3 hours, then I had to go back to Disneyland to get me outta that ugly mood DCA put me in.

I sure hope the billion dollar upgrade is done right. The concept art looks good, but, well, like you said, this is there last chance...

I love your blog, I've added to the links on my blog. Thanks for the shout out on your post yesterday :-)