October 23, 2015

Retro California Adventure: Lessons to Be Learned

An amazing concept! A great big beautiful new Disney attraction that allows guests to view tractors and other farming equipment. The centerpiece of Bountiful Valley Farm, a district of a district in the new California Adventure theme park that debuted in 2001.

As the Disney world knows, the park opened with much fanfare and little substance, falling flat on its face. Deservedly so. Disney CEO Michael Eisner approved the new and much less expensive park (with Robert Iger also behind it) to replace the once planned Westcot, a new and improved take on Epcot. Aside from Soarin' Over California, the park was woefully short of E Ticket attractions and long on buildings with exposed steel, retread films from Disney parks in Florida, and expensive dining options. The public was not fooled. It was Bargain Basement Imagineering at its best / worst. (By the way, that link is a great series of posts on the artwork and misguided thinking regarding the formation and execution of the park. Check it out.)

California Adventure 2.0, however, is a huge success due to its ugly sister makeover. Cars Land is oh so fine with Radiator Springs Racers being the new must-do attraction for everyone. Buena Vista Street gives the park just the right introduction. The new addition of Grizzly Peak Airfield- replacing Condor Flats- is just beautiful. 

So why bring up the failure of the park at opening now? It's a reminder to fans and Disney suits of a few things:

DCA Phase Two includes this!

1- Phase Two for the park has not been completed as internally proposed. Hollywood Land still looks very cheap, even if it holds some pretty good attractions. Paradise Pier looks better, but it still has too may iron carnival rides along with empty spaces waiting for expansion. (And it just screams for a new version of Mystic Manor, doesn't it?) Screaming' needs a paint job, too, by the way, and finish the proposed improvements on Ariel's attraction please.

2- Spiderman and other Marvel characters will be on their way to the park- the proposed Marvel area expansion behind Tower of Terror is still a "go, even if unannounced. (You can't "show up" the announcement of Star Wars Land.) Whatever you build, just make it excellent, and at least try to keep it in theme with the rest of the park. Especially since we are still light years away from a third Anaheim park, particularly with the Company's two biggest, strongest, creative acquisitions soon represented in each of its parks.

3- Disneyland continues to be mobbed almost year round now, and California Adventure is on its way. Both need new attractions, but a fleshed out second park will help spread the crowds out even more. As it stands now, DCA is better than Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida and on its way to top Animal Kingdom- even Epcot, which is stagnating to death and on life support because of the Booze Festival. The one-two punch of two excellent parks will make the Disneyland Resort a worthy contender for even more guests. And more money in the pockets of investors.

4- Harry Potter is coming to Universal Hollywood. It's a brave new world, and the competition is playing your game in California, Disney. Continue to step it up beyond Star Wars Land and the inevitable Frozen attractions to come. 20 years between E Tickets at Walt's park? There's no excuse.

5- Beyond California, think about the state of Walt Disney World and give some much needed love to Epcot and beyond. The 50th is on its way, and a new Imagination attraction with Figment and Dreamfinder would be fine, as would a truly first class attraction for Frontierland. But that may be wishful thinking. It's been almost seven years since I've been to the World. There's a lot of folks like me who won't return for awhile and instead are giving their money to Universal. Think about it- but not for too long! There's work to do.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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