At the 2017 D23 Expo, Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, along with John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Principal Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering, announced that Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure will be re-themed to “Pixar Pier” in 2018. Many Disney fans were understandably upset with the re-theme, as it is the only major change planned for the Disneyland Resort next year. However, with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge coming in 2019, limited expansion space, and the semi-confirmed Marvel attractions looming in the distance, Pixar Pier is the perfect move by the Imagineers and Disney, and here is why:
As we near the year 2020, most need to acknowledge the fact that new parents were the target audience of Toy Story when it came out in 1995, a shocking 22 years ago. With Star Wars films planned for every year in the foreseeable future, Pixar is the only other section of Disney filmmaking that will be churning out quality content for the whole family. While it may seem Pixar already has a large presence in the California parks, let us evaluate which attractions actually feature Pixar characters.
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters in Tomorrowland rarely post higher than a fifteen minute wait, even on the busiest days. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, while continuing the legacy of its predecessor, is a capacity nightmare and rather boorish for younger audiences. Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! in Hollywood Land seems to be on the chopping block with upcoming Marvel attractions, while also being a perpetual walk-on. Turtle Talk with Crush is a popular show with families, but hardly fits into Animation Academy, which also would seem to be doomed by invading heroes. A Bug’s Land was a “quick fix” that Michael Eisner felt could help save the family challenged California Adventure. With the opening of the next case, this land was rendered obsolete.
Finally we come to Radiator Springs Racers and Toy Story Midway Mania. These two E-ticket attractions are widely popular with guests of all ages, and while Racers fits perfectly with its surroundings, Midway Mania is a different story.
It is right in the heart of what will be Pixar Pier. When it opened in 2008, it helped add some theming to a Paradise Pier where the most storytelling was done in the form of a giant orange. By building a newly themed land around Midway Mania, Disney is establishing something most of California Adventure lacked when it opened: character. I don’t mean characters such as WALL-E, Bing Bong, or Remy. I mean character that can be found in classic attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. And before I get screamed at, no, I’m not saying Pixar Pier is the next New Orleans Square. I am simply saying that Pixar brings a charm to its stories that was often associated with Walt Disney and his Imagineers, namely Marc Davis and Claude Coats.
In a world where the internet has rendered our brains to respond to familiar names and images, original attractions are becoming rarer and rarer. The last attraction built at the Disneyland Resort to not feature an intellectual property was when California Adventure opened in 2001, with many original attraction stories. Most park goers, if they visited Hong Kong Disneyland, would more likely visit RC Racer, a Pixar themed attraction, than would visit Mystic Manor, a far superior dark ride derived from the Haunted Mansion. The Toy Story theme reckons in their mind more than a wacky mansion filled with strange artifacts that come to life.
Star Wars is, if not the largest, then certainly among the largest intellectual properties in the world. When Galaxy’s Edge opens in 2019, crowds will flock to it because it is a brand they know and love. To help counteract this influx at Disneyland Park, Imagineering is injecting other popular IPs into the neighboring California Adventure, Marvel and Pixar. It will not keep Disneyland from reaching capacity for the first two months or more of Galaxy’s Edge being open, but it could help prevent guests from spending more than one day in Disneyland Park.
Also, Paradise Pier has never been anything close to a good land. The marquee attractions include California Screamin’, a launched roller coaster that has never had a story, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, a rather generic “eccentric” wheel, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a classic omnimover dark ride themed to The Little Mermaid, and the aforementioned Toy Story Midway Mania. The only one of these to ever have over a twenty minute wait consistently is Toy Story Midway Mania, which will be retaining its original theming. Paradise Pier is, in a nutshell, what was wrong with California Adventure when it opened. Thin theming surrounding off-the-shelf attractions, which in the end makes for a park that feels like Six Flags rather than Disney. If Pixar Pier involves more than just painting characters onto walls and changing the music, it can be another positive change to California Adventure, much like Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout has breathed new life into Hollywoodland.
While Pixar Pier may not be on the same tier as Cars Land or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it will be much more effective at pleasing guests than a sparsely themed and rather bland Paradise Pier has done for almost 17 years. A recognizable brand will help aid the storytelling that has been added to California Adventure since 2011. As with the addition of Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, Pixar Pier is not meant to bring guests from across the country, that is the job of Galaxy’s Edge. Rather it is to add to those guests’ experiences and round out an already charming resort.