Disney's California Adventure v. 2.0

As you may have heard, about five months ago the Walt Disney Company opened a new theme park next to Disneyland called Disney's California Adventure. From Day One, er ... actually from before Day One the new park was being trounced by the media. Internet "journalists" (the term used very loosely here) such as Al Lutz of MousePlanet were wrecking the park for well over a year before the February 8, 2001 opening. Everything from the recycled and/or store bought attractions, the light (if any) themeing to the sale of alcohol faced the wrath of Lutz.

Granted, some of his criticisms were justified. Disney listed twenty-four attractions at the opening of California Adventure. Not a bad number, really, until you look at what qualifies as an "attraction." One is a bakery. Another a tortilla factory. A winery is in there. And one is a large bulldozer (I kid you not.) Many of the other real attractions are recycled from Walt Disney World in Florida: Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D (not 4D), It's Tough to be a Bug!, parts of the Disney Animation tour, Grizzy River Run (a rethemed Kali River Rapids). But probably the largest bone of contention was the use of off-the-shelf attractions such as "mad mouse" roller-coaster Mulholland Madness, the non-wind-resistant Golden Zephyr, the ferris style Sun Wheel ... okay, pretty much the whole Paradise Pier section of the park. Except for the California Screamin' roller-coaster.

California Screamin' was one of the new attractions built for California Adventure. Others include the Golden Dreams movie, the amazing Soarin' Over California (proving that Californians obviously don't like the letter "G") and the now infamous Superstar Limo. Oh, and the Hollywood Backlot Stage, the Hyperion Theater and the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. But those don't count, really, because they suck.

Unless you're drunk. Good thing they sell alcohol at California Adventure. "What?!?" you might say. Now, being from the East Coast and a frequenter of Walt Disney World, the sale of alcohol at Disney parks does not seem foreign/weird/wrong in my mind. Um, Epcot, anyone? Beer at Germany, wine at France? C'mon. Pleasure Island? Downtown Disney? It's been going on for decades in Florida. Time to get up to speed, California!

And if you're one of those Disneyland Park Purists, I have one thing to say to you: Club 33. The "secret" club in New Orleans Square near the Blue Bayou sells alcohol. So there.

I feel the real reason that many people hate California Adventure is that it hasn't lived up to its potential. In the early 1990s Disneyland announced Westcot Center, a kind of Epcot West. It was going to be the coolest Disney park ever, with hotels built into the multi-layer park sitting on the land right where California Adventure is today. But then they drew up a budget, and then the neighbors of Disneyland started bitching, and the whole thing fell to pieces.

Thus the smaller, cheaper California Adventure was born.

And internet journalists started complaining.

As for me, well, I kinda like the park. I've always been a fan of the underdog, and of Disney, so to put the two together - a Disney underdog, whoo-hoo!

Which gets me to my second review of the park. I went down there for an employee preview day in January, and had a good time. Then on Saturday I went down again for another employee preview day - for the new Disney's Electrical Parade that started on Tuesday. We had a great, great time.

Before I start I'd like to mention that yes Disneyland said that the Main Street Electrical Parade was "glowing away forever" in October of 1996, and that yes, Southern California is in a power emergency this summer. Both are rational arguements against the new parade. But since others, many more envigored than I about these topics, have made the arguement over and over again, I'm not going to get into it right now. I'm sure if you venture to MousePlanet right now you can catch many people complaining. Go ahead, if you'd like. I'll wait.

There. Thanks for returning. Now back to the story. So on Saturday my friend Laurie and I went to California Adventure. We showed up at nine, right when the park was opening. It was a light crowd, which is why getting to Disney parks in the morning is a complete must. We got a FastPass at Soarin' Over California, which came due at 9:40-10:40. This gave us time to run to the Grizzly River Run. I'd never done this ride at the park, so I was interested to see how it compared to the Kali River Rapids at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, which I love!

Grizzly River Run is fun, we got completely soaked. I think that I like Kali River Rapids better overall, but that just might be my memory playing the games on me. Grizzly River seems really light on themeing (aside from very cool rockwork) - it seems that it's just there to get you really wet. I would have liked some kind of narrative, as cheesy as the deforestation at Kali River Rapids is, it's a story, and more than Grizzly River Run has. But overall a very fun ride.

Laurie and I then ran to California Screamin', the huge roller-coaster that takes up much of the Paradise Pier part of the park. I'd done this in January, but I wanted to see how it lived up to my somewhat faulty memory. Awesome. A great ride. True, the onboard music was busted that first run (oh yes, there were more runs later on) but it's still an excellent ride. It's said to be the longest roller-coaster in the West, and damn, I believe it.

And by that time our FastPass was ready for Soarin' Over California.

Now that is a kick-ass ride. Let's call Grizzly River a B, maybe B+. California Screamin' is an A. Soarin' Over California is an A+. You sit down on a bench for six people, buckle up, and your chair rises up in front of this massive Imax screen. Then you literally soar over film of California. The bench tilts ever-so-slightly as you zip by mountains, the ocean and groves of orange trees. All to an original score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Some people have complained about the dust on the projector or film, how it's amplified to a scary degree on the screen. And in January, I did notice dust. But maybe because this was first thing in the morning, or maybe because they have fixed the problem, we had a pristine screen. Amazing. Simply amazing.

It was 10:05 and we had already hit the three major attractions at California Adventure. How damned cool is that?!?

We wandered back over to Paradise Pier to the Maliboomer. That's the one that shoots you 200 feet into the air, and then drops you back down. A very un-themed Tower of Terror. We went on it, and found that the excitement was all in the anticipation. It's such a quick ride up, and then down, that you really don't register much. Oh, it's fun, but not a big draw.

So at one point over the past five months I vowed never to go on the Sun Wheel ferris wheel. I had read junk on the internet about it dropping bolts and pretty much falling apart, as guest rode! Unfortunately we went on it on Saturday.

The Sun Wheel has two kinds of cars, one is stationary, the other is on a track so the entire car swings like a pendulum. We took a swinging car - with a family of four. Apparently the mom and the daughter, perhaps nine or ten, had just come from California Screamin'. The father and the son, perhaps seven or eight, stayed behind, and played the cheesy-ass carnival games on the boardwalk - winning a large stuffed cow.

Now, being the scaredy cat in my family, I could relate to the little guy, being scared of the roller-coaster. But I could not relate to their family, as the daughter and the mother were berating the little dude for not going on the coaster. His own mother was calling him a wimp for not going on it!! This was really annoying, but I was prepared to put up with it for the duration of the ride.

Until it broke.

We were stopped somewhere near the top of the wheel when a voice came over a PA somewhere telling someone that the ride was broken. At this point, since the PA sounded so far away, we thought it was one of the other rides. This is Disney, I thought, surely they have a speaker in each car of the ferris wheel to speak to us. Nope. We were broken, and couldn't even hear their announcement. After fifteen or twenty minutes the wheel started turning again, and we were safely on the ground. It's a good thing, too, for I was contemplating telling the pushy mother to chill out, if her son didn't want to go on the roller-coaster he didn't have to. But just as I was going to tell her off, the Cast Members letting us off gave us a card for a backdoor pass onto any attraction. Sweet!

At this point we called my friend Phil and met up with him for lunch at the Hollywood & Dine restaurant. That's just about across the whole park, but it's good good eats, and we hadn't even been to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot yet.

After lunch we wandered over to It's Tough to be a Bug!, the 3D show based on the Pixar movie. Unfortunately, they were having troubles, so they gave us a FastPass for later. Laurie and I wandered back over to Disney Animation, and did the Back to Neverland movie with Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite and the Drawn to Animation show with a real live Disney animator! Ironically, his name was Josh. More ironically, I know that was the only Josh to work at the Xxxx Xxxxxx Feature Animation Southside building, and I think I'm the only Josh at Xxxx Xxxxxx Television Animation. Their lame ruse is up! He's no artist!!

Muppet*Vision 3D is such a damn good show. We got into the pre-show area right as they were letting everyone in to the real show, so we asked if we could hang-out and watch the whole pre-show. That's almost better than the real show. I love the Muppets. Statler and Waldorf might be the most amusing Disney audio-animatronics ever.

The we called in our FastPass for It's Tough to be a Bug! Laurie was creeped out by the show, which is pretty intense. For some reason the 3D works better for me at California Adventure than at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Golden Dreams is a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and a cast of tens reenacting the early days of California. At some point in my life I'm sure I've seen a more politcally correct film, but I can't tell you where. Every ethnic group gets a little scene about what they bring to California. Then we end with a montage three times too long for its own good. Yes, it's fun to have Ice Cube, Jerry Garcia, Steve Jobs and the Rodney King beating all mish-mashed together in one montage, but did we really need the Smothers Brothers? The countless parade of athletes - many of whom probably don't even consider California their home?

Oh, and Golden Dreams loses more points for editing the scene where two Chinese guys get blown up. The one gutsy image in that train-wreck of a film, and now it's gone. Boooooo!!!

See, they used to have a scene where two Chinese workers, blasting mountains so the train could come through, got blasted themselves. It was actually a very cool image, they look up, and then BAM. The screen is covered in smoke. It's not like limbs went flying or anything - it was very well done. Now it slows down to 6 or 12 fps and turns to black and white - cutting before the smoke. Damn Disney! Damn them!

Dazed after that mess, we wandered back over to California Screamin' and got a FastPass. Then we hiked to Grizzly River Run and used our backdoor pass from the Sun Wheel debacle. At that point the line for Gizzly River Run was 180 minutes. Three hours!! We walked right on, maybe a ten minute wait.

We called Phil again, and met up with him at the Greetings from California store near the entrance of the park. He and his parents were going over to Disneyland (he had spare one day tickets that were soon to expire) and his friend Darrin was going to hang out with us until his dinner plans that evening at Downtown Disney. Best of all Phil and Darrin had FastPasses for California Screamin'! Phil gave me his and we were off! Darrin, Laurie and I had to circumvent the Eureka! Parade to get to the other side of the park, but we did it, just barely.

So Darrin and I rode the coaster, this time in the front seat with music. Amazing. We had a half-hour until Laurie and my FastPasses came due, so we wandered over to the Maliboomer and did that again. Then Laurie and I rode California Screamin' - also in the front seat, also with music.

By this point we were getting hungry so we left the park and wandered over to the Rainforest Cafe. I had never eaten in the one at Downtown Disney before, it's immense! We got a patio table right away, didn't even have to wait, and enjoyed eating the most endangered of species. What? Oh, they don't serve endangered species? Tragic. I ate chicken instead.

Laurie and I rushed back into the park to get primo seats for the Electrical Parade. Amazingly enough, we weren't the only people to think of this. However, we found perfect seats near the Golden Dreams theater. Best of all, they were in the seated section - we weren't even supposed to stand. I can deal with that.

At 8:45, when the parade was supposed to be starting at the Sunshine Plaza, an announcement came over the PA. "Due to unforseen circumstances ..." The crowd gasped. Luckily, it was only a fifteen minute delay. If it had been cancelled, yikes, bad scene.

Disney's Electrical Parade was invented in 1972. A California Classic, as they say. I call it, "out-dated as hell". Any parade that ends with Elliot from Pete's Dragon is a sad damned parade indeed. The "To Honor America" float is as old as I am - from the Bicentennial in 1976! For Christ's sake, they could have at least made Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Mulan, Jane ... Kuzco? ... costumes, hell, even Eilonwy!! Nope. Instead we get King Leonidas from that 1971 smash Bednobs and Broomsticks.

I've said it once and I'll say it again, 1992's SpectroMagic parade - pretty much a new-fangled Electrical Parade, with new lighting and new music - is my favorite Disney thing ever. More than Aladdin. More than Space Mountain. Hell, even more than The Emperor's New Groove. And that parade, which just made it's return to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in April, got a little bit of an update by adding the Genie from Aladdin. It's not even a decade old, and it's getting new parts. But the MSEP is pushing thirty, and it gets jack.

After the parade we decided to end on a regal, impressive and overall masterful note. So we hit Superstar Limo in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. One ride where both times I've been on it I wish you could buy the photo at the end. It's a trip from a cartoony LAX to the Mann's Chinese Theater (interestingly enough Disney owns the Chinese Theater's neighbor, the El Capitain). Along the way you see major celebs like Drew Carey, freakin' Regis Philbin, Tim Allen (notice a trend?), and then poor Cindy Crawford hooking on a corner of Hollywood. Oh yeah, in the most racially insenstive part of any new park, Jackie Chan, too. Then at the end Whoopi Goldberg (who must have owed people at Disney major favors) welcomes us to the premiere. Flash! They take a photo of the stunned guests. Jaws agape. Heads tilted. "Someone actually spent money to build this P.O.S.?" "We actually paid money to see this P.O.S.?"

And then, after a short tram ride back to Mickey and Friends, it's onto the 5 freeway and back to Burbank. At one point potential home to a Disney theme park, now just home to Josh.

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Last Updated on: July 09, 2001

© 2001-2004 Joshua Paul Edwards

Dramatic re-enactment.