Yesterday I discussed how Sunshine Plaza was converted into Buena Vista Street. I talked about how this uninspiring area was transformed into a remarkable thoroughfare full of details and references to Walt. Today I’m going to be discussing another land at Disney California Adventure (DCA).
When DCA first opened, the “tinsel town” section of the park was called “Hollywood Pictures Backlot.” As part of DCA’s recent makeover, this area was renamed “Hollywood Land.”
Hollywood Land is themed to represent a studio backlot (in the same manner as Streets of America does at Disney's Hollywood Studios). However, many of the buildings at Hollywood Land are more than just facades and house real shops, shows, and eateries. Hollywood Land was inspired by the 1930’s Golden Age of Hollywood.
Until this most recent refurbishment, the entrance to Hollywood Land was marked by a massive gateway reminiscent of those found at a number of real studios in and around the Los Angeles area. Flanking the overhead sign were two intricately carved elephants that paid tribute to the spectacular epics of yesteryear. With the rededication of DCA, the sign and elephants were removed, leaving only the massive supporting pedestals.
Other than the entrance, very little in Hollywood Land was changed for the park’s makeover. But changes have taken place over the years. One of the first casualties of DCA was the ABC Soap Opera Bistro. This full service restaurant paid homage to four ABC soap operas, “Port Charles,” “All My Children,” “One Life to Live,” and “General Hospital.” The restaurant was partitioned into many small rooms, each authentically designed after actual sets seen on the shows. The servers all dressed in appropriate costumes such as doctor, nurse, police officer, and socialite. They interacted with one another and with the guests. While eating, you might play witness to two nurses fighting over a boyfriend. Or a doctor might approach your table and ask for your advice about someone’s upcoming operation. All of this was done in melodramatic style, in the spirit of an afternoon soap opera. It was a lot of fun for everyone and a unique idea.
But alas, this restaurant didn’t last two years. Part of DCA’s problem was that it had too many eateries for a park its size. The bean-counters wanted money-generating establishments rather than quality rides and attractions which actually generate park attendance. The ABC Soap Opera Bistro couldn’t compete with so many other options and closed for good on November 3, 2002.
In an effort to add kid-friendly attractions, “Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage!” took over this spot on April 11, 2003. This show was subsequently changed to “Disney Junior – Live on Stage.” For the most part, this is the exact same presentation as seen at Disney's Hollywood Studios and features characters (puppets) from “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” “Little Einsteins,” and more.
Before we look at more attractions in Hollywood Land, I’d like to show you some pictures of the 1930’s style architecture that was reproduced here. Most of these structures were based on real buildings found in the Los Angeles area.
There is one building along Hollywood Boulevard that does not fit in authentically with the other structures. It’s far too whimsical for the era. Yet it somehow blends in seamlessly and you don’t even notice its out of place architecture. This is the Animation Building.
When guests enter the Animation Building, they find themselves in Courtyard Gallery. This large room is filled with overhead screens that feature ever changing projections of Disney animated scenes. From here, guests can select from four attractions: Sorcerer’s Workshop, Toy Story Zoetrope, Animation Academy, and Turtle Talk with Crush.
Sorcerer’s Workshop is similar in concept to the area guest encounter after experiencing “The Magic of Disney Animation” at Disney's Hollywood Studios. In Ursula’s Grotto you can add your voice to an animated scene. In Beast’s Library you sit down with one of the enchanted books and Lumiere will ask you a series of questions in an effort to determine what Disney character you’re most like. However, the DCA version of this attraction is far more immersive than its Florida cousin adding greatly to the magic.
Toy Story Zoetrope is an amazing 3 dimensional apparatus that graphically displays animation. When not rotating, guests see a series of stationary characters from the Disney/Pixar movie Toy Story. As the device begins to spin, these characters become a giant blur. But once the strobe light is activated, the figures come to life and animated movement fills the scene.
Animation Academy is also similar to its Florida cousin. Here, guests sit with an animator and are instructed, step by step, how to draw Mickey, Minnie, and a host of other Disney characters. Each session is approximately 15 minutes in length and you can take your drawings home with you.
Turtle Talk with Crush is also the same attraction as can be found at Epcot. Here, guests get real-time one-on-one interaction with everyone’s favorite dude.
Anchoring the east end of Hollywood Boulevard is the Hyperion Theater. This imposing façade was modeled after the Los Angeles Theatre found on 615 S. Broadway in the historic Broadway District in Downtown L.A. The actual theater at DCA is located behind the sky backdrop and can hold 2,000 guests.
Currently showing in the Hyperion Theater is “Disney’s Aladdin: A musical Spectacular.” This stage version of the hit Disney movie “Aladdin” is grand and glamorous with impressive scenery, a convincing cast, incredible dance numbers and a wonderful score. In addition, a new song “To Be Free” was composed by Alan Menken especially for this production. This presentation runs 45 minutes, 15 minutes longer than most Disney theme park shows.
When DCA first opened, a performance entitled “Disney’s Steps in Time” was presented at the Hyperion Theater. This show was so negatively received that Disney immediately requested a reworking of the script. This didn’t help and the show closed just eight months later. This was another example of Disney executives being out of touch with what their theme park going audiences wanted.
Meanwhile, across the country at Epcot, a show entitled “The Power of Blast” was exciting audiences at the American Gardens Theater. So the Entertainment Department moved the show to DCA to replace the ailing “Steps in Time.” Although the show was well received, it still lacked the Disney element that guests expected. However, it did give the Entertainment Department time to develop the Aladdin show. “The Power of the Blast closed September 2, 2002.
There is one section of DCA that still needs a makeover – desperately. Behind the north side of Hollywood Boulevard is a mishmash of buildings and girders. Here you’ll find two attractions, a food stand, and a theater. None of them flow together and there is no real theme to the area. It’s just a hodgepodge. I suspect it wasn’t redone during this most recent refurbishment because $1.1 billion was all Disney could afford for the time being. Let’s hope it’s on their to-do list for a later date.
One of the rides here has an interesting history. When DCA was being designed, the Imagineers wanted to come up with an attraction that would make the guests feel like they were a movie star. To give them this persona, they would ride through a simulation of Hollywood, all the while being pursued by the paparazzi. Planning for this attraction was well under way when Princess Diana was killed in this same scenario. Realizing their attraction would be in bad taste after the accident, the Imagineers immediately went to work on a new idea that could incorporate much of what had already been planned. “Superstar Limo” is what they turned out.
Superstar Limo took guests through a cartoon version of L.A. in purple “stretch limos.” Along the way they encountered Hollywood landmarks and AudioAnimatronics ABC celebrities (Eisner insisted on synergy so the stars had to be connected to Disney in some manner). Some of these were Tim Allen, Drew Carey, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, and Regis Philbin. However, these weren’t your typical AA figures. They were oversized caricatures that looked very cartoonish. The figures scared many small children and bored everyone else. Superstar Limo has the distinction of being the first DCA attraction to be permanently closed, less than one year after it opened. “Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!” replaced Superstar Limo and officially opened on January 23, 2006.
Our journey with Mike and Sulley begins in the queue where we find ourselves in the Monstropolis Transit Authority. Along the way we encounter televisions advertising a number of Monstropolis products.
Eventually we board a taxi for a trip into Monstropolis. Each of the taxi’s three seats has its own television monitor that plays a tourism video. However, this video is soon interrupted to inform us that a human child is on the loose in Monstropolis.
Throughout the ride we encounter many of the characters from the movie. A number of scenes feature Mike and Sulley trying to rescue Boo from Randle. Of course, the ride terminates with a happy ending. Just before exiting our taxi, Roz has some insights to share with the car’s inhabitants.
I like the Monsters Inc. attraction. In fact, it’s one of my favorite dark rides. It’s imaginative, fun, and enjoyable for all ages. It’s also over four minutes in length, a decent duration for a dark ride.
Next to the Monsters Inc. attraction is a large soundstage. This now vacant building once housed the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire – Play It” attraction. One of the major criticisms of DCA when it first opened was a lack of anything to do. This attraction was hastily constructed to fill this need. The game only lasted until 2004 when it was closed permanently.
Another area in which the Disney bean-counters cheaped out when building DCA was to reuse attractions presented in other parks. One of these was “Muppet*Vision 3D.” Although an enjoyable experience, savvy fans knew it was much cheaper to reproduce a movie theater with a few special effects than to build an actual ride. It wouldn’t have been so bad to include the Muppet*Vision 3D at DCA if Disney hadn’t decided to also include “It’s Tough to be a Bug,” another 3D film in a different section of the park.
This backwater section of Hollywood Land also housed a counter-service eatery when the park first opened called “Hollywood & Dine.” However, its out-of-the-way location and proximity to Superstar Limo left the restaurant deserted. It closed before the park reached its first anniversary.
The last point of interest in this mishmashed section of Hollywood Land is the Hollywood Backlot Stage. This is another example of Disney cutting the budget so drastically during construction that they produced an unwelcoming venue. This stage is utilitarian at best.
In an effort to disguise this section of Hollywood Land until something can be done to improve it, Disney currently features special, seasonal events in this area. Temporary stages and props are constructed to create a festive atmosphere with high energy shows.
The last attraction to be discussed in Hollywood Land is “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.”
Still desperate to turnaround guest dissatisfaction with DCA, the Imagineers continued to look for quick fixes. But this time they knew they needed to build something more compelling than “Who Wants to be a Millionaire – Play It.” So the Imagineers looked to Florida to see what could be copied and brought to Anaheim. It didn't take too much thought to realize that the highly successful Tower of Terror would be a natural in the Hollywood section of the California park. However, there wasn't as much land at DCA as there was at Disney's Hollywood Studios. In addition, the bean-counters wanted to spend less building the second tower. To accomplish this, the attraction would need to be redesigned significantly.
Tower of Terror opened at DCA on May 5, 2004. It is 183 feet tall, making it shorter than the Florida tower which is 199 feet in height. However, the California version extends 40 feet underground. Unofficial sources put the construction cost at $90M, $50M less than its cousin in Florida. Although still a great ride, many feel the DCA version is lacking due to the absence of the Fifth Dimension room.
In February 2010, I wrote an article about all four Tower of Terror attractions around the world. To read it, click here.
That’s it for Part Two of my Disney California Adventure article. Check back next week for Part Three.
The previous post in this blog was Disney California Adventure Part One of Six.
The next post in this blog is Disney California Adventure Part Three of Six.