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Disney still imagineering at 50 years

Sacramento Bee

Original Article »

June 14, 2011

Disneyland opened more than a half-century ago, touting the future in Tomorrowland, the past in Frontierland and the imagination in Fantasyland.

Now, Disney is conjuring again, offering a vision of the future in a revamped Star Tours, the imagination in The Little Mermaid, and, sometime next year, what could represent both past and present in an all-new Cars Land, modeled after the animated movie and its upcoming sequel.

"Walt Disney famously said that Disneyland will never be complete as long as there is imagination left in the world," Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said during a recent high-amp, two-day media blitz. "As we create new experiences and new places around the world, we find that it is never more true than it is today."

Disney has long been more than just the operator of a certain amusement park in former Southern California orange groves and a 39-square-mile mega-tourist haven in central Florida.

These days, the Walt Disney Co. operates theme parks in Tokyo and Paris, sails three large cruise ships – a fourth is on the way – and is putting the finishing touches on a beachfront resort on the outskirts of Honolulu that its creators insist will do justice to a Hawaiian culture that is often oversimplified and crassly commercialized.

And then there's Disney's ownership of ABC-TV and ESPN. But the business side of things is far from the minds of the hordes of kids, both minors and adults, who eagerly plop down a small fortune to traipse through the original theme park and its adjacent 10-year-old sidekick, California Adventure.

Disneyland itself boasts four new attractions – well, sorta new. Star Tours, which first opened in 1987 to capture the excitement of the "Star Wars" movie brand, has undergone a transformation and now has the tagline, "The Adventures Continue." You can almost hear James Earl Jones' voice booming out the syllables.

It's still a virtual roller coaster that melds projected images with hydraulic gizmos that provide a convincingly turbulent four-minute ride. But the imaging system is now digital, making use of eye-popping 3-D technology (yes, that means riders have to wear those wonky glasses,) and featuring 54 different excursions that play randomly.

The Little Mermaid – Ariel's Undersea Adventure is a brand-new ride based on the not-so-new Disney animated film of two decades ago and the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Riders clamber aboard pastel, clamshell-shaped cars that journey under the sea through the magic of 128 animatronic figures, lights, sounds and even air conditioning. Alas, there is no real water to be seen during the entire 5 1/2 minutes.

The other two "new" attractions are a remodeled Disneyland Hotel and the Soundsational Parade, which is the latest iteration of a long-running attraction that glides down Main Street USA. The parade now celebrates the music of Disney movies, and features characters from "Aladdin," "The Princess and the Frog" and the "The Three Caballeros." The latter is celebrated by dancers in costumes mimicking Mexican paper flowers.

But Disney is really banking on Cars Land, which is due to open in California Adventure next year. The 12-acre site, bounded by faux hills, is less a specific attraction than a mini-theme park called Radiator Springs that is tricked out with its own rides, eating spots and gift shops that resemble characters from the "Cars" movies.

Thus, for kids looking for thrills, there will be Luigi's Flying Tires, Radiator Springs Racers and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree. Ramon's House of Body Art and Radiator Smith's Curio Shop will fill the need for mementos. Sally's Cozy Cones and Flo's V8 Cafe will quench thirst and hunger.

The guiding light for all this work, Disney honchos stress, are the park's fans who demanded a more immersive environment, more family attractions, "and finally, they just wanted more Disney," said Disneyland Resort President George Kalogridis.

That led, for example, to two new attractions in California Adventure: a remodeled entrance that will highlight the look of Los Angeles during Walt Disney's early years there in the 1920s, and a ride due next month called Goofy's Sky School in the Paradise Pier section.

"We're at the halfway mark in the second-largest expansion in our resort's history," Kalogridis said. "We are working diligently toward our ultimate goal of making Disneyland resort the multiday destination in Southern California."

On Disney

Cost: One-day tickets start at $68 for children ages 3-9 for one of the resort's parks (Disneyland or California Adventure). One-day, single-park tickets for patrons 10 and up start at $76. "Park hopper" tickets, multiday tickets and options that include hotel stays, dining and transportation are available.

 



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