The latest tweak to Disney California Adventure, the sister theme park across the plaza from the original Disneyland, is largely cosmetic. By superimposing characters and taking inspiration from films such as “The Incredibles” and other computer-animated Pixar hits, the former Paradise Pier recently reopened as Pixar Pier. While the area is essentially the same, the infusion of the popular brands adds doses of whimsy to the retro Victorian-era land and makes it more accessible for kids as well as those who grew up with the movies.
“It’s still a California seaside pier,” says Jeff Moskowitz, producer, Walt Disney Imagineering, referring to the area which originally took its cues from the pleasure parks of the early 1900s that once dotted the state’s coast, like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (one of the few which continues to delight visitors today). “Pixar is a California company. It made a lot of sense for us,” he reasons.
Take a look into Disney California Adventure’s new Pixar Pier. The new area features a roller-coaster, a new lounge, and tons of fun food.
The highlight of the makeover is the Incredicoaster, the steel coaster (which is made to look like an old, wooden ride) that winds its way around and dominates Pixar Pier. Previously known as California Screamin’, the ride itself is virtually unchanged. But the Imagineers have grafted figures, effects, and other elements onto the coaster to tell a story based on “The Incredibles” franchise.
The ride is bookended with scenes featuring bespectacled Edna Mode, fashion designer to the superheroes, who is charged with looking after Jack-Jack, the precocious super-duper-powered baby, while the rest of his family takes a spin on the coaster that’s been dedicated to them. When the infant escapes from the less-than-doting Edna, the ride becomes a madcap race by the Incredibles to capture Jack-Jack.
“Who would have thought we could pull it off?” replied Dan Fazio, principal production designer for Walt Disney Imagineering and one of the Incredicoaster’s lead creatives, when I asked him about the challenges of telling a story aboard a coaster that accelerates to highway speeds and goes upside down. “It’s like a chase scene from an “Incredibles” film. Things are happening super-fast and you’re inside the scene.”
To help convey the on-ride narrative, Disney closed off the sides and extended the coaster’s existing three tunnels. In one of the tunnels, a gargantuan Mr. Incredible tries unsuccessfully to corral his son, while the scent of Jack-Jack’s favorite treats, Cookie Num Nums, wafts in the air. According to Fazio, the final tunnel, which has Incredibles daughter Violet perched along its top, incorporates 50 pounds of glitter for its glowing purple effect.
The story elements barely register as high-speed blurs. Helping to tie everything together is a wonderful score by Michael Giacchino, the composer for both of “The Incredibles” movies. The onboard audio is punctuated by Jack-Jack’s infectious giggles.
The highlight of the coaster’s ride experience is the giddy 4-second, 0-to-55 mph electro-magnetic launch. Passengers then soar uphill into the first tunnel and get a satisfying burst of airtime as the train crests the top of the hill. While it’s not, er, incredibly intense (this is Disneyland after all), the Incredicoaster is one of Disney’s fastest roller coasters and boasts the most pronounced airtime among its parks’ worldwide portfolio of coasters. (Although for even more free-floating, butterflies-in-your-stomach fun, head over to Disney California Adventure’s drop tower attraction, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout).
First opened in 2001, the coaster has become a bit rough in spots, especially during its loop. I’m surprised that Disney stayed with the ride’s old-school, over-the-shoulder restraints when it redid the trains. More modern vest-like restraints would have prevented passengers’ heads from “pinballing” back and forth, as happened, albeit mildly, during my jaunts on the Incredicoaster. Also, my rides ended with an abrupt ka-clunk just before the trains proceeded to the station for unloading.
Riders can’t help but get a second whiff of Jack-Jack’s Cookie Num Nums, which are strategically located in a food cart near the coaster’s exit. Served warm, the large chocolate chip cookies are pleasingly gooey and tasty. They demand lots of napkins (or, if you have your own super-infant, baby wipes). Other Pixar-powered provisions now available in the redesigned land include Snow-Capped Lemon at Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats, a tart soft-serve cone dipped in white chocolate that soon devolves into a melting mess, and a Caliente Churro at Senor Buzz (as in Lightyear) Churros.
The former Ariel’s Grotto and Cove Bar is now Lamplight Lounge, Disney‘s take on a California gastropub. Presented as a watering hole for animators, the restaurant is filled with sketches and artifacts from Pixar movies. The menu has Pixar punny cocktails and reasonably priced (for a Disney park full-service eatery) dishes. The poke appetizer, which was notably spicy but tempered the heat with watermelon cubes that looked just like the raw tuna, was scrumptious. Because this was a Pixar restaurant, I just had to get the ratatouille. The surprising entrée included roasted eggplant, zucchini noodles, smoked tomato sauce, and a dollop of basil aioli. It was tres magnifique.
Among the other neighborhoods at the reconfigured land is Pixar Promenade, which includes the Pixar Pal-A-Round, a large Ferris wheel with swinging cars. Previously known as Mickey’s Fun Wheel, it still, incongruously, features the Mickster in its hub. The cars, however, are adorned with characters from a variety of Pixar movies.
The promenade also offers carnival games themed to films such as Wall•E Space Race as well as a bandstand where The Pixarmonic Orchestra performs tunes from Pixar films playing wacky instruments like kazoos and slide whistles. Moskowitz says the Pixar Promenade neighborhood will be the place where future films and characters could appear.
Toy Story Boardwalk is the home of the existing Toy Story Midway Mania 4D, an e-ticket, interactive game-ride. It will also be the location for Jessie’s Critter Carousel, which is scheduled to open in 2019. Before the pier’s transformation, the merry-go-round was known as King Triton’s Carousel.
The final neighborhood for Pixar Pier will be Inside Out Headquarters. Its star attraction will be the spinning ride, Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind, also planned to debut in 2019. It will be a recycled and re-themed ride from the park’s “a bug’s land.” That area will be the future home of an expanded land devoted to the Marvel Universe.
Both parks at the Disneyland Resort are celebrating Pixar Fest through September 3. The event features “Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular,” a fireworks and projection show and “Pixar Play Parade” at Disneyland Park. Disney California Adventure is presenting a revamped “Paint the Night” parade. The procession recently introduced a new float featuring the Incredibles.
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Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. – Deuteronomy 28:6
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