The hectic weeks of Spring Break are over, with the week after
Easter Sunday going down as one of the busiest weeks of all time for Disneyland
attendance. While the parks themselves were very busy in March, the PR
departments in Anaheim and Burbank have been even busier trying to spin the Small
World story we were first to report on in the last update about adding Disney
characters to the beloved old ride.
Meanwhile, Spring also brought a frenzy
of activity in the Imagineering (WDI) workrooms now dedicated to California
Adventure's (DCA) extreme makeover. The funds from the billion dollar budget have finally started to
flow into Imagineers hands just as a rather remarkable L.A. Times editorial this
past weekend let the Disney company know they were not amused
with this troubled project.
In this update we'll get you up to speed on the
latest round of changes to the DCA plans, and share some news about the future
of Disneyland proper and the adjacent Disney hotels once the misfiring Year of a Million Dreams mercifully dies
nine months from now.
Got that expensive bottle of POM juice properly chilled?
Is the croissant heated and slathered with preserves? Got
the coffee brewing for later on this morning? Well then, lets
get started with today's update! (Special thanks by the way go
to David "Darkbeer" Michael for the kind use of his
photos today.) - Al
DCA fans and detractors alike were abuzz with excitement on
Saturday, October 13th when they first read here that the DCA extreme makeover
that we had been detailing would finally be officially announced the following Wednesday. And the excitement reached a
fever pitch that Wednesday afternoon after Jay Rasulo and Bob Iger spread out
a virtual buffet of sketches, models and storyboards explaining all of the new
attractions, shows and expansion areas coming to DCA in the next five years.
in the six months since that big announcement, what has become apparent inside
the halls of WDI is that they really weren't ready to spill the beans just yet.
The last six months has seen changes to the overall plan, with another
elimination round cutting out some of the additions announced in October, while
some of the other remaining concepts get beefed up and expanded upon. It's
important to realize as you read about the latest changes to the DCA plan that
Burbank and TDA really had their hand forced on this DCA makeover by people and
events that have already changed dramatically in just the last six months.
Remember that back in October the city of Anaheim was still in a
rather nasty fight with Disney over their plans to rezone the Anaheim Resort
District for up to several thousand new units of housing. Back then, SunCal, a
big housing developer out of Irvine, was still sending their blustering lawyers
to city council meetings and still funding political campaigns slamming Disney
in the national press and the local community alike.
Disney was backed into a
corner and forced to defend itself as the biggest investor and employer in
Anaheim, and it had to prove to people that it was committed to big time growth
for the Resort District as a whole. We've detailed in previous updates Disney's
strategy of announcing Anaheim expansion plans in purposefully spaced out
announcements, and the October announcement of DCA's billion dollar makeover was
obviously one of the biggest.
Who could have guessed then that just six months
later SunCal would be on the brink of collapse with creditors, contractors and
local municipalities alike all beating down their door for overdue payments
owed to them? In the midst of this ongoing financial crisis for SunCal, the
Anaheim property at the center of the debate was abandoned and their political
action committee stopped receiving funding and closed up shop. That left the
Anaheim city council with no choice but to declare Disney as the victor and
amend the city bylaws to prevent any housing from ever going in to the Resort
In just a few short months the hotly contested housing issue that was
driving so many of the press announcements out of TDA suddenly shriveled up and
died. It was a classically happy ending to the story that could have only been
written by the fairytale factory at Disney.
But what that meant was that the October announcement on DCA really
was rolled out a tad too early. There was still plenty of details to hash out
and logistics to plan, even though the models and sketches shown to the media
were impressively detailed. And while the overall budget for DCA of over a
billion dollars has worked its way through Disney's corporate governance
channels and is now in the hands of WDI, the individual budgets for specific
structures, attractions and shows was still far from hashed out back in October.
We'd told you in previous updates about other minor elements of the plan that
had been changed or deleted, like the drive-in movie restaurant in CarsLand that
has been shelved for opening day, or the saga of the 3-D theater in Hollywood
that went from Philharmagic to digital flex theater to remaining as MuppetVision
for the foreseeable future. Since then there have been some other recent changes
to the plan, although most of it signals good news for all but the diehard Walt
The most recent change from what was announced by Jay Rasulo in
October involves the plans for the Carthay Circle Theater in the new 1920's entry
plaza. The theater will still be built, but when the area debuts to the public
in 2011 you won't be going inside. Originally
the plan for the recreation of the theater where Walt Disney premiered Snow
White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937 was that it would house an elaborate and
impressive new "Walt Disney Story" exhibit and show.
The plan was to take the
Walt Disney Story concept (which debuted in the Disneyland Opera House in
1973) and pump it full of 21st century technology and healthy funding. A fancy
lobby would be full of Walt memorabilia and Disney curios, with a very lavish
art deco theater showing a multimedia show about Walt's vision for the new art
forms he continually created throughout his career. The original dollar funding
for the interior of the building was to be upwards of 40 million dollars, with
additional funding used for the creation of the show itself. But that was before WDI took the plan to the planners and managers at TDA.
The Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) folks took one look at the plan and almost immediately
started asking questions about the need for such an attraction. This Carthay
Circle Theater presentation would cover the same subject material and likely
have much of the same imagery as previous versions shown in the Disneyland Opera
House, most recently as The First 50 Magical Years show that is still playing to
crowds that dwindle by the month. The TDA planners began to seriously
question the need for yet another theater show in a park roundly criticized in
visitor surveys as being too light on rides and too heavy on shows and movies.
Surely the show dedicated to Walt would be mobbed in the first few months by the
hardcore fans, as the average tourist ran
right past it on their way to CarsLand. But once the initial buzz wore off, TDA
was very concerned that this was a facility that would die a slow and painful
death and be more popular as a venue rented out for corporate cocktail parties
rather than substantially adding to the public allure of the newly rechristened
park. Some serious haggling went on over the winter between the Imagineers
dreaming of creating yet another tribute about Walt's life and the more
realistic managers in TDA who were worried about operating a theme park that
people would actually pay full fare to get in to.
The nail in the coffin came with the ballooning budget for the
elaborate Pacific Electric Railway Red Car system to be installed from the DCA
entrance back through the Hollywood section. When the Imagineers realized that
running high capacity electric trolley lines down the middle of a busy theme
park full of kids holding Mylar balloons would prove to be a real design
challenge, the costs for the installation of this custom built trolley line
began to skyrocket. With the Red Car attraction needing more money, and with the
Walt Disney Story receiving lots of pushback from TDA, the decision was made to
abandon plans for another tribute to Walt in Anaheim.
The Carthay Circle Theater will still be built, and it will still
be a faithful reproduction in all its 1920's glory, but when the new main
entrance debuts in 2011 the building will be an empty façade. There are plans to
include a couple of pocket spaces along the side of the building for stores or
food locations, but the bulk of the building originally meant to house a lavish
lobby and grand theater will remain empty for now. Perhaps in the future some
new concept to fill the space will be pitched and approved, but the last thing
TDA wants right now for DCA is yet another theater show.
The good news is that
this has given a new lease on life to the Disneyland Opera House, and attention
has turned yet again to what could be done with that theater.
Bringing back Mr.
Lincoln and revamping the leftover 50th displays into a more general exhibit
about Walt's vision for Disneyland is the current choice, although a decision or
funding has not been approved yet.