Hello Dear Readers! If you went to the D23 Expo this past weekend, no doubt you waited in more than a few lines. Since seating was so limited for a lot of the popular panel discussions and so many people were turned away, today’s column is devoted solely to one of those panels. I’ll fill you in on everything that was said and hopefully, if you missed the panel, you’ll feel like you were there anyway. (With a special thanks to MiceChat's Andy Castro for use of his photos.) So let’s get started, today we’ll be talking about: Radiator Springs Reality: Imagineering Cars Land for California Adventure

A few months ago I flew out to Florida to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the minute I set foot inside that land at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, it was like I had grabbed a portkey. In one step, I left a theme park and was zapped into the world of the boy wizard. I wrote here on these pages that as soon as I had done that, WDW was no longer of interest to me. A lot of you took exception to me saying that, but lifelong Disney fan that I am, it was true. I simply stopped caring about anything Walt Disney World had to offer and just wanted to hang out at Hogsmeade, soaking it all in. The attention to detail was astounding and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Photo: Kevin Yee

At the time I thought Disney had nothing that could even come close to that kind of feeling. But I was wrong. Disney is hard at work on a land that will transport you from a theme park straight into the movie world from which it’s derived. And I am ecstatic that I won’t have to sit on a plane for five hours to see it because it’s right here in California.

After listening to the stories and seeing everything John Lasseter & company showed us during the Radiator Springs Reality: Imagineering Cars Land For Disney California Adventure panel this past weekend during the D23 Expo, I’m convinced Cars Land will provide the same kind of immersive experience Wizarding World does. The minute you cross that threshold into Cars Land you will no longer be in Anaheim, you will step into the desert and be instantly transported to Radiator Springs where cars are alive and Route 66 is a bustling road once again.

If you got a chance to hear John Lasseter speak at all this past weekend, then you know he’s infused with an infectious joie de vivre and there’s nothing more fun than to hear him talk about the things he loves. He’s a grownup who has never lost his inner child and may he remain ever so. Introduced by Imagineer Dave Fisher, the panel consisted of, from Imagineering, Kathy Mangum, Jennifer Mok, and Kevin Rafferty, Roger Gould from Pixar, and John Lasseter (who just seems to be from everything).

Answering Dave’s call for him to, “Kick it off,” Lasseter jumped right in, “Sure, hi everybody! I’m wearing the coolest hard hat ever made for construction. This hard hat was painted for me by Chip Foose.” When he’s not out exploring Cars Land, that hard hat is under lock and key in Executive Show Producer, Kathy Mangum’s office.

After handing the hard hat back to Kathy to lock up, Lasseter launched into explaining the beginnings of Cars Land, “The origins of Cars Land comes from the idea of, California Adventure, well, we needed to do something to it. I mean, I’ll be honest with you, it was not up to the level of, I mean in my mind, of the Disney Parks. It didn’t have the themeing and all that.”

“Being a Jungle Cruise Skipper, growing up in Whittier, CA., and coming here all the time, Disneyland is just such an important part of my life. And it’s so important, I think, for all of us. I really felt that we needed to do something with California Adventure. I mean, I love the idea of another park there but it needs to have a sense of place like a Disney park has. I mean, when you walk through that tunnel underneath the train station, you are transported. You know? You walk under the Adventureland sign past the Tiki Room sign, you are transported to another place and time, through the castle, you are transported, you know? And that’s what’s so special, part of what we all love, just to be at Disneyland.”

A recent pin set has Cars versions of Disneyland attraction posters.

Lasseter explained that one of the first things they thought of to give DCA its sense of place was California car culture, “It’s one of the things that I had for, in my life, for even thinking about wanting to do something with cars as characters because I grew up in Southern California. And I love cars; I love every aspect of cars.”

At this point, a photo popped up on the screen above the panel, a photo of Lasseter, his brother, and sister in the back of their family car and little bitty John is clutching his Casper the Ghost doll, “This is me and my brother and sister in the back of our ‘62 station wagon, “he pointed out, “That’s the origins of Woody. The pull string came from my Casper. And so this is us in the back of our brand-new ’62 Impala station wagon. My father was a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership and so I grew up in the car dealerships and I just love cars, everything about cars. And so that’s when we just started creating this idea of cars being alive.”

Lasseter went on to explain about the Cars/DCA connection, “I was finishing up the movie Cars when Disney bought Pixar and I became creative officer and we started talking about California Adventure. And we’ve got this whole new park that is California-based and there’s that car culture and everything and it seems to make perfect sense to have something here. And that’s what really started the dialogue, I mean, is there something you can do with cars in this land?”

Dave Fisher explained, “Before there was Cars Land, there was another idea that Imagineering had been working on, a sort of combination of car culture in California and this new movie that Pixar Animation Studios was working on at the time. And to tell you about this we have our Scene Concept Writer from Imagineering, Kevin Rafferty.”

Now Kevin is a car fan too, just like Lasseter, so it was inevitable cars would up take some kind of residence in the re-imagined DCA, “When we started talking about California Adventure, I actually bought an old 1956 Corvette at the time to restore it. And I was thinking about how great it would be to have a whole land designed around Cars because as John said, it’s so much a part of California. And John was working on the movie Cars at the time, late 2005 — 2006. And so it all really began as Car Land.”

“If you look at that poster of opening day at California Adventure, you see a 1957 Corvette there, and it just seemed like a missing part that needed to be kinda put in there.”

Believe it or not, cars and the Disneyland Resort do have a history, Kevin found out, “I started to do a lot of research about that and I found this really cool Annual Car Club Day at Disneyland in 1959. I think they only did that for one day though, because it attracted James Dean-like guys with cigarettes.”

Kevin explained the idea for infusing car culture into DCA, “It all began like a cruise street, the time periods are like 1955 — 1965, when cars became less a means of transportation, more a form of personal expression, sock hops and roads trips and all that.”
“And at the same time, while I worked on Toy Story Mania, I started taking a look at what Car Land would look like and flew up to Pixar to see where John was on the film and just totally fell in love with it. Ornament Valley could take place on Cruise Street and we started cooking up the idea for Radiator Springs Racers. Down at the other end of the street we had Marty’s Drive-In, you know, car hop service, and we had an attraction called Road Trip USA where it started off kinda of California crazy — you went across the country and saw the icons you did when you were a kid in your ’62 wagon going across country on a road trip. And it kind of ended with a Nature’s Wonderland-type cavern and a car wash where guests would get squirted with water.”

Kevin mentioned that John took a look at what they were planning for DCA and suggested they add in more Disney characters. John elaborated on that theme, talking about how, much like the rest of us, he never understood building a Disney park and leaving out the characters, “One of the things that I had a very strong opinion about, and I don’t have many strong opinions, but I did start thinking about this one thing, and that was that California Adventure completely lacked Disney characters. And I just didn’t understand building a Disney park without Disney characters. It just didn’t make sense to me. And so now, in the renovation of California Adventure, as you notice, the Sun Wheel became the Mickey Wheel, the orange peel was unpeeled and became Mickey’s Band Concert, and Mulholland Madness has become Goofy’s Flight School.”

So the car culture and the Disney character morphed into the idea that DCA would feature a road trip with characters. Kevin described it as Goofy’s Road Trip, “So what we did, we went around the country following Goofy and all his antics, as he would take a road trip across the country.”

“And then we had an idea called Junkyard Jamboree where you would take a ride-through, you went in this old junk car through various junk part areas and the cars came to life, it was like a magic hour at midnight.”

Then the movie, Cars, hit the theatres and that changed everything. The film was a success and Imagineering began to look at adding in a little bit of Radiator Springs, but the whole concept became a mish-mosh of car ideas. There was a car showroom, Ornament Valley, Radiator Springs Racers, and Sally’s Road Rally, along with sock hops, cruise streets, and Herbie the Love Bug. It became a bit too much of a collision of worlds until ... the summer of 2007 when Lasseter suggested, “You know what?  Why not just turn Car Land into Cars Land. Let’s build Radiator Springs,” and Kevin said, “That’s kind of where it all took off.

Lasseter then said something he stressed over and over, something I never thought about before in regard to one of the reasons why the original DCA was such a flop, but now it seems so obvious, it all goes back to time and place. The original DCA didn’t give guests as sense of where it was, “It goes back to what I was saying earlier about what Disney is,” Lasseter commented,  “It’s a visual place in time, and what it felt like what California Adventure had a problem with was, I didn’t know what era I was in.”

Lasseter noted that the re-imagined designs had the same problem as the original park, “It felt like it was kinda the same thing in the sense of that maybe this was kind of too many things. Instead, instead, let’s just make it place where you are transported. You are transported to Radiator Springs. It’s there, it’s alive, and let’s make it as real and as detailed as possible.”

They began to plot Cars Land, looking out from DCA’s existing winery, there was a straight shot that could re-immerge as the drive up Route 66 to the Courthouse. Lasseter described what’s starting to immerge there now, “As you come in, you’ll see that it’s nearly identical to exactly what’s in the movie. There was a couple of buildings that we had to work around but they designed beautifully to fit into the environment, it’s exactly what’s in the movie in the right order. And so this was going to be a new land, not a new attraction, a new land, three new attractions hedged in with all the other stuff.”

Lasseter explained what will be in all those buildings along Cars Land’s Route 66, “We wanted to have food because food, good road food, on Route 66 is a part of Radiator Springs. One of the things in the development of the movie, we took a look at is things cars need and things that humans need and then made them one and the same. The obvious one is a gas station to a car is a restaurant to us. And so that kind of merged together. Flo’s V8 Café was in the movie, but basically, it was a gas station, the local town diner where everybody went and that’s where all the problems are discussed and solved like a good small-town diner. It was a natural for us to make that into a restaurant. The Cozy Cone Motel, of course you can’t stay in Cars Land, but we evolved that into food service and also Fillmore’s where he made organic motor fuel, it becomes a place for drinks. The shops, of course the obvious one, is Radiator Springs Curios that Lizzie runs. And it’s as wonderfully kitschy as ever. And there’s Ramone’s, it became one of the key signature stores in the place.”

The discussion then turned to the rides we’ll find in Cars Land. A photo of the attraction I remember most fondly from my childhood popped onto the screen above the panel, Disneyland’s Flying Saucers. While it wasn’t at Disneyland very long, it lasted only from 1961 — 1966, the Flying Saucers always had my vote as the ride I wanted to go on most. And I’m not the only one looking forward to the Flying Saucers of Cars Land, otherwise known as Luigi’s Flying Tires, here’s what Lasseter had to say, “I just want to take a moment to say that as a child, this was my favorite ride at Disneyland. I dreamed about it and I looked forward to riding it all the time. I’ll never forget, I was so little I was too light for it and my dad had to ride with me and we kind of sat sort of in the middle and everybody bumped into us. But I’ll never, ever, ever, forget it. And the sound, I mean those who remember it ... it was so special in the way it moved.”

Yep, he’s right, all these years later I can still remember exactly what it sounded like when that whoosh of air would hit the bottom of the saucers and how it felt to glide on air and how much I hated when the ride was over. I L-O-V-E-D that thing and I’m all giddy with excitement knowing I’ll once again get to ride the Flying Saucers. The problem with that attraction though, was in its difficulty to maintain, hence its short lifespan at Disneyland. Imagineering couldn’t figure out a way for it to work, until now, as Lasseter explained, “It’s that carrot that Imagineering has always had in front of them to try to figure this out again and so the Imagineers came up with an engineering solution for it. And so when we decided to make it, we wanted tires. It is so awesome. It is one of the most cool and impressive rides. It’s like a gigantic air hockey table.”

We’re also getting Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and heretofore I thought it looked like a little kiddy ride but listening to Lasseter talk about it made me feel like Veruca Salt, “I want it now!” See if you don’t feel the same as you read what he had to say, “And then we came up with this amazing idea which is also fun ... doing something with Mater’s junkyard. There’s this awesome ride system in A Bug’s Land, it’s the Ladybug Boogie and it’s this kind of figure-8 thing where it hands off, and in Paris they did a kind of little Cars ride where you go around and it hands off. So we had the idea, don’t ride in the thing, the object that’s attached to the ride system. You remember those great whip rides like at Coney Island? So why don’t we ride in the trailer? We had the idea that you’re riding behind the baby tractor and you’re in the trailer and he whips you around.”

Now, I have to interrupt Lasseter’s description here to set the scene for you. Imagine him in the parking lot up at Imagineering, sitting in a wagon-like vehicle attached to the back of a tractor. The tractor is whipping that wagon around and Lasseter is smiling like a kid in a candy store. He’s such a big kid, you’ve just got to fall madly in love with him. Now, here’s what he said,  “We had this test, it’s in the parking lot at Imagineering, they painted the circles the size that you’ll go around and we were towed by a real tractor and it’s just this simple thing, but look how much fun this is. It’s the most fun ride.”

The video stopped, but once was not enough, Lasseter was enjoying it so, he made them run it again, “You look at it and you go oh yeah, and then you ride it and it is really fun. Ladybug Boogie just goes in a figure-8 and so what they’ve done is, they’ve doubled the size so it’s four rotating platforms and you get handed off so you’re going to be whipping all over the place but it really has the sense that the baby tractor is just taking you through a crazy ride through Mater’s junkyard. It’s really full of energy and it’s really fun.”

Even the line sounds entertaining as Lasseter described it, “What’s going to be exciting is the queue area. We were able to keep the farm area if you remember, there were these kind of sheds people didn’t really see. Well, we’re actually saving those as the shade for the line, and so it will be all full of memorabilia. I mean, every inch of Cars Land is going to be covered in stuff. Mater’s junkyard is all memorabilia from his all his tall tales. So you’ll see his bull fighting hat, it’s gonna be fun and you’ll have lots to look at.”

Sounds pretty good so far, doesn’t it? But what about the E-ticket, hmmmm?

That (and so much more) is in part two.


Oh, one quick thing ... when the panel was over Lasseter donned a hat worthy of any Jungle Cruise skipper and explained that he had a little project for all of us:

“I was a Jungle Cruise skipper. It changed my life, and I mean it. It taught me about comic timing. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. You know, I would still be a Jungle Cruise skipper if I didn’t get hired as an animator at Disney because I just absolutely loved it. In the 50th anniversary of Disneyland I was able to go and don my skipper outfit again. I have this great picture of me in 2005 at the 50th, it was so, so, special to me.”

“The problem I have, is that I don’t have a picture of me in 1977 and 1978 when I was a Jungle Cruise skipper. So today we’re announcing a contest. This is very, very, special and very, very, important to me because this is such an important part of my life and I don’t have a record of it. I remember a lot of people taking pictures of me. So we are announcing a contest for you to dig through your old pictures and find a picture of me from 1977 or 1978 of me as a Jungle Cruise skipper. To be specific, I was trained in Thanksgiving of 1977. I worked Christmas, the holiday season of ’77. I worked Easter of ’78, grad nights of ’78, and part way through the summer of 1978, so it was really kind of a nine-month period.”

“Now, Pixar invented digital compositing. We know a fake when we see it.”

“If someone out there sends one in, and it really is a picture of me as a Jungle Cruise skipper, they get to come to the opening of Cars Land as our guest. It’s going to be really, really, as a VIP guest.”

I know I don’t have a photo of John as a Jungle Cruise skipper but do you? Start looking through those old photos now.

For more information, visit: JohnoftheJungle.com

Sue Kruse may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind she may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Sue pays for her own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

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