In 2001 Disney opened one of it’s most anticipated theme park projects of all time, a long coming second-gate for the original Disneyland park, Disney’s California Adventure (Or Disney California Adventure as it’s called now, interestingly dropping the possessive s) Now I’m sure many of you know it, unfortunately, was a disaster requiring over a billion dollars of short and long-term fixes to create the park as it is today. Of all the opening day lands at Disney’s California Adventure Paradise Pier was the most intriguing addition, the land could be easily seen rising above the park all throughout construction, filling Disney Theme Park fans with more and more dread as the off the shelf rides you can find at any local amusement park kept rising into the Southern California Sky. For the last 17 years Paradise Pier has continued to struggle to find its place in DCA. Whilst it did get some great initial work done during the $1.1billion upgrade to DCA 2.0, parts of the area still seem abandoned and unfinished. From looking at the concept art and construction of Pixar Pier it just looks like another slapped together “quick-fix” that DCA has unfortunately become known for. But in order to understand what’s going on let’s take a quick trip back in time and look at the past, present and future of Paradise Pier at Disney’s California Adventure Park.
Concept and Construction
On my first visit to the Disneyland resort in August of 2000, around 6 months before DCA opened, I have a vivid memory of watching construction of a coaster that managed to loop all the way around the shape of a Mickey silhouette, that initial interest stuck with me for 8 years until I went back in 2008 and was severely underwhelmed by DCA at the time.
Following the rest of DCA’s misguided attempts to let guests do “Everything California in one place” the original Paradise Pier was designed to resemble a modern seaside pier amusement park (Think of Santa Monica Pier merely an hour down the road). This went against everything Walt wanted Disneyland to be but tied nicely in to the “kitschy, hip” original Design for DCA.
Upon opening Paradise Pier was the embodiment of everything wrong with the original Disney’s California Adventure. The land featured nothing that truly felt “Disney” it was a mess of loud tacky stores and rides with a mishmash of themes and inspirations. Most of it’s few rides were simply off-the-shelf models from well known manufacturers with some obscure theming elements tacked onto the outside. This land could also wasn’t safe from the “Hilarious” puns that dominated every inch of DCA1.0 including a hat store called Man Hat ‘n’ Beach and a Mexican quick service restaurant Malibu-ritos… Let’s take a quick look around the mess that was Paradise Pier on the 8th of February 2001.
Approaching the land from Grizzly Peak we are greeted by an interesting towering skyline of attractions including the three main draws of the land beckoning us from across the bay. These included:
- The Sun Wheel – The focal point of Paradise Pier is the 160ft ferris wheel with it’s mix of thrilling swinging gondolas and it’s relaxing stationary ones. Walt Disney Imagineering decided that you could represent California as a state with the motif of a sun so slapped a big smiling Mexican Folk-Art inspired sun on the front of the wheel to match it’s brother (The lovingly deemed “Hubcap”) at the front of the park.
- California Screamin – A 55mph launch coaster lacking any major theming. It’s inkling of theming it did have included the Mickey Head the loop traversed around (Which was also one of the only Disney features in Paradise Pier) as well as the mesh of metalwork designed to make this steel coaster look as if it was constructed from wood. This ride opened as one of the best in the park but lacked any form of Disney magic separating it from any other un-themed coaster in Southern California.
- The Maliboomer – The only non-surviving major opening day ride was a simple off the shelf S&S Space Shot themed to a test your strength high-striker game. The only thing separating this ride from one you might find at your local amusement park is the large Plexiglas scream shields designed to limit any rider’s screams leaking into the nearby Anaheim neighbourhoods.
- These Major attractions were joined by some smaller family friendly rides as well including the Orange Stinger, a wave swinger in which you swung around inside a giant orange. Originally designed to have bee butts on the chairs these were quickly removed before the park opened due to damage. Also Mulholland madness added a second coaster credit to the land with a wild mouse coaster themed to careening around Mulholland Drive.
Rides weren’t the only thing that was hideously tacky at opening day Paradise Pier. The rides were joined by a giant Pink Dinosaur selling sunglasses, a giant burger serving McDonalds and a castle selling Corn Dogs all in the small sub-area of Paradise Pier themed to Route 66 (Opening 11 years before a deserving Route 66 area opened with Cars Land in 2012).
As you can see if there’s one word to describe Paradise Pier when it opened it was Tacky, the Imagineers did the best with the funding they were given but ultimately it wasn’t enough. Paradise Pier was seemingly designed to be the main draw of the park, it had the most rides in a single land but most of them were something you could find at any local Theme Park. Most fans hated the idea of the Paradise Pier for this reason alone, why put in “classic boardwalk rides” when guests can just go to the county fair or an actual boardwalk and ride them for a much cheaper price.
Disney California Adventure 2.0
By 2007 it was abundantly clear that something major had to be done to fix Disney’s California Adventure, something major to the tune of a $1.1billion expansion and redesign plan for the entire park (Which is almost double the parks initial construction price of $600million). At the time Disney CEO Bob Iger had this to say about the park “ “Any time you do something mediocre with your brand, that’s a withdrawal. California Adventure was a brand withdrawal.” The first stage in the multi-year expansion plan took place right in Paradise Pier with the opening of Toy Story Midway Mania underneath California Screamin, in the space formerly occupied by Malibu-Ritos. This new attraction also brought with it big thematic changes to the land, changing the theme from modern day seaside amusement park to a Victorian Era Seaside Boardwalk. Out of the entire park Paradise Pier probably saw the most extreme re-theme changes, the entire area was changed to fit this new Victorian theme including the switching of icons with a sunburst pattern now being prominent on California Screamin and a big smiling Pie-Eyed Mickey greeting you from the newly named Mickey’s Fun Wheel. All of the carnival games were re-themed to feature recognisable Disney characters (As part of the attempts to bring the “Disney” into the park). Following these changes, the “Route 66” area was completely re-themed, with the “S.S. Rustworthy”, and “Dinosaur Jack’s Sunglass Shack” being completely demolished. The Orange Stinger underwent extensive re-theming to become Silly Symphony Swings, based on Walt Disney’s short film “The Band Concert”. Also after much back and forth about how to rettheme the Maliboomer it was decided the best way to “fix” it was to have it unceremoniously removed.
Two other big changes cemented down this second generation of Paradise Pier. In 2010 Disney premiered World Of Color, giving the park an amazing nighttime spectacular and a real reason to stay after dark. The other big addition was the removal of Golden Dreams, and the replacement of it with a classic style Dark Ride “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.”
On June 14th 2012 the park was officially re-dedicated “To all who come to this place of dreams welcome”. Even after all the upgrades there seemed to be evidence of backstory included in Paradise Pier that was never fully realised. Looking throughout the land you noticed a name that would come up on windows and throughout certain safety spiels “Gustav Tinkerschmidt”. The little we know about this character points to him being the owner of Paradise Pier Amusement Park. Though most of what we know about the character really stops there. It gives me a feeling that it was designed to be so much more, from 2012-2018 Paradise Pier rode on through sheer goodwill alone. Sure it was a lot better than the mishmash it opened with but the land still lacked a real heart, people still referred to it as a “carnival” giving off all the negative connotations that come with that title. Disney really needed to bring this Gustav character and more to the forefront, give the Pier an easy to grasp story rather than just being a pretty area with some decent rides.
Of course being Disneyland in 2018 these quality, thought-out changes to the backstory were completely thrown out and a new redesign of Paradise Pier is opening this week, one that seemingly reverts a lot of the quality changes to the land and almost brings the tackiness back in some regards…
Pixar Pier/Paradise Park
On the 23rd of June 2018, Disney will officially open the newly named Pixar Pier (and the now relegated to half the land Paradise Park). This land will go from announcement to opening in under 9 months and Disney has been sure to mention various times that this is not just a special overlay for a limited amount of time but this is a “Permanent land, introducing four new Neighbourhoods representing beloved Pixar stories to the southern shore of Paradise Bay. This will see the half of the land containing California Screamin transformed into Pixar Pier with anything on the other side of the bay staying with it’s current theme but being renamed to Paradise Park.
Now I don’t want to say too much about a land that isn’t open yet nor which I will have the chance to experience for a good few years a least but watching the construction of this land has me worried about the current path Disney California Adventure is taking. Looking at a lot of the concept art and reading about what’s coming to this area, it seems that they are stripping back a lot of what made the 2012 Paradise Pier great and starting again rather than fixing the problems that version had. DCA seems to now just a be a dumping ground for IPs without any forethought of how well they will fit into the area, just take a look at Guardians Of The Galaxy: Mission Breakout on the other side of the park, a spectacular ride with an eyesore of a facade. It will be interesting to see once Pixar Pier opens completely, if Gustav Tinkerschmidt’s name still reside on the Paradise Pier windows or if that idea has been completely shelved.