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Why For $1.2 billion may not be enough to cover the retheming of Disney's California Adventure

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Why For $1.2 billion may not be enough to cover the retheming of Disney's California Adventure

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Oliver from Stuttgart writes in say ...

This is Oliver from Germany. I am writing you today because I wonder whether you know new details about the retheming of DCA? As far as I know a new Pixar parade and a new lagoon show have been approved already. But what about the general make-over of the themed areas? It has been said that DCA's aim is to rival Tokyo DisneySea regarding detailed theming, etc. That sounds more likely impossible for me. Your thoughts? (To keep it the way you would ask...)

Greetings from Stuttgart and a big thank you for your effort that makes JHM the most indispensably website for me!


Dear Oliver --

Thanks for the kind words regarding JHM. As for what's about to happen at DCA ... Jeez, how much time do you have?

 Copyright 1967 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

I mean, it's not as if Walt Disney Imagineering hasn't ever retooled and/or rethemed a land at one of the company's theme parks before. The redo of Disneyland's Tomorrowland back in 1967 immediately comes to mind. As does the retooling of that theme park's Fantasyland section in 1983 as well as the Bear Country / Critter Country retheming that was done back in 1988.

But what's now in the works for Disney's California Adventure (i.e. Basically the reinvention of an entire theme park) ... A project of this scale has never really been tried before. Which is why this $1.2 billion project is already causing an awful lot of controversy back at WDI headquarters in Glendale, CA.

"Wait a minute," you say. "Given that virtually every person on the planet agrees that DCA needs some help, why would Disney's decision to finally fix this troubled theme park be generating controversy at Imagineering?" Ah, but it's what's slated to be fixed that's got many Imagineers up in arms right now.

Copyright 2000 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Case in point: The "California Screamin' " roller coaster that currently circles around Paradise Pier. Under the current plan, this DCA thrill ride is due to be rethemed around the Disney Villains. So that you'd have several close encounters with the studio's biggest baddies as you whizzed around that track.

Sounds like fun, don't you think? Well, there are actually Imagineers who are trying to put the kibosh on the retheming of this DCA thrill ride. Arguing that -- given that "California Screamin' " is already very popular with California Adventure visitors -- there's really no need  to spend any additional money now on "plussing" this particular attraction.

Ah, but there are other Imagineers within the company who argue that Walt himself used to "plus" already popular attractions. Take -- for example -- the "Elephant Bathing Pool" section that was added to Disneyland's "Jungle Cruise" ride back in 1962. Which was then followed by the "African Veldt" & "Lost Safari" sequences that were added to this very same Adventureland attraction in 1964.

Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

As the story goes, the Ol' Mousetro had these new scenes added to the "Jungle Cruise" because he wanted to give Disneyland visitors a compelling new reason to re-experience this still-very-popular Adventureland attraction.

Which is all well and good, says my guy inside of WDI. Except that (quoting now from a conversation that I recently had with this Imagineering insider) ...

"It's one thing to add new scenes and characters to a slow moving boat ride. It's quite another to add additional show elements to a thrill ride that's already got guests zooming along at 60 MPH.

This proposed retheming of 'California Screamin' ' ? It's completely unnecessary. More to the point, the money that's going to be used on all of these new show elements could be much better spent elsewhere."

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

That's the other thing Disneyana fans may have trouble wrapping their heads around. $1.2 billion may sound like a huge amount of money. But when you spread those funds out over a 10 year period ... That's just (on average) $120 million per year. Which -- given how expensive it's actually going to be to build brand-new rides, shows and attractions and/or retheme particular parts of this park -- isn't going to go as far as you might think.

Which is why Bob Weis (i.e. WDI's new VP in charge of DCA) is right now in the middle of putting together a highly detailed battle plan. One that will -- first and foremost -- allow him to deliver the E-Tickets that Disney's board of directors were promised when they initially agreed to underwrite this reboot of California Adventure. But at the same time, leave enough money to fund the actual retheming of this troubled theme park, folding in new show elements & story details where they're now so desperately needed.

And then there are all those behind-the-scenes issues that Weis has to take in account as he drafts his DCA revival plan. Take -- for example -- the Hollywood Pictures Backlot section of this theme park. You'd think that Bob would be holding off on retooling this particular portion of California Adventure because of all of the money that the Imagineers just spent on placemaking (Not to mention the $30 million that was poured into turning "Superstar Limo" into "Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!").

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

No, the real reason that Weis won't be able to touch this side of DCA until at least 2010 is that Disneyland Meetings already has dozens of after-hours private functions booked for the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area in the coming years. And given that the Mouse really doesn't want to refund all of those deposits ... Well, Bob will just have to concentrate on reworking other corners of this theme park until all of these previously scheduled corporate events are completed.

On the upside, one of his old Disney-MGM ideas that Weis is hoping to revive as part of his California Adventure retheming project is Mickey's Movieland. Which would involve building a full-scale recreation of the old Disney animation studio that used to be located at 2719 Hyperion Avenue.

Mind you, many of the shows & exhibits featured inside of this new structure would look rather familiar to fans of DCA's "Disney Animation" attraction. The point is that -- once this recreation of Hyperion Studios is in place -- Hollywood Pictures Backlot goes from being this very generic space that could be the backlot of any modern movie studio to becoming a place that tells a very specific story. You're now going to be exploring the Hollywood that Walt Disney knew back in the 1930s. When audiences everywhere were still wild about Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies, and "Snow White" was about to take the world by storm.

Copyright 1990 Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved

That's what Weis is going to try & do with the rest of California Adventure. Try and change this theme park into a place that -- while it still entertains tens of thousands of people each day -- now tells very specific stories. Transports people to a seaside amusement park circa 1920 and/or out to Radiator Springs. Where Disneyland Resort guests can interact with the cast of "Cars."

And given that Disney's board of directors only agreed to give Bob $1.2 billion (Rather than the $1.7 billion that the Imagineers were originally asking for) ... Well, Mr. Weis is going to have to carefully pick and choose how he spends his dough. Because -- as I mentioned earlier in this article -- $120 million a year doesn't really go all that far these days. Particularly when the plan is to drop several sizable E-Tickets into that theme park before 2017 rolls around.

Anyway ... Given that (What with all the brawling over things like "Does 'California Screamin' ' really need a Disney Villains-themed overlay?") these plans remain very much in flux at the moment, don't expect any highly detailed news about DCA's redo to start leaking out of WDI 'til the far side of August. And even then -- given that the Walt Disney Company's new fiscal year doesn't begin until October 1st -- full-blown design works and/or staffing up at Imagineering on the reinvention of California Adventure won't really begin in earnest 'til after that date.

In short, this is a project with a lot of moving parts, people. So expect these plans to change -- sometimes drastically -- over the next 10 years. As Walt Disney Imagineering finds out that $1.2 billion (While it may sound like an awful lot of money right now) may not actually be enough to cover the complete retooling / retheming of Disney's California Adventure.

Your thoughts?

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  • "How much time do you have?"

    I've got about an hour - fire away.

    Well, many imagineers don't want to spend $ on Calif Screamin, er I mean one imagineer doesn't want to spend $ on Calif Screamin cause the ride's so popular.

    Oh ok, but every time I go there's hardly any line, and a villians overlay could really be promoted by the challenged Disney Marketing Dept. When did theming a barebones coaster become unnecessary for Disney Co?

    Well, Bob Weis is back and he's getting his old plans out for a Mickey's Movieland overlay to the DCA animation exhibit.

    Oh ok, so the exhibits don't change, just the street will look different - that ought to pull in the crowds. Disney Co should already own the rights to those plans - did Bob need to come back just for that?

    Well, Bob is going to tell specific stories and transport you to a seaside amusement park circa 1920.

    Oh ok, but weren't we suppossed to already be transported there with all the seaside amusement park aka tacky theming?

    Well, you know $1.2 billion cash is not a lot of money at all.

    Gotta agree with you there, especially after merchandise from that "disappointing" Cars movie has already pulled in over $2 billion in one year. Hey Bob - budget  $200mill each for 4 E tickets - open one every two and a half years. That leaves $40mill a year for each of the 10 years to do your story telling. OK, the budget's done and I've still got 56 minutes left...

  • Nooooooooooo !!!

    Changing California Screamin into a Disney Baddies ride is about the stupidest thing I have ever heard.

    Here we go again with the "gotta slap marketable Disney faces all over EVERYTHING .... because $55+ a head per ticket isn't good enough and we want you to go home and rent DVDs and watch Disney Channel"

    Bah humbug. Let the ride stand by itself as a ride that is NOT themed. Its a friggen classic roller coaster. That IS the reason people like it. (Lower lines lately might be because the thing did um.... CRASH not all that long ago).

    If theming is what they just gotta have .... putting pirates on the thing and calling it "At Worlds End" ... might be more fun. Or how about ... "Its A Small World ... The Teen Years".

    As for the rest of the park. ... changing the look isn't what is needed. For me.... sitting along the waterside oposite the Sun Wheel right arround sunset just before going dark for the Electrical Parade is one of the most surreal and relaxing places and momments of the whole trip to the entire resort. And I have been going to Anehiem for 30 years. Why change that?  Ok ... so the place isnt packed all of the time and thats a big open area with nothing in it ... so what ... its BETTER that way.

    The key is to add more rides. BETTER rides. I mean come on ... for anyone who has been there with the young ones.... one ride says it all ... "Heimlich's Chew Chew Train" .... need anyone say more ... MMMmmmm ... yank that thing outta there.

    I like the idea of re-creating the old Disney Studio ... maybe they can also re-build Walts Office that was TAKEN AWAY from Great Momments With Mr Lincoln area and has yet to return. Maybe its still there behind that wall.

    Just don't turn the entire park into "Pixar Land", leave the big white Roller-coster  alone and it all should be ok.

    Obviously a CARS themed race sorta like a cross between Test Track, Indiana Jones adventure and the old Soap Box Racers at Knotts Berry Farm (circa 1982) would be killer.

    Also ... take a BIG section of the place and let it become "Star Wars" land. Then move Star Tours over from Disneyland. Hows that for some big spending.

    And one last thing .... nostagia SELLS tickets ... dig a big HOLE in the side of that Grizzly Bear shapped mountain and put in some COUNTRY BEARS !!!. Bugs may be cool ... but the Bears were better.

  • Interesting article that could have been much more pleasurable to read without all the sentence fragments and typos.  Jim, you REALLY need to hire an editor!

  • I have a question... because DCA is getting this money over 10 years, does that mean that is all they get for the 10 years, or do they still continue to get money each year from the budget, to upgrade and build within the park?

  • Here's a wild idea. How about the board sue Michael Eisner for his leadership failure in building this park and trying to short-cut everything. I'm thinking they could get about half their funding right there. Or, maybe they could seek him out as an "investor". Maybe do some arm-twisting playing on the guilt complex and showing him how screwed up this park that he oversaw creation really is.

    Sorry, I just get really irritated everytime I think about and hear all the problems DCA has. Especially, when almost everybody in the world (even Jim Hill), except Michael Eisner knew even before the park opened that it was destined for failure. So, now we're stuck with fixing it so that someday it will hopefully live up to all the expectations that everybody had for it. And, hopefully, this will be money well-spent that will bring some kind of return within say, 20 years.

    Thanks again Michael!

    BTW: I hear Six Flags needs some help, maybe you should go see if Mark Shapiro would like a hand managing there theme park business, that seems like it would be more your caliber.

  • Why change/move the animation dedication section?

    I adored the DCA version entirely because of the central lobby, where you could just sit for a while in nice a/c while the best Disney songs and scenes play in short bits to remind you of just how good they can be at their best.

    The Florida version, modeled after "Dopey Drive and Mickey Ave" (the Burbank studio) before the rebuilt version, was completely missing this experience and it really hurt for it.  Plus it forced you to go through the now ancient Mushu character design review before you passed into the central museum.  (And to make matters worse still, the core of the museum was entirely dedicated to CGI works - Chicken Little, Robinsons, and Cars - and only in a back room was there any stuff related to the classic works.)

    The element of choice, the ability to not bake in the sun while waiting to get into the building, the ability to skip the "making a character" film you've seen 10 times already, and the incredible lobby area which shows just how much can be done with just a little light, a little music, and a handful of tv screens, makes the existing DCA version a MUCH better experience than just having the outside of the building look like the classic studio.

    Sorry, but to me, that Animation room in DCA was the biggest thing they actually did right.  (And it's a great place to relax while avoiding Tower of Terror, which my wife loves but I will never ride!)

  • I like DCA. The problem is that they built it right next door to Disneyland which was a mistake.

  • So basically what you're saying is that people are disagreeing on things.... Isn't that life?

    This screams sensationalist journalism. Imagineers "up in arms" because they don't agree on everything! "I know a guy who works there, and he says people are disagreeing." Oh no! When really, the only story is that some people want to do one thing and some another.

    I appreciate the new insights on the DCA redo, but trying to turn it into some big controversial piece is hilarious.

  • I agree with acroyear. That entrance lobby in the Animation building is one of my favorite places in the park. I was at DCA in January with my nieces, and we sat there for like 30-40 minutes just watching the movie clips. The room totally immerses you in the movies, and that's what I expect from Disney.

    I have to say that with the exception of the abandoned food court building by the Monsters, Inc. ride, Hollywood Backlot doesn't need a lot of help. Maybe they could replace Muppets with something better, but that area looks fine to me.

    And instead of dropping thrill rides all over the park, how about coming up with something on the level of Pirates or Haunted Mansion? That's what DCA really needs: an E-ticket family dark ride. The Monsters, Inc. ride is best compared to a Fantasyland dark ride, and there's nothing wrong with that. The kids like it. But I'm talking about a classic Disney ride. ::COUGH:: Maybe something that was designed by Marc Davis but never got built ::COUGH:: I'm just sayin' :)

  • Okay, short response: $ 1.2 isn't enough, they will never equal DisneySea with so little, board of directors seems to not get the whole "quality perspective" of an amusement park.

    (And 'hmm'.. Was that even necessary? Just be happy it wasn't about Pixar, jeez.)

  • Jim, you're off your rocker again.

    If memory serves me correclty all of DCA, Downtown Disney AND the Grand Californian AND all the infrastructure cost $1.5 Bln. Of which the park didn't receive more than half the money.

    $1.2 Bln with inflation is more than enough to take this decent theme park and turn it into a star.

    Here le me help you back onto your rocker...

  • I was just about to say the same thing, GFYDady.

    $1.2 Billion is a darn good chunk of cash. . .if spent well.  Please, Disney, no more movie screen shows.  Whatever happened to animatronics?  We need more rides like The Jungle Cruise or Expedition Everest.  I play enough video games at home!

  • I wonder, would "Mickey's Movieland" involve replacing the Muppets with Philharmagic?

    I sure hope not. Sure, it would fit the theme better, and I like Philharmagic, but...come on, man! Muppet*Vision 3-D was the last film Jim Henson ever directed, and to this day it's the funniest and best thing at any Disney park. I just hope that they don't get so full of blind Eisner fury that they close down the best thing he ever did for any Disney park. Cut corners by leaving that fantastic attraction well enough alone.

    Carland sounds like a winner, they'd probably have to build it in the Timon lot; it's a shame the Route 66 gift shop is on the other side of the park. They'd either have to knock out some of the Grand Floridian for Carland (unlikely; even if they could clear the space, how would afternoon nappers feel about the noise?), move/re-open the gift shop (far less unlikely) or accept the startling incongruity (which would be unfortunate, but seems to be keeping with upper management policy nowadays)

  • I personally think that most of what the park needs is some seriously nice theming, the reason Disneyland is such a nice park is because it is full of lucious and awesome theming, like tons of great plants and flowerbeds, and just plain nice trees and designs, and just, more grass." they need to install some more grass, and just, make the park more beautiful, I think this is a good chunk of change they are giving the park, I love it the way it is right now, and this will make it even better.

  • It needs it all.

    As for those of you complaining about the budget.... Get your heads out of your butts and stop thinking about yourself for once.

    #1 - Disney is a large corporation with more to deal with then just theme parks.  Theme parks were never were of that much interest to Micheal Eisner other then that they were profitable.  He took more interest in the companies hotels then he did the actual theme park.

    Also as a large corporation, their goal is to make money... not loose it.  They adjust their budget to what they felt was reasonable for the park and would also allow them to get what they needed done and still turn a profit at the end of the day.

    That's the idea.  Be happy DCA got the budget it deserves... besides if the new additions are a hit then who knows what other kind of money will be thrown at this park after the first 1.2 billion is up.

    Patience.  DCA will have its day.

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