seeing designs and models and talking with Imagineers and park managers last week, I suspect that Pixar Pier might be Guardians of the Galaxy, v2.0 — an attraction makeover concept derided on social media that actual visitors turn out to embrace.Is Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure going to be a hit or a flop? Based on what I learned about the land
Why do I think Pixar Pier will be a hit? If you talk with any designer at Disney, he or she inevitably will come back to the company's number-one talking point about new theme park attractions — story. But if Paradise Pier had a story behind it, no significant percentage of fans could perceive it. The land was an emotional callback to a setting (old-timey seaside amusement parks) that meant nothing to any visitor who is not now collecting Social Security checks.
Yes, theme parks can develop compelling attractions without using outside franchises. But that puts the burden on theme park designers to create compelling settings, characters, and conflicts to drive the narrative of their attraction. It's so much easier to lift an existing franchise and build upon the familiarity and emotional resonance that the audience already feels for that IP.
With Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, Disneyland was replacing The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction at Disney California Adventure with a new storyline featuring Marvel's popular science fiction franchise. When Disney announced the plan, fans on social media roasted the company as well as anyone who defended Disney's concept... including, yours truly.
I defended the switch for two reasons. First, DCA's Tower of Terror was a poor implementation of The Twilight Zone IP. That show was all about ironic punishment, but the Tower of Terror offered none of that. It affected the form of a Twilight Zone moment without supporting any of its narrative function. In my review of Tokyo DisneySea's Tower of Terror attraction — which does not use a Twilight Zone theme — I suggested that the original IP on that ride actually reflected the theme of irony from The Twilight Zone better than Disney's other towers did.
In the Tokyo tower, a ruthless explorer uses the tower to hold his collection of artifacts from around the world. But one of the items in his collection was not the lifeless idol that the collector took it to be. The living idol instead took his revenge on the collector for taking it from his people, in an ending that would have made Rod Serling proud.
That brings me to the second reason why I supported Disney's switch on the tower. Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout uses the exact story beats as the Tokyo Tower of Terror. Throw in Chris Pratt's Star Lord and the rest of the beloved characters from the movies, some rockin' tunes that matched the era from the film's soundtrack, and you had all the ingredients for a hit attraction.
Which, when the ride opened last May, it immediately was... despite all the complaining from the social media critics who insisted that this switch would be the ruin of Disney.
Well, the naysayers are at it again, complaining about Pixar Pier on Twitter and Facebook. After I wrote my Orange County Register column about the changes this week, I also took some personal social media hits from some of the same people who attacked me for supporting the Guardians ride. Whatever. I'm an adult who writes for a living. I can take that.
I agree that Pixar Pier is not Cars Land 2.0. It's not an immersive, single-IP land like that, or Pandora, or Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But I would hate to see the theme park industry declare everything between the status quo and those high standards as "no-man's land" where parks should never attempt to tread. Parks should try to improve their existing attractions, even if they don't take them all the way up to the Pandora/Potter level.
And Pixar Pier provides certain improvement over Paradise Pier. My children are now 17 and 20 and as jaded as can be about theme parks, thanks to a life of their dad hauling them around various attractions. They could not care less about Paradise Pier, but they are psyched by the Pixar make-over.
Pixar the storybook of their childhood. And, thanks to the studio's ability to craft films with multi-generational appeal, Pixar is the storybook of my parenthood, too.
Instead of getting a mediocre steel coaster masquerading as a woodie on California Screamin', now fans will get to experience an Incredibles story on the refurbished Incredicoaster. That's an upgrade. Instead of a bunch of unthemed outdoor eateries along the boardwalk, now we will get vendors themed to Monsters Inc., Toy Story, and Inside Out. Now, they are not Be Our Guest, but they are an upgrade. The Lamplight Lounge is basically a plussed Cove Bar that expands to take over the hardly-beloved Ariel's Grotto restaurant. That's another upgrade.
I must add a disclaimer that all I have (or anyone else has) seen of this land are plans. The final show scene in the Incredicoaster that Imagineering would not reveal to us could be a dud that sinks the whole experience. The new eateries could suffer capacity issues that turn off fans. The Luxo animatronic atop the Pixar Pier marquee, the Jessie's Critter Carousel, and the still-unannounced Inside Out ride won't be ready when the land opens on June 23, which could undercut fans' acceptance of what will be an incomplete project.
But what will be open all will represent upgrades from what we have now. And the land will be unified by a collection of stories from might be the most powerful media brand among the young visitors and families that Disney covets. That says "hit," to me.
Look, I get it. Anger drives clicks online. There are some social media personalities who have learned that if they portray every change Disney makes as the coming Armageddon, fans will reward them with the shares, retweets, and traffic (which means money). And if anyone ever calls them out on that, they immediately portray themselves as the Holy Defender of All That Walt Treasured... then turn to attack whoever dares disagrees with them. (Ahem.)
Hey, I am the idiot who chose to get into the news business in the 1990s, just as that industry began to collapse. I'm as far from a seer or a prophet as it gets. Everyone is entitled to her or his opinion. But I know that millions of Disneyland fans will get to decide whether Pixar Pier is a hit or not, just as they were the ones who got to decide the fate of Guardians of the Galaxy. And I suspect that most of them are going to like what they see with Pixar Pier.
But we won't know for sure until this summer... despite what anyone else tries to tell you before then.Tweet
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