So what did Disney accomplish with Pixar Pier, now that the refurbished land is open to the public?
At the very least, the switch from Paradise Pier has given Disney an excuse to boost its promotion of the land, which ought to drive some attendance to Disney California Adventure this summer. We've been writing about this project for months and Pixar Pier stories now fill local newspapers and national travel media, too. No one does PR like Disney, and when the company cranks up that machine, it tends to get results. At least in the short term.
And there is at least some substance behind the hype. Some regular visitors who no longer bothered to ride the California Screamin' roller coaster will queue to go on its new form in the Incredicoaster. New food items around the land are already attracting fans eager to fill their Instagram feeds, if not their stomachs. And the expansion of the Cove Bar into the Ariel's Grotto space in the guise of the new Lamplight Lounge likely will accommodate many Lobster Nacho fans who would have walked away rather than wait in the old bar's consistently long line.
So there's that.
Superficially, Disney's Imagineers created an enticing facade for the refurbished land. Employing an Indo-Saracenic Revival style inspired by England's Brighton beach (run through Pixar's primary color filter), the main entrance to Pixar Pier provides DCA with another social-media-ready photo backdrop.
And it'll be even better once Disney installs that promised Luxo Jr. animatronic atop the marquee.
While Pixar has created some of the most compelling franchises in popular entertainment, it doesn't just make features. Pixar has done more to sustain short films than any other studio in Hollywood at the moment, and Pixar Pier reflects that commitment, including references to shorts as well as the studio's major franchises.
But while Knick Knack pairs well with the overall design of the land, other "neighborhoods" in Pixar Pier disrupt that flow. The Incredibles neighborhood drops us into a Mid-Century Modern style. Toy Story Midway Mania brings us back, but the Poultry Palace just sits within it like a giant, discarded takeaway box.
And construction walls around Jessie's Critter Carousel and Bing Bong's sweet shop and just-announced plans for the bizarrely named Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind (should have been "Memory Maker"), further remind us that Pixar Pier is not a completed vision. Heck, Disney couldn't even fix all the lights on the Midway Mania marquee.
Design tension can strengthen a project, if done with intent, but the incompletions amid the disruptions here just leave me feeling frustrated instead of inspired. So is this project a fail?
I don't think so. Pixar Pier improves upon what remained Disney California Adventure's most troubled area following its billion-dollar 2012 makeover. It's fun, and ultimately that is the most important standard for judging theme park attractions. Allow me to call in Joe Rohde for some design perspective, too.
Imagineers always try to do their best. The field of play may change. That does not. And yes, it’s for you. https://t.co/DW2gATgY4L— Joe Rohde (@Joe_Rohde) June 23, 2018
Rohde led the design team for Disney's 2017 hits, Pandora and Mission Breakout. While I am certain that Pandora had a budget at least an order of magnitude greater than Pixar Pier's, I would not be surprised if Mission Breakout also had a larger budget than the entire Pixar Pier makeover, as well. And that is a large part of the changing field of play to which Rohde alluded.
Limited budgets do not excuse bad design. But they do account for what is clearly a more modest change than what fans saw from Mission Breakout across the park. I would have liked to see Disney retrack the entire California Screamin' and replace its trains. I would have liked to see animation inside the Incredicoaster's show tunnels. And I would have liked to see Jessie's coaster open this week, and a more novel ride concept for the Inside Out attraction. But it is easy to spend someone else's money.
Yet when Disney spends that money, its Imagineering talent tends to ensure that the company makes it back... and with handsome profit alongside. Pixar Pier should help boost attendance at the park this summer and beyond. But I fear that in five years or so, once the novelty of a limited change has worn away, Pixar Pier face the same fate that Paradise Pier did — becoming a tired land that fails to excite would-be visitors to the resort.
And what will Disney do about it then?
If you haven't yet, please take a look at our full coverage from the opening of Pixar Pier, linked below, along with our Instagram story of the Pixar Pier media preview.Tweet
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