Did Disney succeed or fail with its Pixar Pier?

June 23, 2018, 3:49 PM · 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.

Pixar Pier

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.

Knick Knacks

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.

Toy Story Midway Mania

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.

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.

Replies (34)

June 23, 2018 at 4:39 PM

>>>And what will Disney do about it then?

What every other park does with its kiddy land every 5 or so years, reskin it to some other IP.

June 23, 2018 at 4:45 PM

I think the notion that Paradise Pier needed to be "fixed" is wrong. It was the most successful area of the park when it opened, and in its mostly original state six months ago it was far superior to the nothingburgers that are Bug's Land and Hollywood Land, which for the moment has a Marvel ride with a horrifically forced theme sitting in it. Paradise Pier wasn't great; it was lightly themed, to be sure, and in some ways it was lipstick on a pig in terms of lumping a bunch of carnival rides in one area; but it had a bit of personality, gave young children attractions they could do in the park, and had a legitimate icon in California Screamin'.

I love IP in the parks. It's a Disney park, it should have Disney characters. But this is forcing something where it wasn't needed and doing it in tacky fashion, and I don't accept that a limited budget can be blamed. I've pointed on previous posts to Toy Story Land in Orlando as a great example of putting together a quality installation on a small budget, one that was cut severely during the design process.

If you can't do it properly, don't do it.

June 23, 2018 at 5:10 PM

I feel like DCA is just a big Tinker Toy for the Imagineers, something to play with when they have a bit of downtime. I'm calling it a fail until Luxo shows up above the Pixar Pier sign which I hear is another "later" addition. Not that it matters, crowds will come as they always do.

June 23, 2018 at 6:12 PM

They tried to align the goals of Toy Story Land with Pixar Pier. I will say they mostly succeeded if not for the 2 remaining attractions that couldn’t be finished in time. The theming lacks coherence as it is now. This is a waiting game to see how DCA turns out after fully realized. This is especially true of Mission Breakout where it anchors the new Superheroes Land. This is the reason I’m waiting and watching.

June 23, 2018 at 7:07 PM

NICELY stated blog post.

Universal noticed the same with their Harry Potter lands, attendance stagnated. But, just like Disney they replaced a critical thrill ride.

How will thrill seeking fans react? Hopefully, before passing judgement on the family friendly attraction they will ride it.

June 23, 2018 at 8:20 PM

Disney fixed California Adventure in 2012 and has been ruining it ever since. Removing Soarin' Over California. Removing Twilight Zone. Inappropriate I.P. is now everywhere, destroying California Adventure's charm. California Adventure should be renamed Disney's I.P. Projectile Vomit.

June 23, 2018 at 11:05 PM

Considering the level of quality that we've seen form Disney recently, it's certainly a dissappointment, but it's not a failure. The Incredicoaster and Pixar Pier are still improvements from what came before, even if only a little, and I'm worried that tooany people are confusing quality with expectations.

June 24, 2018 at 2:14 AM

This park was a lot more coherent about 6 or 7 years ago. California is interesting enough to be the theme, they just cheaped out and it never recovered. Maybe when its all Pixar it will make more sense again.

June 24, 2018 at 3:56 AM

I personally don't have a problem with IP's when they are truly disney esque, pixar is defintely a better match than Star Wars, Marvel or Pandora. But that's a whole other thing!
But the thing I am really struggling with is the lack of care, maybe I am too critical but I expect a lot from Disney. And I am just not seeing it, I expect full immersion and I dont see it.
Without making my comment too long the incredicoaster is a clear example of that. As you finish the ride, you travel of grass and dirt, and you see plenty of backstage area as you brake before the final show building. To me this is everything that Disney isnt. In a Disney park i dont expect to see this sort of thing and it genuinely gets to me.
As I say perhaps I am too critial!
All in all I agree with an earlier comment 100% "If you can't do it properly, don't do it. "

June 24, 2018 at 6:39 AM

Although the pier was cheap it did at least had the look of an old timey pier. A romanticized moment in time just like Mainstreet USA. They could have plussed that but instead they covered it with amazing ip's that all deserve amazing rides, not a carnival.

June 24, 2018 at 10:58 AM

I don't want to sound like I'm knocking the whole thing. The new lights and sign look great and the pictures I've seen at night look really good -- is it gonna go back to being dark most of the time because of World of Color?

I think this recent change really illustrates Disney's change from place-maker to IP factory. I can understand "Pixar Pier" and "Midway Mania" and why it's in a California Theme Park. I don't understand the Incredicoaster. Am I supposed to be on a speedy adventure, riding with the Incredibles or am I on a roller coaster that just happens to be passing by the Incredible family problems. I think it would have been better left as just a great seaside pier roller coaster.

As Robert mentions, I'm surrounded by all kinds of time frames and styles. So why am I here?
And why is this different than any other slapped together amusement park other than it has Jack-Jacks?

I wish they would just own the seaside resort theme and make it the most amazing, beautiful version of a seaside pier as only Disney can do, or just toss the whole thing and make it a real "Pixar" park.

June 24, 2018 at 11:17 AM

I don’t think they should have fully left it alone. Rather, revamp it, still keeping the Paradise Pier theme but redoing the marquee for California Screamin’ and repainting and improving the Cove Bar. Perhaps a better theme would have been to continue the influence of old Disney cartoons and spread the Fabulous Five around the pier in order to keep with the old time feel.

June 24, 2018 at 12:14 PM

I'll reserve my finally judgement until I visit the park myself and after the other attraction open. But having seen side-by-side videos of the before and after I have to say regardless of what you think of the changes you have to admit it's visually a substantial improvement.

June 24, 2018 at 12:22 PM

The problem with Pixar Pier is that it took a cohesive theme (early 1900 seaside CA pier) love it or not, and disintegrated into a mish mash of theme and even under the more general Pixar theme it is not wholly transformed. The giant Mickey face, Paradise Garden grill, Little Mermaid, all of which fit under the old non IP specific theme, are now strangely out of place. Oddly enough they could have still done the IP synergy that they wanted, while keeping the theme intact (Midway Mania is a perfect example). It is a fail imo, and doesn't meet the standards set by the park across the esplanade.

June 24, 2018 at 5:02 PM

I think there is something that a few commenters here forget, not everyone that visits DCA has the experience of the seaside pier attractions. To a lot of foreign visitors, it is a nostalgia trip we don't understand because it was never part of our history.

A Pixar Pier has a theme and a hook that can have a global appeal.

While other lands in Disney parks (Frontierland, Main Street are prime examples) are very Americentric, they have been immortalised in countless films and tv shows over the decades, and still are to this day whereas the seaside pier doesn't have that exposure.

Having said that I loved the old pier, I thought it was fantastic and loved wandering around it and spending my time there and it didn't need to be changed. However, I will still love wandering around there and experiencing a rich theme that can speak to my personal experiences with films.

This is something that will divide fans, some will love it, some will hate, and others (i suspect most) wont actually care or really notice sine the changes are largely cosmetic

Perhaps the poll should have had a last option for 'Meh, doesn't matter either way to me'

June 24, 2018 at 8:12 PM

Pixar Pier is an interesting concept and study for making an area of DCA feel new when there isn't anything that is. Instead of giving Imagineers the freedom to dream big it all feels just like lipstick on a limited budget and mandate. The upcoming Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind is also a re-theming of Flik's Flyers from the Bug's Land area. The pier now is divided into 4 areas with different themed music and trash can designs that let you know what land you are in. Paradise Pier, at least ,had one musical boardwalk theme . I do commend Disney Imagineers for their evolution of the area. DCA continues to feel disconnected. An overall plan of the park needs to address how this ties in to the now confusing Paradise Gardens Park area.

June 25, 2018 at 8:49 AM

Instead of "Emotional Whirlwind" it should have been "JoyRide."

June 25, 2018 at 9:55 AM

I down voted this new concept, mostly on the fact that it’s not complete. The fact that there are still construction walls up is disappointing.

However the changes in decor is a nice sight.

And Lamplight Lounge is a nice Pixar hangout spot. I was there yesterday with a party of 8, that had two separate groups of 4 reservations. However we were able to experience the private dining room inside the lounge called The Office. This room is reservable for parties of 8-13, but will soon be a hard reservation to get as its currently booked out for a month. We were just lucky Disney guests who got a surprise for our birthday celebration.

June 25, 2018 at 10:09 AM

Judging by the lines this weekend, Disney will probably deem the Pixar Pier reskin a great success! With all the media hype that went into the buildup, people were curious and they came in droves to get in on the zeitgeist.

Park ridecount is down, but the new "Land" is pulling in the bucks.

I'm not at all impressed with the slapdash cosmetic enhancements which were made. The whole thing feels like it's the result of lots and lots of budget cuts. However, Disney may learn absolutely the wrong lesson from this one: Build up the marketing, skimp on the enhancements, and watch the money roll in.

June 25, 2018 at 10:45 AM

Let's not sugar coat things here. Disney is putting a lot of publicity and marketing behind a mediocre reskinning that would get slammed if it were at Disneyland or one of the WDW parks. I have no doubt that the budget was minimal, with Imagineers forced to put lipstick on a pig (not to say Paradise Pier was awful, but it was certainly not the most cosmetically attractive land at DCA), but fans should not be singing their praises simply because they did "something" (and honestly this "something" SHOULD have been done 5+ years ago as part of DCA 2.0). I don't begrudge Disney for re-purposing and retheming attractions, but Pixar Pier looks cheap and tacky, and adding another reskinned flat ride on a pad that's been vacant for over a decade along with a rethemed carousel is not going to dramatically change what's ultimately a lackluster effort. Disney spent less money, and it shows, and if guests/fans accept this work as passable, Disney will continue to trim budgets and force Imagineers to do more work like this instead of blockbuster additions like Pandora and Galaxy's Edge.

I have no doubt that Disney spent tons more on Pandora and likely the Guardians retheme of ToT, but that should not excuse them from spinning this Six Flags-esque reskinning and publicizing it like it's the next coming of CarsLand. The presence of TSL at WDW should also not be an excuse for Disney to cut corners and over-publicize this phoned-in attempt to goose summer attendance. I don't hate, nor necessarily dislike what has been done here (it's a low-budget makeover of an area that needed a little more TLC than it received), but Disney is way overselling this. Sea World got in trouble for doing the same thing with Antarctica and got hammered, so just because it's Disney overselling a mediocre development should not garner a different response. The fact of the matter is that Disney can and should do better than this, regardless of the budget, conditions, and subject matter, and fans should reject cheap reskinnings like this, or they may become the norm, and CarsLans, Pandora, and Galaxy's Edge will be once in a lifetime additions.

June 25, 2018 at 1:26 PM

The only phrase I can come up with to describe Pixar Pier is "half-assed." It seems like all the full-time imagineers were on vacation, so they let a few interns design it.

June 25, 2018 at 2:01 PM


Though I'd be hesitant to use that language with Jack Jack running around. I guess it's a good thing he's stuck on the end of all those sticks.

June 25, 2018 at 2:15 PM

I think it is too early to judge. Currently, the whole park seems to lack a cohesive theme. Disney needs to pour a lot of money into revamping the Hollywood Land and Grizzly Peak into something that pertains to Disney, Pixar or Marvel, even a renaming of the park could boost attendance. Disneyland excites the imagination, while Disney California Adventure sounds like a place reserved for those with memories of California who want to be reminded of a time gone by.

June 25, 2018 at 2:57 PM

First of all, for everyone defending the ‘old’ Paradise Pier as somehow being a complete realization of a theme (turn-of-the-century seaside amusement park,) that’s insane. Before or after the major re-work of DCA, Disney never really completed this theme, leaving a lot of Paradise Pier in its modern drag.

With regards to whether or not Pixar Pier is a success or not, I suppose that’s up for interpretation. If we’re looking for Disney to deliver immersive experiences, than a slew of off-the-shelf carnival rides decorated in Pixar duds probably doesn’t cut it. If we’re looking for some minor improvements in décor and IP-related stuff, then it does. (And if guests attend the park and are happy with Disney’s meager investment in the area, then it’s a success for the company.)

At the same time, I’m reminded of something Bob Iger said in 2007:
"Any time you do something mediocre with your brand, that's a withdrawal. California Adventure was a brand withdrawal."

June 25, 2018 at 5:31 PM

Russell put it perfectly. In the preshow the Incredibles joke that the coaster is just an old ride slapped with a new theme. Great irony.

June 25, 2018 at 6:51 PM

It's an aesthetically unpleasant place, a flat ring of asphalt with zero shade and the sounds of the city roaring on the other side of the fence. Almost no amount of themeing is going to change the fact that everyone is rushing to ride their rides and get out of there before they burst into flame.

Couple that with the distance you have to walk for the rides that exist. The cost-benefit of walking over to Goofy's sky school is never an easy question. Or you could trek past the game/shopping alley that looks like it was purchased from Six Flags. It's a lame strip mall in the middle of a blazing-hot parking lot.

The coaster is passable, but Goofy's sky school is a testicle-busting, dilapidated tort waiting to happen. The swings. The slower, less interesting swings. The crap little kid parachutes that have a height requirement beyond anyone who could conceivably enjoy the ride. And poor midway mania, aka spinning Wii games from five years ago (on outdated screens).

It's like a death march across the sun from Ariel to the Ferris wheel. This re-wrap can't change that. All because they had to have a lake.

June 25, 2018 at 7:46 PM

Russel, Disney didn't spend hardly anything on GOTG retheme compared to the investment they typically put into attractions... which is probably why they thought this would work for Pixar Pier.

June 25, 2018 at 7:55 PM

Honestly... anyone saying there was a cohesive theme in that side of the park is lying to themselves. Did you see the old queue for the coaster? It did not look like an old coaster queue from the 1900's. It looked like Six Flags.

June 25, 2018 at 11:36 PM

The Pier is a perfect example of why it's important to do something right the first time. It's always been my least favorite part of any Disney park (maybe other than Chester & Hester) and never was as good as the intention. It has always felt out of place at DLR, even though DCA wasn't as well themed as it should have been when it first opened, the Pier took cheesiness to a whole new level and it seems no matter what they did to try and jazz it up just doesn't work. World of Color is a great attraction but other than that they could take out the whole Pier and I wouldn't care.

So does Pixar Pier fare any better? No...I mean, it's the same thing, so I don't have any difference in opinion about it.

June 26, 2018 at 2:21 PM

With Pixar Pier Disney had proved to everyone that it can deliver the lackluster design, vision and execution of a Six Flags Park. Pixar Pier amounts to a Pixar Hometown Buffet of imagery, characters and IPs thrown together with a defunct talent of Art Direction, placemakinng and storytelling. Pixar Pier is the equivalent of a nursery school making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs painted plywood cutouts and screwing it to their building and calling it an immersive themed learning environment. This land is full of low points, from the abrasive collection of architectural styles, crude graphics, and truly ugly family of kiosks, to the mid-century meets turn of the century coaster that sells both The Incredibles and the original style short. If this is the future of Disney, then we are all in for a shock as Imagineers mistake themeing for storytelling. This will be one story that has an ugly ending.

June 26, 2018 at 5:49 PM

As an 18 year-post Disneyland/WDStudio cast member, I was troubled to see that Disney's execs allowed such a cheesy re-do of the pier. It appeared to me that they rushed the opening. The changes on the Incrediacoaster are a joke, I felt like I was at Knott's Berry Farm or Six Flags?! Where's the Disney quality control? Walt must be turning over in his grave at what the new generation of Disney exec's has done to the high quality standards and experiences that Walt gave us.

June 27, 2018 at 11:48 AM

Considering the crowds that will be slamming Disneyland next year, it might have been wiser to raze Paradise Pier altogether and build Star Wars Land there. But then they had a huge investment in World of Color and would have had to (horrors!) change the name of the park again.

Barring that, I wish they had kept the theme of the Victorian pier and made it even more old timey. They could have put Mystic Manor somewhere and added a fun house/spook house attraction.

People like to be transported to another time and place, the pier could have been DCA's equivalent of Main Street. Yes I know, there's Buena Vista Street, but the pier was closer to the time period of Main Street.

Pixar Pier is more of a hodge podge, it's part old time pier, part mish mash of Pixar. I'm sure the Lamplight Lounge will be successful, but it remains to be seen about the rest.

One thing that screams 'carnival' to me more than anything else is the ferris wheel/Mickey's Fun Wheel/Pixar Pal-A-Round'. Even if it has a big Mickey face, it still doesn't say 'Disney' to me. To me, a ferris wheel represents all that Walt was against in carnivals. It's even more schizophrenic now, because Mickey doesn't belong in Pixar. I would have taken it out, but again, there was probably a big investment there.

June 29, 2018 at 5:31 PM

Disney didn't need their so called california adventure, they didn't need either paradise or pixar pier. they are simply continuing their story to become the priciest place on earth.

June 30, 2018 at 2:28 PM

ixe always wanted to go to disneyworid but sadly ill aiways need money

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