Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Finding Walt’s DCA

Legend holds that Disney’s California Adventure was conceived on an executive retreat as a rebranding initiative that would alter the 50-year-old perception and meaning of the iconic “Disney” brand in the theme park marketplace. The usual MBA buzzwords, like “relevant and compelling” and “hip ‘n’ edgy” were bandied about in its creation, construction and marketing, a cynical attempt to create a second Anaheim gate that would appeal to people who didn’t much like Disney entertainment (such as the participating executives and their wives).

As we all know, the resulting DCA was stillborn, rejected by the general public, Disney fans, and even the anti-Disney elitists by and for which it was conceived. Poor Wolfgang Puck and Mondavi sat waiting for well-heeled patrons who never arrived - - as there was nothing much for them to see by any measure.

Neither truly inventive or risky, nor in any way traditionally warm and escapist Disney, the new park fell into a no-man’s land of marketing irrelevance, a generic Edsel merrily on its way to no where in particular. Tourists and locals alike went out of their way to avoid Disneyland’s ugly stepsister.

As the park was being planned, all efforts were focused on rejecting the “Walt” in Walt Disney. Hard won lessons of theme park design and layout - - sightlines and immersion, weenies and scenic vistas, art-direction and future planning, theme and detail, breakthrough technology and storytelling, surprise and wonder, even simple expressions of quality and beauty - - were left out of the equation. Such Imagineering notions were thrown out by change-agent executives as “old hat,” “traditionalist,” “purist”, unnecessary, irrelevant leftovers of a founder’s eccentric vision. There was nothing to be found in the “Disney difference” that would reflect current tastes or the retailing wisdom of Ivy League theory.

In DCA's charter vision, there would be no characters, no cartoons, no fantasy, no idealism, no screening out of the real world, and no escape from the commercial world of the now. DCA was a scheme for high return on investment, nothing more.

Traditional Imagineers issued warnings that throwing out the Walt would lead to DCA’s destruction - - but they may as well have been Jor-El confronting the Council during the death throes of the Planet Krypton. The traditionalists were ousted from the process. Creativity was not needed here.

Neither was Walt himself wanted. The film Golden Dreams tells the story of Californians who created state industry by honoring a pioneering filmmaker: Louis B. Mayer… not Walt Disney! The movie backlot is named for the colorless “Hollywood Pictures” instead of “Walt Disney Studios”!

The sharp-pencil boys would have to find out the hard way that indeed, old Walt was right. And so were his acolytes.

Five years later, much has changed. DCA is finally poised to embrace the Walt Disney traditions from which it was so tragically separated in infancy. Talk abounds of “placemaking,” redesigned entranceways and hubs, thrilling new attractions and scenic areas of beauty and relaxation, perhaps even weenies at the end of the streets.

But what is the central theme that binds these ideas into a greater whole? How does one integrate Walter Elias Disney, the man and the myth, into a rambling concept after-the-fact?

As new creators ruminate on how to recast the new DCA, they might do well to turn to the man who was rejected in its conception: Walt Disney.

The entire concept of DCA could be changed with the addition of a single signature building in the hub, one potent symbol that would compliment the 20th Century California and Hollywood themes and bring the spirit of Walt Disney home to Disneyland’s companion park.

Why not place a recreation of Walt Disney’s iconic Hyperion Studios at the hub of DCA?

With it’s classic Spanish-revival architecture and iconic neon Mickey Mouse/Silly Symphonies sign, the Hyperion building compliments the existing environment, and would herald to the public that Walt was finally invited to the party, that this park would now become a creative place where anything could happen, a magical studio from which to escape the dreary workaday world.

Maybe even Diane Disney Miller’s museum devoted to her father (currently planned for the Presidio in San Francisco) might find a more appropriate home in Anaheim, housed in this recreation of the Hyperion Studio. Even if this proved impractical, Walt’s offices, The Walt Disney Story, the now-Julie-Andrews-hosted One Man’s Dream film from WDW, all could find a permanent home at the center of a new Disney/Pixar Studios park.

And maybe Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, now returned to the Disney fold, could be the new DCA mascot to Disneyland's Mickey.

DCA could use Walt's DNA to find its heart and soul.


Anonymous said...

Wasn't DCA built years earlier. Let's see, what was it called… OH YEAH - South Coast Plaza.

Roger Alford said...

Interesting post. I'm fascinated by just what could be done with DCA, and this sounds like one of the best solutions yet. Especially since it's become a real mish-mash in an effort to save it, TDA just seemed to take the "throw anything at the wall and see what sticks" approach. I think pulling DCA into a cohesive whole would be a real challenge, and a name change should definitely be in the cards.

Anonymous said...

Here's a thought, Re-theme the Pacific Warf (which Walt' did want at Disneyland in the first place) to Pleasure Island. A place where all “lost boys and girls” can have fun. While we are at it why not call DCA, Walt’s place and theme the entire area to Walt's life or the things Disney did in his life time before Disneyland? Include the Alice cartoons, true life adventures, Oswald, and anything else not "Disneyland" to this place?

Anonymous said...

How does this sound? "Meet me at Walt's"?

Anonymous said...

Interesting idea -- especially when it comes to filling the re-created Hyperion Studios building with the Walt Disney Family Museum. I know that Diane Disney Miller and her family are deep in the process of establishing the museum in San Francisco -- a stone's throw from George Lucas' new Lucasfilm/Industrial Light and Magic campus at The Presidio.

Diane had looked at Los Angeles, Kansas City and a few other locations for it before deciding(?) on San Francisco. I know that she wanted to establish it as a FREE museum, supported by sales at its bookstore and cafeteria.

Would she be willing to let Disney Corporate take over her plans? Would she loan a corporate-run museum FAMILY heirlooms for permanent display?

In the improving culture at Disney Corp. she might -- but ultimately it should be the family's decision and not simply a corporate request for convenience sake.

The Hyperion Studios could also be used for a Great Disney Movies Ride -- beginning now with Oswald (thank you so much, Bob!) and continuing through the best of Disney's films -- animated and live action. Is this a Blue Sky idea?

Personally, I'd like the DCA addition to include a ride/attraction like this and let the more serious museum project stay in S.F.

Anonymous said...

Apart from its reluctance to dream, the part of DCA I always found most offensive was its refusal to acknowledge the contributions of minorities to the state of California - specifically Hispanics and Chinese.

(Yes, Golden Dreams does give these groups their props, but I think they deserve more - and better.)

Since Pacific Wharf is the area that features Mexican and Chinese food, perhaps some attractions could be added there, where the stage and beer cart are now? I'm thinking specifically of a Mulan attraction, some sort of "Mushu's Wild Adventure." And maybe that courtyard could be given a more festive Mexican feel, a la the Mexico pavilion at Epcot.

Now THAT would be California.

Anonymous said...

I remember well going to DCA in the afternoon of opening day. It was an absolute ghost town! After the month long sneak peek, very few showed up for the actual grand opening. If there were more people I probably wouldn't have so easily caught a group fro Imagineering
wandering throughout the park with the look of bewilderment on their faces.

P.S. After a visit to DCA, wasn't it John Hench who said "I liked it better as a parking lot?"

Anonymous said...

This is cool. I was there last May for the first time in DCA, and all I could think of was, "What a mess?!" Wandering with the family, we kept ending up at dead ends and attractions that were sub-par at best. I remember thinking at the time that the park had so much potential with the right people behind it. I'm glad to see that it's going to be getting some much needed attention.

Anonymous said...

I never understood the point of DCA anyways. If tourists have traveled all the way to California, why would they waste their time on a park that pays tribute to something that's a 30-minute drive away from being experienced in person? It's like having a Las Vegas-themed casino on the strip.

What they should have done is dusted off their old "Disney's America" concept rather than cannibalize it. At this point, though, it's probably too far gone to save. I'd suggest opening the whole thing up and making it part of Downtown Disney.

Anonymous said...

People would come to DCA if there were more compelling attractions like Tower of Terror and Soarin'. Both Knotts Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain has more (and better) off-the-shelf thrill rides than DCA's Paradise Pier, as well as a raft ride like Roaring Rapids. Other than that, DCA just has ToT, SoC, Monsters, and a couple of 3D movie attractions. Compare that against the number of attractions at Disneyland next door. A Hyperion Studios hub the only the most avid Disney geek would appreciate isn't going to make up for the two dozen or so unique attractions DCS needs to make peopel want to spend some time there.

Merlin Jones said...

>>A Hyperion Studios hub the only the most avid Disney geek would appreciate isn't going to make up for the two dozen or so unique attractions DCS needs to make peopel want to spend some time there.<<

These things are not mutually exclsuive but mutually reliant.

They need both the new attractions - - AND - - a context by which these rides can contribute to a larger vision. Disney doesn't do plain ol' Magic Mountain. The public expects more - a transformative themed experience.

It starts with Act I at the gate. A story is being told.

That's why no one came to see Tower of Terror at DCA. There is still no sense of place or context to this park. DCA never recovers from it's cluttered and cheesy first Act.

Klark Kent 007 said...

At least they didn't build a Disney's Florida Adventure, because that would be ludicrous.

Mmmm, swampy!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I just visited DCA for the first time last fall and I have to agree with most of the comments. The exception was the Talk with Crush exhibit. Now that was terrific! It was obviously the favorite among the youngest kids. I agree on the name as well. The whole idea of Disneyland is to be somewhere special and having California in the name pretty much pulls you out of that suspension of disbelief. Maybe DCA could become more of a storytelling park rather than a "ride" park since Disneyland has that covered.

pariartspaul said...

I think the Hyperion studios idea is a genious idea. But it's got to be done seriously, as the real deal with some class. And no, not just the geeks would like it. I think the entire public would appreciate it. They've got to stop treating the public like idiots! They would respect the company for honoring their roots and it could be really fascinating.

Follow it up with a major theme rethinking of all the other lands, add some new unique great attractions that the whole family could enjoy... and they just might have something there!

Anonymous said...

Cheers! Finally a story told that represents my own feelings on the bean counters that are to dry for this entertainment enterprise. Walt said play to the child in the adult. Gee boys it's worked for 50 years. Who the hell do you think you are? We are not Carnagie building steel mills here.

One more thing. Do you think Walt or Roy would like the NEW treeless central hub in front of Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World?
Bring back the trees and for that matter the Swan boats to ply the moat from tommorow land to the Swiss Family Treehouse.
It would be wonderful again.

Dan said...

> Wasn't DCA built years earlier.
> Let's see, what was it called…
> OH YEAH - South Coast Plaza.

Or Knott's Berry Farm, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

At least Knott's has actual rides and doesn't have snob appeal.

Dan said...

> At least Knott's has actual
> rides and doesn't have snob
> appeal.

Oh, don't get me wrong; I love Knotts. When I want a California themed park, that's where I go, not DCA!

Alithia Kimmel said...

I just love the idea of recreating the Hyperion Studios in DCA. Seeing as how a grocery store takes the place of where the studios once stood, it would be great to actually see it. And Oswald would be perfect, too. I think he would kind of confuse people who've never heard of him, because he kind of looks like Mickey with floppy ears and big, hairy feet. But it would be a great place to have him.

Anonymous said...

I love the Disney movie idea. Man oh man, would I love an "Escape to Witch Mountain" themed play area (like that creepy house in the movie), or a Petes Dragon sign along for my daughter, or an "Apple Dumpling Gang" ride.

That would be something to get excited about, plus it would push the old movies, which the shareholders might like, too. I loved those old movies, and I would love for my daughter to be excited to see them as well.

Adam Villani said...

The one weenie I like at DCA is that trompe l'oeil Hollywood Blvd. near the Aladdin show.

Pragmatic Idealist said...

Merlin Jones posted a thread in an on-line forum about this idea, and I elaborated upon it because devoting the entrance to Walt Disney has always made the most sense. The new park has to be an extension of Disneyland and establish some sort of dramatic unities with The Magic Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

I am not sur about the Hyperion building as Icon in the entrance of the park.

Wasn't this done already in Paris?

Although it sounds grand and probably looks good on paper, it makes the entrance of that park look generic and "been there done that"

The studio park idea has been done and it was a noble idea but it is not something that the resort needs. Leave that to Universal

Anonymous said...

I really like the ideas of using Oswald as the iconic character for DCA, and building the Hyperion in the hub.

I also think DCA needs a name change or some kind of theme shift.
Nothing major, just something as simple as 'Disney Studios' or something.

steve said...

Guys. I stumbled into this blog entirely by accident. I haven't been to the parks in 20 years. But I do remember the original one as a kid, and the feeling of wonder it gave me. And I think I know what Walt would have said.

"We don't want anything here that someone could get anywhere else. If it's here, it should be uniquely Disneyland. If it's something you can get somwhere else, we don't want it!"

The Hyperion Studio, if done right, would be great. But it must capture the same sense of wonder that the cartoons instilled in the viewers. That's hard for most to imagine now, but isn't that what Imagineers are for? To show us things we can't imagine?

ChristianZ said...

"I never understood the point of DCA anyways. If tourists have traveled all the way to California, why would they waste their time on a park that pays tribute to something that's a 30-minute drive away from being experienced in person? It's like having a Las Vegas-themed casino on the strip."

Well said. That's what I thought ever since I first heard of DCA. Except that I guess California is so huge (a lot huger than Vegas) it's hard to explore the whole thing. But does DCA really do a good job of encapsulating it? And is it even the right kind of theme for a theme park? The one time I was there I joked with my date about how every state should have a Disney theme park named after themselves. "Disney's Utah Adventure." "Disney's Kentucky Adventure."

Having said that I think they can still improve over time by getting rid of all the stuff that looks like it was stolen from a run-of-the-mill carnival and adding more Disney/Pixar goodness. I did enjoy the Bug's Life attraction.

ChristianZ said...

Since Pacific Wharf is the area that features Mexican and Chinese food, perhaps some attractions could be added there, where the stage and beer cart are now? I'm thinking specifically of a Mulan attraction, some sort of "Mushu's Wild Adventure." And maybe that courtyard could be given a more festive Mexican feel, a la the Mexico pavilion at Epcot.

I'd go for a Three Caballeros-themed Mexican restaurant.

Anonymous said...

From appx. 1999-2004 i made handshaped authentic surfboards for Disney to give away every year to Rose Bowl team captains/coaches etc. I also did some custom boards for regis/kathie lee, and a few stage show props as well. My background is in the surf industry. I founded a succesful surf co. and sold it to Quiksilver Inc. I have, for the past several years been musing, dreaming, brainstorming and outlining (imagineering?) an attraction that is authentic to the halcyon days of early So. California and truly relative to Disneyland's grass roots. It just happens to belong in they need it. It would appeal to hard core enthusiasts, purists and tourists alike. It could peak local interest and increase heavily repeat guest interest as well as pass scrutiny by industry naysayers and insiders. It would give Disney a clear category marketing edge from youth to yuppie corporate to child like oldsters, where normally they would appear uncool and or clueless to core enthusiasts in the attempt. It's authentic depiction of the category as well as passionate guest involvement in the attraction/story is inherent to the project. It is sensory, melancholy, spirited and joyful...."If you build it they will come".... The industry it represents is HUGE- worldwide and untouched by Disney. I grew up near disneyland and used to ride my bike there as a kid. I am 52 yrs. old and i get it… I hovered on the flying saucers, stormed Tom Sawyers Island in my p.f. flyers and watched fireworks every night from my yard... but I do not know whom to contact for advice in the creation of process that would lead to a succesful presentation attempt. Any help would be appreciated. Thx. Dave p.s. long live the backside of water....

Star Wars Fangirl said...

I've always been a huge fan of good ol' Disneyland. They have the best theming in the whole universe, and I can never remember school or pressing assignments or projects while I'm there. I'm transported to different worlds when I go which is why it's become like an addiction - I hate ordinary life but I would love to, say, go into a real Temple of Doom with Indy, or become a Jedi, or find pirate's treasure with Captain Jack Sparrow. Things that can't happen anywhere except Disneyland.
But DCA seems built to remind us of our normal lives. California Screamin' is probably the most horrifying thing there: a Disney coaster with absolutely NO theming whatsoever. It's like, "Oh, look. I'm on a track leading nowhere, with no purpose." The only rides I really like there are Soarin' Over California (look at that, more real-world stuff) and Grizzly River Run (nice enough, but kinda empty, in the end). This post has explained exactly how I feel, better than I could have ever explained it. I never really get Parkhopper tickets because I know I'll be wasting my money. A quick ride on Soarin' and then I'd be off riding Splash/Space/Thunder Mountain, Matterhorn, Haunted Mansion, Pirates, and boatloads of other attractions.
I recently opened up my maps of both parks and counted all the "real" attractions (excluding things like the trains [which are almost attractions by themselves anyway] and the monorail) in each park. Disneyland had 30+, and guess how many DCA had? Barely 20, and that's counting the rides that haven't opened yet.
DCA is Disney's second biggest failure. The worst failure to date would be "Disney" Channel, which shouldn't have the honor of being called Disney in any way.
Now in Disneyland they're taking High School Musical shows through the 20th century Main Street, which is killing the effect of the place for me. I hope Disney will get some sense knocked into them soon and realize that we're not pleased with the way things are going.