Saturday, January 03, 2009

DCA: What Happened?

On July 17, 1996, the 41st Anniversary of Disneyland, excitement ran high in Anaheim as Disney announced a $1.4 billion expansion of “The Disneyland Resort.” Disneyland President Paul Pressler, who has since become one of the most hated execs of the company, touted that 55 acres of parking would be converted into an area that would celebrate the fun and diversity of California. According to this rendering, Disneyland looks positively dull and puny compared to what DCA was going to be:

This shaded (and crappy in quality) map shows what the new layout would look like space-wise:

The Grand Californian Hotel is one of the few things that didn’t look like it was done on the cheap—mainly because it was the first part of this expansion before the money really got reigned in.

Talk about forced perspective; this rendering really took liberties with the space when showing what the Grizzly River Run Attraction would look like:

Although the film itself was one of the highlights of DCA (which sadly wasn’t much of a compliment when the park opened), the attraction building for Soarin’ Over California didn’t turn out to be as elaborate as this rendering would lead you to believe:

Whatever the heck this was supposed to be, it never panned out either. The elephants at the entrance of the Hollywood area lost the whimsy shown here and became direct descendants of D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” set, and the Animation building became a hybrid of Deco and Moderne amidst a 1930’s street:

Compare with what actually got built:

And the best quality photo in the bunch is the one of Pressler himself...feel free to get out your ink pens to do your best Groucho:

I was given a tour of the restaurants when the park first opened; I was so disappointed in what I saw that I didn’t linger at all after the tour was over. The Hollywood area baffled me; the street with façades was such a waste. Buildings that did nothing; once the gag is realized (Oh yeah...they're just movie sets—wow!), the guest is left thinking, "Now what?!?" which is really what they should have called the original DCA: “Now what?!?" I was amazed that Disney was going to charge extra admission for it. In the back of the Hollywood area, there was a building that housed a number of vintage dining areas (Hollywood & Dine), themed after old nightclubs from Hollywood’s Glamour Era. The theming was actually pretty decent; however, the food court was your typical unoriginal crap that you could find in any mall. Another missed opportunity that was shutdown within a year. Soap Opera Bistro was another early casualty that lasted less than two years. Each dining room was themed to represent a different ABC Soap Opera set; the one picture here is Luke’s Night Club from General Hospital. Cute theming, decent’s too bad this one didn’t make it.

In the presskit, Paradise Pier was touted as a “nostalgic boardwalk where California’s beach culture will come alive with classic rides each given a unique Disney twist.” Sadly, there was no twist. This section honked me off the most, as it was the area that I felt screamed “sell-out.” Walt Disney went to great lengths to keep his park from being like all the other Amusement Parks. With Paradise Pier, the Pressler crew ignored that wisdom and bought every canned attraction that you could find at any cheap traveling carnival. I will give credit to California Screamin’; it is one of my favorite roller-coasters. Still, there was no friggin' Disney twist here.

The promo packet is extremely vague about attractions; the only ones really spelled out are Soarin', The Grizzly River Rafts, and the Animation Building, none of which really screamed innovation.

DCA became an expensive lesson to Disney and most likely cost Pressler his job. Pressler had success on paper by cutting back costs (reducing labor & maintenance schedules of the attractions) and pushing the in-house merchandise. A strategy like that is extremely shortsided, and when his practices carried over to DCA, the whole thing fell apart at the seams. Guests stayed away in droves and the lack of people even became a joke. In an episode of the cartoon "King of the Hill" DCA was suggested as the perfect hiding place because there wasn't anyone for miles and miles. Disney tried to do bandaid fixes to DCA by adding a few new attractions (Monsters Inc., Tower of Terror) and removing the really crappy ones (Superstar Limo), but eventually they realized that in order to "fix" the park and get an angry Anaheim off their butts, an overhaul was in order.

It was with great pleasure that I have been reading Disney’s announcements about the “new” DCA. Unlike the 1996 press release, Disney has been much more specific about what they plan to do here. New attractions (A Little Mermaid Dark Ride, the already opened Toy Story Midway Mania, Radiator Springs Racers), more cohesive and exciting theming (especially in the Paradise Pier area) as well as an entirely new land, Radiator Springs. The Red Trolley recreation is also something I am looking forward to seeing. Makes me wish it was 2012 already! Well...almost...

For those who can’t wait, you can always check-out the Blue Sky Preview Center over in DCA!

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Major Pepperidge said...

I sure hope that the refurbishment of DCA turns it into a park that compliments Disneyland, rather than shows how crappy it is in comparison. I am DEFINITELY looking forward to the Little Mermaid attraction, and am curious about the Toy Story Midway Mania ride (it has received very positive reviews). Radiator Springs has me less enthused, I didn't love "Cars"... the first Pixar movie that left me disappointed.

BUT... I am going to stay positive and believe that over the years DCA is eventually going to be great!

TokyoMagic! said...

Dave, I read your postings daily. I LOVE your photos, the information you provide, AND your commentaries....but WHY did you have to post such a horribly creepy photo of you-know-who???? I'm afraid that image is going to stay burned in my mind for a while....I will not be sleeping well tonight.

But seriously, remember when the original announcement was that we were going to get WESCOT? I listened to a presentation of what WESTCOT was going to be and it sounded absolutley incredible. Too bad we didn't get that. When they announced the switch to DCA, I lost all interest. Why did we get a California-themed park when we are IN California. I think it works great for WDW's studio park, because they don't have the real thing that close to them! We have the real Hollywood, Redwoods, Golden Gate Bridge, etc.....who needs cheesy replicas. Anyway, I know I'm preaching to the choir on this one.

Davelandweb said...

Yup - preaching to the choir is right. Disneyland is great because all of it dealt with fantasy and showed things that you couldn't really experience anymore (or things that were in the future). With DCA, if I want to see Hollywood, I'm driving there to see it, not a cheap re-creation. Putting the emphasis back on California when Walt arrived is a good idea, as it gives guests an experience that they cannot have anywhere else. So far so good. Sorry about the Pressler nightmares! True story: I once worked with a consulting group who was hired to check out our dining program. Really liked the lady I was working with, especially when I found out she'd been at Disney...until she told me she worked for Pressler and thought he was just the greatest. I bit my tongue (which has now healed) and kept my opinions to myself.

Katella Gate said...

The corpse of DCA has been picked over so many times there's not much left to autopsy - but I am pleased to kick it in the side one more time just for fun. (My analyst says it's good therapy).

DCA failed because of its conspicuous show of contempt.

Contempt for Walt: the entertainment principles he established and the qualities he stood for.

Contempt for the "Show": Pressler thought slapping the words "Disney" and "Magic" on any half-baked P.O.S. would generate a flood of easy money.

Last and most fatal: Contempt for the Guests: Pressler thought he didn't need to serve up Genuine Ice Cream - All he had to do was dish out Frozen Lard and you, the customer, would be too stupid to notice the difference.

I honestly thing DCA and its bastard sister parks (HKDL etc.)are a showcase for the utter betrayal of a company's loving fan base. George Lucas' Star Wars prequels, however, come in a very close second in a photo finish.