Stop the presses! Hold the phone! You’ve got mail! Disney’s California Adventure is getting a new parade … and we were invited to see the preview!
Our copies of Backstage Pass, the Disneyland annual passholder newsletter, arrived a few weeks ago with the exciting information that the Pixar Play Parade will be debuting on Friday, the 14th of March (today, as I write this). But on Thursday at 5:15 PM there will be a special preview for us (ahem) Exclusive Annual Passholders (which we Disney Insiders refer to as “APs”). We were personally invited by Mr. Steven Davidson, “Vice President of Parades and Spectaculars” for Disney Entertainment (and is that a cool job title, or what?). Well, nothing was going to keep us away from that, so at around 11:30 we piled into the car and hit the I-5, where traffic was fairly light except for one accident around Downey. We ate at Tiffy’s at the corner of Disney Drive and Katella with the Maliboomer visible out the window, and entered the parking structure at about 1:30.
… and of course we did other things until parade time, but I’m just going to skip all that (I’ll come back to it) and get right to what you, our faithful readers, are dying to hear about most, which is the parade.
We figured a 30-minute lead time would be about right to get a place with a good, unobstructed view, but as we entered through the postcard gates of California Adventure at 4:50 (we got delayed a bit watching the Flag Retreat Ceremony at Town Square) I began to worry a little. Sunshine Plaza was mobbed already, people sitting on the parade line and standing 5 and 6 deep behind them. We began hurrying—or what passes for hurrying for me these days, which wouldn’t worry a racing turtle too much—down the parade route toward Paradise Pier, where we had planned to plant ourselves, since the information woman at the kiosk had told us this parade would follow the same route as the Disney Electrical Parade, and would begin down under California Screamin’.
Not to worry. By the time we got to Pacific Wharf the crowds had thinned considerably, and at the bridge by the Jumpin’ Jellyfish there were even empty benches. We settled in to wait. There were so few people, in fact, and Lee looked so lonely standing by herself while I sat a little distance away, that a park employee grew concerned and asked her if she were lost. Possibly she feared this was an Alzheimer’s case. Her name was Amanda and she was from Thibideaux, Louisiana. Since we were from the same neck of the woods we talked Cajun food and where to get it (she said the Blue Bayou soup was awful and the rest of the menu was only adequate for people who had no idea what Cajun was really like, but Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney was good), and how much we didn’t miss humidity, mosquitoes, and hurricanes. Thanks for being so friendly and helping us pass the time, Amanda!
Well, 5:15 came and went, and no parade. Unheard-of! Disney events just don’t start more than about 60 seconds late, in our experience. 5:30, 5:35 … what’s going on? And then I began to hear music in the distance … but it was coming from the wrong direction. Either the information lady had misinformed me, or I had misunderstood her. This one was coming from the direction of Sunshine Plaza, and would end under the roller coaster. Which made Lee very happy, as that meant it would be coming into the sun instead of out of it, and she’s always worried about light angles.
She was also worried about water. The PA announcer had informed us that we might get a little wet (but it’s all in fun!), and Amanda had mentioned that, too, and Lee worries about water in the camera. I had visions of costumed characters hosing us down from whimsical fire engines.
And here it comes! First a little schtick from Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed critter from Monsters, Inc., and then the music starts and the parade begins to move by us.
They weren’t kidding when they named this after Pixar. Every single Pixar feature release is represented, all 8 of them, which means there are seven floats and groups of performers (Toy Story 2 used the same characters). So, I’ll give a brief description of the seven acts, and Lee will fill you in with lots of pictures:
ACT ONE: Cars
This is not actually what you would call a whole episode. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is sort of the Grand Marshall, and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) brings up the rear, which makes sense, since he’s a tow truck. Dancing around him are girls dressed as (and I didn’t figure this out until I got home and studied the pictures) those whirly things in drive-through car washes! They spray the car, and sometimes the crowd, with Windex.
So Cars has only token representation. That’s okay, the new “land” here will recreate the whole town of Radiator Springs. I do wish they’d had old Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) though, as I have a great affection for Hudsons, going back to my childhood, when they were our family cars.
ACT TWO: Monsters, Inc.
A lot of the more humanoid monsters are here, and hiding among them is the little girl that the plot revolves around, disguised as a monster. Then there are a lot of dancers. All up and down this parade there are a lot of dancers, and they dance strenuously. I figure they have to do that, non-stop, for about 40-45 minutes. Yikes! None of them were showing any signs of fatigue when they boogied past us, and we were near the end. Ah, youth. Of course, even in my youth I don’t think I could have exercised like that for more than 20 minutes without feeling like tossing my cookies.
Next was the first big float, a giant bass drum/one man band pedaled by Sully (John Goodman), that blue fuzzy critter that wouldn’t scare a timid mouse. I know what the folks at Pixar were thinking when they dreamed him up: Ewoks! Plush toys! Merchandizing! Hooray for product tie-ins!
Here was our first taste of the water we were warned about. It turned out to be fairly minor, though Lee had to wipe her lens a few times. What it was, was little jets on the floats that squirted a stream into the air for a second or two. About like being hit by a water pistol from a distance.
ACT THREE: The Incredibles
Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone riding on some sort of hovercraft, while Baby Jack-Jack rides on top of this giant purple tentacled thing which, I learned when I got home, is an Omnidroid 07. Fire erupts over the baby from time to time. Behind the big float are three seriously crazy dudes on those things you can strap onto your calves and feet that enable you to bounce so high … well, if Peter Dinklage (4’ 5”) strapped on a pair he could leap right over Manute Bol (7’ 7”) to slam dunk, okay? I don’t even know what they’re called. Can anyone help me out?
ACT FOUR: A Bug’s Life
Heimlich the hungry Teutonic caterpillar leads off. His segments keep coming apart and going off on their own. Then comes probably the biggest float, with acrobats swinging all over the place. And following that …
ACT FIVE: Finding Nemo
This was the biggest smash of the 8 Pixar smashes. It grossed a little shy of a billion dollars in theaters, and is the biggest-selling DVD of all time. Leading off are Nemo and his father Marlin (Albert Brooks), and the girl who stole the show, the blue tang called Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who could just about remember her own name, but little else. Then dancers dressed as jellyfish. Real nice.
ACT SIX: Ratatouille
But what’s this, tottering into view? It’s five dudes about as crazy as the pogo-shoes guys, walking on stilts and dressed as chefs. It’s the Ratatouille contingent. I gotta tell you, when I see people doing that it makes me nervous. Don’t they ever fall down? If so, they’d probably hurt themselves, and anyone they fell on. Most important of all, they might hurt me. I stayed at least two stilt-lengths away from them.
The float is a kitchen over-run by rats. There’s Rémy, the master chef, up front, and behind him are two huge rats on bungee cords. I can almost hear my mom’s pulse accelerating. She didn’t go see the movie. She hates even animated rats and mice, though I think she can deal with Mickey, who never looked like a mouse, anyway.
ACT SEVEN: Toy Story
Bringing up the rear is the movie that started the whole Pixar phenomenon. Here come the plastic soldiers, the three-eyed aliens, and … what the heck is that? Whatever it is, girls with green plastic hair are dancing all around it. Oh, I see, that’s Buzz Lightyear up in his spaceship. Lee didn’t get a good picture of him. Behind the ship is an overflowing toy box being pulled by Hamm, the piggy bank, and there’s ol’ Woody sitting on a tinkertoy. Up top, acrobats swing from a bar held in the teeth of Rex, the timid T. rex. Bo-Peep is dancing around on the ground. And hanging onto the rear is Slinky the dachshund, with his rear end trotting along, trying to keep up.
And there it is. Whew! Did I mention the bubbles? That’s probably because they don’t show up in the pictures, except in one of the bubble machines, which are spaced along the route on the poles with the lights and speakers. They started appearing somewhere around Act Three, I think. Bubbles all over the place! Very nice!
And so, what is our reaction? Is this worth your precious time at the Disneyland Resort? Lee and I both think so. We enjoyed it immensely. I think it will be a big hit. I didn’t like the music as much I as do for the Disney Electrical Parade (the all-time champ) or the Parade of Dreams. I found it a little frantic, and the songs that are interpolated into the main theme are not Disney tunes, but things like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” But that’s just me. It all has a driving disco beat. It’s just that I won’t walk out of the park humming it, like I do with “Baroque Hoedown.”
I have two suggestions:
1. More bubbles!
You can’t have too many bubbles. They should begin when the parade begins. Maybe they were supposed to, and they’re still getting the kinks out of the system. This was a preview, after all, though I must say everything seemed to go smoothly. (I wonder where they rehearse this stuff before opening day?) I’d add more bubble machines, or ones with a larger capacity. It should be a regular blizzard of bubbles. Contact the Lawrence Welk estate, they probably have some for sale.
2. Where’s Wall-E?
If you keep track of upcoming movies at all, you probably know that on the 27th of June (drum roll, please) Wall-E the adorable little robot will clank into theaters on his adorable little tracks, and become (no doubt) the 9th adorable Pixar monster hit. It seems to me they passed up a swell opportunity to get him some publicity by neglecting to have him bring up the rear of this parade. COMING SOON TO A THEATER NEAR YOU! WALL-E!!! I understand it’s a love story, and of course there will be other ‘bots. Disney/Pixar, if you haven’t already you should be getting a Wall-E float ready …
In my ongoing attempts to help Disney salvage something from the California Adventure, and with the upcoming make-over in mind … why not change the whole name and theme of the park? Call it Pixarland. It almost is already, de facto, and this new parade is just one more element. The only attractions over here based on Disney stuff are the Aladdin show, King Triton’s Carousel (currently not operating because it’s boxed in by new construction), the Ariel’s Grotto overpriced character-dining restaurant, and Playhouse Disney … and that one hardly counts for me, because it’s television, and not of my generation.
Contrast that with the Pixar stuff, not even counting the eponymous parade:
Monsters Inc., Mike and Sully to the Rescue
An entire “land”: a bug’s land.
Two other attractions are non-Disney themed: Muppet * Vision 3-D, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. (Disneyland has one Pixar attraction too: Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters.) And look what’s coming up:
A whole ‘nother land, Cars Land (which I think they should call Radiator Springs), which will have three major attractions and be much bigger than a bug’s land.
Toy Story Mania, currently building at Paradise Pier.
A Little Mermaid attraction, just about ready to go.
What they should do, because that is a Disney film, is build it in the virtually abandoned and almost totally wasted Carousel of Progress building in Disneyland, home of Innoventions (discussed later in this post), and put a WALL-E attraction in the Golden Dreams building.
And who knows what else? My Internet sources don’t have anything more to say about the California Adventure makeover, but I’ll keep on the alert.
So let’s rewind the tape a bit. There’s John and Lee parking the car, riding the tram, Lee’s purse getting searched, the two of them walking into California Adventure on the way to Paradise Pier.
First we stopped to watch a while at the Grizzly River Run. You can get right up to the long fall, and see the rafts go overhead on a leaky flume. When the rafts reach the bottom they encounter several little geysers and one huge one. The big one only erupts about half the time, so it’s the luck of the draw as to whether you’ll pretty much get drenched or not. The rafts pass right over the geyser, so you get it from both directions. I’m really looking forward to the summer, when this one will look appealing. Right now, it looks cold, even to me, and as for Lee … fuggedaboudit! I’m not even sure I can get her on it in hot weather. But they do sell cheap rain ponchos …
(Another idle thought: They need more mountains over here. This is the only one in California Adventure. Disneyland has four: Space, Splash, Matterhorn, and Big Thunder. Disney World has Expedition Everest. Why not build another coaster/mountain here? Returning to adorable little WALL-E again, he’s supposed to be the last functioning robot left behind to clean up the mess when humans left the trashed Earth, 10,000 years ago. I can see it now in all its teetering glory: Trash Mountain!)
(B TICKET) I was hoping to ride the Maliboomer, and maybe even convince Lee to go along, so we boarded the Jumpin’ Jellyfish, which is sort of a scaled-down version, for littler kids. Up in the air we bounced. Down we jounced. Up we bounced … a few more times, and then we settled down. “That’s it?” Lee asked. That’s it, my dear. So, how about the Maliboomer? How bad can it be? (I have to add here, just because it bemuses me, that every time I say Jumpin’ Jellyfish in my head I say it with a Swedish accent: Yumpin’ Yellyfish. And I’m not Swedish! Lee’s the Swede. I guess it could be worse, I might think of it with a Spanish accent: Humpin’ Hellyfish.)
On we strolled past lush flower beds. How many gardeners do they employ here, I wonder? How long do these beds of annuals last before they are pulled up and replaced with something else? We saw purple poppies mixed with orange ranunculus, and huge numbers of snapdragons. This being Disney, I was a little surprised they didn’t snap at us as we walked by …
(C TICKET) The Sun Wheel is a big Ferris wheel. You don’t realize quite how big until you get under it. Which you do by descending a concrete ramp until you are waiting beneath the level of Paradise Bay. But before you descend there is a choice you have to make. There are two types of gondola: stationary ones that stay at the rim, and rocking ones that move along a track from the outside to the inside, and back again, where gravity leads them. The line for the rockers was 15 minutes, there was basically no line for the others. Lee was very dubious about the rockers, so we decided to try the tame ones first.
You know how it is with Ferris wheels. A few cars are emptied and reloaded (three at a time, in this case), the wheel moves a bit, and 3 more are emptied and reloaded. This can all take a while. Then the wheel goes through a set number of revolutions, and they begin the process again. We were among the first to be loaded, so we rose in increments to the tippy-tippy top, where the view would have been excellent … except we were entirely encased in wire mesh. This makes it impossible to take good pictures, and even interferes with just enjoying the view. When did we get so dad-blamed safety conscious? I guess it was a gradual process. I’m sure not against safety—I wouldn’t want someone to fall out, or even to be able to jump out on purpose—but surely there is a way to prevent that and still give you a place to stick a camera lens through? Or Plexiglas?
Once it gets going … it’s a slow wheel. Very slow. We watched the moving gondolas going back and forth, and of course they get a livelier ride, but they never get to the top. That’s a drawback for me. And because it’s such a slow-loader, do you want to guess how many complete, non-stop revolutions you get to make? I’ll give you a hint: you won’t need both your thumbs to count them. That’s right. One rev, and the whole unloading/loading process starts again. The Sun Wheel won’t be getting my business again, on either type of gondola. (25-minute wait when we got off, and the line wasn’t even that long. Very slow loading ride.)
(D TICKET) In the end, I couldn’t convince Lee to board the Maliboomer with me. I wasn’t surprised; it looks pretty daunting. But there was no line, so I got aboard. Once more, this is a ride based on a carny pitch, this one for guys showing off for their dates by swinging a mallet and trying to send a clapper up a rail to ring a bell. The idea is, you’re the clapper. You lower a clear plastic shield and attach a strap to it. Then, if you are me, you realize you haven’t removed your hat … and you can’t reach it! I didn’t want to leave my hat stuck to the bell up above, so I managed to squirm around and get it off and into my hands. That shield? All I can figure it’s for is to protect the ground crew from descending vomit …
But you don’t really have time to get sick. I liked the quick ascent, and the quick descent. Didn’t like the first stop too much, then we were going up again. After four or five diminishing bounces you settle down and get off. Elapsed time, about 60 seconds. Now I can say I rode it, and I doubt I’ll ever do it again.
(A TICKET) S.S. Rustworthy, Presented by McDonald’s. Basically just a play area, with a few little water hazards, for very small tykes. We walked through and managed not to get wet.
We headed for the gate, thinking about trying the Autopia in Disneyland before the parade started. On the way we passed Jedediah Jones and the Miner 49ers just about to wrap up their act. We stayed a while. Jed sang a favorite of mine, “I’m My Own Grandpa,” something I first heard from Ray Stevens.
As we were leaving, Lee wondered what Walt would have thought of that song! He was rather prudish. I agreed … but then, as I thought about it, I realized none of the people in the song did anything incestuous or immoral. Marrying people greatly older or younger than you may be frowned on, but it happens all the time. I hope Walt would have been amused.
The line for Autopia was long, and the Fast Pass machines weren’t operating.
When you look under “shows” in your little Disneyland map, you will see Jedi Training Academy happening half a dozen times a day. I have seen it going on from a distance, and it looked like Star Wars characters dueling with light sabers. Ho-hum, not worth my time. I should know better. You have to at least give everything in Disneyland a try, you might be surprised. It was happening as we passed the Tomorrowland Terrace snack bar, and we paused to watch. What a blast! They get a couple dozen little kids, maybe five to nine years old, and put them in Jedi Knight brown robes and give them a light saber. Then they are one at a time (about 30 seconds each) coached by an adult Jedi to do battle with Darth Vader or Darth Maul. And let me tell you, the guys in those Darth suits have to be very skillful to let these little dudes win every match and not look too much like they’re tanking it. Then, defeated, the Darths and two Imperial Storm Troopers sink into the ground on a descending stage. All the new knights come up and get a hand from the audience. What fun that must be for kids that age. I’ll bet Darth Vader just looks really, really scary when he’s towering over you like that, urging you in his James Earl Jones voice to come over to the Dark Side of the Force. But one of the littlest guys ran up to the big black-robed dude and started hacking away, whack, whack, whack, and the hell with this parry and thrust business! The audience loved him.
(C TICKET) Innoventions is what they call a big exhibit area in the upstairs part of the huge round building on the far eastern edge of Tomorrowland. This is a duplicate of the GE Pavilion at the ‘64-’65 New York World’s Fair. Like so many of the acts at that last-of-the-totally-optimistic exhibitions, it celebrated technology, the future, a sunny tomorrow … Progress. It was even called The Carousel of Progress. You sat in a curved theater that revolved around a stage, bringing different settings and groups of audioanimatronic actors into view, skipping a few decades with each move. The end of each segment had the ‘bots singing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow!” I enjoyed this show very much in New York, and I can still sing the song, every word of it.
They recreated the show in California, and it ran for six years, then was replaced by America Sings, a really great show that closed after 14 years. (A lot of the “actors” in this show were moved to Splash Mountain. Waste not, want not!) For 8 years, it was closed, totally wasted as office space.
Now it’s 90% wasted on what I at first thought were hands-on science exhibits, like in San Francisco’s Exploratorium, but turned out to be nothing but video games. Stupid shoot-‘em-up video games, in one of the most imposing and potentially useful buildings in Disneyland! What on Earth are they thinking? The Carousel Theater (which I assume is still there in the imagination-starved wreckage) was an absolutely brilliant idea! A new show with an audience of 240 could load every four minutes, the lines just flew! Here is a location simply crying out for a major, major attraction, and they’re just letting it go to waste.
The one good thing in the building is ASIMO, Honda’s humanoid robot, and they don’t even do that well. ASIMO can walk, sidestep, walk backwards, climb stairs, and even run (sort of). I have some idea of just how incredibly hard that is to do, mechanically speaking, though of course a human 2-year-old can do it effortlessly. I see no practical use for the thing, not for a long time yet, but it’s a technological tour-de-force.
So what do they do? They present this fascinating robot with a very lame absent-minded-professor sort of narrator who is always getting video-phone calls from his family. As if that were anything new and revolutionary in 2008. (Ever heard of Skype?) This is just the very worst of ‘50s-style gosh-wow ain’t this amazing schlock. What they should do is have the show be all robots. A robot family, say, three or four of them. With a robot dog, maybe. And make it funny, for cryin’ out loud! Once more, guys and gals at Disney Imagineering, do I have to do all the thinking for you? Or maybe it’s Honda’s fault. All the exhibits here seem to be sponsored by some company.
As we filed out, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” was playing in the background … and I wonder how many other people noticed that? It just made me sad. This is the great big beautiful tomorrow of Tomorrowland? This “attraction” is an almost total dud, and has been a waste of space for decades.
Another show that happens only once a day, and which I’d never been around for, is the Flag Retreat Ceremony. It has happened every evening since the day Disneyland opened. The Disneyland Band, 15 strong, was marching out of a gate beside the Plaza Inn as we reached the north end of Main Street, so we followed along. As they approached the entrance they struck up “The Washington Post.” They were joined by the Dapper Dans, a barbershop group. I love barbershop harmonies. Then they started playing a medley of patriotic tunes, and the themes of the 5 service branches: “The U.S Field Artillery March” for the Army, “The Marine’s Hymn” (“From the Halls of Montezuma”), “Anchors Aweigh” for the Navy, “Wild Blue Yonder” for the Air Force, and “Semper Paratus” for the Coast Guard. As each song played, veterans from those branches stepped forward. They were mostly older men, but one young female Air Force vet was there. Soon there will be a lot of young female vets. More every day. It was all very moving. I, who didn’t serve, have the greatest respect for those who did. I wish we could have stayed to the end, but we had to hurry to catch the parade.
(B TICKET) After the parade I wasn’t quite ready to leave, and we were right there, and it had just re-opened, and there was no line … so we decided to ride the Golden Zephyr. This is Buck Rogers style spaceships hanging on wires that fly in a circle. Looks pretty tame. The reason it hadn’t been operating earlier was wind. Too much wind, and the durn rockets are apt to get to swinging too far. But frankly, there hadn’t been all that much wind earlier. Lee spoke to one of the ride operators, who told her that the ride is shut down about half the time. More bad California Adventure planning. Just behind us was a mom with her golden-haired daughter who was wearing one of those “It’s My Birthday!” pins. Her name was Addison, and she must have been two years old. The ride operator spotted her and handed her a flashlight, told her she was going to be our flight commander for this trip. When her name was called out she was supposed to hold up the flashlight. When the ride was over, we all thanked Addison and wished her a happy birthday. I don’t think she had any idea what was going on. Happy birthday anyway, Addison! Is that a neat name, or what?
This ride convinced me of one thing, and that’s not to get on the Orange Stinger. It’s right next door to this ride, and it’s one of those swing rides you see at carnivals, built inside of a giant orange peel. Rides that go in a circle have never been really good friends of mine, even in my prime ride riding days. I could ride roller coasters all day and not get queasy, and still do okay on them if I can wedge myself into the seat without pain, and I rode the 3-axis spinner at NASA’s Huntsville facility with no ill effects. As long as the motion is not repetitive, I’m okay. But get me going fast enough in a circle, over and over, and I can be in trouble. (Remember when you were a kid, spinning in a circle to deliberately make yourself dizzy? I do, and can’t imagine why I did it.) And I found that after about a half dozen revolutions on this kiddie ride, I was feeling a little uncomfortable. A long way from nauseous, but who rides rides to feel sickish? The Orange Stinger goes around a lot faster than this … and so it will have to go around without me.
One last comment, and it’s back to my real work. I mentioned Tiffy’s restaurant earlier. It’s always a good idea to eat outside the park, as the food inside is either not very good and overpriced, or in Downtown Disney, good and usually too expensive for our budget. Tiffy’s is a good place to reach a happy medium. The food is not fancy, standard diner food, but it’s good, and the portions are generous. We shared the 2-pork-chop lunch, which came with mashed taters and gravy, dressing, veggies, and a loaf of sweet cornbread, and paid for an extra side salad. Cost: $15.17, without beverage. Not bad for two people.
Okay, sorry, one more thing … The next day (yesterday, now, as I’m writing this) I went online to look for video of the parade to link here. I figured somebody there would be taping it (hundreds were, no doubt) and would post it on YouTube. Sure enough, several people had. But … what’s this? The date on one of them was March 11th. How can that be? This was supposed be a special preview for us (ahem) Exclusive APs!
Well, folks, I guess we got bamboozled. The parade didn’t officially open until Friday, the 14th, but there was obviously more than one preview. I’m guessing four, starting on Monday. I don’t know if the previous ones were announced or not, but if so, I guess there are people who are even more “exclusive” than us (ahem) Exclusive Aps. Who are these people? Guests at the Grand Californian Hotel? People who spend more than $1,000 per year on Disney souvenirs?
Oh, well. I’ll bet we saw it before you did, and now you have our report on it.
So now we’ll say ….
K-E-Y … Why? Because we like you!
March 24, 2008
© 2008 by John Varley; all rights reserved