Disney California Adventure Park opened in 2001 as a salute to California’s fun-in-the-sun attitude.
But the 72-acre Anaheim park — featuring a roller coaster, Ferris wheel and seaside boardwalk area — initially failed to meet the potential envisioned by Walt Disney Co. and so far has drawn only about half the visitors as its older sister, Disneyland.
Now, California Adventure Park is about to unveil its latest effort to boost attendance: a makeover of the Paradise Pier boardwalk area that includes a healthy dose of characters from Pixar Animation Studios, a Disney subsidiary.
The media got an early peek Thursday; the public must wait to see the renamed Pixar Pier on Saturday, just in time to draw summer crowds.
Disney representatives said the overhaul was intended to enhance the old Paradise Pier’s theme, not reject it.
“We are about blending what we love about the seaside with the great Disney Pixar films,” park spokeswoman Mirna Hughes said.
As part of the renovation, the park’s roller coaster — once known as California Screamin’ — has been transformed into the Incredicoaster, a tribute to the animated superhero characters that are featured in the ride, taken from the 2004 Pixar film “The Incredibles” and the sequel in theaters now.
A team of Disney imagineers bolstered the ride’s classic thrills with some high-tech whizbangery to tell the story of baby Jack-Jack Parr running wild on the coaster while the rest of the family tries to catch him.
The tale is told through video, projections, sculptures and even a cookie scent piped into one of the coaster tunnels. The cookies are then available for purchase after the ride, along with new food offerings and merchandise tied to Pixar movies such as “Coco,” “Toy Story” and “Inside Out.”
Mickey's Fun Wheel, the giant Ferris wheel in the center of the boardwalk, has a new look, with each of the 24 gondolas featuring a different Pixar character. It’s been renamed Pixar Pal-A-Round.
The injection of Pixar characters will help draw in youngsters who grew up with the animated films of the last several years, said Robert Nile, editor of the website Themeparkinsider.com.
“Its appeal is to people who are familiar with the movies as opposed to the old-timey feel of the boardwalk,” he said.
Disney has been promoting the Pixar makeover since April with a Pixar Fest, which includes a parade of Pixar characters and a Pixar-themed fireworks show, both at Disneyland.
Pixar Pier brings with it all kinds of new merchandise. such as $25 “Toy Story” T-shirts and $22 mouse-ear hats adorned with alien or robot eyes. New food items include Señor Buzz Churros, Adorable Snowman Ice Cream and cake pops decorated with the faces of various Pixar characters.
Theme park representatives declined to say how much has been spent to transform the pier, but the upgrade has been in the works since January, when that area of the park was closed to visitors.
In addition to revamping the roller coaster and Ferris Wheel, the park has added new Pixar themes to the park’s restaurants and souvenir shops.
Disney is using the opening for a fresh test of the public’s appetite for paying extra for special perks. The park will be opened Friday to VIP guests who are willing to pay $299 for a six-hour premiere party that will include live music, free food, souvenirs and autographs from Pixar costumed characters.
California Adventure Park’s biggest upgrade came in 2012, when Disney spent an estimated $1 billion to add a 12-acre Southwestern-themed expansion with characters and scenes from the 2006 Pixar movie “Cars.” Attendance at the park jumped 22% to 7.8 million visitors that year, according to an estimate by Los Angeles consulting firm Aecom.
Disney isn’t done making improvements to the park. The Burbank media giant plans an expansion in 2020 that will feature superheroes from Marvel comics and movies: Spider-Man, the Hulk and Iron Man, among others. Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment in 2009.
But California Adventure Park isn’t likely to match the popularity of its neighboring park, Disneyland, which drew about 18.3 million visitors last year, compared with 9.6 million visitors for California Adventure Park, according to Aecom.
That difference in visitor volume is expected to grow next year when Disneyland opens its much-anticipated 14-acre Star Wars land, dubbed Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Construction of the $1-billion expansion began last year and is expected to feature two attractions, including a ride that lets visitors pilot the Millennium Falcon, the spaceship flown by Han Solo and Chewbacca in the movies.
Disneyland is already preparing for the crowds that will be visiting the park next year to experience the new Star Wars land. Park officials recently added extra blackout dates — thus cutting access — for some pass holders who want to visit Disneyland next year.