Welcome to Cars Land.
The themed land in Disney's California Adventure is downright rock 'n' roll compared with the rest of the Disneyland Resort. This is a place where country outlaw Johnny Cash and blues renegade Little Walter are as welcome as a tow truck named Mater and a race car dubbed Lightning McQueen.
Cars Land is Disney at its most electric, and the land is only getting more musical.
This week marked the introduction of Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters, an attraction that will give Cars Land two dance-themed rides and further heighten the musically festive atmosphere of the area. Luigi's also lends the Route 66-like space a more cohesive narrative.
Replacing the beleaguered, slow and difficult-to-control Luigi's Flying Tires attraction, Rollickin' Roadsters feeds into the party atmosphere of the land. The star of the area remains the high-speed, light-thrill ride Radiator Springs Racers. It's an attraction filled with many talking audio-animatronics, and it builds to a climactic race, an event that frames the entirety of the land.
Leading up the big marathon are numerous places to get a groove on.
"In celebrations, what do you do? You party and dance," says Kevin Rafferty, the Walt Disney Imagineering creative director for Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters. Well, and drink. Thankfully, there's craft beer on tap at the local diner.
"It's festive. We're celebrating race day in Radiator Springs, so it's party time."
While Disneyland's recent shift to variable pricing — which will raise the cost of tickets to as high as $169 for multi-park passes on some days — certainly isn't a tune most consumers want to be singing, Cars Land has managed to carve out a niche as a silly symphony with guitars and a whole lot of dancing.
Rollickin' Roadsters importantly replaces a drab attraction. Where there were once bleak tires, now there are colorful, jovial and swingin' cars — for here are brightly painted '50s-style Italian minis. Some are outfitted in white racing stripes, one still has a suitcase on its back complete with bumper stickers from Italy and Egypt, and all have glistening, chrome detailing.
"Tires are kind of gray. They don't have personality," Rafferty says of the attraction that used to reside in the Rollickin' Roadsters space.
Anthropomorphic cars, however, are a different story. Some cars, the men, have mustaches. Some have different colored eyes. All have sporty tail fin lights. The cars have such names as Francesca or Lorenzo.
The ride is trackless, meaning vehicles don't follow a traditional fixed path, and instead perform relatively complex dance choreography modeled after the Italian dance the tarantella (Rafferty can't help himself and instead calls it the tire-n-tella).
From afar — the line queue, for instance — one can see the twists and do-si-dos of the dance arrangements. Inside the cars, riders let the vehicles take over and the minis will zip around the rink, occasionally turning to face a partner in another car.
As someone prone to motion sickness (Star Tours, for instance, is an impossibility for me), I was nervous that Rollickin' Roadsters would twirl one too many times. But the ride isn't fast. While Luigi shouts out cheery sayings that relate love and music, it can feel as if you are giving up control to a dance partner, albeit a rather dominant one. There's no wheel to trick guests into thinking they have a sense of power; it's entirely the cars in command.
"This attraction is not about speed. It's not about thrill. It's not about repetition. This attraction is all about surprise," Rafferty says. "You never know where you're going to go next."
That's actually how I feel when I'm on a dance floor of any sort, but with no defined track for guests to focus on, Luigi's does carry a sense of unpredictability not found in other spinning rides. Here, it's the tune that guides you, and at times the cars feel as if they're gliding across the floor. The tires don't move, but I imagined the vehicles skidding to a stop.
Some Disney aficionados may bemoan that Cars Land now has two dance-themed rides; I was among this crop at first, hoping instead for a more detailed Fantasyland-style ride that would slowly bring guests into a different part of the Cars universe.
I still might have preferred that, but on recent trips to Disneyland I've found myself spending the bulk of my afternoons in Cars Land. This isn't because I'm a fan of the movies (I'm not), but because Cars Land increasingly feels like one giant dance floor with a well-curated jukebox.
Hang out near Flo's V8 Cafe, for instance, and you'll enjoy blues and early rock 'n' roll tunes. It's still a fantasy, but one that's more recognizable and closer to home. It's the real world, but in a setting that's just twisted enough (talking cars!) to feel anything but.
The roadside Route 66 framework makes Cars Land feel complementary to Main Street USA next door, and the personified automobiles give it a futuristic gleam. If the machines ever take over, maybe they'll just want to air guitar.
Cars Land, then, more so than other parts of the Disneyland Resort, seems to celebrate weirdness and individuality, tenants key to popular music. There are traditional Italian dances, country square dancing and a full-on electronic-meets-rock 'n' roll dance freakout in the streets. Embrace the song you want to be.
The longstanding Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, argues Rafferty, is a "different flavor of music." It's country-ish — mostly. Pay close attention while you wait in line and the "Heavy Metal Mater" sign will make it clear Mater doesn't discriminate when it comes to genre.
More, let's say adult-focused, is DJ's Dance-n-Drive. Here, women in tight shorts and ever-so-slightly revealing skirts are throwing a dance party for a car. The car — a mischievous blue devil with a no-good spoiler — seems happy as the upbeat electronics of LMFAO create the atmosphere of a club circa 2012.
This car, DJ, has a horn, and he's not afraid to honk it: At one point the music stops and one of the women — maybe the one sporting gas-station-attendant attire or the one donning a swirling, '50s waitress dress — fills the audience in on what just happened: "I think we set off your car alarm!"
It's safe to say that we're a long way removed from "It's a Small World." But like rock 'n' roll, Cars Land has just a hint of an anything-goes attitude. After all, as Rafferty says, "music is all about emotion and feel."