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Dancing cars turn Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters into a musical traffic jam

The new Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters debuting Monday at Disney California Adventure turns a rush hour traffic jam involving a fleet of 1950s-era vehicles into a choreographed dance routine of near-miss twists and turns.

The backstory for the new ride themed to the Italian tire shop owner from the Disney/Pixar "Cars" movies involves 20 of Luigi's automotive cousins visiting from Carsoli, Italy. While in Radiator Springs for race day, the cousins celebrate with dance moves inspired by Italian folk dances.

"This ride is all about surprise," said Kevin Rafferty, the Walt Disney Imagineering creative director for the new attraction. "You never know where you’re going to go."

The new ride replaces the beleaguered Luigi's Flying Tires levitating bumper cars ride that closed last year after a little more than two years of service in the Cars Land section of the Anaheim theme park.

The colorful cast of kinetic car characters in the new Luigi's ride is a vast improvement over the barely levitating grey tires of the old Luigi’s ride.

I test drove Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters on Tuesday and found the adorably cute cars to be as much fun to watch as they were to ride.

I rode Rollickin' Roadsters four times — in cars named Nicollo, Lucia, Sergio and Carmela — and do-si-doed with Elisabetta in the center of dance floor during my final trip.

Every car weaved, spun and jerked along a predetermined path that felt as random as a bowl full of spaghetti.

I had so much fun I wanted to ride on Rollickin' Roadsters all day long and wished when I was done I could drive one of the little cars home to my garage.

The new ride is a "jaw-dropping breakthrough" for Imagineering, the creative arm of the company responsible for conceiving and creating new Disney attractions, Rafferty said.

The vehicles employ a next-generation trackless system similar to the Ratatouille dark ride at Disneyland Paris, Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland and Aquatopia at Tokyo DisneySea in Japan.

Save for the new ride system, little has changed about the area behind Luigi's Casa Della Tires, located at the main intersection of Radiator Springs. Hub caps are still nailed to the fence, Italian bunting still hangs on the walls and pennant flags still fly overhead. Subtle changes in the ride queue include Carsoli travel posters. In the showroom, a new line of Danza dancing tires, "like music to your gears," has been introduced.

Dancing to five upbeat Italian songs, the new Rollickin' Roadsters travel along 18 individual paths with each car switching paths on every run, ensuring that each ride is unique. Some paths will take riders to the middle of the dance floor, where other cars will dance around them.

Moving forward, backward and sideways, the anthropomorphic cars twist, turn, spin and zigzag without colliding. At times, the cars roam freely about the dance floor in a chaotic blur of near misses that look like they might lead to minor fender benders or more serious t-bone accidents. At other times, the synchronized vehicles move in a “car-eographed” line dance or square dance.

Inspired by rear-engine micro cars like the Fiat Jolly and Autobianchi Bianchina, the Luigi family cars are manufactured by the fictional Frizzante car company — Italian for fizzy or racy.

Each of the chrome-trimmed Frizzante model cars have a slightly different look. Some have two-tone paint jobs, others pin stripes, a few have luggage racks. All of them sport tailfin tail lights, white-wall tires, beige bench seats, convertible ragtops and black Italian license plates (but no steering wheels). The 10 female cars have demure smiles on their front fenders and eyes in the windshields while the 10 male cars boast mustaches on their grills and toothy grins.

Rafferty said the new ride was inspired by the parties and dances thrown by his Italian mother in their Southern California backyard. One of the car horns was engineered to sound like his grandfather Vito’s laugh.

"This is like a little piece of my family," said Rafferty, a 38-year veteran of Imagineering. "I like to ride Vito because of all the memories it brings back."

All of the gelato-colored cars are named after Rafferty’s Italian relatives: The red cars are Salvatore, Vito, Tony and Lucia. The blue ones are Lorenzo, Giovanni, Pasquale, Elisabetta, Niccolo and Francesca. The green ones are Carlo, Sophia, Carmela and Isabella. The girls waiting to ride Rollickin' Roadsters may rush for the pink cars: Rosa and Gina. There are also two yellow cars (Angelo and Carina) and two orange ones (Sergio and Carlotta).

Toward the end of each 90-second ride the roadsters snap into a synchronized Rockettes-inspired routine before turning in unison to face the next round of riders waiting in line.

The new ride has the flexibility to add music and “dance steps” to freshen the attraction, with plans already in place to introduce new songs for the winter holiday season. 


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