As workers put the finishing touches on Disney’s California Adventure, the new theme park next to Disneyland in Anaheim, Barry Braverman marveled at what has emerged on the Magic Kingdom’s old asphalt parking lot.
Braverman led the Disney design team that developed the 55-acre park, which will have its grand opening Feb. 8. (Some members of the public, including Disneyland partners and annual pass-holders, will be visiting starting Tuesday.)
Only 5 1/2 years ago, a theme park celebrating California’s unique cultural and natural resources was no more than an idea that surfaced in brainstorming sessions with several dozen Imagineers and attractions executives during a three-day retreat in Aspen, Colo., with Disney Chairman Michael Eisner.
Site preparation and dirt moving began about 3 1/2 years ago, and vertical construction began only a little more than 2 1/2 years ago.
“It’s just been go-go-go from Day One,” said Braverman, 52, senior vice president and executive producer of Walt Disney Imagineering, the design and engineering division of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.
California Adventure is the centerpiece of a $1.4-billion expansion of what is now called the Disneyland Resort. Included in the expansion are the deluxe 750-room Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, which sits on a corner of California Adventure and has its own park entry for guests; and Downtown Disney, a public retail, dining and entertainment center that links the two theme parks and the three Disneyland Resort hotels.
California Adventure, which has its own distinct identity separate from the 45-year-old Magic Kingdom’s, is divided into three main theme areas: Paradise Pier, a nostalgic California beachfront amusement section; Hollywood Pictures Backlot, a district inspired by Hollywood Boulevard and the movies; and the Golden State, a more sprawling area devoted to the people, natural beauty and industries of California.
The new park has 22 shows, rides and attractions--the same number Disneyland had when it opened in 1955 but far fewer than the 63 the Magic Kingdom now boasts on its 85 acres. Admission prices for both parks, however, will be the same--currently $43 for adults and $33 for children 3 to 9. California Adventure alone cost $1.1 billion, according to Anaheim city documents. Disneyland cost $17 million to build in the 1950s--that would be $109.3 million today when adjusted for inflation.
Although California Adventure has a number of highly anticipated rides and attractions, such as the California Screamin’ roller coaster and a flight simulation ride over the Golden State, the new park has already received criticism from some Disneyland die-hards for offering fewer E-ticket rides and attractions, because of budgetary restraints, than its sister park.
“Being a stone’s throw from Disneyland and the only other Disney park in California, it’s naturally going to be compared to Disneyland, in many cases unfavorably,” says longtime Disneyland watcher David Koenig, author of the “Mouse Tales” books, which offer unauthorized backstage looks at the Magic Kingdom.
Koenig added, however, “I think there’s going to be more good reaction than bad reaction because California Adventure is a brand-new Disney park, with the Disney underlined. That’s the main thing, and I’m sure it will be beautiful. I’ve spoken with [employees] who have previewed some of the attractions, and they have good things to say about some of them, so California Adventure will certainly be fun and nice to see and different.”
As final work continued and rides were tested in December, the bearded Braverman--clad in blue jeans, a denim jacket and a brown hard hat identifying him as an Imagineer--led a personal tour of the new park, providing insight into its design and creation.
“We looked at a bunch of different ideas during those three days in Colorado,” he recalled, as he headed to the California Adventure entrance across from the entrance to Disneyland. “I think what appealed to Michael [Eisner] about California was he saw an opportunity to do several different things he was interested in doing"--the movies, a nostalgic take on the beach, and the workplace.
“At a very high-concept level, he just felt, ‘This really feels like it could be something,’ ” said Braverman. “I will say that once we got back and started working on it, he was very clear about [saying], ‘Don’t hesitate to tell me if this is a bad idea.’ He said, ‘You guys, don’t just yes me. As you work on it, if it doesn’t feel strong, please let me know.’
“Of course, as we started working on it, it felt very strong. We were able to do a lot with it.”
Visitors approaching the California Adventure entrance are greeted by 11 1/2-foot-high gold-tiled letters spelling out “CALIFORNIA.”
As they walk between the letters, they’ll see looming up beyond the entrance turnstiles two massive murals made of more than 10,000 individual pieces of glazed ceramic that depict familiar California scenes. The murals are linked by a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, under which guests will walk as they head toward the Sun Plaza and a large metal sun sculpture above a fountain topped with a breaking wave.
“The idea here was to set up the notion of stepping into a three-dimensional postcard of California,” said Braverman. “We wanted to be very graphic and very bold about our attitude that this is a park that is not subtle: It’s very in-your-face in terms of its style and presentation.”
The layering of different elements is typical of California Adventure, said Braverman, heading down the walkway toward the Sun Plaza.
“It’s a very open park, and the reason for that was we thought it fit the subject matter. We thought that California is so inclusive--you’ve got everything from a Spanish mission next to a big doughnut drive-in--and we wanted to capture that eclectic feeling.”
The sense of arriving in the Golden State continues in the Sun Plaza, from which visitors will head to the different areas of the park.
The focal point of the plaza is the 50-foot sun sculpture clad in titanium, which produces iridescent colors when sunlight hits it. Because the icon faces away from the sun, six heliostat towers--computerized mirror systems--have been designed to track the sun and bounce solar rays onto the icon.
“As long as there is any sunlight out at all, this thing will be glittering and shining, and with the wave breaking under it, it’s going to be a neat, romantic kind of image,” said Braverman.
“When you look at the rest of the plaza, you see that we’re setting up this kind of vocabulary of using icons and symbols that are important to California’s heritage to help tell our story.”
On one corner is a mission-style train station tower inspired by the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego and a full-size locomotive with replica cars from the California Zephyr, which was one of the major trains that once brought people to California.
The streamlined train’s silver cars serve as the entry into a building containing a toy store, a bakery and an ice cream shop.
On the opposite corner is Greetings From California, a large merchandise shop whose architecture is modeled after the ‘30s-vintage Crossroads of the World shopping plaza in Hollywood.
“The whole idea is that we’re celebrating the dreams of California--the special qualities that draw people here--and so we’re trying to take and three-dimensionalize each of those qualities,” Braverman said, now heading left to one of the park’s three major areas.
“One of the big things that’s special about California is that this is where the movies and television and media originate from, and people are fascinated by that, so that led to us wanting to create Hollywood Pictures Backlot.”
Hollywood Pictures Backlot
The entrance to this fanciful vision of a studio back lot is a grandiose gate that, Braverman noted, is based on a real piece of Hollywood history: the giant outdoor Babylon set from D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic “Intolerance.”
The towering gate sets the tone for the area’s stylized Hollywood Boulevard, whose facades reflect L.A. architectural landmarks such as the Pantages Theatre and Bullocks Wilshire.
At the foot of the boulevard on the left is Gone Hollywood, which Braverman describes as “our take on the ultimate Hollywood souvenir shop.”
On the right is the ABC Soap Opera Bistro, one of three restaurants with table service in the park and one of a handful of locations where alcohol will be served--a theme-park first for Disney in Anaheim, except for the private Club 33 in Disneyland.
“Let’s take a peek,” Braverman said, entering the restaurant, whose exterior is modeled after the old ABC Radio building in Hollywood. Inside are re-creations of sets from “General Hospital,” “All My Children” and other soaps.
“The idea is you’re dining in sets from ABC daytime dramas and the wait staff is playing typical soap opera characterizations--the heiress, the amnesia victim--and you’re sort of getting involved in the story lines,” said Braverman.
Hollywood Pictures Backlot offers four major attractions:
* The Hyperion Theater: a 2,000-seat Broadway-style theater featuring “Steps in Time,” a live musical dance production based on award-winning Disney music from live-action and animated films.
* Superstar Limo: a tongue-in-cheek black-light fantasy ride through Tinseltown, with passengers treated as though they are the just-arrived pampered new Hollywood stars.
* Jim Henson’s Muppet Vision 3-D: a 20-minute 3-D romp with Kermit, Miss Piggy and company that incorporates audio-animatronic characters and special effects, a replication of an attraction at the Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida.
* Disney Animation: a multi-attraction look at the art of animation. Housed in a 40,000-square-foot building that takes up an entire block of the boulevard, it is Hollywood Pictures Backlot’s most ambitious attraction.
Visitors enter through the Courtyard Gallery, a cavernous room whose walls are covered with different-sized screens showing a continuous 22-minute looping presentation of film clips and still images of sketches and background paintings from classic Disney cartoons. From there, guests move into three interactive showrooms (in one, they’re invited to put their voices into a scene from a Disney animated film). There also are two small theaters, one of which features a live actor starring as a Disney animator who reveals the secrets of animated character development with the help of Mushu, the funny little dragon from “Mulan,” on a large screen in his oversized office.
Leaving Hollywood Pictures Backlot, Braverman said guests have a choice of taking the walkway to Paradise Park via portions of the Golden State theme area or going to Condor Flats. He chose to head back across Sun Plaza to Condor Flats, one of a handful of sections within the Golden State area.
Depicting a high-desert test pilot’s landing field with hangars and vintage artifacts, Condor Flats tells the story of California’s aviation history.
“The big ride here is called Soarin’ Over California, which was invented especially for this park,” said Braverman, leading the way into one of the two identical Soarin’ Over California theaters.
The ride uses a huge new lift system that places 87 guests at a time within an 80-foot, half-dome-shaped movie screen.
With their feet dangling, their seats moving back and forth and wind blowing in their faces, guests feel as though they are literally soaring over a dozen Golden State locales. Adding to the realism: the scent of pine trees, orange blossoms and ocean surf.
With high-definition images produced by shooting and projecting the 70-millimeter film at 48 frames per second rather than the usual 24, Braverman said, “we were able to get incredible footage at all of these locations and we staged each shot, so there are special things. For example, in our Napa Valley shot, we have a hot-air balloon regatta going on. At Anza-Borrego State Park, we arranged to have F-15s fly by. When we go to San Diego Bay we go by an aircraft carrier and all the guys [on board] wave.
“I think this will be one of the big ‘wows’ in this park.”
From Condor Flats, it was on to the next section of the Golden State area, where the topography changes from the high desert to the High Sierra.
Grizzly Peak Recreation Area
Through a faux mountain-scape whose 110-foot peak is shaped like a grizzly bear runs a white-water rafting ride called Grizzly River Run, or GRR for short.
Disney is billing it as the world’s highest, longest and fastest river-raft ride.
The ride features two major drops: a 14-foot drop and a final 21-foot drop, in which the eight-passenger rafts descend while they are spinning.
The nearly six-minute ride also goes through caves, has a near-miss over a waterfall and goes through a geyser field. “It’s very fast and just really fun--and you will get wet,” said Braverman.
“Everything in here is really meant to conjure up memories of California national parks,” he said, passing by the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, which includes three ranger fire towers with smoke-jumper cable slides, net climbing and swaying bridges.
“Now we leave the High Sierra and we come into San Francisco,” Braverman said, turning down a short street flanked by Victorian houses.
The Bay Area
The Bay Area includes a 145-foot-tall replica of the Rotunda of San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts in a beautifully landscaped garden and the Art Deco-styled 350-seat Golden Dreams Theater, which will present a 22-minute motion picture that tells the story of the immigrants who made California what it is.
The star and storyteller is the fictional Queen Califia, played by Whoopi Goldberg, who journeys back in time to meet with the original Native American inhabitants of the state, the Spanish missionaries, the forty-niners, the Chinese who helped build the railroad--on up to ‘60s hippies and today’s immigrants.
“We’ve re-created scenes in each of those periods to find out, why did you come here? What were you dreaming about? What did you find when you got here? So it’s a very moving show,” said Braverman, turning to face Paradise Bay and California Adventure’s third main theme area.
Inspired by Pacific Ocean Park, the Pike and other beachfront amusement parks, Paradise Pier is California Adventure’s most high-energy and, for many, most anticipated area.
“We wanted it to have kind of a nostalgic look back on the golden days of theme parks, but we also wanted to utilize state-of-the art technology for everything,” Braverman said.
Dominating the Paradise Pier landscape is the California Screamin’ roller coaster, which catapults six-passenger cars from 0 to 55 mph in four seconds and sends them soaring around a 360-degree loop inside a huge Mickey Mouse silhouette.
The ride, which has on-board audio featuring a specially composed music track, is “almost three minutes long, which is extraordinarily long for a coaster,” said Braverman. “It’s got over a mile of track and it’s just fun, fast and smooth--really a perfect coaster for our land.”
Three other major rides sit in Paradise Pier. The Sun Wheel is a 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel featuring gondolas that slide back and forth on tracks as the big wheel revolves. The triple-towered Maliboomer catapults riders 180 feet in two seconds, then sends them back down, bungee-style. And the Orange Stinger is a giant, partially peeled orange containing buzzing bumblebee swings suspended on chains from a central tower.
Overlooking Paradise Bay is Avalon Cove Seafood, a King Neptune-themed restaurant that will be operated by Wolfgang Puck. On the other end of the dining spectrum--out on the Paradise Pier midway--is Pizza Oom Mow Mow, a small pizza restaurant decorated with surfing memorabilia.
Northeast of Paradise Pier is a section of the park inspired by Monterey’s Cannery Row.
“Remember, I mentioned this notion of the California workplace: how California products are made? So this is where we invited specific California companies to do their manufacturing right here in the park and let the guests see it,” said Braverman.
Visitors can watch sourdough bread, tortillas and fortune cookies being made. (“Believe it or not,” Braverman said, “the fortune cookie was invented in California.”)
Then there’s the Golden Vine Winery, hosted by Robert Mondavi, which boasts a vineyard of 350 growing grapevines and a mission-style building where guests will learn about the winemaking process, shop, dine and samples wines.
Braverman said this part of the Golden State area reflects Eisner’s longtime fascination with the workplace and seeing how things are made. “In fact,” Braverman said, heading to the final portion of the tour, “this whole farm idea was his idea.”
Bountiful Valley Farm
Celebrating California’s role in agriculture, the one-acre farm has actual growing areas.
“We have real citrus fruits and avocados and date palms and row crops and all kinds of different California produce,” Braverman said.
The farm area also includes a tractor yard, the Irrigation Station (an interactive water play area built out of irrigation equipment), a gardening shop, date shake stands and a farmers market that hark back to rural roadside California.
And then there’s the adjoining 425-seat Bug’s Life Theater, which will present the 3-D “It’s Tough to Be a Bug,” a replication of an attraction at Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
“As they queue for this show, they go increasingly down into the earth, so by the time they enter the theater they are in an underground cavern built by the insects,” said Braverman. Along with the 3-D movie, “there are audio-animatronic figures and things that happen to you in your seat. It’s a very in-your-face kind of show.”
“And that’s it,” he said, tour concluded.
For Braverman, who has spent most of his 23-year career with Disney Imagineering working on projects for the Epcot park at Walt Disney World, leading the design team for California Adventure has been a career high.
“To have an opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper and conceive of something and then have it built in a five-year period and to have the kind of creative resources to work with--the artists and technical engineers and designers--it’s just incredible.”