Disney is counting on a new collection of kids' rides to draw more visitors to its troubled California Adventure theme park. Unfortunately, Flik's Fun Fair provides yet another example of the half-baked development that's made the rest of California Adventure so disappointing.
Flik's Fun Fair is made up of four dressed-up kiddie rides in the re-christened A Bug's Land section of California Adventure. (Not to be confused with that other local Bugs land for kids, the one named for Bugs Bunny at Six Flags Magic Mountain.) In fact, Flik's Fun Fair will look mighty familiar to any kid who's spent time at Magic Mountain's Bugs Bunny World or Camp Snoopy at Knott's Berry Farm. Actually, the Sierra-themed Camp Snoopy would fit better within this park's alleged California theme.
There's nothing unique to the Golden State in this land, which serves up Heimlich's Chew Chew Train, a short tram ride through oversize morsels of food; Tuck and Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies, perhaps the world's slowest bumper car ride; Francis' Ladybug Boogie, a spinning teacup-style ride; and Flik's Flyers, a Dumbo-like ride in faux hot-air balloons. There is also a small water play area, where kids can run through and around leaping streams of water.
Parents should note that the bumper car ride has minimum heights of 42 inches to ride and 48 inches to drive alone. Which should create some awkward moments when 4-year-olds who are tall enough to ride roller coasters such as the Matterhorn and Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland are told they can't ride the much tamer kiddie bumper-car ride at California Adventure.
Each ride in Flik's Fun Fair is named for characters from Pixar's animated film "A Bug's Life." Indeed, the entire area is designed to look like a scene from the film, with visitors reduced to a bug's size. Giant stalks of green clover tower over the land, establishing the visual theme while also providing much-needed shade in this relatively treeless theme park. Lampposts are made to look like drinking straws, and the benches are made to look as if they were built from frozen fruit pop sticks.
And yet, the illusion never convinces. None of the four young children I brought with me to a preview day understood that they were supposed to be bug-size, even after it was explained to them. Their confusion is understandable. The scale is not consistent--the clover towers over the drinking straws, which are unusually larger than the pop sticks. Worse, there is no transition into this diminutive land from the surrounding park. My most indelible memory of Disneyland as a child is getting shrunk to atomic size in the old Adventures in Inner Space ride in Tomorrowland. Riding through that giant microscope, I was convinced that my body had been shrunk to infinitesimal size.
How wonderful it would have been for Disney to re-create such an experience at the entrance to this land. For those who have not seen "A Bug's Life," Flik is an ambitious ant who is always inventing new contraptions to make life better for the hard-working ants in his colony (with unintentionally amusing results, of course).
Why not have visitors walk through some invention designed to shrink them down to an ant's size, so they can help Flik and his friends save the ant colony? It would have set a whimsical tone for the area and given a visit a sense of story and purpose. It also would have been the type of ingenious detail that the Knott's and Six Flags kiddie lands lack--and that once distinguished Disney parks.
Will kids have fun at Flik's Fun Fair? Sure. The piped-in watermelon and animal cracker smells on Heimlich's Chew Chew Train elicited laughs from my 5-year-old daughter. And the surprisingly brisk pace of the flying balloons at Flik's Flyers pleased her friends, twin boys from kindergarten class.
But it's telling that it was the simplest element that left kids with the widest smiles-- getting soaked in the water fountains. Kids will enjoy the simple rides in Flik's Fun Fair, but a theme park that charges $45 for adults and $35 for kids 3 to 9 needs to deliver much more. (And don't forget the $8 parking fee and $2.75 bottled waters and soft drinks.) Save your money, and find a great playground instead.
Disney corporate lore says that Walt dreamed up the idea for Disneyland while watching his daughters ride the carousel at Griffith Park. Today, a few steps from that same carousel, stands Shane's Inspiration, a cleverly themed, disabled-accessible playground that has provided my children--and thousands of others--with many more hours of creative, exhausting fun than Flik's Fun Fair ever will. And it doesn't cost a dime.
Perhaps Disney's management should take a walk in Walt's footsteps, and pay a visit sometime.
"Flik's Fun Fair" at Disney's California Adventure. 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. Opens Monday. $45, adults; $35, ages 3 to 9; younger than 3, free. (714) 781-4565.