Disney California Adventure: A peek into what the future may hold

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

As Disney California Adventure reaches the midway point of a $1.1-billion expansion, I’d like to take a speculative look at what Walt Disney Imagineering might have in mind for Phase 2 of the massive renovation project.

DCA’s extreme makeover was necessitated by the on-the-cheap, off-the-shelf nature of the nearly decade-old theme park that even Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger now calls “mediocre.”

Phase 1, which began in 2008, fixes about a third of the flawed park. What I’m interested in looking at here are the possibilities for the other two-thirds.

Most of the proposed plans that have come to light remain firmly in the “what if” stage. In some cases, Disney announced and then postponed attractions. In other instances, the ideas have filtered out into the online community. In all circumstances, Disney remains officially mum, guarding future projects as closely held secrets.

Quite naturally, any sequel to the wholesale reimagineering of DCA remains contingent on the success of Phase 1, which wraps up in 2012. So far, the crowds have responded positively to the uptick in quality (Toy Story Midway Mania dark ride), spectacle (“World of Color” water show) and attention to detail (Silly Symphony Swings wave swing).

And the best is yet to come. Crews have broken ground on Phase 1 projects that demonstrate Disney’s commitment (the $100-million Voyage of the Little Mermaid dark ride), ambition (the 12-acre Cars Land) and heritage (Buena Vista Street entry plaza).

Mouse watchers believe if Phase 1 continues to pay dividends, Iger will pony up more money for Phase 2 starting in 2013. The operative word here is “if.”

So far nothing has been announced for Phase 2, but Imagineers have been busy dusting off old plans and dreaming up new ideas for the re-emergent Anaheim theme park. As any Disney fan knows, these “blue sky” proposals can change repeatedly over the course of development – and many never see the light of day.

What follows is a land-by-land compilation of possible attractions and thematic changes for Phase 2:

Buena Vista Street
(An idealized vision of a 1920s Southern California streetscape when Walt Disney first arrived in Los Angeles.)

* Original plans for the Carthay Theater called for the screening of a Walt Disney Story biographical film. The latest plans have the Blue Sky Cellar preview center moving into the space.

* An exclusive Carthay Circle Club on the upper floor of the Carthay Theater. Disney has quietly put out feelers to Club 33 members and those on the long waiting list for the private Disneyland club. The Interior of the DCA club would replicate an idealized version of an early Disney animation studio on Hyperion Avenue in Hollywood.

Paradise Pier
(A 1920s and 30s seaside amusement park-themed land with Victorian architecture.)

* An E-Ticket ride next to California Screamin’, with an entrance in the helix of the roller coaster track leading to a new backstage attraction.

* A D- or E-Ticket attraction in the other helix where Maliboomer once stood. The area is currently being turned into a character meet-and-greet location. The tacky strip mall-themed Man Hat n’ Beach souvenir shop façade likely remains unchanged in anticipation of this forthcoming attraction.

* An E-Ticket ride in place of Goofy’s Sky School, itself a rethemed version of the Mulholland Madness wild mouse roller coaster. Current proposals for the location include an original thrill ride or a character-based attraction. An early concept called for a Ratatouille coaster to occupy the space.

* Disney’s original plans called for the since-removed Maliboomer drop tower to become a Green Army Men parachute drop ride. The same “Toy Story” theme could replace the nearby Jumpin’ Jellyfish ride, which was originally scheduled for removal in Disney’s initial plan.

* Early plans called for the Fun Wheel Ferris wheel and the California Screamin’ queue to get entrance facades to match the Paradise Pier area’s new Victorian seaside theme.

* Imagineers have previously discussed Halloween and Christmas holiday overlays for the Toy Story Midway Mania dark ride.

(The existing Hollywood Studios Backlot becomes Hollywoodland, representing the 1930s Golden Age of Hollywood.)

* Transform the space around the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride into the Golden Era of Hollywood (expanding the footprint of the area into the Timon parking lot).

* Add an enclosed lobby to the Hyperion Theater and a street façade to close off the view of the outdoor queue area. Disney announced and then rescinded plans to replace the current “Aladdin” stage show with a “Toy Story” musical.

* An E-Ticket attraction in the former “Who Wants to be a Millionaire – Play It sound stage.

* Several replacements have been floated for the “MuppetVision 3D” movie, including Mickey’s PhilharMagic from the Magic Kingdom (which apparently won’t fit in the DCA theater) and a 3-D story based on the Chronicles of Narnia (a film franchise recently dumped by Disney).

* Removal of the modern pop-culture signage above the shops along DCA’s Hollywood Boulevard.

* The unused Hollywood & Dine food court in Stage 12 remains empty for future expansion.

(The former Condor Flats and Golden State lands combine to form a single land themed to a 1950s-era Yosemite-like national park.)

* Grizzly River Rapids receives animatronic bears, condors and other creatures once envisioned for the raft ride. Animatronic characters under construction for the Grizzly Trail area at Hong Kong Disneyland would fit perfectly.

* An E-Ticket ride in place of the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. Proposals for the location include an outdoor adventure attraction or a mine-train ride.

* A circuitous train ride around Grizzly Peak as envisioned in concept art featured in the “Disney Mountains: Imagineering at its Peak” book.

* The Soarin’ Over California hang-gliding tour makes way for the long-awaited Soarin’ Over the World replacement.

* Convert the Cannery Row-themed Pacific Wharf food court to a San Francisco motif and combine the eatery area with the already-existing but unrealized San Francisco block.

Cars Land
(A faithful re-creation of the isolated Route 66 town in the Pixar movie “Cars” designed to evoke the automobile culture of the 1950s and 60s.)

* A drive-in theater-themed sit-down restaurant where diners eat in vintage cars while watching a movie on the big screen. The concept was part of the initial pitch for Cars Land that has since been postponed.

* A C- or D-Ticket on an unused corner of the new themed land scheduled to open in 2012.