John and Lee’s Idiosyncratic, Peripatetic,
Unscientific Panegyric to Disneyland
and California Adventure
© 2007-2008 by John Varley; all rights reserved
Part 5: California Adventure Revisited
(Visit #7: Savings to date: $1,016.00!!!)
First, a news flash:
There is an attraction called Golden Dreams, located in the Bay Area part of the Golden State area of California Adventure. It’s right behind the replica of the Palace of Fine Arts rotunda, in a building with a nice California history mosaic on the side. Inside, Whoopi Goldberg is “Califia, the Queen of California,” and she narrates and appears in a 22-minute 70mm film about California history, warts and all. (Being Disney, it’s more than just a film, it has in-theater special effects, too, such as giant statues on each side of the screen that come to life.) I’ve learned all this by reading about it, as we didn’t have time to see the show when we were there yesterday. And I’m regretting that, as I’ve just learned that it’s due to be torn down and replaced by Voyage of the Little Mermaid. (It’s not certain that the rotunda will be removed, as well. I hope not, it reminds me of good times in San Francisco.) So that means Golden Dreams has just moved to the top of our list for the next visit. Hope we get there in time …
And now, back to our story …
Lee had a long list of things she needed to photograph, as she never knows what I’m going to write about (neither do I) while we’re actually on a walk or at the park, and after she’s read the diary entries (I refuse to call them blogs, as inelegant a coined word as I’ve ever encountered) she often finds she doesn’t have the shot she needs to properly show you, our faithful readers, what I’m talking about. So we planned to spend most of the day at California Adventure, with a side trip to Mickey’s Toontown to pick up some things we missed there. In between, I hoped, we could see the 3:30 Parade of Dreams.
And it was just as well, because I wrote Installment 2 of this Disneyland narrative without having visited many of the California Adventure venues in several years, and my memory proved a little faulty on some of the details. Just small details, mind you, but here’s my chance to set the record straight, having just come from a complete tour of the place.
Like so many others (including, I’m sure, all the current, nervous, theme park executives at Disney) I kept looking at things to see what it was that just wasn’t working over here.
Reading again, from Disney fan sites: The entrance to California Adventure was designed to give you the feeling that you were stepping into a California postcard. You know the kind, bursting with golden oranges and sunshine, vintage 1930s or ‘40s. And it does a great job of it, with the brilliant murals and the sort of squashed Golden Gate Bridge replica, and the legend “Greetings from California.”However … compare that to what you’re offered when you pass under the Disneyland Railroad and into the park. You are told you are now leaving the present, and entering into the worlds of the past, the future, and of fantasy. Which would you prefer? Time travel and fantasy … or California? Don’t get me wrong, I love my adopted state, it has more varieties of natural beauty than any other, I believe … but it also offers smog and traffic and many other problems. Like any other state, it is of the here and now, even in Hollywood. So once again, I’ve concluded that the California theme was a mistake. Maybe it would have worked in Japan, or Paris. Maybe not. All in all, it’s better just to come to California, and see the real stuff, and visit Disneyland while you’re here.
Click photos to enlarge
Blue links are videos
This is meant to be like the Central Plaza in Disneyland, a site where all the other lands radiate from … well, not quite. You can’t get to Paradise Pier or a bug’s land (really, folks, this lack of capitalization for the attractions aimed at younger visitors grows tiresome) without going through the Golden State, but it is centrally located. The centerpiece is a huge, lovely sunburst that we hadn’t really seen before, as it had been largely concealed by the decorations for autumn and Christmas last time we were here.
From the Sunshine Plaza you can see the backside of Grizzly Mountain, with a lot of fake geology, including a buried mammoth skeleton. One path leads through Condor Flats, the aviation-themed area, and another leads to the …
Hollywood Pictures Backlot
We strolled down Hollywood Boulevard, looking at the false-front buildings and trying to decide which actual California buildings inspired them. I believe they were all patterned on one historical building or another. We tentatively identified one that was either the old Bullock’s department store on Wilshire (now a law school) or the greenish-and-gold Wiltern Building at the corner of Wilshire and Western, which houses a grand old movie theater now used for live performances. Another false front was almost certainly inspired by one of the Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Los Angeles, either the Ennis-Brown house—currently undergoing much-needed refurbishing and quake-proofing, after almost slip-sliding down the hillside in Los Feliz—or the Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park. Both of them are quite close to our apartment. (If you’ve seen Blade Runner, you’ve seen the Ennis-Brown house. It was the home of the evil genius and the replicant-who-didn’t-know-she-was-a-replicant played by Sean Young.)
I noticed there were a lot of characters working over here. More than in Disneyland, I’ll bet. I suspect the idea is to lure more visitors. You don’t have to wait long to get your picture taken with Chip ‘n Dale, or Goofy, or the Blue Genie, or Dopey. We saw all these guys within a few blocks. There were almost more characters than visitors.
Turned the corner into the “soundstage” area of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot … and once more it was a vast, deserted wasteland. This area has props sitting around, and even trailers for the stars. The idea is that movies are being made here. They’re not. The snack bar was still closed … if it actually was a snack bar; I just realized it might be a false front, like so many of the other buildings here. We passed the Hollywood Backlot Stage, where nothing was happening now but there was supposed to be a show called Drawn to the Magic, “A high-energy musical tribute to magic of Disney Animation” later on. The Monsters Inc., Mike and Sully to the Rescue ride was still closed, this time with a lot of canvas around it. (It’s due to re-open in two weeks, on February 14.)
(D TICKET) There was no line at Muppet*Vision 3D. Outside was a crashed spaceship. I have no idea what that was about. There was a lot of stuff to look at in the waiting area, which had room for hundreds if not thousands, but of course we skimmed on through. Then along a corridor with joke doors opening off it (“DEPARTMENT OF ARTIFICIAL REALITY—THIS IS NOT A DOOR), and then a big waiting room fitted out to look like the backstage area for the Muppets, with costumes and props. Then into the theater. Here’s what I wrote reviewing the movie: “Basically an episode of “The Muppet Show,” in 3D, presented in a special theater to enhance the effects. As usual, it’s produced on a budget, so nothing works very well, Miss Piggy is insulted and stomps off in a huff, and general chaos ensues. In fact, near the end a giant cannon comes out at the back of the theater and blows about a dozen holes in the theater walls.” In other words, fun, but I’ve seen better.
We passed the Hyperion Theater, where ushers were hustling people in to see the wonderful musical spectacular, Aladdin, which we’d seen recently. And the show was about to start at …
(C TICKET) Playhouse Disney—Live on Stage! If any of you have young kids you’ll probably find this hard to believe, but I didn’t know that Playhouse Disney is apparently an entire empire of TV programming for the tiny tots, 2 to 6 or so, that runs on the Disney Channel from 6 AM to noon. Shows like “The Wiggles,” “The Doodlebops,” “Higglytown Heroes,” and (at last! something I’ve heard of!) “My Friends Tigger and Pooh.” Well, jeez, my kids are long grown, but back when they were young I could tell you anything you needed to know about “Sesame Street,” or “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.” Times change. Again, we were able to walk right in. We were invited to sit on the floor, but there were bench seats against the walls for us old farts, and that’s where we sat. It was a small crowd, maybe one-quarter to one-third capacity.
There was a fairly basic stage in front of us, and soon a guy came out and started introducing a lot of puppet characters that came out of the floor, and one very large fat bear with a very expressive face. Don’t know how the puppeteer inside did that, unless one of his arms was fake and he was holding up the other arm and working the mouth. But both arms seemed to move. Everyone on stage, and even the ushers in the crowd, was working very hard to amuse the small audience, and I have to say, the tiny tots were eating it up, standing and jumping when they were told to, fascinated by it all. It was a basic, simple show, without a whole lot of razzle-dazzle, though at one point the theater did full up with bubbles, which the children chased. A nice show.We were getting hungry and there really wasn’t anything that appealed to us over here, so we went back and entered the …
This is rather confusing, because Golden State is divided up into five areas: Condor Flats, Grizzly Peak Recreation Area, The Bay Area, Golden Vine Winery, and Pacific Wharf. According to the map, most of the food places were on the Wharf, so we headed back there. First place we came to was the winery, but it looked sort of spendy, so we kept going.
Pacific Wharf. It is just so lovely! There are so many angles where you can frame a shot with the camera and really think you’re at the old Cannery Row in Monterey … back in the 1930s when the sardine factories were in full, stinky operation, and Steinbeck was writing about them. There are two places to eat here: Pacific Wharf Café specializing in seafood, and Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill. (Lee got a picture of a sign for something called Lucky Fortune Cookery, Pacific Rim Foods, but it’s not on the map, which says the Pacific Wharf Distribution Company is there, and it sells Karl Strauss handcrafted beers. (I don’t care if it’s handcrafted or Budweiser, I don’t like to see beer in these parks. Call me puritanical, I don’t care.) (You know why the Germans say American beer is like making love in a canoe? Because they’re both fucking close to water.) Ah, I just found out at MousePlanet.com that Lucky Fortune Cookery hasn’t been open in years.
Our problem was, it was a fairly chilly day, and neither of these places had any indoor seating. We decided to forge ahead toward Paradise Pier, where there was something called Ariel’s Grotto. We examined the menu and recoiled in horror. $27.99 per person, plus tax! Back home, I looked up some reviews and they were pretty much unanimous. If you have a young princess (and all the little girls in the parks seem to be dressed as princesses these days), she will treasure this memory forever, as she will get to meet and talk with Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, and Mulan … but don’t go for the food, which is way overpriced and either only okay or just plain bad, depending on who you read.
So we ended up going back to the vineyard and walked past a lot of grapevines, dormant for the brief Southern California winter, with signs explaining a lot of wine culture that means nothing to us, as neither of us cares for the grape, and examined the menu at the Wine Country Trattoria and found that, while it was a few dollars more than the outdoors places, it wasn’t outrageous. Most of all, it was reasonably warm inside, though they just wouldn’t close the doors. (Southern Californians pretty much hate to admit that they have a winter at all.) I had an excellent meatball sandwich, and Lee got something that had a lot of mozzarella, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and pimentos … which she doesn’t like. Should have ordered the meatball, Lee! (I shared.)
In Part Two of this diary I mentioned that there was an area themed to Mexico. I was wrong, there’s not, there’s just the Mission Tortilla Factory, hosted by Mission Foods. I did remember correctly what’s inside it, though: “Take a behind-the-scenes look at tortilla production!” As I said in that report, “How exciting is that?” Not very, judging from the crowds. You could imagine tumbleweeds bouncing down the street, wind howling, dust blowing, coyotes howling. There was nobody waiting for the tour. I got the feeling that if somebody knocked on the door it would wake the tour guide from his long siesta and startle him badly enough to knock him off his stool. We didn’t go, either, nor to it’s neighbor across the way, The Bakery Tour, hosted by Boudin Bakery. “Watch as bakers create fresh sourdough bread before your eyes!” Wow. And coming soon, Grass Growing, hosted by Miracle-Gro, and Paint Drying, hosted by Sherwin Williams! Just kidding, of course, and to tell the truth we’ll be taking both those tours one of these days, because we like to learn stuff, but frankly, these places are a waste of space here at California Adventure. Nobody’s going to them. Tear ‘em down and put up something Disney!
We strolled out on the boardwalk of the southern part of Paradise Pier … which is now cut in half for the demolition of Games of the Boardwalk, which won’t be missed. In fact, the whole Paradise Pier area was pretty controversial from the day it opened. Many people pointed out that it represented everything Walt was against when he created Disneyland, with standard carnival rides and games of skill or chance … though no true carny ever let chance enter into it. That’s us older folks objecting, who remember places like Playland in San Francisco. The younger set, teens and young adults, go there for … what else? The rides. The two big thrill rides, California Screamin’ and Maliboomer, as well as the massive Sun Wheel, are there, as well as others which, though properly Disneyfied, are basically just carnival rides. The Orange Stinger and the Golden Zephyr, while pretty to look at, are just swing rides. Jumpin’ Jellyfish is also pretty, but it’s just a rather tame-looking parachute ride, and Mulholland Madness is a “mad mouse” roller coaster.
Myself, I actually like the look of the place … but there’s nothing Disney about it except the giant silhouette of Mickey on the roller coaster loop. And I hate the games, always have. They’re for suckers. Magic Mountain has a lot of those carny games, last time I was there. So does Circus Circus in Las Vegas. You want to play them, go there, or to any parking-lot carnival. Win yourself a giant stuffed panda bear … or more likely one of the tiny prizes they keep under the counter, where you find out you have to trade in and trade up, a dozen booby prizes before you qualify for the real prizes. You invariably end up spending twice the price you would have paid to simply buy the stupid stuffed animal. (They hire guys with pretty girlfriends to carry these large prizes around the fair, because hardly anyone ever wins one. True carny fact!)
We watched the roller coaster from a vantage point above and behind the catapult that flings it up the first hill in a few seconds. I wanted to ride it real bad, but I know I can’t. I’d be in agony the whole trip, with my knees bent into positions they no longer bend. But wow! It’s the same sort of catapult they use on aircraft carriers to launch F-14 Tomcat fighter jets! Awesome!Last thing you see before the plywood wall blocking off the construction for the Toy Story Mania ride: King Triton’s Carousel, where all the animals you ride are beautiful sea creatures. We watched for a while, but didn’t ride, as we had to get across the park for the parade, but I noticed that part of the ornate decorations were tributes to California amusement parks of the past, almost all gone now: Lick Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Playland (home of the famous Laughing Sal) and a dozen others. You know, it’s true they weren’t the best of places for families, but Lee has fond memories of the coaster at Playland, and I remember the midway at the Texas State Fair in Dallas and the Southeast Texas State Fair in Beaumont—freak shows, clip joints, hoochie-koochie girls and all—and something called Pleasure Island in Port Arthur, which had the ricketiest roller coaster I’d ever seen, and an amusement park in Galveston … those sleazy places had their charms. I love Disneyland, but there’s something to be said for sleaze, too.
a bug’s land
This is like Mickey’s Toontown, only more so. That is, it’s for the very young ones, and there is nothing here for adults at all, except to grin at the whimsy of it all. Oh, and the inevitable 3D show:
(C TICKET) It’s Tough to be a Bug! Here’s my movie review of it: “This is probably the best 3D short film I’ve ever seen. You have to see it in the special theaters at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or California Adventure, because it is tailored to those venues and wouldn’t make sense anywhere else. The show begins before you ever enter the theater, as you descend into an anthill and while waiting in the lobby of the underground bug “playhouse,” you can read very amusing posters [see Punny Posters at Disneyland] for past productions, such as Web Side Story, My Fair Ladybug, and The Dung and I (featuring the hit song “Hello Dung Lovers”). There is, in fact, a giant ball of dung suspended from the ceiling, and the amazing information that, if it weren’t for dung-eating insects, we’d all be up to our dung-holes in poop by next Friday. (Kids love this stuff. So do I!) Inside, the below-ground theme is repeated, and there are several large audio-animatron effects. The seats play tricks on you. At one point about 50 black widow spiders the size of Shetland ponies drop from the ceiling. A stink bug sprays the audience and a termite shoots acid. (I could have done without the water in the face. Made it hard to see through the already rather murky 3D glasses.) As for the movie itself, it’s narrated by Flik, who is an ant. (Quick, Henry, the Flit!) It’s very well done and doesn’t stay around long enough to wear out its welcome with all the in-your-face 3D effects.”
To get to a bug’s land you go through an area called …
Bountiful Valley Farm. This used to be its own independent area, “educational,” like the tortilla factory, and it quickly laid an egg, as they say on Broadway. It still has displays of crops growing, but now it’s been colonized by giant insects from the movie A Bug’s Life, probably my least favorite Pixar movie. (Which is not to say it’s bad. Pixar hasn’t laid an egg yet.) There’s a water play area, too, which looks like it’s also educational, but I didn’t study it long enough to see what it was about. Irrigation, I think. Then it was on to …
Flik’s Fun Fair
This is the best part … especially if you’re about five. It’s like you’ve become a bug and are walking through a not-very-well-maintained garden. There’s a lot of garbage around, which has been converted by the resident bugs into buildings and rides. You enter through a giant box of cereal, and when you leave, you pass by the restrooms, which are inside a giant box of tissues, lying upside down on its side. In the center is more opportunities to get wet from a giant, leaky water hose in the Princess Dot Puddle Park, but there were no takers today; too cold. There are four rides:
(B TICKET) Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train. This is the Germanic caterpillar from the movie. The simple premise is that he is a glutton, and eats his way through anything he encounters: apple, watermelon, box of animal crackers, and his favorite, candy corn. We rode this one. They provided a seat belt, and it’s hard to imagine why. I could have stepped out of the moving caterpillar at any point and outrun it, and I can’t run for sour apples. But it was cute.
(B TICKET) Tuck and Roll's Drive'Em Buggies. We didn’t ride any of the other things here, for different reasons. This one was just about large enough for one parent and one small child. No way I could have fit into it. And it was by far the slowest bumper car ride I’ve ever seen, very much for the very young, who love to feel like they’re driving.
(B TICKET) Francis' Ladybug Boogie. Very like the Mad Tea Party teacups in Disneyland, one of the iconic rides from the very early day. But smaller, and slower. Didn’t get on it because … well, though the lines were very short here, you don’t want to look like you’re taking a space a 4-year-old might need, do you? The idea seemed to be that an old 45-rpm record player had been converted to a ride.(B TICKET) Flik’s Flyers. Now this one looked like a bit of fun. It’s a very slow—like all the rides here—swing ride made out of Chinese take-out containers, with dirigible balloons made out of leaves sewn together. I might ride this one, if we ever make it back here.
Parade of Dreams
Now it’s back to Disneyland to see the parade, which we had only seen at night before. It’s lovely under the lights, but hard to photograph. We picked out a spot in the Central Plaza with about 15 minutes to go until showtime. I was able to get a bench seat, and the curb in front of us was clear. We were positioned so that we’d be able to see the floats approaching from the front, and they’d make a turn right in front of us, and we’d see them from the sides. We were prepared to fight off anyone who planned to stand in front of us, but aside from a group of 5 Japanese boys who looked like they might want to, we had no problems. Lee glared and snarled at them, and they went away. She had an unobstructed view, and I didn’t have to stand! Good spot to see the show, for future reference.
A few minutes before the main parade there was a guest band from some Disneyland community relations program: The Serra Conquistadors, from San Diego. They were pretty good, though as they passed us they were playing “Louie, Louie,” one of my least favorite numbers for marching band. After they passed I heard them swing into “The Washington Post.” Bad luck! I’d much rather have heard that one.
There are only 8 floats in this parade, but all of them are doozies. It begins with the fairies from Sleeping Beauty, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, and they are followed …
1) Theme Float. Tinkerbell is riding a Disneyland Railroad engine coming out of the Main Street Station. I forget who was driving the train, but I think it was Goofy. Then dancing forks and spoons preceded …
2) Beauty and the Beast. All the kitchen staff and furniture are there as audio-animatrons: Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip, and Lumiere. Followed by …
3) Pinocchio. I’m reminded again that these lavish shows and parades are not only labor-intensive, but you might say, talent-intensive, also. The dancers have to be competent, and on this float are three acrobats bouncing around on bungee cords. I’m not talking Cirque de Soleil quality here, but they have to be pretty good. Then came …
4. The Little Mermaid. This one has two huge floats, the first featuring Ariel and Sebastian the shrimp (or was he a crab? a prawn? a langostino? Would he be good dipped in melted butter?), and the second carrying a gigantic Ursula the Sea Witch. The octopus lady is accompanied by moray eels and some other sinister-looking dancers. The parade pauses several times along the route for performances, and I didn’t know where or when they happen, or if they all paused at the same spots. You take your chances, I guess. The first one was when the first float had arrived at the Matterhorn; we could see it in the distance. Then it all moved on, and continued moving until Ariel’s float was beside us, and everyone began doing their dances, and the fountain Ariel was perched on extended itself higher. I hope she was well strapped-in. Those dancers worked hard, too. When the number was over, some of the sea sprite girls, or whatever they were, grabbed towels they had concealed on the float and mopped their brows. And this was on a cold day! Must be really tough when it’s hot! But off they go, and who’s coming now but …
5. Alice in Wonderland, with the Red Queen and a few playing cards, the White Rabbit, Tweedledum and Tweedledee (or is that Tweedledee and Tweedledum?), and the whole Mad Tea Party and the Caterpillar. What a cast! And now …
6. The Lion King. A huge rhinoceros, stilt-walkers! There are more acrobats on this float, we saw them perform last time, but we weren’t in the right place this time. And finally …
7. Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, preceded by the Seven Dwarfs, Pluto, and Goofy. On the castle parapet are King Mickey and Queen Minnie, and down below are Snow White, and … two other Disney princesses. I get them confused, but I’m sure the small females watching didn’t. In fact, the theme of this parade might be “Princesses.” They seem to all be here, and the little girls, most of them already dressed as their favorite princess, are eating it up. There is an all-day event here called The Princess Fantasy Faire, which we haven’t looked in on yet. I’m sort of worried it might be something like those awful Jon-Benet-Ramsey-style beauty pageants, like the one in Little Miss Sunshine. Hope not.
I just learned that there are, in fact, 8 Disney princesses. Can you name them all?
EXTRA CREDIT QUESTION FOR DISNEY FANATICS:
A ninth princess is coming to the Fantasy Faire. Who is she?
February 27, 2008
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