Reimagining the Hollywood Backlot
For those of us who were there, it is becoming increasingly difficult to remember what Disney California Adventure looked like when it first opened in 2001. With each passing year since Disney launched its massive, multi-billion dollar effort to redeem itself from the failed launch of the much anticipated 'second gate' at the Disneyland Resort, entire swaths of the park have been completely gutted and redone. Much to Disney's pleasure, the changes have been very successful, from the perfectly recreated Buena Vista Street of Walt's early years in the City of Angeles to the wildly successful Cars Land. As we discussed in the previous Armchair Imagineering post, the early 2000's bandaid of A Bug's Land is soon to fade away with the coming Marvel-themed Super Hero Land. And we're a mere weeks away from the re-opening of the newly minted Pixar Pier. With these and other changes and additions, it feels like we're on the home stretch of finally creating a worthy neighbor to the iconic theme park masterpiece next door.
the hollywood graveyard
But there is one last part of the park that continues to beg for attention, pleading to be saved from the formerly mentioned stalled start for DCA, and that would be Hollywood Land. Here is how it is presently described on the Disneyland Resort's website:
Welcome to Hollywood Land, where the Golden Age of Hollywood and the magic of Disney movies are celebrated with attractions, shows and entertainment that conjure the romance, glamour and sentimentality of the silver screen. Walk down Hollywood Boulevard, visit a backlot of Hollywood Studios and take a dark turn down Sunset Boulevard.
Well, the reality is that Hollywood Boulevard is basically a long, glorified walkway to The Hyperion Theater and The Guardian's of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, and that the section dubbed the 'backlot' features the bustling activity of a graveyard, aside from the modestly popular Mike and Sulley to the Rescue! attraction. This dark ride itself is an example of the early patchwork approach to fixing DCA, as it mercifully put to death the short-lived dud, Superstar Limo. Muppet Vision 3D hung on for a good thirteen years, but grew stale fairly quickly as evidenced by the mostly empty theater. Since its close in 2014, the space has been used mostly for preview screenings of the newest Disney movies. They have attempted to breathe some life into the northeast corner of DCA with various live entertainment, from ElecTRONica and the Mad T Party to the more recent Avengers Training Initiative. But once the musicians and meet-and-greet look-a-likes have packed up and left, so go the park-goers, leaving behind a mostly vacant significant chunk of Disney real-estate. And with it now appearing that the once rumored expansion of the Marvel franchise into this area is dead along with the Eastern Gateway infrastructure project, that means that all ideas are back on the table for what to do with this sad corner of the park.
My proposed solution
Now as far as Hollywood Boulevard, I've already suggested in the previously mentioned Marvel expansion piece that the buildings that line the south side of the street should be mostly facade so that the space inside could be used for a major Black Panther or Doctor Strange dark ride. But what would happen to the Animation Academy? This is, in my opinion, one of the most enjoyable but often over-looked attractions in DCA and I would hate to see it completely go away. The solution is found in a completely re-imagined 'backlot' that would directly tie in to Walt's journey by replicating the historic parts of the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank.
Many hardcore Disney fans enjoyed the back story to the making of Mary Poppins as it was portrayed in the film, Saving Mr. Banks. One of the highlights was the on-site filming at several iconic Walt Disney Studio locations. I think that a highly interactive and expertly crafted experience on the 'making of the magic' would draw a decent crowd and make for a charming addition to DCA. USA Today did a nice piece on the studio's campus that I would encourage you to check out, and I'm going to embed a few pictures featured from this article here to help stir the imagination. (Here are also a couple of links to blog articles written by people who took tours of the Studio that I found pretty interesting as well: Magical Moments Vacations and Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy.)
The old Muppet Vision 3D Theater would be remodeled to look like Burbank's screening 'theatre', which would continue to feature extended previews of soon to be released Disney films, something that I am sure the marketing department will appreciate. But a redesigned lobby would include images from historic premiers and would symbolically represent the payoff from all of the hard work that we learn about in the rest of this new land.
New interactive presentations and walk-throughs would be created that focus on the following elements of film-making: crafting the story (script, story-boarding, etc.), animation, set design, music, and sound editing.
A facade drawing upon the style of the Animation Building would go in front of the Monorail track so that the elevated train would never be seen. Four entryways at certain points alongside the facade--one each for 'Story', 'Animation', 'Music', and 'Sound'--would take you into what are presently called Stage 16 (current home to Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!) and 17. 'Animation' would basically be a relocation of the Animation Academy and the Magic Mirror Realm in The Sorcerer's Workshop. A 'Music' interactive attraction and presentation would pay tribute to the Sherman brothers and other Disney composers and the creative process they went through to score the films. A 'Sound' attraction could include an interactive feature along the lines of Ursula's Grotto, which used to be a part of The Sorcerer's Workshop, along with hands on experiences related to other components of sound editing. 'Story' would include an indoor replica of the Hyperion Studio which inside could feature a presentation on the process of story development along with historical displays of story boarding.
Like a museum, exhibits can be regularly updated in each of these areas to focus on particular films, which encourages return visits. And an interior hallway would link each together for ease of access.
At the very north-east corner, the building that once hosted Flynn's Arcade during the ElecTRONica days would be demoed and a new building constructed to look like one of the famous stage buildings in Burbank. Inside would be perfect replicas of sets from some of Disney's most iconic live action films. Along with learning about the process, park goers could pay an additional cost to get into costume for a personal photo session in which they take center stage in one of their favorite Disney moments.
And if people get hungry and want to take a break before jumping back into one of these exhibits, in the center of the new backlot area will be a recreation of the 1940's Disney Studio Commissary. This would replace Schmoozies and the Fairfax Market.
Every thing I am talking about could be done extremely well AND at a bargain price in comparison to their other major projects and their E-ticket attractions (i.e. Galaxy's Edge). So come on Disney, pull the trigger on this! Complete Walt's journey and bring a little bit of Burbank to Anaheim.
Now before I sign off, I know a good number of you have been screaming at the screen, "What about Turtle Talk with Crush!?" Relax! I share a bit more on a much improved location for this crowd-pleaser in my next article. Until then, there you have it fellow Armchair Imagineers! What do you think about my ideas and what does your imagination come up with for the future of this slice of DCA? Share your thoughts below!