Ever since the announcement of Cars Land on October 17th, 2007, it has been widely speculated and debated on countless Disney forum sites across the internet that Disney has abandoned the California part of Disney California Adventure. This belief has only been reinforced by the removal of such attractions as Superstar Limo, Golden Dreams, and Soarin’ over California as well as changes made to the lands like the removal of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bountiful Valley Farm. Despite these changes, however, Disney has not abandoned the California theme but rather loosened it. Today I’m going to explain why and hopefully end this debate once and for all.
Before getting into describing why the park hasn’t stepped away from its California theme, we must observe what the theme is first. According to the entrance plaque on the flagpole in Buena Vista Street, “Disney California Adventure celebrates the spirit of optimism and the promise of endless opportunities, ignited by the imaginations of daring dreamers such as Walt Disney and those like him who forever changed – and were forever changed – by the Golden State. This unique place embraces the richness and diversity of California …its land, its people, its stories, and above all, the dreamers it continues to inspire.”
According to the plaque, Disney California Adventure does not celebrate so much the physical land of California, but the ideas and themes California offers. This means that a ride or land does not need to so much as take place in California, but needs to embody the spirit of the state. With Cars Land, we see just that.
Despite Radiator Springs being located somewhere in New Mexico, Cars Land still manages to fit the California theme of the park. Yes, the land is not set in California, but it still embodies the ideas of California’s car culture that was ever prominent in the 1950’s and 1960’s. While this could have been done better with Carland, the original idea for a new land in Disney California Adventure, that is a topic for another day.
As I said earlier, the removal of Superstar Limo and Golden Dreams have also been used as evidence for the removal of the California theme. The thing is, however, these were never removed to lessen the California theme but because they weren’t good attractions. Although not in the case of Superstar Limo, the attraction that replaced Golden Dreams still has managed to maintain the California theme as a whole, at least to an extent.
In 2011, The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure opened in Paradise Pier where Golden Dreams once sat. Just like with Cars (2005), The Little Mermaid does not take place in California. In fact, The Little Mermaid takes place in northern Europe. So what is the connection to California? In simple terms, there isn’t one. But the thing is, there doesn’t need to be as only the lands themselves need to directly tie back to California, whereas rides and attractions only need to fit the thematics of the land, which The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure does just fine through the ocean connection between Paradise Pier and The Little Mermaid.
When it was announced that Soarin’ Around the World would replace Soarin’ over California, it received a lot of backlash for not making sense in a theme park about California. However, Soarin’ Around the World fits just as well thematically as Soarin’ over California did.
Located in the subland of Condor Flats, Soarin’ over California quickly became a fan favorite to the few guests who visited Disney’s California Adventure. The idea of both Condor Flats was to celebrate the aviation industry in California during World War II. While it was executed all that well, this theme expanded into Soarin’ over California as we can see with the queue being full of information about planes and the entire attraction being located in a hangar.
When Condor Flats was removed in 2015, the aviation aspects of Soarin’ over California stood in place. These aspects remained when Soarin’ over California became Soarin’ Around the World in 2016. Because the aviation theme never changed, the theme of the ride never changed. While it’s true that the California aspect of the attraction was lessened, it has never been removed.
There are a few cases where California is no longer present, however. One of these cases, while never talked about, is “a bug’s land.” Added in 2002, “a bug’s land” was an expansion of the Bountiful Valley Farm area. After the Bountiful Valley Farm was removed to make space for Cars Land, the connection quickly was lost. Now, what we have is a land about A Bug’s Life; a movie with no connection to California at all. While many defend this land as it is for children and there are “bugs in California,” the connection is just as bad as Monsters Inc. in Hollywood Land. The simple truth is that this just doesn’t make any sense now, but even when it was built, it made sense within the theme of the park.
The notion that the California theme has been removed from Disney California Adventure is made even more ridiculous when it is realized what also happened when Cars Land was announced. Not only was the park getting a 12-acre expansion, but it was also getting Buena Vista Street, a brand new entrance to replace Sunshine Plaza theme to 1920’s Los Angeles. Also announced were plans to renovate Paradise Pier to a 1920’s boardwalk and a remodel of Hollywood Pictures Backlot into the Golden Age of Hollywood (although it never came to be). These announcements only further proved that Disney has been doing their best to keep the California theme, not reduce it.
Recently, with the announcement of Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! replacing Tower of Terror, this argument has come out in full force to defend this change (if you would like to read my thoughts on this change you can do so here). While we do not know what Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! will hold and what the future Marvel Land will bring us, up until now, Disney California Adventure has never lost the California theme, only loosened it a bit.