If you know me, you know I’m easily obsessed with ideas that never made it. Well, great, now I’ve got a new one.
When it opened, Disney’s California Adventure was a good theme park, but not quite a great one. You could feel the “value engineering” everywhere — that’s the euphemism for when business folks tell the Imagineers that can’t actually do the cool fancy thing they really want to do.
Now, I swear there was a lot to love about the park, including Golden Dreams, a theatre show that I was maybe alone in appreciating: not only was it not based on Disney IP (what!), but it felt like the last gasp of what I would call “Epcot Content®”, a big-budget film presentation (with a projection Whoopi Goldberg) that genuinely taught me California history, and left me with real emotions about the world (I’m corny), a bittersweet accomplishment as the grand idea of combining education + entertainment was, as far as I know, never attempted by WDI again.
But anyway, overall, DCA was no Disneyland.
Unfortunately, Disneyland was across the street.
Management (eventually) realized this. “Any time you do something mediocre with your brand, that’s a withdrawal,” Bob Iger told The Wall Street Journal at the time. “California Adventure was a brand withdrawal.”
And so, in October 2007, Disney announced they would pay $1 Billion Dollars® to improve the park.
So, what would change?
The Never-Before-Seen Plan
Yes, here comes Cabel with another auction pick-up!!
Listed in a Van Eaton Galleries auction recently was a mysterious document called “Paradise Pier Imagineering Project Scope” that profoundly called to me.
Dated November 21, 2006, this document would theoretically communicate the scope of their original planned improvements to Paradise Pier. How do you communicate such a big task? This I had to see. I love a good peek behind the curtain, so $300 later (ouch. yes, this is an extremely unprofitable blog), it was in my hands.
And now, it’s in your hands:
Click above to read it! (via Internet Archive. PDF)
Flipping through it, I was delighted to see a number of interesting ideas that never came to fruition.
As anyone creative knows, making something is a continual process of dreaming, designing, and revising, over and over and over again, until you arrive at something unique, useful, delightful, and actually shippable.
Theme parks are, of course, no different. And this document I think captures an early moment in the dreaming. Today, we think of this area as Pixar Pier. But at one point, it definitely wasn’t.
Let’s take a look at the big piece of blue sky concept art found at the beginning:
Some really fun ideas here:
- A giant mechanical hand turning the Fun Wheel!
- A “Shoot the Chute” water ride, on the right, that splashes right into the lagoon!
- “Maliboomer” towers are now parachutes, and there are two new short ones in the now-unused space of the final coaster turn, maybe for the smaller kids?
I spoke with Jim Shull, ex-Imagineer for 33 years, and asked for his first-hand comments on some of this material. (His name is on a lot of this artwork!)
I was honored to work on the redo of Paradise Pier and Cars Land which resulted in changing guest perceptions about Disney California Adventure. As an Imagineer and as a designer I learned early in my Disney career to do my best while acknowledging that no matter how good an idea was for various reasons the idea might never be built.
That big piece of blue-sky concept art for Paradise Pier was created by Ray Cadd who worked as an Imagineer for years and drew many pieces of concept artwork. And the ‘Shoot the Chute’ ride is a carry over from the early concept days for Paradise Pier. The chute [also] appears on art produced by Tim Delaney.—Jim Shull, former Imagineer
Now, if you look closely at the entrance and the coaster lift hills… you might notice some snakes!? That’s because California Screamin’ was about to change big-time.
Villains Funhouse Coaster
Here’s the concept.
First, you’d walk through the new Ursula portal…
…then rush over to the new Villains Funhouse coaster!
The idea is really cool — what if you combined a classic boardwalk/midway fun house with a high-speed coaster?
In the queue, you could play interactive games, like this one where you slide “coals” into the boardwalk-style, cut-out mouths of Pain and/or Panic (from Hercules).
Before heading into the funhouse load station…
…where an animatronic hag is actually dispatching the coaster cars! (Yipes, that can’t be good!)
You launch right through Chernobog’s mouth, and into an now-enclosed launch tunnel!
…and then, the instant-launch lift hill takes you right up and into Jafar (in snake form)!
What a really fun idea, that both fits the turn-of-the-century Boardwalk vibes and brings you face to face with Disney Villains, who are surprisingly sparse in the park. But, of course, it was never to be.
The idea driving the queue design for the Villains Funhouse coaster was to build a covered conditioned queue and merge that with elements of a classic funhouse. Research into classic funhouses revealed that due to guest capacity and safety issues building a true funhouse would have been impossible. However, taking elements of funhouses and fusing those in a queue was possible. The budget to re-do DCA was large, but simply not large enough for every idea. Cars Land and Buena Vista Street would take up the bulk of the money.—Jim Shull, former Imagineer
So, I’m grateful to have seen any of this at all!
And Some More
Some other ideas are discussed, like putting a new “Derby Ride” in the empty space of sandy final coaster spin…
And replacing Jumpin’ Jellyfish with a sand-theme play area:
And adding a nice boardwalk and a tidepool-themed zone to the World of Color viewing area.
Wait a second, enhance! Circle of Hands?! What the heck?
Was Golden Dreams originally called Circle of Hands? Now that’s the kind of exciting trivia I’ll be telling you in the parks someday! (Confirmed by historian Jason Schultz!)
Thank you so much for look at this fun, never-before-seen concept artwork with me. And many thanks to Jim Shull for his comments — you can also follow Jim on social media.
If you find anything else interesting in this document, let me know! Now I just need to repeat this blog post one million more times for every cool idea, game, snack food, movie, etc., that didn’t make it, and my soul can rest…