The contrast couldn’t have been more stark. The day before, our boys lurched around on Autopia, a decades-old modified go-kart ride at Disneyland, one of the resort’s older attractions. With the mini-car’s diesel lawn mower engine clattering away under our eight-year-old’s foot, it made more noise and pungent odour than actual forward motion. The next day, we zoomed along electrically on the park’s newest automotive thrill ride, Radiator Springs Racers, in another side-by-side race, but one that’s not only fast and smell-free, but as entertaining for car enthusiasts as it is for kids.
It’s the signature attraction for the new Cars Land, an entirely new area in Disneyland’s California Adventure Park that’s dedicated to the popular animated movies – or at least the first one. It’s the largest ride in the whole park, and it starts out with one six-person convertible car flying through the darkened city at night, just as in the original movie. A variety of story lines then takes you either to Ramone’s paint shop or Luigi’s Casa Della Tires to prepare for your big race.
At the green flag, you’re lined up with another competing six-person convertible, and flung outdoors into the mountainous foothills of Ornament Valley. Both cars then race by a scenic waterfall and 280,000 square feet of close -p views of the Cadillac mountains, so named because each mountain peak is cut to resemble the rear fenders and tail fins of late ’50s to early ’60s Cadillacs. The elaborateness of the fictional mountain range makes it the largest rockwork project undertaken by the company on this continent, and the entire 2012 expansion the second-largest for this original Disney theme park.
Tamer than RSR but more to our four-year-old’s liking was Luigi’s Flying Tires, next to its leaning tower of tires, which entertains while you wait with tire brand names such as Fettuccini Alfredo and Tortellini. Bushes encased in wire sculptures of Formula One-shaped cars will appeal to enthusiast sensibilities, while even the plant holders and shop pillars are lovingly chiseled to resemble different treaded tires. The ride itself involves boarding a large, three-person floating tire that’ is pushed around by air underneath it, and guided around by everyone onboard leaning in the direction you’d like to go.
There are also beach balls the size of tractor tires bouncing around everywhere, each ball red, white and green, of course. The ride is based on an earlier ride at the park, called the Flying Saucers, which was featured at the park between 1961 and 1966. Both of our boys wanted to go on it again, which was rare on our entire trip, which consisted of a few hours in Cars Land for its official media opening and a few days everywhere else in Disneyland.
The final ride in Cars Land is a Mater special, his Junkyard Jamboree, which lodges you into a trailer behind a baby tractor that then does a variety of powerslides, throwing you into the person next to you. If you weren’t close before, you will be by the end of this one.
Standing in the middle of Radiator Springs, just like in pretty much every nook and cranny of Cars Land, not only do you feel you’ve been dropped into the Cars movie, but there are odes all over to small-c cars in general. Besides a realistic re-creation of the fictional town, complete with swinging stoplight as well as regular Mater and Lightning McQueen appearances, huge connecting rods and piston heads serve as columns to Flo’s V8 Café. It and the entire town looks especially amazing at night, where neon lights adorn every building, and it truly feels like an automotive playground with real roots on Route 66.
There’s the Cozy Cone motel, a series of wigwam-shaped pylons where the occasional small town tourist could park/sleep in the movie, based on the real wigwam motels sprinkled along Route 66, only a handful of which remain today. The Cozy Cone motel at Cars Land is a snack bar area, serving drinks in bright orange pylons, and popcorn in character-resembling tubs that our boys are using to haul around toys and colouring gear now.
John Lasseter, the director of the Cars movies and chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney animation studios, is a noted car enthusiast, and he has left the unmistakable mark of someone who loves what they do in this project, where Pixar worked alongside Disney’s “imagineers.”
“The Cars films are especially close to my heart,” said Lasseter at the Cars Land party opening, which was done film premiere-style with red carpet and stars who voiced roles in the films, such as John Ratzenberger (formerly Cliff Claven of Cheers fame), Larry “The Cable Guy” and Bonnie Hunt. “I grew up half an hour from here, my Mom was an art teacher, and my Dad was a parts manager at a dealership, and this film just put those passions I had for art and cars together.”
It has also raised the bar for future Disney projects based on wildly successful films. Disney announced this year that it’s planning an Avatar Land for Disneyworld, its much larger park in Orlando, Florida, with one senior marketing manager at Disney admitting it may be challenging to do so. “We’ve upped the bar with this one.”
And so it seems after sampling it. At the end of the trip, we asked our young boys what they enjoyed most about Disneyland, and each professed one of the Cars Land rides: “the mountain racing one” for our oldest, the “tire bumper cars” for our youngest. And though I’d have to throw the spectacular World of Colour fire, laser and light show into the discussion, as a car enthusiast, I’d have to agree with our eight-year-old.