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Jim Hill
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by Jim Hill (archives)
October 10, 2001
Jim Hill tries to provide a little context so that LaughingPlace.com readers can get a grip on their feelings about Paradise Pier.

Pier-ing into Paradise's Past & Future
Jim Hill tries to provide a little context so that LaughingPlace.com readers can get a grip on their feelings about Paradise Pier

Look, I'm supposed to be writing about the Muppets today. Discussing the Jim Henson Company's fine work on their "Dinosaurs" TV series (Particularly all those none-too-subtle pokes that the program regularly took at the Walt Disney Company).

That was my plan, anyway. But what do I end up doing instead?

Defending Paradise Pier again.

I got whacked with a ton of e-mail following last week's "In Defense of DCA" article. Some of it was from disappointed "Disney's America" fans (Sorry, but there is just no truth to the rumor that "Disney's California Adventure" will eventually be rethemed and reopen as "Disney's America." My sources at WDI have repeatedly told me that that story is a complete fabrication). Another big pile of mail came in from closeted DCA fans, who -- given how vicious people on the Web had been when discussing the Disneyland Resort's second gate -- had hidden their true feelings about Anaheim's newest theme park for far too long. These people seemed thrilled to finally have someone say something nice about "their" park. Which is why -- I guess -- they flooded my in-box with "Thank You" notes.

But -- by far -- the comment in last week's column that caused the most commotion among you longtime LaughingPlace.com readers was when I said that I thought that Paradise Pier was pretty. That simple statement seemed to make dozens of you go nuts.

So why am I not following the hardcore Disneyana fan party line and offering up DCA's Paradise Pier as proof positive that the Walt Disney Company has fallen away from its founder's teachings? That this particular section of California Adventure proves that the current management team doesn't really care about quality anymore?

Why won't I do that? Because I don't believe it. When I walk through Paradise Pier, I see plenty of quality. Lots of attention to detail. Take -- for example -- the "California Screamin' " roller coaster. Most folks (who don't know any better) will insist that this high speed launch steel coaster clearly demonstrates how the Walt Disney Company doesn't like to build highly detailed attractions at its stateside parks anymore. "We used to get highly themed rides like 'Space Mountain' and 'Big Thunder Railway,' " these people say. "But now we just get this off-the-shelf stuff."

Okay. So let's take a look at this allegedly done-on-the-cheap roller coaster. Now "California Screamin' " is actually a steel roller coaster with a state-of-the-art launch system. Yet -- in order to have this attraction fit into the theming of its 1920s / 1930s seaside surroundings -- the Imagineers had to disguise the ride. Make "CS" appear to be a classic old fashioned wooden roller coaster.

So how did they do this? Well, take a closer look at "California Screamin'." Particularly all of that lattice work under the tracks. 90% of that is strictly decorative. Those beams don't support a thing. They just re-inforce the illusion that "California Screamin' " is a wooden coaster. Which means that this ride just makes for a better fit with the whole Boardwalk area theming.

Now let's take an even closer work at all that fake fretwork that supposedly supports the coaster's steel tracks. Do you see the sun shape? That white triangle cut piece that seems to be repeated hundreds of times (Actually, it's over a thousand. But -- what the hey -- who's counting?) all over the surface of "California Screamin' " 's pseudo-wooden super-structure. What's that supposed to represent?

Well, truth be told, those triangle cut pieces were deliberately folded in to the coaster's decorative design to echo the giant sun face that you see on the side of its next door neighbor, DCA's "Sun Wheel" ferris wheel. Just a little subtle touch that's supposed to signal that "California Screamin' " and the "Sun Wheel" are linked. Part of a cohesive whole. Not just some rides that you'd find thrown together at some anonymous seaside amusement park.

Why would the Imagineers put this much thought into what's supposed to be a done-on-the-cheap selection of off-the-shelf amusement park rides? Because that story just isn't true. Disney didn't do this part of the park particularly quickly or cheaply. The Imagineers spent months using WDI's "CAVE" technology, trying to get just the right balance of elements for Paradise Pier. Not so many rides & shows that this side of the park would look over-crowded and cramped, but just enough variety so that the place looked busy and fun to visit.

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