Roller Coaster of Wub 

Disneyland goes all Chili Peppers and shit

Wednesday, Apr 11 2007
{mosimage}As soon as I heard Disneyland would be giving Space Mountain a “rock & roll” makeover, I quickly made the appropriate arrangements. When Disneyland tries to be all rockin’, things can get pretty cute up in that bitch.

Take, for example, the outdoor concert area in Tomorrowland. It looks like a set from The Jetsons, or LAX — all retro-futuristic, with a stage that rises up from below. Bands appear from inside the Earth, and at the end of the concert, they continue playing until they’ve completely disappeared back into their unknowable lair. It’s very glam.

Last time I saw a band there, around Christmas, it was a wholly generic-sounding — yet somehow quite memorable — “rock band” called Jakali or something (i.e., something of possible Indian, African or Star Toursian descent). They were tight, multiethnic and surprisingly loud, and you wondered what their story was. And at the same time, you didn’t, because they had clearly appeared from another dimension.

The black female singer wore a red dress and led the band through the cutest-ever set of covers — from bands like Maroon 5 and Joan Jett — while Mickey and Minnie, in Christmas sweaters, got their dance on with various toddlers. It was very difficult to hate on that shit, because it was so damn cute.

And across the way at California Adventure, a middle-aged surf band performed Christmas/Beach Boys–type material (very Phil Spector, really) in Hawaiian shirts, while a modest but committed gathering of 4-year-olds cut a rug under the noonday sun. (The band also played on a small mobile stage that was towed around the park by a “woodie”-type vehicle.) Like I said, hard to hate.

So my expectation-dial was set to “supercute” in regards to “Rockin’ Both Parks.” The teaser campaign was enigmatic: Space Mountain and California Screamin’ (at California Adventure) would have their usual musical soundtracks swapped out for songs by an unnamed popular rock band. I think they might have even used the words “popular rock band.” Love that.

Needless to say, my immediate thought was Smash Mouth. But then I thought: No, No Doubt. A real O.C. band! Tragic Kingdom, folks! Come on. It’s too good.

As you know, in the end they chose the Red Hot Chili Peppers, because that band really hasn’t had enough exposure lately. I had to wonder, though: Doesn’t Disneyland know the Chili Peppers are as famous for heroin and tattoo problems as anything else? (And what song would they use? “Sexy Mexican Maid,” perhaps? “Party on Your Pussy”?)

But see, that’s one of the qualities that makes Disneyland — and Disney in general — perennially successful. Its creative people have the ability to absorb a range of seemingly improbable influences and make them Disney. And that’s not a bad thing per se.

So anyway. About the rides. Let me just say right here that I was only able to ride each coaster once. You see, California Screamin’ — which is said to go from 0 to 55 mph in the first 4.5 seconds — got me so topsy-turvy, I had to sit down for 20 minutes afterward or face an uncertain afternoon. (Thank God for that dark theater where they show a movie about Whoopi Goldberg and the Gold Rush and shit.) Thus, my memories of both rides may be limited, and possibly somewhat mangled.

{mosimage}Rockin’ Space Mountain sets you up for liftoff to a background of crowd noise, and an announcer indicating that you are off to attend a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, presumably on some space station, or possibly an asteroid, in deepest space. You can hear sounds of the band warming up on their instruments as you approach the ascent into the eye of God (or whatever that is at the top of the first hill). As you enter the ride proper, the song kicks in, and it is “Catholic School Girls Rule.” I mean, “Higher Ground.” The Stevie Wonder cover.

By the way, I have a long-standing question regarding that song: Based on the actual lyrics, shouldn’t it really be called “Highest Ground”? I’m just wondering. Come to think of it, for that matter, shouldn’t “Superstition” really, by rights, be called “Superstitious”?

Anyway, so the song is shortened, omitting many lyrics. But the real story here is not the musical changes they’ve made to the ride, but the visual ones. The ride has been lit slightly, so you can see stuff. You can see the tracks. You can see the walls. After years of riding Space Mountain in slightly glittering, mostly pitch darkness, believing I could possibly be bounding through space — this was a mixed revelation. The spirals and crisscrosses and ups and downs of those tracks, all coiled in a fairly tight space, are a riot of tangled metal — seemingly too tangled to be safe. It’s easy to start picturing impressive decapitations as you shoot helplessly through this mess; then again, that’s part of the thrill. In any case, I was so taken with this roller-coaster revelation, this breaking of a decades-long illusion, I didn’t focus too much on the images flashing around us: dancing silhouettes, a guitar, “rock & roll” crap like that. Cute stuff, though. And then the Rock Concert was over. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was, overall, a failed attempt to marry Disney with rock — which is exactly what you want from Disney, in the end. I can get my punk rock thrills elsewhere. Disney makes an art of inauthenticity.

California Screamin’ is what you’d call a Quality Coaster. It’s just really, really good. In fact, California Screamin’ and the park in which it resides are, possibly, SoCal’s best-kept entertainment secret. If you go to California Adventure on a Wednesday, nobody’s there but the very friendly staff, and you can ride one of the best coasters in the country as long as you’d like. This ride, which features an upside-down loop (take that, Knott’s Berry Farm!), was not changed at all for Rockin’ Both Parks, but merely given a Chili Peppers soundtrack. I had hoped they would use the Chili Peppers’ cover of “Love Rollercoaster.” I mean, it stood to reason. (And hey! Shouldn’t that song really be called “Rollercoaster of Love”? What’s going on?)

Instead, they used “Around the World,” one of their latter-day radio hits. It was fine. I don’t blame the song for my wicked nausea post-coaster. It could have been the drugs.

Rockin’ Both Parks ends April 26.

click to flip through (2) Rockin' Space Mountain for a limited time only. (Photo by Paul Hiffmeyer)
  • Rockin' Space Mountain for a limited time only. (Photo by Paul Hiffmeyer)

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Reach the writer at ksullivan@laweekly.com

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