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John Lasseter at D23: Lubing the Creaky California Adventure with Cars Land

John Lasseter on California Adventure: "It was not up to the level of a Disney Park"
John Lasseter on California Adventure: "It was not up to the level of a Disney Park"
Disney Media

For more photos see our slideshow of Disney D23 Expo @ Anaheim Convention Center

If you have ever felt gypped by your trip to Disneyland's California Adventure, then you got a friend in John Lasseter.

"California Adventure: We needed to do something to it," sighed the Pixar/Walt Disney Studios Animation chief creative officer at Sunday afternoon's D23 panel Radiator Springs Reality; "I'll be honest with you, it was not up to the level, for my mind, of a Disney park. It didn't have the theme-ing."

Hence the impetus for his $200 million Route 66 homage Cars Land, which is part of the $1 billion overhaul to bring California Adventure up to par with its sister Disney parks. Despite hitting a record attendance of 6.28 million last year, California Adventure stills ranks as the least visited among Disney's U.S. parks, queuing behind Disneyland (15.98 million), plus Florida's Magic Kingdom (16.9 million) and its smaller resorts (average 10 million apiece). On the upside, it fares better than Universal Studios Hollywood (5 million).

Sunday's panel was about keeping park denizens in the loop on Cars Land prior to its ribbon cutting in December 2012.

The one point not addressed by Imagineers: Where's everyone going to park their own cars at Cars Land? Attendance increased 3 percent at California Adventure from 2009 to 2010. Can you imagine how much it's gonna spike after Cars Land opens?

Like the early 20th century automakers who coerced the extinction of L.A.'s streetcars, Cars Land has already eliminated a parking lot, the Bountiful Valley Farm (a kiddie water park that seemed destitute during peak times) and the Golden Gate Bridge facade.

For all those Mouseketeers attending who were already in the know, the only news alert was that Lasseter doesn't have any photos from his precious 1977-78 days as a Jungle Cruise skipper. The Cars 2 director championed the crowd to a contest: Look through their Disneyland photo albums to see if they have one. If so, post it at this Facebook page for a chance to attend Cars Land on opening day. "Now don't try and photoshop," warned Lasseter, "Pixar actually has the technology which tells if the photo is a fake or not."

Of particular note was the simulation looped panorama video playing at the D23 Carousel of Projects exhibit, showing the great Cadillac Mountain range nearly complete (see the clip below) as well as most of the structures in this layout map.

Lasseter remarked that while it took Walt Disney a year and change to open Disneyland, the company is taking four years to build the 12-acre Cars Land, half of which is comprised of the storytelling roller coaster Radiator Springs Racers.

Some of the Radiator autos were on display including Red the Fire Truck, below, who had moving digital eyes.

Red the Fire Truck knows Disneyland fans are burning to go to Cars Land in 2012.
Red the Fire Truck knows Disneyland fans are burning to go to Cars Land in 2012.
A. D'Alessandro

The Lightning McQueen model with moveable eyes/mouth at 2009's D23 was much cooler than the static one on display this year, seen below.

Not so Ka-chow: The 2009 D23 Lightning McQueen model created more thunder than this roller coaster cart
Not so Ka-chow: The 2009 D23 Lightning McQueen model created more thunder than this roller coaster cart
A. D'Alessandro

This one looks like it's better-suited for high roller coaster speeds. From Mater's Junkyard Jamboree mini-ride, there was a tractor prototype, one that will swing kids wildly to-and-fro with its hitched cart.

Of all the mini-rides at Cars Land, the one that Lasseter constantly talks about is Luigi's Flying Tires -- a throwback to Tomorrowland's Flying Saucers ride he grew up with as a child.

"I'll never forget it -- there's a particular sound to the ride and the way it moves. It's that carrot that Imagineering has always had in front of them to try and figure out, because it [Flying Saucers] failed," said Lasseter. "It's like a giant air hockey table you get to ride on."

Lasseter's vigor is reminiscent of Walt Disney's gusto, especially after hearing the Disney vets regale the crowds throughout D23 with stories about the pioneer. For a guy who's apparently lost his shoebox full of Jungle Cruise Polaroids, it's Lasseter's nostalgia that will restore considerable value to the California Adventure $80 SoCal admission price and ensure that lines stay wonderfully long.

Follow @AnthnyBoxOffice and @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.

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