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Preview: Cars Land at Disney California Adventure

Cars Land logo

Disney's massive overhaul of its California Adventure park will reach completion in 2012, with the opening of a sprawling new area known as Cars Land. Hopes are high that the expansion, inspired by Pixar's 2006 animated movie Cars, will help to turn around the fortunes of Disneyland's struggling sister park. With a fortune being gambled on the success of Cars Land, does it have the ingredients to deliver?

Anchored by $200 million E-Ticket attraction Radiator Springs Racers, Cars Land marks the final phase of a $1.1 billion series of upgrades to Disney California Adventure. In addition to extensive remodelling of many areas of the park, two other major attractions are also part of the plans - the World of Color night-time spectacular (which opened in June 2010) and dark ride The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure. It's Cars Land, though, which represents the biggest addition to the park since its 2001 opening.

Although Radiator Springs Racers has grabbed most of the headlines, a number of other additions will open alongside it in Cars Land. Let's take a look at what's in store for guests when Disney throws open the gates to its ambitious creation, one year after the release of the planned Cars 2 movie in 2011.

Recreating Radiator Springs

Cars Land overview image

Cars Land will bear little resemblance to the car park that preceded it.
Image © Disney

Constructed on the site of the former Timon Parking Lot behind the existing Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and A Bug's Land attractions, Cars Land will cover a 12-acre area (increasing the overall size of Disney California Adventure by over 20%). The land will be split into two broad areas - the fictional town of Radiator Springs, and a large area of rocky "desert".

Although the Cars movie tells the story of a world populated by anthropomorphic motor vehicles, its fictional locations bear more than a passing resemblance to real-world locations of years-gone-by. Running through the center of Radiator Springs is a recreation of Route 66, the legendary "Main Street of America" that connects Chicago with Los Angeles. A diverse range of stores, dining locations and attractions will line the street, designed to evoke the "automobile culture" of the 1950s and 1960s.

Flanking the east side of Route 66 will be two of Cars Land's three rides - Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Flying Tires, along with a snack stand themed to the movie's Cosy Cone Motel. On the other side of the street will be two dining locations (Fillmore's Taste In and Flo's V8 Café) and two retail outlets (Ramone's House of Body Art and Sarge's Surplus Hut). At the end of the road will be the the Radiator Springs Courthouse (the interior of which is reserved for an unknown future use) and the entrance to headline attraction Radiator Springs Racers.

Radiator Springs Racers

Radiator Springs Racers ending concept art

Guests will race each other in an exciting finale to Radiator Springs Racers.
Image © Disney

Disney has allocated a huge chunk of its overall budget for the Cars Land expansion to the construction of Radiator Springs Racers, and it's easy to see where the money is going. The attraction will cover over half of the land's total area, will feature a high-tech ride system and audio-animatronic characters, and will be surrounded by acres of elaborate theming.

With the ride likely to attract huge crowds, Disney is working to make the queue area for Radiator Springs Racers as entertaining as possible. After passing under the ride's track into Stanley's Oasis, guests will enter Tap N Cap, a fictional store selling radiator caps for overheated cars. The store is based on a scene that was planned for the first Cars movie, but didn't make the final cut.

Radiator Springs Racers test vehicle 1

The Radiator Springs Racers ride vehicles will be "living" cars.
Image © 2010 Disney

The ride itself will re-use technology from the Test Track attraction at Walt Disney World's Epcot, which was derived from the short-lived Rocket Rods at Disneyland. Guests will travel in six-person vehicles, which in keeping with the movie's universe will be "living" creatures. The cars will feature moving eyes and mouths, which will be synchronized with an audio track as they talk to guests and each other.

Radiator Springs Racers test vehicle 2

The ride vehicles are designed to look like they belong in the world of Cars.
Image © 2010 Disney

Guests will encounter a number of familiar characters during their journey on Radiator Springs Racers. Like Test Track, the attraction will see guests passing at low speeds through a range of scenes before rocketing around the last section of the circuit in a high-speed finale. However, whereas in Test Track the cars are aiming only to pass a "test program", in Radiators Springs Racers two cars will face off against each in other in a dramatic race through the desert. The result will be randomised, increasing the potential re-ride value of the attraction.

A number of details of the plot leading up to the climactic race have been released by Disney, with some key scenes shown in the video below. We don't want to ruin the surprise by dishing out too many spoilers, but suffice it to say that several iconic scenes from the movie will be recreated.

A full scene-by-scene breakdown on the LA Times website reveals the planned sequence of scenes for the new ride, for those who just can't wait to find out. Still keen for more details? Check out the preview video below, courtesy of Inside the Magic (beware of spoilers!):

Testing of the Radiator Springs Racers ride system is already underway (as shown in the video below) - which will perhaps come as a relief to Disney fans who remember the 18 month delay to the opening date of Test Track. Extensive theming is required before the attraction opens to the public, with rockwork needed on a scale that is unprecedented even for Disney's Imagineers.

If Disney can succeed in pulling together all of the elements that it has promised for Radiator Springs Racers, it should rival Soarin' and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror for the title of most popular attraction at California Adventure. For sheer size and ambition, it could dwarf them both.

Luigi's Flying Tires

Although a relatively minor attraction in comparison to Radiator Springs Racers, Luigi's Flying Tires has generated huge excitement among Disney fans. Why? Simple - it marks the return of the hugely popular ride system that was used for the Flying Saucers attraction that operated at Disney from 1961 to 1966.

Luigi's Flying Tires concept art

Luigi's tire yard will be the home for his namesake attraction.
Image © Disney

Flying Saucers saw guests taking part in something akin to a giant air hockey game, boarding saucers that were made to float just above the ground by air blasters. Luigi's Flying Tires - themed around the 1959 Fiat 500 who runs the tire shop in the Cars movie - will be based on a very similar setup, though guests will ride in big-rig truck tires rather than flying saucers. As well as navigating around tilting towers of tires, riders will also be able to bump into each other as Luigi and sidekick Guido watch on. The video below shows a test setup in action:

As with Radiator Springs Racers, the ride system behind Luigi's Flying Tires does not exactly have an exemplary track record. The major reasons behind the closure of the original Flying Saucers were the attraction's low capacity and frequent breakdowns. To be fair, though, Disney does have over four decades of technological advances to draw upon in developing the new ride.

If capacity does prove to be a problem, waiting guests will at least have something to look at. The queue will pass through Luigi's Cassa Della Tires showroom, before entering a heavily-themed Italian garden and finally ending up at the tire yard. Close to the ride's entrance, a play area aimed at younger children will feature a tire-themed jungle gym, slides and cars.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree vehicle image

Baby tractors will take guests for a spin in Mater's Junkyard Jamboree.
Image © Disney

When Cars Land's final attraction, Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, was originally announced, many assumed that it would be a simple "convoy-style" children's ride. In keeping with inventiveness of the other attractions in the land, that has proven not to be the case. Instead, it will be a new variation on the classic Whip ride, which has been seen at amusement parks since the early twentieth century.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree concept art

Mater will boom out tunes as guests spin to-and-fro on a Whip-style ride.
Image © Disney

As the title suggests, the ride will be located in Mater's Junkyard and will be hosted by the jovial tow truck himself. As with Luigi's Flying Tires, it will feature a neighboring play area that will include interactive elements such as honkable horns. The junkyard theme will extended to the queue, with the fence being made from scrap items such as used tires and rusting gasoline pumps.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree will be themed around a "ho-down", with Mater leading the sing-a-long. Taking part in square dance will be 22 baby tractors, each pulling a trailer containing two guests. The tractors will transfer across multiple spinning roundtables throughout the four-minute ride, whilst also spinning independently. Guests are likely to step off the attraction feeling somewhat dizzy, and with Mater's catchy tunes stuck in their minds for hour afterwards.

Refueling and restocking in Cars Land

Downtown Radiator Springs concept art

Downtown Radiator Springs will be home to a host of shops and restaurants.
Image © Disney

With Cars having broken records for sales of merchandise based on a Disney/Pixar movie (with an estimated $5 billion in revenue), it's no surprise to see retail outlets featuring heavily in the plans for Cars Land. The Radiator Springs Curio Shop will be themed as a traditional Route 66 tourist stop-off, selling small souvenirs that might be found in a bric-a-brac shop. Across the street, Ramone's House of Body Art will sell Cars Land and Radiator Springs merchandise, while Sarge's Surplus Hut is also likely to act as a store (though Disney has yet to confirm this).

Cars Land will also bring some badly-needed new dining options to Disney California Adventure. The Cozy Cone Motel will sell amusingly-titled snacks such as Chili Cone Carne, Cone on the Cob and Popcone, while Fillmore's Taste In will offer more snacks in a hippie-style, laidback setting.

The major dining location in the new land will be Flo's V8 Café, which will serve diner-style food in a classic Route 66-style setting. There has been some speculation that this could change, with the Café taking on the drive-through theater style of the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Disney's Hollywood Studios. However, Jim Hill Media reports that this is more likely to form part of a "phase 2" future expansion of Cars Land.

Our thoughts

Mater concept art

Mater and friends will be a welcome addition to Disney California Adventure.
Image © Disney

Theme park projects on the scale of Disney's renovation of California Adventure don't come around too often, and Cars Land is probably the most eagerly-awaited new area since Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Given that level of expectation (and the high bar set by Universal), Disney has a lot to live up to. From the evidence we've seen so far, the Imagineers are on track to deliver.

Of all the upcoming rides listed in our New Attraction Watch, Radiator Springs Racers is one that we're looking forward to the most. Granted, Disney is reusing an established ride system rather than creating an all-new experience like the Wizarding World's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. But the combination of Test Track's technology, extensive theming and Disney's masterful storytelling techniques promises to create something truly spectacular.

We're also pleased to see that Disney isn't just dumping in off-the-shelf rides to make up the numbers elsewhere in Cars Land (as Disneyland Paris has been accused of doing in its own Pixar-inspired area, Toy Story Playland. Both Luigi's Flying Tires and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree have the potential to be more than just a sideshow on the road that leads to Radiator Springs Racers, and it's great to see both putting a new spin on classic attraction types.

Our only real concerns are around the reliability and capacity of Cars Land's attractions (with 9 hour queues at the Wizarding World fresh in our memories). The Test Track ride system doesn't exactly have a glowing operational record, and 2-3 hour wait times are commonplace for the ride at Epcot. Hopefully, the dual-track system of Radiator Springs Racers will help overcome these issues and keep the lines moving. As for Luigi's Flying Tires, let's hope that the problems that afflicted the Flying Saucers at Disneyland are long-lost in history with the ride itself.

With World of Color already here, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue both due to open next year, and Cars Land to follow, these are exciting times for fans of the Disneyland Resort. We can't wait to see the blueprints and renders become a reality.

You can keep up to date with the latest confirmed and rumored opening dates for new attractions through Theme Park Tourist's "New Attraction Watch" section, and by signing up for our weekly newsletter.


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