While you and I have probably rolled our eyes at at least some of Disney's decisions, we can also go on and on about their brilliance and creativity and they've built stunning attractions, inconcievable themed lands, and ambitious, groundbreaking parks in the same time span.
We all watched in awe as Disney did something unprecedented: admitted defeat and committed $1.5 billion toward Disney’s California Adventure, which had been foundationally flawed in its execution. We chronicled the in-depth story of Disney's California Adventure in its own feature, but you know the refrain: a creatively starved park that set out to spoof modern California and played Top 40 hits made very few fans. Disney's unimaginable effort righted a sinking ship by tearing each of California Adventure's modern-themed lands to the rivets, rebuilding them in the style of Disneyland Park's: storied, reverent, idealized, historic lands. Rather than taking an irrevent and joking tone toward modern California, the new California Adventure transported guests to romantic periods of California's great and celebrated history.
Paradise Pier, originally a modern seaside carnival of circus-freak posters, neon lights, and stucco walls was reimagined as a turn-of-the-century Victorian boardwalk of strung popcorn lights, calliope music, a beautiful seaside aquarium, pie-eyed Disney characters, and all the architectural charm you’d expect – a gorgeous Californian dream that's part history, part storybook.
Grizzly Peak went from a rundown wilderness logging operation overtaken by an extreme sports company to a storied 1950s National Park ripe with opportunities for exploration, with the ole’ Packard parked outside and wonderful adventures waiting within a thriving, historic park that perfectly encapsulated the romantic era of Northern Californian wilderness.
Buena Vista Street was built from scratch as the park's new entry land, recreating an idealized version of the Los Angeles Walt must've encountered when he arrived in the 1920s – newsies, jazz, elegant department stores, and the towering, iconic Carthay Circle Theater created in California Adventure one of the strongest and most beautiul opening acts of any Disney Park! Guests today can board the electric Red Car Trolley as it glides down the 1920s boulevard, where it passes before the Carthay and down the street into another themed land.
Hollywood Land would born from the ashes of the tired, modern Hollywood Pictures Backlot, downplaying the former's "behind the scenes" look at flat facades and instead working to craft a picture of 1930s and '40s Hollywood – "a bustling young town at the height of its Golden Age." Indeed, there's some integral element of design at play here that guests can take the Red Car Trolley from Carthay Circle to the Hollywood Tower Hotel, the reigning pueblo-deco tower looming over Hollywood Land.
"Back" in the 1920s Buena Vista Street's Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Cafe, you'll see posters hanging on the walls advertising jazz shows occuring at the Hotel's Tip Top Club. But board the Red Car Trolley and get off at the Hollywood Tower Hotel stop and you'll notice that in the 20 years between Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land, things have changed. The Hollywood Tower Hotel is overgrown and crumbling – a faded star, and a dimmed beacon of Hollywood. How? Well c'mon now, you know that the only way to find out what tarnished this golden hotel's history is to step inside and board The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
But that's neither here nor there, really. In uniting Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land (and indeed, all of California Adventure) in this new, storied, compelling, cohesive frame of telling California's celebrated stories, Disney finally got it right. It took a billion dollars, but California Adventure was finally free from the irreverent humor, modern references, 20th century soundtrack, and cheesy visuals that had made the park appear so two-dimensional compared to Disneyland Park.
That's what made it sound so absolutely outrageous when, a few months ago, fan sites started circulating a rumor that the Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel's 2014 hit film – would take up residence in the Hollywood Tower Hotel. A futuristic sci-fi superhero movie in a 1920s art-deco hotel standing prominently in a 1940s Hollywood? Unimaginable, right? And I counted myself among those who insisted that this rumor must have been invented by a wayward fan just to see how feverishly the absolutely-preposterous story would spread... That it would be a learning moment for us all to realize just how gullible we could be to imagine that this might actually be considered.
Sure, the original, directionless, rudderless California Adventure might've attempted this; throw everything at the wall until something sticks. And it wouldn't have burnt fans, because that park had nothing to lose. It could've become a Hollywood Studios catch-all where any intellectual property could simply take up residence in a tan showbuilding, explained away. But that's NOT what happened. California Adventure was fixed! Its foundational problem was solved! It was saved! Disney would never just toss a Marvel ride into the park, much less one that would force the closure of a guest favorite!
But it's official.
Less than a year from today, the fabulous, breathtaking, gorgeous hotel visible from the Esplanade, reigning over a park so tailor-made for it, the Hollywood Tower Hotel will be no more. In its place will stand a futuristic-industrial sci-fi tower of metal rivets and spires and glowing emblems, ostensibly themed to The Collector from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. You don't have to squint hard to notice that this is, indeed, simply the Hollywood Tower Hotel, its gorgeous art-deco towers, angular port cochere, and even those stunning doned towers, now painted silver and affixed with pipes.
This will now be the icon looming over Hollywood Land and Disney California Adventure. From Main Street Station at Disneyland, you’ll see this – the vague shape of a historic hotel now covered in pipes and satellites. Even Joe Rohde could do little more than describe it as "a kind of warehouse / fortress / power plant." This new sci-fi warehouse tower will be visible from each of the park's themed lands, looming in the distance behind Pacific Wharf, Paradise Pier, Grizzly Peak...
If the concept sounded like a bad April Fools Day joke, the artwork seemed equally implausible, like something cooked up for a fan site's April 1st "update" just to earn chuckles from fans at how Disney's almost out-of-touch enough to actually consider it! And if the concept and artwork seem like the stuff of late night Disney Twitter ramblings, wait until you hear the name...
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! will star the “outrageous and irreverent gang” of anti-heroes assembled in the hit Marvel film on a “comically high-energy adventure.” This new laugh-out-loud superhero thrill ride will indeed be a sight to behold, and since Joe Rohde (creative lead of Disney’s Animal Kingdom) has been singularly handed the keys to Disney’s integration of Marvel into the parks, we can be sure that it’ll be a really delightful attraction with some surprising effects and great details.
And don't misunderstand. Despite the massive push fans have leveled against this change (a bigger and more vocal uprising that usual, actually), the ride will have multi-hour waits and play to delighted audiences when it opens. No doubt. The guests who enjoy it won't at all be wrong or stupid for doing so. My taste isn't "better" than theirs at all, and I have no doubt Mission: BREAKOUT! will be a great ride.
I just won’t know firsthand.
I think that for a while, I'm done with Disneyland.
And it’s not because I don’t like Marvel (I'm a huge Marvel fan!) or that I don’t like Guardians of the Galaxy (I loved it!) or that I don’t trust Joe Rhode and Disney’s Imagineers to create an absolutely wonderful ride experience (I really do!). It’s just that, looking across the skyline of Disney California Adventure and seeing this 160-foot tall spaceship that’s vaguely-hotel shaped with obvious relics of that beautiful hotel attached, I’ll sigh. That’s not my Disneyland.