One of the most hotly-anticipated sessions at the D23 Expo that did not take place in the Arena was Radiator Springs Reality: Imagineering Carsland for Disney California Adventure. Hosted by Dave Fisher, the panel included Kathy Mangum, John Lasseter, Jennifer Mauch, Kevin Rafferty, and Roger Gould.
Lasseter opened the session by showing off his official hard hat that he wears during his visits to the Carsland construction site, noting "I have the coolest hard hat in the history of construction. This hard hat was personally painted for me by Chip Foose, so it's completely done in Ramone's paint job, and this lives in Kathy's office under lock and key."
Explaining where his first thoughts of Carsland came from, Lasseter noted: "The origin of Carsland really comes from … the idea of California Adventure … we needed to do something to it. I mean, I'll be honest with you.… It was not up to the level, to my mind, of a Disney park. It didn't have quite the theming and all that in it that it should have had. When I was made Chief Creative Officer and then also Bob Iger asked me to step in as Principal Creative Adviser for Walt Disney Imagineering, it was one of the first things because being a Jungle Cruise skipper and growing up in Whittier, California, and coming here all the time, Disneyland is just such an important part of my life, and it's important to all of us, and I really felt that we needed to do something with California Adventure. I mean I love the idea of another park there, but it needs to have a sense of place that a Disney park has. When you walk through that tunnel underneath the train station, you are transported."
Imagineer Kevin Rafferty noted that the concept had been around for a while, and that the area was originally called "Car Land." The land was to play off of California's car culture, and the main strip would be "Cruise Street," themed to 1955-1965, when cars became less about transportation and more about personal expression. Food would have included Marty's Drive-In, with carhop service. The Road Trip, U.S.A. attraction would have started with a ride past California Crazy architecture, with a cross-country trip past many roadside landmarks ending in a ride through a Nature's Wonderland-type cavern. It even included a ride through a car wash, where guests not on the ride could squirt those in the cars. "And then John actually took a look at that and said 'You know what? Maybe you should think about more characters," said Rafferty.
Lasseter interjected: "One of the things that I have a very strong opinion about, and I don't have many strong opinions [laughter from those on the panel] is that California Adventure completely lacks Disney characters. And I just didn't understand the idea of a Disney park without Disney characters. I just didn't make sense to me…."
At first, the idea was to use all sorts of Disney characters. Goofy About Road Trips would have followed Goofy's driving antics as he traveled around the country. Herbie the Love Bug would have had a role in Car Land, as well. One attraction would have been Junkyard Jamboree, where cars would come to life and play music for the cars that would begin dancing. When Cars came out and was a big hit, elements of the movie were added. Sally's Road Rally ran through and around the town. The final model had Cruise Street as the main strip, Luigi's Casa Della Tiies, and Radiator Springs Racers in the back of the area. In the summer of 2007, the team presented the concept to Lasseter, who said "why not just turn Car Land into Cars Land. Let's build Radiator Springs."
"It goes back to what I was saying earlier about what Disneyland," said Lasseter. "It's a particular place and time. And what I felt like what California Adventure had a problem with is it was trying to be too many things. I didn't know what year I was in, and I felt like this was kind of the same thing, in a sense… that this was maybe trying to be too many things. But instead, let's just make it a place where you are transported. You are transported to Radiator Springs. And it's there, and it's alive, and let's make it as detailed as possible."
Food plays an important part on Route 66, and it hasn't been left out in Radiator Springs, either. Flo's V8 Cafe is a gas station, because food is to humans as gas is to cars. Flo's serves a role similar to that of a small-town diner, where everybody would gather and eat and chat and deal with the town's problems. The Cozy Cone Motel will serve as a food location, serving various cone-themed eats. Fillmore's Taste-In (where Fillmore would sell his organic fuel) will serve as a beverage location.
There will be two main shops in Carsland. Radiator Springs Curios will sell odd and ends and other ephemera, while Ramone's Paint Shop will be the major merchandise location for the land.
At this point in the presentation, a picture of Disneyland's former Flying Saucers attraction appeared on the screen, with the word "Rides" above it and the crowd cheered. Lasseter intentionally began with reading stage directions. "Pause for applause. You bet, baby! I will just take a moment to say, as a child, this was my favorite ride at Disneyland. I dreamed about it, and I looked forward to riding it all the time."
Based on the Flying Saucers attraction, Luigi's Flying Tires is "like a gigantic air hockey table." While the original attraction closed because of frequent mechanical difficulties, Imagineers came up with solutions to the original problems, and the attraction is now expected to delight thousands each day.
Mater's Junkyard Jamboree uses a ride system based on Francis' Ladybug Boogie in bug's land. However, it adds a trailer to each car, adding a whip-like effect. The theming is that you're sitting in a trailer being pulled by a baby tractor that is just learning how to do its job. A mocked-up vehicle was testing in the parking lot at Imagineering, and word is that it's a lot of fun. Instead of the two rotating disks that are featured on the bug's land version, Mater's Junkyard Jamboree will feature two sets of four rotating platforms, with 11 vehicles on each. There will be a giant jukebox made out of car parts, with all original songs sung bo Larry the Cable Guy as Mater. The attraction's queue will be decorated with memorabilia from the Mater's Tall Tales series of cartoon shorts.
Radiator Springs Racers, at 6 acres, is the biggest attraction Disney has ever built, taking up about 12 acres for Carsland in total. This attraction uses Test Track's ride system. While Imagineers originally tried to warn Lasseter off from using the ride system, but a fix from another Imagineer allowed them to use the system without expected problems. The lengthy attraction will provide interesting experiences in several scenes. At first, you'll be taking a lovely dream through the countryside. The Sheriff will stop you an tell you that you were driving too fast, and so he directs Mater to escort you into town. Mater being Mater, of course, you first have to head off to do some tractor tipping. You end up waking Frank, who scares you and you race back into town, where you meet the residents of Radiator Springs.
At this point, alternate cars go to Ramone's to get a new paint job or to Luigi's to get new tires. The cars come out side by side, and Guido and Luigi start your race. There are many different ride profiles, so you'll continue to get surprised by the end result of the race. You'll continue your ride with a trip through Taillight Caverns, and then return to town.
Kevin Rafferty talks you through the Radiator Springs Racers attraction, at the Parks & Resorts Carousel of Projects pavilion. Video by Steven Ng.
According to Imagineer Kathy Mangum, Radiator Springs Racers was scheduled to start testing August 25, and Luigi's Flying Tires starts ride testing this month.
When you approach the attraction, you'll actually walk under the ride track, which is traveling over a bridge.
Imagineer Jennifer Mauch talked about the difficulty of finding real-life foliage that matched the look and feel of that which was found in the original movie. Imagineers bought over 500 trees and cactus and installed them around Radiator Springs.
Pixar's Roger Gould noted that Imagineers had to figure out the timeline for the show, so that the cars would be properly "attired." It was decided that Radiator Springs Racers would be in a time between Cars and Cars 2, which will allow for the appearance of Doc Hudson, while the rest of Carsland would be set after Cars 2. With the need to make locations work as theme park venues, some modifications needed to be made.
At Flo's V8 Cafe, an addition was put into the restaurant to handle large crowds, with the story going that Flo's became so popular once people started coming to Radiator Springs that she needed to put in more facilities. When the showed the models to John Lasseter, he loved it so much that he put the enhancements to Flo's into Cars 2. The larger restaurant gave Imagineers room to tell Flo's backstory (she used to be in a girl group).
In trying to figure out what Ramone's should look like, Imagineers visited Chip Foose. In looking at how Foose worked, Imagineers noticed that Foose always had green tape within reach, so green tape will also be visible within Ramone's. More embedded story is a note at Luigi's Flying Tires that is actually a letter to Guido and Luigi from the Popemobile.
Gould mentioned that the Imagineers had to move the load and unload for Radiator Springs Racers back, putting it into the attraction's scenery, and they weren't sure how to design it. However, one of the teams still touring Route 66 came across Yellowhorse, a natural formation that looked very much like… a ride load and unload access system.
More backstory for the land was the story of the original discovery of Radiator Spring, which was found by Stanley, the town's founder. The original spring and some of the backstory will show up in the attraction.
Gould noted that Imagineering can now carve models directly from 3-D models generated by Pixar's animation computers.
Of course, Lasseter couldn't let the session end without plussing it a bit, though. After the talk about Radiator Springs was over, Lasseter announced an unusual contest. Lasseter started out as a Jungle Cruise skipper at Disneyland Park in 1977 and 1978. He got to reprise that experience during the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, of which there are many photos. However, Lasseter does not have any photos of him as a Jungle Cruise skipper from his original stint. So John has announced the "John of the Jungle" contest to search for any photos that may exist of him.
Anyone that finds a photo of Lasseter as a skipper during his original stint can submit it on the JohnoftheJungle.com website for a chance to win a VIP trip to the grand opening of Cars Land and a private Jungle Cruise with Lasseter himself.
To help narrow it down a bit, Lasseter said that he was trained around Thanksgiving 1977, and he worked Holiday 1977, Easter 1978, Grad Nite 1978, and summer 1978. He will post a photo of himself around that time on the John of the Jungle website to make it easier to identify him in a photo. For those who would try to doctor their own photo, Lasseter reminded everyone that "Pixar invented digital compositing. We know a fake when we see it. They don't count!"
John Lasseter announces the "John of the Jungle" contest which awards a trip to the opening of Cars Land for a person who can find a photograph taken of Lasseter when he skippered a Jungle Cruise boat as a cast member in 1977. MousePlanet video by Steven Ng.
The grand prize is a visit to the grand opening of Cars Land as a guest of Lasseter and Pixar. If there are multiple people who submit a photo of Lasseter, a randon selection process will be used to determine the grand prize winner.
Carsland is scheduled to open next year, and is expected to have a transformative effect on the park.
(Send an email to Mark Goldhaber)
Mark (@MPMark) is a veteran of dozens of trips to Walt Disney World starting in 1972, with a few Disneyland trips thrown in for good measure. As a Disney stockholder and a Disney Vacation Club member, Mark is always in touch with what's going on with The Mouse. Mark serves as MousePlanet's Walt Disney World content coordinator. Mark is a senior information technology manager working for the State of New York. He lives in the suburbs outside Albany, New York, with his wife and son.