Disney California Adventure' s new Cars Land opened recently, and I was fortunate enough to be part of the media corps of bloggers covering the grand reopening of the park as a guest of Disney Parks & Resorts. It was an exciting, memorable event that included a red carpet with celebrity guests, thousands of media folks from television, radio, print and online news sources, and a chance to experience Cars Land firsthand before the eager public arrived. As usual, Disney put on a thrilling show, featuring the opening of Cars Land, an entrance reimagined to look like Walt Disney's Hollywood of the late 1920's, and a brand new techno-night party called the Mad Hatter's T-Party.
The first night featured a red carpet with some of the voice talent from the movie "Cars", including the voice of Mater himself, Larry the Cable Guy. Larry is a very friendly guy, much like Mater in the movie, and joked around with everyone from the mombloggers to the TV broadcasters to the Radio Disney correspondent on hand.
Larry's co-star, Bonnie Hunt, seemed a little more shy, and was hiding under a baseball cap. I didn't realize it was her until she was halfway down the red carpet. Owen Wilson was nowhere in sight.
John Ratzenberger, the Pixar "good luck charm" who appears in some capacity in every Pixar movie, was seemed to enjoy the attention. Ratzenberger's date was carrying a very interesting Cars-adorned Prada bag. I didn't see these on sale in the gift shop. Apparently, only the Real Housewives of Cars Land know where to get these.
The kids from "Modern Family" walked the red carpet like pros, stopping for photos and interviews every few feet. They really seem to be sweet kids, and a credit to child-actors. We met Nolan Gould (aka "Luke") at a PlayStation-sponsored event a few months ago, and it was nice to see him make his way down the carpet. I think he's gotten taller in the last six months. Speaking of maturing, I didn't recognize Ariel Winter, who plays "Alex" on Modern Family. She seemed so grown-up and is quite gorgeous in person.
Andy Garcia was one of the most surprising people to see on the red carpet. I am not sure what connection he had to "Cars" or Disney or ABC, but he is one of my favorite actors and I must say, looks fantastic. There were a number of Latin soccer players, singers, and actors on hand that I didn't really recognize, but they drew a great deal of attention from the Latina mombloggers in our group.
Dancer Derek Hough from Dancing with the Stars seemed to fly past us, despite screams from several young women in the audience trying desperately to get his attention. He's really slight in person, and I mentioned to Christine of Dates to Diapers that I could not imagine how he lifts full-grown women over his head and twirls them around with such ease. Neither of us could figure out where he was hiding his deceptive upper body strength.
Jessica Sanchez from American Idol was supposed to be on hand, but I missed her. My mom is terribly disappointed in me for that, since she nearly got carpal tunnel syndrome from voting for her so many times. I did see Deandre from American Idol, or I should say, a huge mass of curly hair that reportedly belonged to Deandre.
After furiously snapping photos at the red carpet, we were herded over to a stage nearby, where a rocking band played oldies and songs from the Cars soundtrack. They were enthusiastic performers who seemed to fit the Disney mold, a combination of talent and All-American good looks. The entertainment was rounded out with a big dance number performed by a dozen or so dancers dressed like 1950's diner waitresses and auto mechanic, including some on roller skates. It was a dizzying dance number done in the true Disney fashion of "go big or go home."
Disney CEO Bob Iger, Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs, and John Lasseter from Pixar welcomed the crowd to the opening of Cars Land. They introduced various stars of the film, who walked across the stage and posed for pictures with Staggs and Lasseter like it was graduation day and they were being handed diplomas from Cars Land High. Some, like songwriter Randy Newman, embraced Lasseter, as if they were long lost cousins reuniting at a family reunion.
After the speeches, congratulations, and photo ops, Staggs and Lasseter, the backdrop disappeared and life-size models of Mater and Lightning McQueen and other Cars stars appeared and we had our first glance of Cars Land. The section looks like Radiator Springs in the movie, and Disney did an amazing job of creating a human-sized version of the town, with glowing neon, mountains in the background, and rides integrated into shops and restaurants. "Spectacular" somehow seems too tame a word to describe it, but it is the only one that comes to mind right now.
Lasseter and Staggs marked the opening by attaching jumper cables to a giant battery, causing sparks to fly, fireworks to explode and confetti to rain down on the crowd. You have to hand it to Disney; they know how to put on a show.
After the fireworks display, the media and invited guests were allowed to enter Cars Land for a private party, that included a buffet of mini-pizzas, burgers, and meatloaf that you might find at Flo's V-8 Cafe. Some of us were starving after standing around for 3 hours, and headed right for the buffet. The Cozy Cone Motel food stands were open, so we were able to sample some of the fast-food offerings, including chili in a cone, chicken verde in a cone, and pretty much anything you wanted...in a cone.
The rides were opened for a press preview, but we still had to wait about 45 minutes to board the Radiator Springs Racers, the featured ride in Cars Land. It was well worth the wait. At Radiator Springs Racers, guests board 6-passenger race cars on a trip through Lightening McQueen's experience in Radiator Springs, preparing for a thrilling race through the mountain side. After meeting Mater, Luigi, Fillmore, and other characters, you meet up with a second car and race around the mountain track. Since I have a child of the boy variety, I have only seen Cars about 30,000 times, so all of these characters and scenes were very familiar to me.
I rode with two of my fellow Silicon Valley moms, Sheila from Xiaolinmama and Ana from Finding Bonggamom, and when we were about to get off, we saw John Lasseter boarding another car. He was one big smile, the smile of a man who just saw a dream realized.