Welcome back to the second article in a four-part series celebrating the original lands of Disney California Adventure Park. As an opening cast member, it’s still hard to fathom that DCA will turn 20 years in February of next year. If you missed the first article, check it out here to read about Entry Plaza and Sunshine Plaza. The consensus from readers is that we all miss those CALIFORNIA letters.
Now, it’s on to Part Two, where we’ll take a limo ride through Hollywood, or at least Disney California Adventure’s version of Tinseltown. Along the way, we’ll see a few familiar Muppet faces, some celebrity soap stars and visit Hyperion Theater before Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular began an unprecedented 13-year run.
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HOLLYWOOD PICTURES BACKLOT OVERVIEW
Welcome to Hollywood! Tinseltown! H-wood! You get the idea. But instead of just driving north an hour from Anaheim to visit the famed Hollywood and Vine, in Disney California Adventure you stepped inside a replicated studio backlot. Set east of Sunshine Plaza, you entered through an elaborate walkway, flanked by two large, gold-tone elephants. These pachyderm sentinels were an homage to old Hollywood replicating a set design from Intolerance (1916).
Once inside, you followed Hollywood Boulevard to a large backdrop depicting a forced perspective of Hollywood. The illusion was such that you looked down the streets of Hollywood under the bright, azure California sky. To the right of the backdrop was the entrance to Hyperion Theater. To the left, were large sound stages, an outdoor stage and commissary hiding food locations and attractions.
The Hollywood backdrop is one of the most photographed and Instagrammed locations inside Disney California Adventure Park. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.
Hollywood Boulevard was aligned with shops including merchandise, a few restaurants and The Disney Animation Building. Some shops were just facades with terrific puns–Dial “M” for Muscle (gym), Ben Hair (salon), and La Brea Carpets (carpets)–but there were four original shops in Hollywood Pictures Backlot.
- Gone Hollywood was the first shop to the left upon entering the “land”. When it first opened, the store carried Hollywood souvenirs, gifts catering to pets and it even had a hawker out front selling (free) maps to Disney’s California Adventure.
- ABC Soaplink sat directly across from Gone Hollywood. The Walt Disney Company acquired ABC/Cap Cities a few years earlier and thus owned the popular soap operas on the network. This little boutique sat inside ABC Soap Opera Bistro (more on that later) and sold typical souvenir t-shirts, keychains and General Hospital scrub sets. Also on the merchandise list were props used and authentic costumes worn by the ABC soap stars.
- Adjacent to The Disney Animation Building, Off the Page was the collectibles shop filled with artwork, figurines, snow globes and ornaments. Disney animators were (and still are) on staff showcasing their artistic talents. This shop was (and still is) a fantastic location to window shop inside and out.
- Rizzo’s Prop and Pawn Shop was the last of Hollywood Pictures Backlot’s merchandise locations. This was a kiosk-like structure which catered to The Muppets fandom. The location sold Kermit, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Fozzie Bear and Rizzo the Rat items from t-shirts to plush to keychains. It was a fun shop, but cast members who worked it had their hands full making sure merchandise didn’t disappear into the crowds and acting as the unofficial information booth of DCA.
Five eateries opened their doors to greet guests on that February day. Only three remain present day.
- Back to ABC Soap Opera Bistro. Starting with the first food location upon entering Hollywood Pictures Backlot, this sit-down restaurant was more than a cafe. It was an experience. You would enter the dining area and be seated by cast members dressed as ABC network pages. The seating sections inside were replicated sets of various stages on the ABC daytime dramas One Life to Live, All My Children, General Hospital and the short-lived Port Charles. You could be seated in the living room of the Chandler Mansion, or grabbing a sandwich in Kelly’s Diner or rubbing elbows with the elite crowd at Llanview Country Club. Wait staff were costumed in character-themed costumes from each soap and at a moment’s notice, a scene could break out during a dining session. As a patron, you may have even been pulled into the daytime drama unfolding whether it was an extramarital affair or even murder!
- For a quicker and cheaper meal, across the street Award Wieners offered hot dogs and sausages. In keeping with the Hollywood theming, you could choose “Stars of the Show” entrees and add from the “Supporting Cast” french fries and toppings.
- Schmoozies! (best pun in the park) was the smoothies headquarters of DCA. The location opened with typical smoothie selections including fruit-flavored and mocha. But beyond the menu, Schmoozies’ tiled artwork was a must-see. The same artists who designed the mural at Entry Plaza, created the 3-D tile mosaic on the building.
The tile work is adorned with ordinary, every day items including marbles and flatware. Next time you visit, try to find the dinosaurs or Statue of Liberty Mickey! Photo by Lisa Stiglic.
- The outdoor food vendor location, Fairfax Market, was named after the L.A. Farmer’s Market in the Fairfax district. Fresh fruit, drinks and chips were available at this location on Hollywood Boulevard.
- Hidden back in the corner of present day Hollywood Land is a large building which looks like a big warehouse. Over the years, it has served as an AP special events location, Instagram wall location (Up balloons), and Captain Marvel meet-and-greet. When Disney California Adventure opened it was called Hollywood and Dine which resembled a commissary. Inside was a food court of sorts which offered four food options, each based on a famous L.A. original eatery from the 1930s-1950s. “Don the Beachcomber” served up Polynesian food. This quick-serve was based on the initial “Don the Beachcomber” restaurant which introduced this type of food to the mainland. Next was “Wilshire Bowl” serving up burgers. Again, this scaled-down version was based on the actual “Wilshire Bowl Nightclub”, a popular location on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. “Villa Capri” sold pizzas and was patterned after the primary location “Villa Capri” in Hollywood. The last eatery was the deli “Schwab’s Pharmacy”. The seating inside Hollywood and Dine reflected more famous Hollywood restaurants and nightclubs. You could sit within facades of the famed Zebra Room Bar and The Victor Hugo Restaurant of Beverly Hills.
Lack of attractions was one of the common concerns in the early days of DCA. Hollywood Pictures Backlot was probably the most notable, especially considering it housed what has been deemed the worst attraction ever at any theme park. Read on.
- I’ll start with what was undoubtedly the best attraction in Hollywood Pictures Backlot, if not in the entire park—The Disney Animation Building. This wondrous, creative Disney interactive museum invited you to immerse yourself in the world of animation. Entering the facility, you were welcomed first into the Animation Courtyard—the main lobby with a 360-degree view of animation clips, stills and images illustrating the animation process. Next, you could channel your inner artist inside the Animation Academy. This drawing class was helmed by an animator who showed you the tricks of sketching your favorite Disney animated character—Mickey, Minnie, Winnie The Pooh and friends. Short and simple, these sessions drew big crowds of all ages. Inside the Sorcerer’s Workshop, you created your own short animation in the Magic Mirror Realm then you could head to Beast’s Library to find your own Disney counterpart in the magic books.
The Animation Academy has gained a following from opening day. In addition to drawing your favorite characters, the rotation now includes holiday-themed characters like Vampire Mickey and Jack Skellington. Photo by Megan Walker.
- MuppetVision 3D neighbored Award Wieners in the backlot area. Jim Henson’s Muppets were no strangers to Disney. The company bought the rights to the creations in 2004 but the ensemble cast debuted at Walt Disney World in 1991. They goofball group seemed a perfect fit for California considering Kermit’s first movie featured him trying to get into Tinseltown. The attraction’s presentation consisted of two parts with the pre-show opening into a large waiting room (green room) made up to look like a theater wing. There, three video monitors showcased 12 minutes of Muppets trying to assemble and prepare for the actual show. Between Fozzie the Bear trying to herd the orchestra (penguins, because they already had their tuxes) and the cringe-worthy dad jokes, this prequel might have actually surpassed the 3D show.
- And now, Disney California Adventure’s folly—Super Star Limo. This short-lived dark ride was envisioned as a limo tour through Hollywood where you were the star being chased by paparazzi. The story changed a bit during the development process, due to the untimely death of Princess Diana, whose car crashed while being chased by photographers. The results of the Super Star Limo were not favorable. Comedienne Joan Rivers was the host on this foiled fabrication. Instead of being chased by paparazzi, you rode through Hollywood while chatting with your agent. Through your journey, you’d spot several celebrities. Unfortunately, the B-list stars were weird animatronics that resembled more caricatures than characters. Not surprisingly, this attraction closed in less than a year.
Hollywood is billed as the entertainment capital of the world so, of course, Hollywood Pictures Backlot had plenty of entertainment on both small and large scales.
- Tucked in a backlot corner behind Hollywood Boulevard was the Hollywood Backlot Stage. This outdoor venue housed several shows that continuously rotated. Lights! Camera! Chaos! debuted on opening day. It was an energizing production with performers dancing on the set with existing props including scaffolding and ladders. In addition, the location served as a great spot to take a break or enjoy a refreshing beverages from Schmoozies! next door.
- The crown jewel of Hollywood Pictures Backlot was The Hyperion Theater. Able to seat almost 2,000 guests, this building was home to some of the most creative shows produced by Disneyland Resort, including the beloved Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular. But before Genie stole the stage, there were actually two productions at the theater. Steps in Time showcased scores of Disney musical numbers. (Hey, those costumes from past parades–think Aladdin, Lion King and Mulan–had to be used somewhere.) But still, this show was a toe-tapping, tickling time. The curtain closed on Steps in Time shortly after debuting to make way for The Power of Blast!, a condensed version of the Tony-winning hit Blast! Not a typical number with vocal presentations but rather The Power of Blast! used drums, bugles and brass instruments, tools, blades and banners to twirl, throw, dip, dive and dance all to the rhythm of drums beating. Much to my chagrin, the show moved on by the end of the second year to make way for the big, blue guy.
DECADES OF CHANGES
Almost 20 years later, Hollywood Pictures Backlot is now Hollywood Land. A handful of the original locations remain intact but many have undergone transformations. The once-popular ABC Soap Opera Bistro is now Disney Junior Dance Party!, Super Star Limo drove out of sight to make way for Monsters, Inc.: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!, and Elsa and Anna reign in Hyperion Theater. And, if you look close enough, you may even spot a Spiderman now and then. If you’d like to learn more in-depth details about Disney California Adventure’s first two decades and more about Hollywood Pictures Backlot, please check out my book California Dreamin’: Disney California Adventure: An Insider’s Journey.
I’ll be back next month to discover the wonders of The Golden State. Hint: “Nice work, Pal” became a catchphrase on this popular attraction.