Pixar Pier opened in 2018 at California Adventure after being rethemed from Paradise Pier. The nearly universal love of Pixar matched with the work of Imagineers seems like an ideal combo. Instead the land misses the mark in a few ways. In this post I’ll break down a few of those issues, including what Pixar Pier’s biggest problem is.
On the surface, Pixar Pier has two problems that are tough to overcome. The first of which is the initial concept of the land being a pier. I’ve touched on this in a recent trip report and podcast but having a pier in a Californian theme park isn’t a recipe for success. With piers that have very similar attractions at a much lower cost less than 30 minutes away, having one in DCA isn’t unique.
That issue isn’t specific to the pier in California Adventure but the idea for the park itself. Fortunately, the park has generally overcome the limitations of basing its theme on the state it resides in. Still, DCA runs into these awkward moments where you could experience the authentic idea lands are based on by taking a short drive. Nowhere is that more apparent than Pixar Pier.
There are easy rebuttals to this argument. California Adventure needed a water feature and a pier was a much easier fit, in terms of story, than other ideas. I should bring up that the water looks good and there’s a nice aesthetic to the whole area. Another positive to the pier is that it packs in quite a few rides in a relatively small area, adding capacity to the park. Most of the rides are generic or slightly plussed versions of amusement park rides but there is something to be said about a park having a good amount of attractions. All of these issues and rebuttals lead to a land that can be decent but has limited upside.
Moving past the pier issue, lumping a giant franchise like Pixar into one land is another problem. There really isn’t a good comparison here in any other land that Disney or Universal has created. Nearly all of the recent lands that Disney has built have been hyper-specific to a specific film franchise like Star Wars, Avatar or Cars. Other recently opened lands like New Fantasyland follow the classic example of a broad theme with attractions then fit into that theme.
Pixar Pier enters this weird place where it’s very specific but with a pretty broad and diverse catalog. The land as a whole can’t take you into a pixar movie like Cars Land because other movies need to fit into the land. With the broad themed land the area has to be something generic, in this case a pier, that has little to do with any Pixar film. This all makes for a land that sort of fits into a park in California and sort of feels like it’s based off Pixar. There doesn’t seem to be a conviction to the theme one way or another.
Again, there’s a rebuttal to this as Pixar certainly deserves a place in the park and not every land can nor should be a franchise based land (ala Cars Land). Maybe the pier isn’t the place for this but somewhere along the way fans, including myself, want Pixar attractions and they will probably have to be fit in an overarching land that isn’t perfect from a thematic perspective. While we can argue about the execution of this specific land, having a broad Pixar land where the setting didn’t really fit the franchises seemed somewhat inevitable and worth a trade-off if it led to quality Pixar attractions.
That’s where we run into the main problem with Pixar Pier. With 21 films in their filmography, and over half of them being incredibly thoughtful and well done, Pixar and its fans should be able to enjoy thoughtful attractions. Instead this land is devoid of anything meaningful.
This isn’t meant as a knock on Incredicoaster as that’s a fun attraction and a decent makeover of California Screamin’. But there’s not some beautiful story behind the roller coaster – it’s a thrill ride with an IP slapped onto it. Toy Story Mania falls into that same category, a fun attraction without meaning or much thought behind it. After that we’re left with Emotional Whirlwind, a spinner that hardly reminds anyone of the film it’s based on, and Jesse’s Critter Carousel which is just a carousel. Pixar Pal-A-Round completes the Pixar Pier attractions and does not remind anyone of a certain film in the Pixar canon. Confusingly, the swings and Golden Zephyr are not included as part of Pixar Pier but I digress.
Sure, on one hand, all of these attractions fit into the pier theme. But none of them remind me of what most fans gravitate to when it comes to Pixar. There’s no heartwarming or iconic moments like Up’s first 10 minutes, Wall-E’s space dance, or Coco’s lullaby. There are no weird or absurd moments like Toy Story’s car chase, Monsters Inc. doors scene or pretty much all of Ratatouille. I’m not advocating for a book report attraction but considering the source material, Pixar Pier feels unoriginal and boring.
Even Lamplight Lounge, a very nice place to have a meal, doesn’t dive into Pixar’s wonderful environments but instead acts as a museum of sorts. There’s certainly a place for something like this but I’d be far more interested in a restaurant that takes me into one of these films instead of showing me trinkets from all of them.
What Pixar deserves is a land similar, in terms of attractions, to Fantasyland – various dark rides and adventure attractions set to Pixar’s best movies along with a few spinner and B-ticket rides. A land that is based off of Pixar instead of a pier. Unfortunately, Pixar Pier barely scratches the surface of what those attractions could be, instead opting for unoriginal attractions that are light on substance. While the land sports the Pixar name it misses out on what sets the movie studio apart – innovation and thoughtfulness.
What are your thoughts on Pixar Pier? Let us know in the comments below. Planning a trip to Disneyland Resort? Check out our Disneyland Trip Planning Guide to help you out. If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends and like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. All of those links are on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate your support!