Today officially marks the newest theme park land opening stateside as California Adventure is set to welcome Avengers Campus into the fray. Reviews and thoughts of the land have started to trickle out in the blogosphere and we’ll have our own in the next month or two. The subject of DCA’s theme and congruency has been a frequent topic on this blog and one that we’ll revisit today, focusing on how settings matter for a theme park land.
In a lot of ways, California Adventure is a case study in modern theme park design. There are specific IP lands, broad themes that a number of attractions could fit into and then lands totally devoted to franchises like Marvel or Pixar. Another oft discussed subject on this site has been the specific IP lands like Cars Land, Pandora and Galaxy’s Edge. In this post, we’ll use a broader scope and look at four of DCA’s lands – Pixar Pier, Avengers Campus, Grizzly Peak and Cars Land – to see what works and what doesn’t.
The contrast between these lands goes back to the idea behind them. While there are certainly differences in all of them, we’re going to pair Pixar Pier and Avengers Campus together and Cars Land and Grizzly Peak together. I obviously can’t get specific about Avengers Campus without having been there myself but I think the thought behind the Pier and Campus is very similar – find a broad way to fit as much franchise into an area as possible. Pixar Pier does this with some fun components but placing it on a pier has as much connection to the actual company or movies as the setting being put literally anywhere else. (I was going to put that it has as much of a connection as placing it in a garbage dump but actually the dump makes more sense because of Wall-E.)
Avengers Campus is in that same vein albeit in a more believable setting since all of those characters have actually interacted with each other on the big screen. Still, they have never been in California together nor have they gathered on a ‘campus’ next to an alien tower. Hoo boy, my head hurts just from thinking through that sentence. In essence, these two lands exist to pair members of a franchise close to each other, setting be damned.
In some cases ways, I do think this approach makes sense. Avengers Campus remains an unknown and if it’s all tied together by an E-ticket ride featuring a host of the Avengers then it could be a smashing success. Pixar isn’t going to have that luxury and, frankly, no one is calling for the characters of Pixar to get together in some Avengers style movie. As much fun as it would be to see Buzz and Woody hanging out with Grandma Coco and that cat from Soul (would this be fun?), it’s not going to happen. Is anyone’s park experience actually going to be benefitted by having Incredicoaster close to Toy Story Mania? Is that actual theming or is that just lazily pairing them because they have the same parent company? The same question could be asked about the Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man, although those characters have at least met. Defenders of outer space and a New York superhero next to each other in California is a mind puzzle for those that care about this sort of thing.
On the other end of the spectrum is where Cars Land and Grizzly Peak reside. Both lands have a very intentional setting, a small town on Route 66 and a Californian National Park. From there, it was clear that the Imagineers added attractions, restaurants and shops to fit into that setting. It’s almost the inverse approach from Pixar Pier and Avengers Campus where they shoehorn attractions into a setting that is unimportant.
I’m sure you can tell, and I’m not trying to hide my bias, that I prefer the Cars Land and Grizzly Peak approach. I enjoy theme parks for more than just rides and having a story told throughout a land is an integral experience even if that story doesn’t beat guests over the head with the meaning. But can the other equation work too? There’s an interesting example just across the Esplanade to consider.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge floats somewhere between these concepts but is an interesting comparison to Avengers Campus. The Star Wars franchise does have a more cohesive story where characters from all of the movies interact with each other constantly. Marvel only brings characters together every once in a while. Still, there’s a big franchise label over both of these lands with tons of characters to include. I love Galaxy’s Edge and think it has been a win from both a theme and attractions standpoint.
How it got to that point is something that Avengers Campus could imitate in order to be a success. Outside of simply being beautiful and detailed to walk around, Galaxy’s Edge is set in a time and place and doesn’t move outside of those rules. Sticking to one planet where it (mostly) makes sense for all of these entities to live in is an easy way for a theme park land to tell a story. Pixar Pier doesn’t work this way, again, because the characters aren’t actually connected and the setting is generic. It remains to be seen if Avengers Campus will have that ability, as an E-ticket will hopefully be added and a confusing alien tower resides in the background. I will concede that the knock for some fans about Galaxy’s Edge is that you aren’t able to meet Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. I don’t personally have a problem with this but understand the complaint. Avengers Campus will have similar choices to make. Is Iron Man around? Will there be two different Captain America’s? These minute details won’t make a big difference to whether the land ends up being inviting or not but they do make a difference if all piled together.
All of this setting talk goes back to a point I’ve gone over many times before. For a land to be a place where people want to hang out, the story has to be something people want to experience. Toy Story Land probably isn’t going to drop as many people’s jaw because the setting is supposed to be a backyard, something that we’ve all experienced before. I fear that Avengers Campus falls into this line, along with cramming too many different stories into one area in the name of “well, it’s all Marvel so it should go together!” All the while, the setting being a ‘campus’ isn’t the most exciting option. The creators of the land have come out and said they visited college campuses in the area to build the land. Therein lies an issue, that people could just go drive to a campus and see the same style of design as this new land. That’s not as inviting as seeing the floating mountains or Hogwarts.
In the end, I don’t know how many people really care about this and I don’t blame them if they don’t. People go to theme parks predominately to ride attractions and see some larger than life sights. That is great and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach. Now that Disney has acquired so many properties, there’s this new approach to theme park lands that we’re seeing in DCA with Pixar and Marvel all being included in one land. In a lot of ways, California Adventure has hitched their wagon to this all while already having two stunning lands to model after that use a very different approach. We don’t know what the future holds and I hope all of these lands turn into triumphs, but we will see how much setting plays a role in a lands success inside of Disneyland’s second gate.
How much of a role do you think setting plays in a lands success? Let us know in the comments below! Planning a trip to Disneyland? Check out our planning guide. If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. You can do all of that on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!