Disney’s ‘Bug’s Land’ Helps Take California Out of Adventure Park
By SANDI CAIN
Orange County Business Journal
A Bug’s Land is helping revive Walt Disney Co.’s California Adventure by appealing to families with children.
The new attraction, based on Pixar Animation Studios’ “A Bug’s Life,” is a departure from California Adventure’s faux movie studios, mountains and Pacific wharf. That could be the plan, some Disney watchers contend.
A Bug’s Land shares more in common with Disney-MGM Studios in Florida than California Adventure.
“They’ve ditched the California theme and the park will become MGM West,” contends Jim Hill, whose Web site, LaughingPlace.com, tracks company developments.
Disney-MGM Studios features rides and stage shows based on Disney movies and TV shows. There’s a “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” movie set and the Pizza Planet hangout from “Toy Story.”
Next spring, Playhouse Disney Live On Stage!, an MGM Studios staple, is set to debut at California Adventure.
The stage show, based on a Disney Channel show hot with the preschool set, will replace ABC Soap Opera Bistro, an original theme park eatery that closed Nov. 4.
There have been other changes. The California-themed eateries of Robert Mondavi and Wolfgang Puck have been replaced by Disney-operated restaurants. And the Hollywood-themed dark ride Superstar Limo, never an E ticket ride, has been closed for months.
A Bug’s Land, by contrast, is a crowd pleaser. Disney officials don’t reveal attendance figures, but in a recent investor conference call, Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner credited an uptick in visitors to the new themed area.
New Disney parks and resorts chief Jay Rasulo called it “classic Disney theme park entertainment.”
Cynthia Harriss, president of the Disneyland Resort, said she doesn’t see a conflict with A Bug’s Land and California Adventure. “It’s part of our legacy of transporting guests to another world,” she said.
Howard Pickett, the Disneyland Resort’s new senior vice president for overall strategic marketing, said movie-themed rides and areas are an ongoing part of Disney’s theme park development.
“We always look at different themes to tie in and choose what we think are the best attractions to make sure we have the right variety to appeal to everyone,” he said.
Disney is no stranger to slow theme park starts. Disneyland Paris and Orlando’s Epcot faced overhauls in their early years, too.
Walt Disney Studios Park, which opened this year in Paris, may not hit attendance projections for three years, analysts say.
Eisner said he credits Rasulo, who headed Disneyland Paris for two years, with making that park one of the most popular tourist spots in Europe.
Rasulo took over as parks chief in September after Paul Pressler left to become chief executive of retailer Gap Inc. Now Rasulo’s charged with turning around California Adventure. Pickett, a veteran of Disneyland Paris and the Disney Cruise Line, will help.
“I’m trying to take the concept of California and make it more vibrant,” Pickett said. “We have to implant the idea more firmly of what the fantasy of visiting California is.”
California Adventure once projected to draw as many as 7 million visitors a year drew 3.5 million last year. Indications are that won’t change much when 2002 results are in. Companywide, parks and resorts revenue for fiscal 2002 was down 8 percent, to $6.5 billion.