Disney unveils theme park redo with Cars Land

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ANAHEIM, CALIF. (AP) - Disney is done with its do-over of Disney California Adventure.

Wednesday marks the end of a five-year, $1 billion-plus overhaul to correct problems at the park. The venue, which was supposed to turn the Disneyland Resort into a multiple-day destination like Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., had become a source of embarrassment for the company almost from the moment it opened in 2001. Visitors grumbled that it had little connection to Disney and complained that it seemed built on the cheap.

Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger recently admitted the park had been “a brand eyesore.” He told investors the revamp will fix what was “clearly a problem” and lift business across the resort area, which includes Disneyland next door.

Theme parks are more than just fun and games for Disney. Five park locations, including Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong, along with cruise ships and vacation time-shares generated $11.8 billion in fiscal 2011, almost 30 percent of the company’s $40.9 billion in annual revenue.

Disney had expected California Adventure would lead people stay in its hotels, extending their stays in Anaheim. Instead, it became a place for adults to get an alcoholic drink, or kids to spend a few hours on generic-themed rides, before going back to Disneyland.

The park’s revamp has debuted in spurts since 2008. Most of its new features rely on characters that come from Disney’s $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios, the San Francisco-area studio behind “Cars,” “Toy Story,” “Monsters Inc.” and “A Bug’s Life.”

The park is now “a worthy companion to Disneyland at this point,” said Al Lutz, a hard-nosed critic who is editor of the Disney blog called MiceAge. Lutz credits the overhaul with boosting attendance at Disney California Adventure, which is estimated by the Themed Entertainment Association at 6.3 million last year, up about 12 percent from 2007.

Disneyland attendance grew 9 percent over the same period to 16.1 million.

Having multiple parks in the same location gives Disney a way to charge visitors for “park hopper” privileges and to sell more single-day tickets that give access to one park only. The successful formula, started in the six-park goliath in Orlando, has been repeated in Tokyo and Paris as well.

The revamp replaced many California-themed rides with rides that have Disney storylines.

The Mulholland Madness roller coaster, named after an infamous California water baron, is now Goofy’s Sky School.

Golden Dreams, an audio history of California, is now an animatronic ride called The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

A replica of the Golden Gate Bridge spanning two banks of stores that lined the entranceway has been made over to evoke the Los Angeles neighborhood where founder Walt Disney got his start.

And Cars Land, a 12-acre area based on the Pixar movie “Cars,” opens Friday with three new rides and a re-creation of the fictional town of Radiator Springs on Route 66.

Tiny details such as radiator caps on stanchions or references to Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull (a neon sign says “Catmull Oil”) give Pixar buffs endless fodder to revel in.

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