Ever since the Walt Disney Company acquired Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, it has been slowly incorporating Pixar characters into the Disney parks. However, thus far, Pixar’s presence has been pretty limited — especially considering Disney’s most successful and memorable films in recent memory have been collaborations with Pixar. (To put it in perspective, out of Disney’s 56 films, it has only won 26 Academy Awards; out of Pixar’s 19 films, it has won 14 Academy Awards. Crazy, right?) So Disney’s answer to this dilemma is Pixar Fest!
Up until now, Pixar’s presence has been represented by A Bug’s Land (which will soon be torn down), Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Toy Story’s Midway Mania, and Crush Talk in Hollywood Land. And thankfully, in 2012, Disney California Adventure (DCA) introduced Cars Land, which is the best area in that park. Still, the additions have been somewhat random and placed in various spots all over the place. I think much of that has to do with the fact that Disney has been undergoing constant change, from new management to major multibillion-dollar acquisitions, namely Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. Because of that, the Disney parks ─ and especially DCA ─ have become curious mismatched amalgamations of all of those things, especially when placed next to DCA’s original California theme.
With the newly debuted Pixar Fest, which runs until Labor Day on September 3, Pixar is finally getting the spotlight it deserves, and for the first time in a while, DCA’s theme is becoming more and more consistent and harmonious. This past Saturday, the Smoosh crew visited the Disney parks to check it out, so today we’re reviewing everything we saw and ate so you can get a taste of what to expect.
My favorite thing about Pixar Fest is that it’s being celebrated throughout both parks, not just at DCA, which means that the crowds are more spread out and are not concentrated in one small area (looking at you, Food & Wine). There are Pixar banners covering both park entrances and all the buildings, and there are new subtle, surprising touches everywhere you go. If you enter the park and look up, the monorails have all been repainted to feature Pixar characters. One car might feature the Incredibles whooshing by, and another might have Crush and the Finding Nemo gang swimmin’ the EAC (or the East Australian Current — though if you didn’t already know that by now, get out).
At DCA, they have a brand-new store on Paradise Pier called Knick’s Knacks (located across from Cove Bar) that exclusively sells Pixar merchandise. Named after the Pixar short Knick Knack, the store has a wide variety of apparel, toys, mugs, and more as well as a little corner featuring Pixar concept art. It really is a great idea, and they have some super cute T-shirts if you don’t mind spending an arm and a leg.
But my favorite part of DCA during this festival has to be Cars Land. Right as you enter, Woody and Buzz Lightyear cars are parked right in front of the Cars Land sign, ready for their close-up. They are so adorable — like, too adorable. And, of course, there’s the signature movie posters near Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree that feature Pixar films reimagined and reworked to include some kind of cars reference. These are always so clever, so don’t forget to take a look whenever you’re there.
Another thing I wanted to mention: If you get a chance, check out the entertainment at the Paradise Garden Bandstand. We stopped there to rest and eat lunch, and the whole time we were being entertained by a Dixieland band that played a variety of Pixar classics. But the best part? Every other song, they played the TripleDent gum jingle from Inside Out, which made me laugh every single time.
In Disneyland, apart from the Pixar banners everywhere (which was a little strange to see at that park at first since it never changes), the Pixar additions were limited to the food except for one major AWESOME change: PIZZA PLANET. I can’t believe they didn’t change this a long time ago. Usually Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port, for the festival a bunch of little green Toy Story aliens have taken over and hung their own sign above the original one, reading Alien Pizza Planet: “A Better Place!” Inside, giant aliens are now flying among the plants overhead, and clever posters featuring our green friends are posted all around the dining area. Seriously, I don’t what it is with Disney and posters, but they’re always so, so good. In them the aliens are exploring imaginary planets with some kind of punny food name. In one poster, a rocket is exploring planet Pepperonia, the “Home of the Great Oregano Belt.” In another, two aliens are diving into the cheesy caverns of Mozzar-114. And in yet another — a Smoosh favorite — an alien stands on Flavus Tropicus (“A Perfect Pineapple Paradise!”) with a headdress of fresh fruit, Carmen Miranda style. Way too cute.
Pixar Play Parade
Since we have annual passes, we had the luxury of not having to do all the things, so two hours before the parade, we staked a great spot on the Main Street curb close to the bathrooms across from Starbucks (coincidence? I think not). The parade itself is really fun, with characters, cars, and floats themed with Monsters Inc., Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Inside Out, Finding Nemo, Cars, and The Incredibles. (Up also has a float, but for some reason it wasn’t present for opening weekend.) Overall, the parade is really colorful and cute, and the characters really cater to the children in the audience.
I think my favorite float was the Inside Out one — solely because Sadness made it that much better. While Joy enthusiastically (and joyfully) waved at the crowd, Sadness just stood there, giving half-hearted waves and shrugs and tracing imaginary tears down her face. It was hilarious. BUT, I think what makes the parade is the water — yes, water. Every other float it seems started spraying the crowd. They did it randomly, so you never knew when or if you’d get hit. Thankfully, they skipped me for the most part, but it’s as if they were aiming for Zach because he got decked in the face almost every single time. It was the best.
Together Forever – a Pixar Nighttime Spectacular
This is one show you should definitely plan to see. Created specially for Pixar Fest, Together Forever is your typical Disney nighttime show with projections and fireworks — except this time, it’s exclusively Pixar. We wanted a close view of the castle for this one, so we camped out two hours ahead of time right next to the Turkey Leg Cart (where I bought a chimichanga while waiting, mmm). We had to stand for an hour and a half (which was fine, but I’m never doing that again) but were super close to the castle, which was pretty amazing. At 9:30 pm, when the show begins, instead of Tinkerbell, Buzz Lightyear flies out over the castle to kick-start the festivities. “To friendship and beyond!” he says. And then the show begins.
For the next 15 minutes, the castle is lit up with projections depicting all your favorite Pixar classics, as the soundtracks draw you further into nostalgia. Centering around the theme of “friendship,” the scenes in Together Forever are fun, colorful, sentimental, and heart-wrenching — you try to keep your eyes from watering at “The Ellie Badge” from Up! All the while, the fireworks are perfectly timed with each scene and go off at exactly the right moment, perfectly punctuating and complementing each display. Plus, there’s a surprise flyover from another Pixar icon, which I will leave as a surprise. :) This show really is spectacular, so if you can stay late, you should absolutely put this on your to-do list.
A note: Get there early — at least 2-2½ hours before the show (I’m not kidding) — if you want a spot right in front of the castle. I also recommend bringing a blanket to spread out and sit on (it saved our butts...ha). If you don’t feel like standing there for hours, Main Street, It’s a Small World, and the Rivers of America all have their own projections if you want alternate viewing areas. Plus, I hear each area has custom effects that make each experience unique.
Paint the Night
Paint the Night is back!! In my humble opinion, this was the best part of Disney’s 60th Diamond Anniversary. If you haven’t seen it, this is a bright (I’m talking REALLY bright) technicolor update on Disneyland’s now-extinct Main Street Electrical Parade — except this is 100 times better. Make that 1,000,000 times better. It features floats and characters decked out with thousands upon thousands of colorful LED lights. Now, instead of Disneyland, Paint the Night parades through DCA in tune to the too-catchy-for-its-own-good Paint the Night soundtrack.
Just like the regular Disney fireworks show, Tinkerbell starts off the parade lineup, and following her are themed Disney and Pixar floats featuring everything from Monsters Inc. and Cars to The Little Mermaid and Mickey and crew. Every single float has some kind of technological feat or innovation, and every single one is really astounding and beautiful to look at. The characters walking down the street are wearing lit-up costumes, as well. One of my favorites is the jellyfish, which are made up of umbrella-like contraptions that rest over a man walking inside of it. The umbrella continually rotates as the tentacles (aka LED ropes) spin brilliantly around him.
In this new DCA version, the Frozen float has been removed (it’s too tall for the parade route), but the rest of the old Paint the Night floats are present. PLUS, to celebrate the opening of the Incredicoaster and Pixar Pier, on June 23 Paint the Night will debut a new Incredibles float. It’s supposed to be amazing — or should I say incredible? I’ll stop.
A note: If you can manage it, catch the 10:45 pm showing. Almost no one is there, and you can pretty much get prime seating wherever you want, with space to spare. Just run over to DCA after the fireworks show. You’ll be glad for the space.
Since we were so busy stuffing our faces and camping out for the parades, we didn’t have a chance to check out Pixar Shorts, but I thought I should mention it. Pixar Shorts is essentially a rotating mini film festival of all their animated short films. From now until May 7, they’ll be showing For the Birds, Lava, and Piper before changing up the films, so catch them while you can. And they’re in 3D!
One of the major features of Disney’s Pixar Fest is the list of new food offerings. Every single eatery, down to the the pretzel and churro carts, is featuring a new menu item inspired by one of Pixar’s films. It’s pretty amazing to see what they came up with. We got to try a few items, which we review here, but you can bet we’ll be trying more every time we go. So keep checking back for even more food reviews (also on our Instagram)!
Chocolate and vanilla bean dust and salted cinnamon sugar served with a spiced Mexican chocolate dipping sauce (Disneyland, Frontierland churro cart; $5.75)
Out of all the churros offered at the park, if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t waste your money on this one. This cocoa churro was chocolatey and good overall, but it was nothing special. It was a tad on the dry side, and the cocoa didn’t really add much to the overall flavor. As for the chocolate dipping sauce, I kind of wish it were hot — like more of a molten chocolate sauce. The temperature of the sauce was on the cool side, so it was literally like dipping the churro into a chocolate pudding cup that was sprinkled with a little cayenne pepper. I probably wouldn’t get it again. You’d be better off getting the normal Disney churro or trying one of the other churro offerings.
Giant green macaron filled with a sweet purple cream and lemon jam (Disneyland, Tomorrowland’s Alien Pizza Planet; $5.99)
Visually, this is probably the most adorable snack you can get. Shannon and I were immediately drawn to it, and it was #1 on our to-eat list. Like all Disney macarons, it had a perfect texture, with a crackly, soft shell and a smooth creamy center. This was pretty yummy, but like all Disney macarons, it’s really, really sweet (overly sweet, in my opinion) and is best enjoyed with a cup of coffee. I loved the jam in the middle, though I wish there was a lot more of it. I feel like I needed more tartness to offset the sugar. However, this was worth it, and it’s a perfect snack to share with a friend.
Spicy Corn Dog
Hot link sausage, pepper jack cheese, and spicy Cajun chicken sausage, skewered and dipped in corn dog batter, fried to a golden brown, and served with a sweet and spicy blackberry-serrano chile sauce (DCA, Corn Dog Castle; $9.49)
This is hands down one of the best things I’ve eaten at Disney. It’s the one item where I’ve said “This was worth the $10” and came away actually satisfied. First of all, the corn dog is ginormous, and the fact that it also comes with a side of potato chips or apple slices made it even better. Inside the thick corn-dog batter sits a skewered Cajun chicken sausage and hot link. And, to our surprise — and extreme delight — skewered in the middle of the two dogs was a slab of melted pepper jack cheese. It was gooey and cheesy and UGH, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. With the large size and the included side, I couldn’t even finish it by myself. This is SO worth it.
As for the blackberry-serrano-chile dipping sauce, it was pretty tasty and had a hint of spice on the finish. Still, it didn’t add much. Zach loved the sauce (of course), but I preferred eating it with the spicy mustard, and Shannon ate hers with ketchup. I really hope they keep this around because this is one of my favorite foods at Disney right now.
(Disneyland, Frontierland Pretzel Cart; $4-$5)
Since cinnamon pretzels are kind of a classic, you can’t mess these up too bad. Disney’s version tasted good but was a little stale, as if it had been sitting on the warmer for a while. That ruined the experience a bit, but if it had been fresh, this would’ve tasted amazing! The cream cheese dipping sauce it came with was delicious — not too sweet, and it complemented the pretzel really well. This is definitely worth getting if you can get it fresh.
Check out Disney’s Pixar Fest Foodie Guide to see exactly what they’re offering as part of the festival. If you see a food you’d like us to review, please let us know in the comments! We would be more than happy to make that sacrifice for you.
(Always) falling with style,