Disney's Bob Iger, John Lasseter Rev Up Cars Land at California Adventure

Robert Iger John Lasseter Cars Land Opening - P 2012
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Robert Iger John Lasseter Cars Land Opening - P 2012

“You can always spot the Imagineers among Disney execs,” one guest observes. “They’re wearing jeans, jackets and comfortable shoes, while the rest are in suits.”

Opening day of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim was a sell-out, with thousands lined up Friday morning to enter the ambitious new area of the Disney Resort theme park. Long waits were endured at the three new rides based on characters and elements from the Pixar film franchise, as guests packed the 12 acre replica of Radiator Springs, marveling at how much it resembles the fictional Route 66 town as animated in Cars.

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“To have a whole land dedicated to the characters we created at Pixar is a dream come true,” said Cars director and Disney animation chief John Lasseter at the VIP dedication ceremony June 13. Red carpet arrivals included Disney execs Bob Iger and Tom Staggs, voice talent from the films (Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger and Larry the Cable Guy) and musicians (Brad Paisley and Randy Newman), after which the crowd moved to the entrance to the new land for songs and speeches.

Walt Disney Co. CEO Iger recalled early conversations with Lasseter about how Pixar films create “a great magical world, one you believe can actually exist.” Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, then took the stage to introduce Lasseter, who surprised all by showing up wearing a sports jacket over his signature Hawaiian shirt, inspiring Staggs to borrow a jacket from Bruce Vaughn of Walt Disney Imagineering, who was in the audience. Corporate chuckles ensued, though if the dapper Staggs was at all embarrassed, Lasseter made up for it when he later called Staggs “one of the smartest guys I know.”

The party was jump started when Staggs and Lasseter clamped jumper cables to a large car battery, which set off fireworks and lit the area’s neon lights, adding to the immersive quality of the setting -- and the free flowing drinks didn’t hurt, either.

The following day, California Adventure park was closed to the general public as invited guests, media members, contest winners and a smattering of celebs and Disney employees tried out the new rides, attractions and restaurants. (“You can always spot the Imagineers among Disney execs,” one media member observed. “They’re wearing jeans, jackets and comfortable shoes, while the rest are in suits.”)

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Lasseter was up early, providing photo ops for morning TV shows on rides like Luigi’s Flying Tires (holding up the line, to the consternation of some anxious guests), before setting up base in a side room of Flo’s V8 Café, a new restaurant in Cars Land, for a bite of breakfast.

Away from Cars Land, the rest of California Adventure was nearly empty, allowing ride aficionados to walk right up to coasters and carousels -- including little Aubrey Anderson-Emmons (Lily Tucker-Pritchett on Modern Family), who was seeing skipping around the park with her family in tow, riding everything her height allowed.