This Is How Disneyland Changed In The 2000s
America The Beautiful (Circle-Vision 360)
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The new century started out with few changes inside Disneyland, as the company was focused on big changes outside the park, but things would liven up as the century progressed.
Parking at Disneyland changed with the opening of the Mickey & Friends parking structure on the land that was a strawberry farm for decades. The more than 10,000-space structure was the largest one when it started parking cars in 2000.
Inside the park, a change was underway to the Tomorrowland Autopia for its new sponsor, Chevron. It also got a new route for the miniature freeway - one that included portions of the track for the Fantasyland Autopia, which was closed and sent to Yesterland.
Another attraction that closed was the short-lived Rocket Rods, due to high maintenance costs and very low capacity. The track is still visible throughout the land.
More big changes outside Disneyland happened this year with the opening of Disney's California Adventure. Also debuting was a new hotel in the form of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and a new day and night shopping and dining area called Downtown Disney, which required no admission ticket, unlike the theme parks.
Inside Disneyland, the Haunted Mansion received a haunting overlay for both Halloween and the Christmas seasons. Jack Skellington, a character from the Tim Burton-directed "A Nightmare Before Christmas," took over the mansion for the three month period, and has done so ever since.
As the Disneyland Resort dealt with lackluster attendance at its new theme park, there was little capital to spend on new attractions at Disneyland, but there was one that blew into the park: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It landed in the building that had housed the Country Bears and their various musical shows since 1972. Now the only bear was Pooh, along with his friends Rabbit, Piglet, Kanga, Roo and Eeyore.
In Tomorrowland, the American Space Experience was shuttered to make room for a new attraction in two years.
After no additions in 2004, Disneyland got a new ride in its Golden Anniversary year and a retro-exhibit.
Since the park was turning 50, an exhibit with a film narrated by Steve Martin was installed into the Main Street Opera House. It was called "The First 50 Magical Years." Steve Martin was picked as he had a connection to the park. Martin had worked as a magician in the Magic Shop in the early 1960s.
In the Tomorrowland building that once housed the Circlevision movies, and for a short time the queue for Rocket Rods, a new interactive ride landed. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters took off with immediate popularity. Based on the characters from the "Toy Story" movies, riders could rack up points by defending the Earth from the evil Emperor Zurg. In addition, after exiting, riders could see how their score stacked up against others.
Outside of Disneyland, corporate issues dogged the executive suite, as a group led by Roy E. Disney demanded that Michael Eisner step down. Before the year was out, Eisner would exit the company and Bob Iger would be tapped as the new CEO.
The success of the movies based on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction meant it was time for Captain Jack Sparrow to invade the ride. The character, played by Johnny Depp, was added to the attraction, along with others from the movie series, with an ending where Jack Sparrow, sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow, finds the treasure.
Tom Sawyer Island got a makeover and was also transformed into a pirate theme, with a new name for the island: Pirate's Lair at Tom Sawyer Island.
That year also saw the return of the Submarines in Tomorrowland, only they were found with Nemo, from the movie "Finding Nemo." The totally rebuilt attraction also featured electrically powered submarines, instead of the diesel-powered engines they used to use. The ride had been shut down in 1998 due to increased maintenance and high operating costs. But some Disney Imagineers rebeled against the cost-cutting management running the park and insisted it would return. In 2007, they got their wish.
Tinkerbell and other fairies from the movie "Peter Pan" and the Tinkerbell home videos got a home in the form of Pixie Hollow, on the land once occupied by the Monsanto House of the Future. The area gives boys and girls a chance to meet with Tink and her friends and take a picture with them.
The Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk Through attraction also opened up with a new version after being closed after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The new version featured dioramas with fully animated scenes telling the story of "Sleeping Beauty."
Word leaked out that during a refurbishment of it's a small world that many of Disney's classic characters would be put into the attraction. That caused a huge outcry among some fans on social media, protesting against changing the canal boat ride with singing dolls from around the world that first premiered at the 1964 New York World's Fair.
But Disney's Imagineers had a secret weapon in the form of Kim Irvine, daughter of Leota Toombs, who had also been an Imagineer. (Yes, that Leota who is Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion. Irvine plays the character in the version for the Haunted Mansion Halloween overlay.) When the attraction reopened with many of the Disney characters, the protests disappeared and most agreed that it was a good addition to the classic ride.
Abraham Lincoln also got an upgrade that year. Advances in Audio-Animatronics meant a new figure for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, adding facial expressions previous versions could not do. Disney Imagineer and Audio Engineer Glenn Barker also went into the vaults and remastered new digital versions of the original soundtrack for the updated show.
This was also the year Space Mountain received a holiday overlay in the form of Ghost Galaxy for the Halloween season at the park.
The sudden death of pop star Michael Jackson sparked an outcry from fans to bring back "Captain EO." Disneyland brought the 3D pop music film back to the same theater that year, kicking out "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience."
It was finally time to go to new destinations in the Star Wars universe when Star Tours was updated as "Star Tours - The Adventure Continues." Utilizing new digital projection technology, riders in the Starspeeder 1000 never knew what destination their adventure would take them. Some of them would be considered Rebel spies by Darth Vader and the Empire. The way the technology was programmed meant there were 54 possible scenarios for those making the journey into space.
Nothing new in Disneyland, but its sister park was rebranded and after a one-day closure, reopened as Disney California Adventure (no more apostrophe in the name) in 2012 with Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, among other changes, as part of a $1.2 billion makeover of the park.
After a one-year break from changes, another one was coming that upset some fans. Plaza Gardens was going to disappear into Yesterland. The bandstand where some would dance the night away, would be absorbed into a new mini-area called Fantasy Faire. It included a Royal Hall, where fans could meet up with many of their favorite Disney princess.
The old bandstand became the Royal Theatre, where Mr. Smythe and Mr. Jones would put on comical and satirical versions of many of Disney's animated movies. The new live show became an immediate hit with regular visitors.
Meanwhile, over in Tomorrowland, Disney unleashed some new characters from a recent purchase. The character of Iron Man took up residence on the second floor of the Innoventions building, while the first floor was still the home of the future. He would be joined by Thor and eventually Spiderman over the next two years as the second floor was renamed Super Hero Headquarters. But the superheroes would be moved out and over to Disney California Adventure in 2016.
After 35 years, the tracks for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad were getting very rough from the years of wear and tear, so the decision was made to refurbish it by replacing nearly all the track. Besides a new smoother ride, the finale scene got a new look in the form of a mock explosion inside the mine as trains ascended the lift hill.
The Matterhorn got some TLC in 2015. The bobsleds were replaced with ones with a single seat configuration and interlocking seat belts to deal with safety concerns. In addition, a new version of "Harold," (the name given to the abominable snowman by cast members) was replaced with an upgraded figure. In addition, new projection effects were installed adding to the illusion of being on a snowy mountain.
Innoventions was also closed down in favor of Star Wars in 2015. Late in the year, the Star Wars Experience invaded Tomorrowland. Space Mountain was renamed Hyperspace Mountain as part of the Star Wars theming, and the first floor of the carousel building became the Star Wars Launch Bay. The experience was timed with the release of "Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens" late that year.
This was also a precursor to the announcement that year of new land coming to Disneyland: "Star Wars" land.
As the construction rigs began invading parts of Frontierland and backstage areas of Disneyland, Disney released concept art for the new 14-acre land that would land in a few years.
Of course it meant several things in the way of the Millennium Falcon would have to go. The Circle D Corral, where the horses and other critters used at Disneyland would be moved to a stable in Anaheim. The Big Thunder Ranch, petting zoo, and barbecue restaurant were closed and torn down. Finally, the long shuttered Fantasyland Station for the Skyway, called the Chalet, was torn down. The barely visible structure had sat unused for 22 years, but some still protested the destruction of the building.
But the new land is coming and nothing is standing in its way. Recently, Disney released new concept art that shows what the new land will look like from a bird's eye view, but also of how the Rivers of America will look in the northern area when it becomes a teeming busy waterway some time in 2017.
As Walt Disney said, Disneyland will always change as long as there is imagination left in the world. That saying is used by many about changes to Disneyland, and it is one I like. While some don't always like changes, if Disneyland is to be around for our children, grandchildren and later generations, it has to change to keep up with the times.
Sure, it's great to be nostalgic about long-gone attractions, lands and more that we grew up with. But to not move forward would be an insult to Walt Disney's memory and his legacy.
I was fortunate enough to work at WED Enterprises, which is now known as Walt Disney Imagineering, with many of his original Imagineers. Many of them (including Claude Coats, Herb Ryman, John Hench, Randy Bright and Marty Sklar) would tell me that Walt would never stand still and was always pushing them for new things for his parks and beyond.
I think it's important for fans to remember that legacy as Disneyland continues to change and evolve into the future.
America The Beautiful (Circle-Vision 360)
American Space Experience
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Ranch Petting Zoo
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Captain EO Tribute
Circle D Corral
Country Bear Jamboree
Disneyland Story Presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Disneyland-The First 50 Magical Years
Finding Nemo: Submarine Voyage
Haunted Mansion Holiday
Honey, I Shrunk The Audience (Magic Eye Theater)
House Of The Future
It's A Small World
Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh
Pirate's Lair at Tom Sawyer Island
Pirates Of The Caribbean
Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through
Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through (redesigned)
Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
Star Wars Launch Bay
Tom Sawyers Island
Big Thunder Bar-B-Que
Carnation Plaza Gardens