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An E-Ticket That's All but Golden

PETER H. KING

July 21, 1996|PETER H. KING

ANAHEIM — California is the Big Idea. . . . People are seeking that perfect, idealized California, and we will be able to deliver it to them.

--Disney CEO Michael Eisner, as quoted by a company executive, explaining the California Adventure, a new theme park to be built beside Disneyland.

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Let me help, Mr. Eisner. Granted, I'm no $200-million man, but I have been around California all my life, panning for the Golden Dream, so to speak. And while the ideas described last week at the unveiling were solid enough--hang glider flights across a Yosemite mock-up, surfing demonstrations, a Hollywood limo spoof, etc.--it seems to me the Disney tradition demands better. Think Mighty Ducks! Think Captain EO! Think . . .

RIVER RUN! In this attraction, visitors will sprint across a cement river bottom and clamber into the back of battered pickups. Green INS Broncos will give chase. Those caught will be bused back to the starting line. Successful crossers, meanwhile, will exit by crawling down rows of real strawberry plants--don't touch, they are not for eating--to be rewarded at the end with one Disney Dollar. This dollar can be spent at the Company Store concession, stocked with authentic-looking campo equipment: Water bottles ($5). Straw hats ($4). Plastic short-handled hoes ($1). Traditional restrooms will be replaced with chemical toilets. Phew!

MR. SIMPSON'S WILD RIDE. From Rockingham to Brentwood to LAX, in three minutes flat. (For younger children, we'll offer Uncle Al's Slow-Speed Chase.)

DONNER DINER. A theme restaurant designed as tribute to the tragic Donner Party. Patrons will sit in booths made to resemble deep snow caves, while chefs in snowshoes prepare meals over real fires. The menu--printed on the back of maps marked "easy shortcut"--will include snow cones, French fries shaped like rawhide shoelaces and, for more daring gourmands, "Mrs. Murphy's Special Shanks."

SIGALERT! In this updated version of Disneyland's ever-popular Autopia, cars must negotiate a perilous course of overturned big rigs, rubber-neckers and freeway shooters. On-board radios will warn of colossal traffic jams to be avoided--but only after the car already is stuck in them. This ride will last a half-hour, regardless of the actual distance each motorist travels.

RON'S TREE. The imagineers want to re-create an entire Redwood Forest, an idea fraught with danger. For one thing, environmentalists might sneak in a spotted owl, forcing a government shutdown of the entire park. Conversely, should the trees take hold, timber companies will come with irresistible offers for the right to chop them down. Better to erect a single tall tree and carve on its trunk the Gipper's enduring wisdom: Seen one redwood, seen 'em all.

SUBURBIA. In this taste of California lifestyle, circa 1955, individual families will be shepherded into their own "back yard," consisting of two feet of grass surrounded by a 12-foot-high fence. Privacy ensured, they can grill their own hot dogs and gossip freely about the "neighbors." Mosquitoes will be released overhead every half-hour, indicating it's time to move on and make room in paradise for the next family.

LIVE AT 5! Hop into a helicopter (all the pilots will look like Stan Chambers) and soar away for a news crew view of California's greatest disasters. Count the buildings burning in the L.A. riot, watch dust rise from Northridge. Interview "victims" covered with soot and clutching charred photo albums. Ask them how they "feel."

FURTHER. Here, amid a re-creation of the Haight, visitors will be strapped into brightly colored Volkswagen Beetles and handed little pieces of paper to lick. Ride time will vary from 90 minutes to four days.

MAIN STREET REDUX. Board a surrey pulled by two Clydesdales for a sentimental journey down Main Street Los Angeles. Toss coins to grubby men sleeping in cardboard boxes. Browse through authentic pawnshops. Pass by St. Vibiana's Cathedral and wave to the Hunchback of Notre Dame, peering out through the cracked tower. (A historical stretch, I know, but you're going to need some way to market those leftover Quasimodo action figures.)

MOGUL. Finally, let's provide each California Adventure visitor with a chance to feel, if only for two minutes, like a Hollywood mogul, yes, like Michael Eisner. They'll file one by one into a conference room and sit at the head of a table. As cell phones ring and beepers beep, a chorus of junior execs will applaud enthusiastically the CEO's every utterance, every notion, foolish or not:

"That is the Big Idea, chief!"

"No one but you could dream that up!"

"Now we know why you make $200 million a year, sir."

The mogul then gets to fire the whole bunch--for not saving him from his own bad idea--and the ride ends.

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