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It's a Real World After All

Disney's California Adventure opens with a focus on state sites and activities, not the 'toon du jour.


Disney wants to cop a new attitude: getting real.

When California Adventure opens in Anaheim today, its theme parade and a new feature film will highlight "real life" in the Golden State, from surf culture to the history of immigration.

The parade will be filled with Disney fanfare, but it's no fairy tale come to life, and there's no Hercules, Little Mermaid or Simba in sight.

"It's not classically rooted in fantasy, magic and nostalgia like Disneyland is," said Barry Braverman, senior vice president and executive producer of California Adventure. "[California Adventure] is really into pop culture."

Lasting 25 minutes, "Eureka! A California Adventure Parade" boasts beach beauties, surfer dudes, BMX bikers and roller-bladers shooting up half-pipe ramps.

The theme is "California to the extreme."

"The parade is outrageously wacky, it's off the wall, irreverent and edgy," Braverman said. "[California Adventure] is built next to the Disneyland park that's been around for 45 years. We felt we had to carve out a piece of our own turf."

The march begins with a whirlwind tour of California scenes: Old Towne San Diego, Watts, Chinatown and, of course, the beach. Seven floats will glide by, each about 30 feet long and 12 feet wide. The tallest towers about 32 feet high.

More than 100 performers, including acrobats, will encircle the floats in colorful costumes, with a collection of 14-foot puppets that float on the air and dance in the wind.

Davison worked with puppet master Michael Curry, of "The Lion King" fame, to design 14-foot-high marionettes and "walking scenery,"--that is, large, decorative "sets" worn by the performers.

Each float carries an image of Eureka, a figure intended to embody the spirit of California.

As the parade progresses, she is transformed: from a folkloric dancer to a golden angel hovering over the city of Los Angeles, and from a Pacific beach bathing beauty to a Phoenix rising above San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. In the float "Day of the Drums," Eureka is an African American goddess standing in front of the famed Watts Towers.

The intent is a theme parade that's an alternative to the Magic Kingdom.


Disney also hopes visitors will soak up plenty of California's cultural richness along with its sunshine by viewing a new 20-minute movie titled "Golden Dreams" in the movie theater of the same name. It chronicles the state's history, highlighting its waves of ethnic immigrants.

"The idea is that people came to California to find their dreams, like Walt Disney did," said Steven B. Davison, artistic director of the Eureka parade. "We got a chance to be really fresh and daring. . . . Our challenge was the word California and what it means. Because of the whole ethnic diversity element, it let us be more creative."

The film is narrated by Whoopi Goldberg as Calafia, the mythical goddess of plenty whose bounty gave birth to the state's name. Her visage, seen in bas relief figures on either side of the screen, "magically" comes to life when a film of Goldberg's talking face is projected there just before the movie begins.

To ensure the movie's historical accuracy, Disney consulted advisors who included the state's official historian and representatives from several ethnic groups.

"We struggled with the Golden Dreams theme," Braverman said. "The one thing that characterizes California is people coming here for a better life, to invent new things because anything was possible here."

Told in docudrama fashion, the film focuses on settlers who came to California, starting with the Native American Chumash tribe who arrived more than 13,000 years ago. The migration continued with the arrival of the Spanish in 1769, the California gold rush in the mid-1800s, the Chinese who built the first railroads, and the Mexican farm workers in the 1930s.

Calafia also tells of the arrival of Louis B. Mayer from Eastern Europe and the creation of MGM Studios, the pop culture of the '50s and '60s and mining for "new gold" in Silicon Valley.

Filmed with a cast of thousands, the movie touches on the darker side of California's history. Dramatizations of historic moments include a scene of a despondent Japanese immigrant bride and a bleak gathering of dust bowlers, who were captured in the lens of photographer Dorothea Lange; her famed photograph comes to life in the movie.

As the final credits roll with a montage of sports heroes, politicians, activists and entrepreneurs, the voice of Broadway sensationHeather Hedley, star of Disney's musical "Aida," is heard singing a soaring song billed as "an homage to California's diversity."

Disney expects the theme to attract new audiences.

"California Adventure is more reality-based experiences," Braverman said. "I'd love if it broadens our audience and brings more ethnic groups to the park. We have not had a large African American audience there, for instance. But if California Adventure can draw more Latinos, African Americans or Asians, then that's great."


* "Golden Dreams" will play continuously at the 350-seat Golden Dreams theater in the Golden State district of California Adventure. The "Eureka" parade will march through California Adventure twice daily. California Adventure is at 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. California Adventure is open today from 8 a.m. to midnight. Regular hours: Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays through Sundays, 8 a.m.-midnight (may vary). Admission: $33 to $43. Parking: $7-$9. (714) 781-4565.


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