Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Superstar Limo - Pictures, History, Trivia

When Disney's California Adventure (DCA) opened in Anaheim in 2001 next to its famous neighbor Disneyland, expectations were high. The park, however, underperformed for years and finally embarked on a gigantic expansion and revision, ending in 2012. As it's about to experience its grand re-opening this week, I thought this would be an interesting time to revisit its "worst" attraction, and perhaps biggest symbol for what was wrong with DCA originally. Superstar Limo lasted less than a year before shutting down forever. Disneyland had a "lemon" ride also in the form of the Phantom Boats in Tomorrowland, but DCA's problem-child ride was emblematic of the other issues in that park, whereas Disneyland had plenty of success in other ways. 

My apologies that the pictures are all so small in today's post!

The ride, a slow-moving "dark" ride like a smoother version of Snow White's Scary Adventures or Pinocchio's Daring Journey, occupied the building that now houses Monster Inc. In fact, it's the same ride system, same track layout, and even a few of the same props (the human shaped characters). But its theme was radically different.

On the whole, the point of the ride was to travel by car through Los Angeles on your way to your own movie being premiered at a glitzy theater. It wasn't just a scenery tour, though; there was to be action in the form of being pursued by the paparazzi. Your limo was meant to dodge everyone, and add excitement. All the way, your agent Swifty La Rue would keep calling you, especially in darkened rooms between sets, and tossing cheesy Hollywood one-liners at you. We were stars! Superstars! In a limo. Or something like that.

Unfortunately, the death of Princess Diana put the kibosh on the thrill element of the ride. Diana died following an accident while riding in a speeding limo while being chased by paparazzi, which was exactly what Disney was planning to build as a ride, and the idea suddenly turned morbid and inappropriate. Gone went the Mr. Toad type thrill, and in its place was a raised quotient of cheesy jokes and wink-wink humor. None of which worked particularly well.

The queue told the story us arriving at Los Angeles International airport.

Joan Rivers, or rather, a disturbing puppet version of her, was on the televisions here, being her usual self. Swifty La Rue would appear in our car video screens as a similar type of slightly-too-real-in-some-ways puppet. The effect was disconcerting.

Our cars traveled past famous landmarks, though the city tour wasn't realistic to the layout of the actual city. We saw robotic human figures, too, in the form of famous people in 2001--Regis Philbin, Cindy Crawford, Jackie Chan, Drew Carey, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, Cher, and Tim Allen all made an appearance. Greeting us at our premiere was a robot version of Whoopi Goldberg.

The celebrities did not speak, but some moved. The announcer in our car would say things like: "Jackie Chan! Care to rumble?" or "How about a map to your house, Drew Carey?" (since Drew Carey was brandishing maps to stars' houses, as if he does this all the time).

We passed by scenes such as Sunset Strip, Rodeo Drive, Bel Air, Malibu, a movie set, and Grauman's Chinese Theater. Every so often, a clutch of paparazzi would pop out from behind bushes (or underneath a bridge, or over a gate) and pretend to take pictures of us. The car would never accelerate, though, so there was no thrill to it.


There was a Madame Leota tribute in the ride, in the form of a crystal ball with Leota (here: Melissa Joan Hart) reciting incantations in the style and tone of the Mansion Leota, but talking instead about summoning Hollywood agents.

The end of the ride showed you a picture of your own car (snapped earlier) and then the exit.

The ride left most visitors bored, confused, or even angry. It was a very different tonality than all other Disney dark rides had been up until that point. Its emphasis on wink-wink humor, puns, and gaudy cheesiness as though it were something to be celebrated was not what made Disney theme parks famous.

In a way, the previous sentence can apply equally well to the rest of DCA as seen in 2001. Few of the rides were "serious" Disney-type rides. Most of them used a wink-wink mentality and a certain reliance on irony to convey a feeling of... post-modern detachment. Perhaps that's not what the designers were shooting for, but it's what most visitors experienced. Honest, earnest "placemaking" and immersion into an interesting illusion would not occur until the grand re-opening of the park in 2012.

Rest in peace, Superstar Limo. You were a relic of another age.

Merchandise from the ride:

Video ride-through (filmed by ThemeParkReview):

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.