New attraction at California Adventure is part of $1 billion revamp

Minutes into Disney’s “World of Color” show at California Adventure over the weekend, a 5-year-old girl pointed excitedly at an image of Woody and Buzz Lightyear projected on a sheet of water and yelled, “Look, Mommy, Toy Stowwy!” Shortly afterward, she perked up again when Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog” appeared.

Disney hopes to replicate that kind of enthusiasm as it spends around $1 billion to overhaul California Adventure with new attractions that it hopes will lure more guests.

The park, which operates alongside the more popular Disneyland, has been struggling with its California theme.

The much-publicized plan is now to rev up sales with the opening of new offerings like “Cars Land” in 2012. The opening of “Toy Story Mania” has already helped. And “World of Color” should now, too.

The show, on the drawing board since summer 2005, is inspired by Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” TV show, which aired in the 1960s and was an extension of his “Walt Disney Presents” anthology series as the company’s first TV show in color.

The theme-park show was conceived as a “living ‘Fantasia,’?” using music, animation, color, light and water.

“One of our goals was to use this incredible technology — fountains, lasers, fire, integrated animation and music — to take audiences on an emotional journey,” said Steve Davison, show director and vice president, parades and spectaculars, for Walt Disney Imagineering.

“The secret to ‘World of Color’ is to create a kind of ‘ice-skating’ effect. It has to tell a good story and seem effortless while it’s doing it.”

It’s a perfect addition to a football-field-sized lagoon, called Paradise Bay, that wasn’t being used in any real manner since California Adventure opened its doors.

And not only will the show, which premiered June 11, draw crowds to a park that needs them (and likely increase dinner sales at nearby restaurants, since the show takes place at night); it will also give Disneyland a way to relieve some of the massive crowds that gather to view its nightly fireworks shows over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, which take place near the same time as “Color.”

But can “World of Color” draw in the big crowds?

It’s certainly worth watching. The mix of effects is stunning, even mesmerizing at times, as scenes from various Disney toons play out on walls of water rising and falling across the lagoon. The 1,200 fountains at work create massive moving spouts and a 380-foot-wide water screen on which the images are digitally projected. The screen also comes to life, changing shape and interacting with lasers, fire and fog.

The action is perfectly placed below the park’s Ferris wheel, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, which has the character’s massive smiling mug looming over the proceedings like a conductor. The wheel itself is incorporated into the show with lighting effects, with some of the fountains shooting even higher than the wheel.

Some scenes play out better than others, especially sequences from “The Little Mermaid” and “Finding Nemo” — both making effective use of the fountains to evoke ocean waves — while moments from “Toy Story” use lasers in a thrilling way to mount a battle between Buzz Lightyear and his intergalactic nemesis, the evil Emperor Zurg.

The show is particularly heavy on “Mermaid” imagery, though, given that it’s located near a “Mermaid”-themed restaurant and a “Voyage of the Little Mermaid” underwater ride that’s under construction.

The crowd erupted in cheers when they caught a quick glimpse of Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow as the theme from “Pirates of the Caribbean” blasted.

The 25-minute running time can be felt toward the end, especially as the show takes a menacing turn, with a gargoyle glaring at the audience and sending up plumes of fire, and the spectacle becomes more awkwardly mean than chillingly cool. It also turns treacly during a montage of classic Disney toons that play out to the accompaniment of Jon McLaughlin’s “So Close,” from “Enchanted.”

But overall, the show is a breathtaking sight worth taking in.

And what adds to the spectacle occurs pre-show as massive lit-up versions of Tigger, “Aladdin’s” Genie, “The Little Mermaid’s” Sebastian, “Beauty and the Beast’s” Lumiere and Mike Wazowski from “Monsters, Inc.” warm up the crowd with a silly dance number. Disney smartly planned for the show to gather an audience long before its start time, and aimed to keep them entertained.

What’s even better for Disney is that the “World of Color” attraction keeps that enthusiasm going, especially after a long day of park-hopping.

And if Disney can light up a tuckered-out tyke at 9 p.m., and get them excited about “Toy Stowwy,” California Adventure may have another hit on its hands.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more