The birth of Cars Land a decade ago at the Disneyland resort marked one of the earliest tent poles of the current era of movie blockbuster Brandlands, which dominate the theme park industry today.
Cars Land will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Wednesday, June 15 at Disney California Adventure—the but “cars”-themed land that helped forever change the landscape of the theme park industry a decade ago.
See all: Disney California Adventure has come a long way in 20 years after an inauspicious start
The concept of Cars Land was revolutionary when it debuted in 2012 as part of a multi-year $1 billion overhaul of Disney’s underperforming Second Gate in Anaheim.
But back in 2012, Kars Land was still a relatively untrained and untapped ground. Cars Land promises to drop visitors into a 360-degree recreation of Radiator Springs, the fictional Route 66 town at the heart of the Pixar animated film franchise. Will theme park visitors want to walk through a real-world version of an animated movie set?
Short answer: OMG yes.
The “Cars” themed land replaced the DCA with a holiday, dedicated ride dedicated to the Anaheim theme park’s most popular attraction – the Radiator Springs Racers – as well as beloved film characters Mater the tow truck and Luigi the tire shop owner. Must see together. Big and small changes took place, but Bhoomi’s popularity persists a decade later.
Today, Route 66 from the Cadillac Range films frames the city creating a picturesque backdrop for one of the most photographed areas of the DCA. The neon lights of the desert city enliven the ground at night and the annual Halloween makeover by resident cars attracts hordes of fans.
Cars Land followed closely on the heels of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Land at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Florida and Toy Story Land at Walt Disney Studios Park in France, both of which opened in 2010.
Since then, the Potterverse has expanded with copies of the original lands at Universal Parks in Japan (2014), Hollywood (2016) and Beijing (2021).
Toy Story Land that first debuted a decade ago at the Disneyland Paris resort has become one of Disney’s most popular exports, with versions of the Andes Room from movies found in theme parks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Orlando. DCA’s Pixar Pier essentially serves as a Disneyland resort’s version of Toy Story Land.
The Harry Potter, Toy Story, and cars-themed lands spawned a tsunami of Brandlands, followed by – Simpsons cartoon hometown and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on both shores, Pandora – the world of Avatar in Florida and Marvel’s Avengers next to DCA Includes campus editions. Cars land. Today there are also the Smurfs in Motiongate Dubai and the Hunger Games-based brandland at Lionsgate Movie World in China.
The notion of Brandland dedicated to a single film franchise – or intellectual property in the vernacular of the entertainment industry – was tested long before the latest wave of themed lands became fashionable.
Bugs Land was built cheaply and in the blink of an eye as an early attempt at a Band-Aid fix for the DCA in 2001—only to be leveled to make way for the Avengers campus. Previously, Toontown paid tribute to 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” with a cartoon town that is currently undergoing a major reinvestment at Disneyland beginning in 2023 for the first time.
See all: How will Disney California Adventure change in the next 20 years?
Theme parks used to be based on that – themes. Disneyland cast the mold in 1955 with Lands dedicated to Adventure, Tomorrow, and Fantasy. Followers imitated Disney models. The Indiana Holiday World is a land of tributes to Christmas, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Bush Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia is a land modeled on European countries such as Germany, Ireland and Italy.
The era of blockbuster movies like “Jaws” and “Star Wars” in the 1970s saw a shift to theme parks in the 1980s with the introduction of attractions based on the latest box office hits. Universal Studios caught up with director Steven Spielberg to help design the new ride, and Disney teamed up with George Lucas. The early ET and Star Tours rides run by Hollywood moguls only gave an indication of what was to come at theme parks in the decades to come.
It took some time, but theme parks eventually transitioned from a single attraction based on a hit film to an entire brandland that was tied to popular intellectual property, like the movies that blossomed into blockbuster film franchises. Today, visitors to the theme park expect to walk through a movie fantasy world created by movie makers.
What potential brandlands are still to be mined by theme park designers? Many large movie franchises are already tied to major theme park brands. Disney has collections of Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars and fairy tales. Universal has Fast and the Furious, Transformers, Shrek, Despicable Me and Jason Bourne. DC Comics’ Batman and Superman franchises are linked to Six Flags.
There are some major franchises that have yet to be taken over by major players – including James Bond, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Mission: Impossible, Planet of the Apes and Twilight. Each of those film franchises present their own unique challenges and opportunities for theme park designers. Some have been tried, others have been considered.
Universal has reportedly considered the Lord of the Rings land for years. Star Trek and Mission: Impossible Lands are set to open at China’s Paramount theme park in 2024. The attraction – if not the entire themed land – is based on the Twilight saga in China’s Lionsgate Movie World and Planet of the Apes in Malaysia’s new Genting Skyworld.
What’s next for theme park Brandlands? Another Avengers campus is coming to Disneyland Paris in July, with Stark Expo planned for Hong Kong Disneyland in 2023. A smaller version of Japan’s Super Nintendo World is headed to Universal Studios Hollywood in 2023. A Minion Land is about to debut at Universal Studios Singapore. in 2024. A third Potter concept reportedly based on the Ministry of Magic is expected to be part of Universal’s Epic Universe theme park, coming to Florida in 2025. Frozen themed lands are in the works at Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disney Sea.