Pixar Fest Brings Familiar Faces and Fun to Disneyland

Travel Features Disneyland
Pixar Fest Brings Familiar Faces and Fun to Disneyland

Pixar Fest has returned to Disneyland for the first time since 2018, bringing with it a variety of new experiences and treats at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. If you’re familiar with Disney’s seasonal events, you probably have an idea what to expect: a new parade, a new nighttime show, and special themed food, desserts, and merchandise, all available for a limited time. It runs from April 26 through August 4, so you’ll have ‘til halfway through the summer to get out to Anaheim and check it out.

Let’s start with the parade, which runs during the daytime in Disney California Adventure. Better Together: A Pixar Pals Celebration marks the first major parks appearance of characters from some of Pixar’s pandemic-era films (Soul, Turning Red, Luca, Elemental), as well as an opportunity to promote this summer’s Inside Out 2. In a nod to the studio’s history, it begins with a small float devoted solely to Luxo Jr., the destructive young lamp that serves as Pixar’s mascot and part of its logo; a series of floats and street dancers follows from there, with the movies mentioned above getting their own floats. Turning Red’s float features Mei in her red panda form, with actors playing her friends and the boy band 4*TOWN. Luca’s merkids are fully costumed, while Joe Gardner from Soul is just a guy in an unassuming purple suit. (If you’re a mustachioed 40something African-American gentleman, do not wear a purple suit with matching hat to Disney California Adventure this summer, unless you want families to take photos with you.) Joy and Sadness from Inside Out return with a float of their own, perfect to let families know about this summer’s sequel. An Up float is the parade’s only reference to Pixar’s killer late ‘00s streak, and the whole thing ends with Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Coco characters all celebrating on a single float together. The floats generally look great, especially the Luca one, which uses a neat trick to depict Luca and Alberto in both their human and sea creature forms. “Better Together,” the new theme song “performed” by 4*tOWN, is also what over excitable middle aged music critics would call “a bop.” I’m not a big parade guy, but Better Together is a fun, relatively short diversion that’ll no doubt please families and fans of Pixar.

Pixar Fest

A few hours after the parade, and across the esplanade in Disneyland, guests can watch Together Forever—A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular. It’s an update of a show that ran during the original Pixar Fest six years ago, expanded with characters and references to all of the Pixar movies released since. (As show director Robin Trowbridge pointed out during a panel, the original show included 59 characters; this one has 76, with every character from the original show returning). Although not as cohesive or poignant as the Disney100 show Wondrous Journeys, Together Forever is another in a line of impressive audio-visual extravaganzas, combining fireworks with projections unto a variety of impromptu canvases, from Sleeping Beauty’s Castle to It’s a Small World to the buildings on Main Street USA. Apparently every Pixar movie or franchise is referenced, although you’ll have a hard time noticing them all; I saw a single quick shot of Flik and Atta from A Bug’s Life, but didn’t notice anything from The Good Dinosaur

Those two aren’t the only Pixar movies that don’t play that big of a role in Pixar Fest. The cars from Cars barely appear, but they have their own entire land, so that’s understandable. Wall-E isn’t called upon, Ratatouille only factors into the food, Onward only figures in as character meet and greets with its two leads, and The Good Dinosaur is persona non grata. Despite Merida’s popularity, Brave seems to be left out, as well, which furthers the impression that that Pixar movie has been unofficially realigned under the princess brand instead of Pixar. The workhorses remain characters from Toy Story and The Incredibles; Woody, Buzz, and Jessie are all in the parade, as are Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone, who also (along with Edna Mode) help lead the dances at the Pixar Pals Playtime Party.

Pixar Fest

Yes, Pixar Fest features one of Disney’s go-to limited event activities: a dance party. And not just one, but two, one in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. The Pixar Pals Playtime Party, which goes down several times a day at the Fantasyland Theatre in Disneyland, is a high energy sprint through dance moves and poses inspired by various Pixar characters. A small team of extremely upbeat dancers lead guests through the routines alongside costumed Pixar characters; if a dancer doesn’t think the audience is roaring like a dinosaur enough (the dinosaur dance is accompanied by images of Rex from Toy Story instead of any of the characters from The Good Dinosaur) they’ll dance out into the crowd and implore them to interact. Meanwhile guests can get their photo taken with characters throughout the Theatre’s open spaces. Over at California Adventure, Club Pixar offers a slightly more nocturnal and expansive party; yes, dancers might exhort you to shake it, but here you’ll also find games like cornhole, original Pixar-themed food and drinks, and can watch Pixar’s award-winning animated shorts in a drive-in style experience. 

Disneyland is expected to undergo a large transformation over the next several years now that Anaheim has approved the Disneyland Forward plan. In the short term, though, there’s not much new on the horizon for Disneyland Resort, at least in terms of attractions. The Splash Mountain update Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens this summer, a major new Avengers ride has been announced for Disney California Adventure without an opening date, and Disney has vaguely discussed some kind of Avatar-inspired experience at its California parks, but that’s all we know about. Events like Pixar Fest might not be as significant as a new attraction, but it lets Disney inject a bit of new life and activity into the parks, while also promoting a brand that needs the support after notable pandemic-era struggles. It’s not the kind of addition that will necessarily drive international guests or even East Coasters to fly out to Disneyland, but it’s well-done (and well-intentioned) enough that it’s hard to criticize it too deeply.

Pixar Fest

Popular movies and characters have been a core part of Disneyland from the very beginning. That’s always been the backbone of Fantasyland. It was never the sole focus of the whole park, though, and into the 2000s Disney was introducing new rides and experiences that weren’t tied into intellectual property. Pixar has made some of the best movies ever released under the Disney name, and has a legion of justifiably beloved characters under its belt, so Pixar Fest is almost guaranteed to please audiences. And parts of it, like the nighttime show, and the ratatouille pizza with camembert, are legitimately worth a trip to the parks to experience on your own. But it feels a little mercenary at its core. Historically Imagineering has been fantastic at creating what people want without them even realizing it; now so much of their work is devoted to ideas that are both commercially and creatively safe, responding to what box office receipts and market research have proven people like instead of trying to innovate or challenge that audience. Pixar Fest is certainly fun, with great music and characters that guests will love to meet, and it’s very good at what it tries to be. What that is, though, is most meaningful to locals, who attend Disneyland regularly and are always looking for new reasons to pop back into the parks. It’s a telling snapshot of where the parks are today, and of the philosophy that will continue to guide Imagineering in the near future.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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