Disney bets $1 billion on Pixar-driven park revamp

LOS ANGELES, Fri Jun 8, 2012 – The Disney California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, a dud since it opened in 2001, will unveil the fruits of a five-year, $1 billion renovation next week – and there’s a lot more riding on the effort than ticket sales.

Disney is counting on the overhauled park to entice visitors at adjacent Disneyland to stay another day or two, preferably in a Disney hotel. It is also a riposte to rival Universal Studios, which just launched a heavily promoted thrill ride based on the movie “Transformers.”

Perhaps most importantly, the revamped Disney California Adventure underscores the emergence of Pixar’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, as a key force within Disney — as a colorful and imaginative counterpoint to the company’s technocratic, financially oriented chief executive, Bob Iger.

Indeed, with the opening next week of a themed area called Cars Land, the park is fast becoming Pixar-land. Nine of 20 rides are now based on films from the computer animation company, which Disney bought from Steve Jobs in 2006.

The prominence of Lasseter and Pixar, as well as the emergence of such major franchises as Marvel Entertainment’s blockbuster film “The Avengers,” marks a major shift for the venerable entertainment conglomerate.

In its most successful times, “Disney magic” came largely from within. The company was run by creative executives such as Walt Disney himself and Michael Eisner, a former TV and film production executive.

Now it is counting on companies it acquired for the iconic characters and story lines that drive everything from theme park attendance to merchandise sales.

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