Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure


 

 
Yester California Adventure at Yesterland Golden Dreams
A Cinematic California Adventure
Starring Whoopi Goldberg

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
Golden Dreams is in the San Francisco section.

There’s a movie theater in the Bay Area district of the Golden State with 335 comfortable seats, 70 mm projection, and state-of-the art sound. The theater shows Golden Dreams, a 22-minute mini-epic about people who came to California—their dreams, their challenges, and their triumphs.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
A large mural covers the theater’s exterior.

Before you head to the theater’s queue, take a few minutes to admire the mural that covers the otherwise plain building. The biggest figure on the mural is Queen Califia. The state of California is said to be named after her. And that’s not something the filmmakers made up.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
Mythical Queen Califia with the extinct California Grizzly Bear at her side

Way back in the 15th century (the 1400s), a Spanish author named Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo wrote a fantasy romance adventure called Las sergas de Esplandián (The Exploits of Esplandian). In this final (and least respected) volume of a five-part series, a queen named Califia rules over an island called California, populated by black Amazons. Queen Califia is large, strong, courageous and beautiful.

In 1536, Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés and his crew landed on what is now called Baja California. Approached from the south, Baja California appeared to be an island. Had they found the mythical island of California? Well, not really. But the name stuck anyway.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
The mural celebrates the diversity of California.

The mural provides a preview of some of the people you’ll see on the movie screen.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
The queue is outdoors.

Walk through the majestic rotunda to the not-so-majestic outdoor queue. Are you expecting a pre-show as you wait for the movie? Go back and take another look at the mural. That’s as close as you’ll get to a pre-show here.

Don’t worry about crowds. You’re best off getting in line about a minute before the doors open.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
The movie screen is behind a traditional red curtain.

As you enter the auditorium, you’ll see that it’s a simple space—except for huge ornamental statues of Queen Califia on either side of the red curtain that covers the projection screen.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
Queen Califia comes to life.

The lights dim. The Califia statue at each side of the screen comes to life with the face and voice of Whoopi Goldberg.

The movie starts with the Native American Chumash tribe, who settled in California over 13,000 years ago. The Spanish missionaries arrive—and promptly experience an earthquake. A gold prospector during the California Gold Rush is unsuccessful until he gets a little help. Two of the 15,000 Chinese laborers who risked their lives to build the railroad—a father and his son—appear to be victims of an explosion. Irish immigrant William Mulholland brings water to “the little desert town of Los Angeles.” Thanks to the efforts of Scottish immigrant John Muir, Yosemite becomes a National Park.

A picture bride arrives from Japan to discover that the man who sent for her is considerably older than his picture. As they leave the train station, they are pelted with garbage and taunted with cries of “Go home! We don’t want you here.”

Now we’re at the MGM movie studio, with movie stars, Munchkins, and animals. Louis B. Mayer brags, “When I was 22 years old, I didn’t have the price of a sandwich. Today I oversee the most successful dream factory in Hollywood, with a new picture starting every week.”

During World War II, women are working in factories. In the 1950s, it’s television, tract homes, and hula hoops. In the 1960s, it’s the Summer of Love. Then Cesar Chavez leads the way toward rights for farm workers from Mexico.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
Steve Jobs wants to sell a computer to everyone on the planet.

A young Steve Wozniak shows a primitive personal computer prototype to a young Steve Jobs.

“We could sell like a dozen of these!” Wozniak claims.

“Whadaya talkin’ about? We’re gonna sell one to everyone on the planet,” counters Jobs.

Wozniak isn’t so sure. “Dream on, Steve,” he says.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
Apple

Throughout the movie, Whoopi/Califia shows up to offer encouragement, help, and words of wisdom. For example, she helps the gold prospector by pointing and asking, “What’s that shiny thing?” She tells the Japanese couple, “Be strong.”

Reacting to Wozniak and Jobs, Califia/Whoopi advises, “Keep dreamin’. Trust me on this one.” She bites into an apple. Califia knew what would happen with Apple Inc., but even she didn’t know that the late Steve Jobs would one day be the largest shareholder of The Walt Disney Company, thanks to Disney’s acquisition of Pixar.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
The theater looks better at night.

Accompanied by the song, “Just One Dream,” the movie ends with a montage of film snippets showing famous Californians, often in moments of great achievement.


Golden Dreams was an opening day attraction at Disney’s California Adventure on February 8, 2001.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
The original Golden Dreams banner (2002 photo)

In some ways, Golden Dreams dealt with the California experience in a manner similar to how The American Adventure dealt with the American experience at Epcot: a series of historical vignettes, culminating with a montage accompanied by an inspiring song. But while the Epcot attraction was done on a grand scale with lifelike Audio-Animatronic figures in huge theatrical scenes, the California attraction was really just a movie, despite the talking Whoopi Goldberg face on the Queen Califia statues.

Rumors on the Internet suggested that the original plans for a California history attraction had been much more spectacular, but that the budget had been reigned in.

Guests at California Adventure watched Golden Dreams—but usually only once. On return visits, they ran to the long lines at Soarin’ Over California, while Golden Dreams played primarily to empty seats.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
The newer Golden Dreams banner, featuring Whoopi Goldberg (2007 photo)

Judged as a short movie, not as a major Disney theme park attraction, Golden Dreams was very good. Instead of presenting a dry history lesson, the storytellers at Disney used drama, emotion, and spectacular visuals to bring the past to life. They worked hard to portray historic periods and ethnic groups accurately. A Disney press release in 2001 quoted Tom Fitzgerald, the Disney Imagineering executive who wrote the movie script:

“We put together a group of California historians, sociologists and culturalists as our advisors on the film. There were nearly twenty people from around the state, including the official state historian appointed by the Governor, that represented every different culture from Native American to all of the variety of ethnic people who have immigrated to this part of the world.”

The gimmick of having Califia interact directly with many of the characters in the movie was a clever touch. Whoopi Goldberg, whose honors include an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony, brought warmth and humor to her role as Califia.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
The Disney version of the Palace of Fine Arts rotunda

Do you recognize the rotunda? It’s based on a real structure in San Francisco.

The Palace of Fine Arts is a remnant of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, a world’s fair held in San Francisco in 1915. The domed landmark was designed by prominent architect Bernard Maybeck (1862-1957) in the Beaux-Arts style.

Golden Dreams at Disney's California Adventure
The real Palace of Fine Arts in real San Francisco.

Although originally built as a temporary structure of “staff” (plaster and cloth fiber) over a wood frame, the Palace of Fine Arts is still there today. The effort to preserve the Palace of Fine Arts began while the Exposition was still open in 1915.

It took a while.

The aging monument slowly deteriorated until the 1960s when it was finally rebuilt in concrete. The main rotunda and columns were completed in 1967. The colonnades which had originally flanked the monument were added in 1975.

If you compare the Disney version to the original, you’ll notice that the original has an elaborately decorated frieze, but the smaller Disney version does not.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure construction
The theater was demolished. (August 2009 photo)

The final day for Golden Dreams was Sunday, September 7, 2008. At least that was the final day it was shown to the public. The banners came down, but the movie was still presented on a limited basis to school children as part of the Disney Youth Education Series (Y.E.S.) program.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure construction
The rotunda remained. (August 2009 photo)

The Golden Dreams theater was demolished in July 2009 to make way for The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, an elaborate dark ride. The rotunda would become part of the new attraction’s exterior.

Rotunda for The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure
Re-purposed rotunda (2013 photo)
Sign for The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure
No longer like the San Francisco original (2013 photo)

Disney spent over a billion dollars to improve Disney’s California Adventure. Even with that kind of budget, it was smart to save and reuse infrastructure and many of the better elements of the park.


Click here to post comments at MiceChat about this article.


Games of the Boardwalk
Souvenir 66
Home


© 2009-2013 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated April 5, 2013.

Photograph of Golden Dreams mural: 2001 by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore.
Photograph of Golden Dreams theater from above: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Golden Dreams mural: 2001 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Califia and bear on Golden Dreams mural: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of California settlers on Golden Dreams mural: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Golden Dreams waiting queue: 2001 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Golden Dreams interior: 2001 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Califia inside Golden Dreams theater: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of actors portraying Wozniak and Jobs on screen: 2001 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Whoopi/Califia biting into an apple: 2001 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of the Palace of Fine Arts with evening lighting: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of the original Golden Dreams banner: 2002 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of the replacement Golden Dreams banner: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of Disney’s version of the Palace of Fine Arts: 2002 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of the real Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco: 2005 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure construction site: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of rotunda behind The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure wall: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of finished rotunda for The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure: 2013 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of sign for The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure: 2013 by Werner Weiss.