Pixar Fest Disneyland 2018: What to expect as Toy Story, Incredibles and more take over the park

Why Pixar? And why does it deserve a festival?

As soon as Buzz Lightyear – rather than Tinkerbell – soars high over Sleeping Beauty's Castle, the iconic heart of Disneyland so familiar from scores of much-loved movie credits, we know we're in for a new adventure in one of the world's greatest (and longest surviving) nightly firework extravaganzas.

This is the first night of Pixar Fest (officially a one-off, though it's likely to become an annual event).

Why Pixar? And why does it deserve a festival?

It has been more than 20 years since Pixar launched the world's first full-length computer-animated movie, and the same number of years since Disney originally joined Pixar as its distribution partner (before absorbing Pixar in a deal personally negotiated by owner Steve Jobs).

Toy Story (1995) introduced two characters who are now part of cultural history.

Cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) always knew he was a toy. But Buzz, the new astronaut on the block (voiced by US comedian Tim Allen), believed he really could fly to "Infinity and Beyond".

The two antagonists eventually became firm friends – pretty much the story of every Pixar film since: hence ''Friendship and Beyond'', Pixar Fest's slogan.

The first Toy Story scored three Oscar nominations, record box office takings, and changed the character of family movies forever.

The latest Pixar feature film, Incredibles 2, (to be released in June in Australia), is the 20th Pixar movie. All previous 19 have been commercial hits: a studio record unsurpassed in Hollywood. So no pressure, then?

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(Spoiler alert: the trailer is now online and and the story focuses on Jack-Jack, the baby in the first movie who as a toddler now discovers awesome powers neither he nor his stay-at-home superhero dad can control.)

A "new" roller coaster ride, Incredicoaster, is being constructed to coincide with the movie premiere.

Actually, it's a recycled version of the hugely popular California Screamin' roller coaster. Due to be be closed for maintenance anyway, it is now being reinvented in record time.

The old "scream shields" designed to protect neighbouring hotels from the constant shrieks have been elongated into a series of tunnels which contain various Incredibles 2 features (expect Jack-Jack to figure frequently).

Why is Traveller even discussing Pixar Fest?

Though it sounds ridiculous, more than 500 journalists, photographers, TV cameras, magazine editors and correspondents from the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other Pacific coast countries gathered on Main Street USA for the opening night of Pixar Fest.

A rebadging of Disneyland Resort's iconic parades and firework show are rare enough, but Pixar is being celebrated like never before. Paradise Pier is now permanently reshaped as Pixar Pier, with more Pixar attractions planned alongside Incredicoaster.

You would be forgiven for thinking Pixar Fest is just one huge Disney merchandising exercise. Surely, it's designed to attract visitors into its two neighbouring parks – the original Disneyland and its younger sidekick, Disney California Adventure (opened in 2001), now known collectively as Disneyland Resort – during a quiet time of the year?

Apart from "the Pixar Pal" costumed characters who roam the streets alongside alongside Mickey, Minnie and the other Disney favourites, the new "merch" (Lightning McQueen never needed socks but you can buy them during Pixar Fest), there's a range of Pixar-themed foods – including a Monsters Inc-themed noodle salad where the noodles change colour and a three-course Ratatouille-inspired sit-down dinner.

So what to expect? The resort's three signature theatrical experiences have all been Pixar-themed.

The historic afternoon parade through Disneyland's Main Street USA now contains three new elements: the Pixar Play Parade is now led out by the Pixar Lamp and Ball from the company's first ground-short, Luxo Jr (though only movie buffs will understand).

There's also a new float featuring resourceful Russell, curmudgeonly Carl and Dug the dog from Up, plus another featuring Joy and Sadness from Inside Out – two of the most critically acclaimed Pixar movies.

Come 6pm, head back (with your Park Hopper Pass in hand, allowing you entry into both parks) to California Adventure park for the Paint the Night Parade, illuminated by over a million lights. The after dark parade's focus during Pixar Fest is on the first Incredibles float: it has been 14 years since the first movie, yet it was always one of Pixar's greatest hits.

As ever, the night parade ends with the four cartoon characters which built the Disney empire: Goofy, Donald Duck, Minnie and Mickey.

Now it's time to walk the short distance back to Main Street USA in Disneyland for Together Forever, the Pixar-themed "night-time spectacular" which starts at 9pm. Try to find a spot near the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlour so you can witness both the fireworks and action over Sleeping Beauty's Castle as well as the projected Pixar images on the buildings of Main Street USA.

What else to expect in Pixar Fest?

Cars Land - with its charming re-imagining of Radiator Springs and its hugely popular duplication of the race between McQueen and Sally through the surrounding canyons in the first Cars movie - has a few extra amusing diversions (one is an extension of the Cars-related movie posters of Pixar films a Cars-fan fan will recognise).

The little plastic soldiers from the Toy Story movies finally get their own starring role. A new version of Randy Newman's You've Got A Friend In Me - surely the best Pixar song of all time? - features regularly.

What about Finding Nemo, I hear you ask? The only Pixar movie set in Australia is well represented, apart from the Nemo submarine voyage reopened in 2014. During Pixar Fest, the main characters – Nemo, Dory, Marlin and even Bruce (the "vegetarian shark" voiced by Barry Humphries) make an appearance.

TRIP NOTES

STAY

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is officially five-star, but think four-star by Australian standards. One of three official Disney hotels (the others are Paradise Pier and the Disneyland), this one has direct access to and from Disney California Adventure Park and Downtown Disney. See: disneyland.disney.go.com

FLY

Qantas, United and several other airlines fly to Los Angeles daily from Australia's east coast.

MORE

traveller.com.au/anaheim

disneyland.disney.go.com/events-tours/pixar-fest

Steve Meacham was a guest of Disneyland Resort.

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