Something So Right: Flynn’s Arcade At Disney’s California Adventure

Flynn’s Arcade. Usually, I would not write a story about a seemingly throw-away, stop-gap style Disney attraction created to take-up space and distract visitors while major construction is taking place elsewhere in an amusement park, but then I never thought Disney’s California Adventure could get something so right either.

Disney’s California Adventure was a mis-fire from the day it opened just about 10 years ago.  The selection of attractions (many of which have been replaced of have disappeared all-together in the past decade) was terrible. There were too many movies in lieu of rides (It’s Tough To Be a Bug, Muppets 3D, Seasons On The Vine, Golden Dreams), not enough things for kids to do (a paltry 9 attractions for kids under 42 inches), and bizarre choices at every turn (Bread and Tortilla Baking exhibits, a Wine Tasting room?).  The California theme was limiting , and lacked the essential Disney imagination that makes Disneyland, just 100 yards away, so very special.  The overall feeling of the place was “rushed”.  Too much blank concrete, too many cheap attractions, and too little to do for the price of admission.

A few years ago, John Lasseter (of Pixar fame), took over the reigns of the theme park attractions (among other things) for Disney.  When he was young, he worked at Disneyland as a ride operator, and has a great love for the place.  He quickly brought a renewed sense of quality back to Disneyland and to California Adventure.  Under is direction, Disney’s Californa Adventure is now getting a complete make-over.  In a couple weeks they will open an giant E-ticket dark ride based on The Little Mermaid.  Next year they will open the massive “Cars Land”, themed to the hit movie that Lasseter himself directed.

In the mean time the managers of California Adventure felt it needed some things tide over the growing crowds.  One of those things is the new “ElecTRONica” night time, glowing, dance party based on the the Tron movies. While this might sound a bit gruesome at first, it’s actually quite well done.  One of the best parts, is the recreation of “Flynn’s” the arcade featured in both Tron Movies.  Located at the far North-East corner of the park, Flynn’s is not huge. However for what it lacks in size, it makes it up in pure nostalgic ambiance.

First of all, the games are nearly perfect.  Tron is there, as well as a working Space Paranoids machine, the game Flynn was supposedly working on in the first Tron Movie.  Howeverm the other games included Stargate, Defender, Galaga, Frogger, etc.   While there were some anachronistic entries (i.e Gauntlet), most of the games would have fit perfectly in a real Flynn’s from 1982.  The games themselves were in good condition, and each cost $.25.  just like every other arcade from the 80’s, custom tokens bearing the name of the establishment (in this case, Flynn’s  of course) were also available.

Besides the games, the music playing in the room was a perfect mix of 80’s AOR.  Not the usual-suspect 80’s music (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie), but an authentic of the exact mix cheesy guitar-rock (i.e. Journey, Foreigner, J Geils Band) and  non threatening new-wave (INXS, A Flock Of Seagulls) that arcade operators of the 80’s played to keep the masses of kids coming.
The walls were covered with neon art recreations of some of the most famous games from the time (i.e. Asteroids, Pac-Man, Galaxian, Scramble, Defender).   They were placed a on faux brick wall paneling, that felt like it was right out of an authentic 80’s arcade location: the cheapest, must musty and drafty building on the the street.    The only thing missing was the smell of teenage boy sweat, and stale churros.

It’s hard to describe in words what it felt like to be inside Flynn’s.  The surroundings were not huge or elaborate, but they were, note for note, perfect.  I wanted to stay there all night long, playing the games, and drinking in the pure, perfect nostalgia of the place. What could have been a simple throw away room with arcade games turned out to be quite a trip back in time.  Disney has done an amazing job with Flynn’s.  It’ a great example of what you can do if you take a rather mundane idea,  and then add care, nuance, and quality, to turn it into something very special.   If the loving care Disney has shown  with Flynn’s is any indication, the next few years will be a very exciting and wonderful time for Disney’s California Adventure Park.

And here is note for Disney: please don’t get rid of Flynn’s when the Tron promotion is over.  You have hit on something very special that deserves to live on and be enjoyed by people for years to come.


Leave a Reply