Pixar Fest returns for an encore at Disneyland California: What to expect in 2024

This past Friday (26th April), under the theme of “Celebrating Friendship and Beyond”, Disneyland kicked off Pixar Fest 2024 – six years after the first took over Disney’s two California parks.

The event comes almost three months to the day that the park unveiled the brand new Pixar Place Hotel, and less than three months before the release of Pixar’s highly anticipated sequel, Inside Out 2.

The event gives the parks to shine a light on the entire Pixar film catalogue, with live shows, immersive experiences and dining options that will run until 4th August 2024.

We flew out to California last week and had a chance to preview some of what you can expect from the festival, and here’s a look at the highlights…

Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular Returns

Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle once again sits as the centre piece of Disneyland’s Pixar Nighttime Spectacular, Together Forever.

The show keeps all the favourite moments from the 2018 show – including a flying Buzz Lightyear and the house from Up soaring over Sleeping Beauty Castle – but adds more to the spectacle. And boy does it deliver.

Tasha Salas, Creative Director at Disney Live Entertainment, said while they were bringing back an existing production, the six years between events provided an “opportunity to celebrate some of the newer films”. This includes new characters no less than six feature films –  Onward, Soul, Luca, Turning Red, Elemental and the forthcoming Inside Out 2.

So expect a sea of phones and cameras lighting up Main Street U.S.A. as moments from the entire Pixar film catalogue are projected on the walls of the Main Street U.S.A., and on Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

KC Wilkerson, the Principal Media Designer at Disney Live Entertainment, told us that no less than 76 characters take part in the production – 59 returning from the 2018 show, and 17 new characters being added to the mix from the newer films, including the five new emotions in Inside Out 2.

The enhancements don’t stop at the characters, however. Wilkerson talked on the technological advances in between the shows, saying “(our) new projectors provide us with greater detail and richer colours… the opportunity to render the Pixar colours effectively was a tremendous challenge… but the show really delivers.”

Wilkerson also said that new pyrotechnics and firework shells were developed just for this show, and they’ve also added effects to the Magic Band + – a feature for annual pass holders – with vibrations and twinkling lights that synchronize with the show. He also said there are six “Hidden Mickey’s” in the projection content.

They also changed up the pacing to fit in all the new characters, saying, “We really need to do something a little bit different… we decided to break the show apart, it’s a story about meeting new friends and setting out on new friends and overcoming adversity together. We chose moments from those films that reflected the overall story we’re trying to tell.”

Salas added that “Pixar did original animation for the fireworks show”, allowing them to “incorporate the new characters.” One such moment sees Mei from Turning Red run down Main Street, turning into her Panda self.

While Main Street U.S.A. will be the best place to view the action on and around the Castle, and that’s where I experienced it, projections, laser and music have been extended elsewhere in the park as well – including on the Rivers of America and on the façade of It’s a Small World.

The spectacular will be seen select nights at Disneyland, with more details on times available at disneyland.com or through the Disneyland App.

Club Pixar by night and Pixar Pals Playtime by day…

New to Pixar Fest for 2024 is Club Pixar, which is taking over the Hollywood Backlot at Disney’s California Adventure daily through the festival’s run. This is an otherwise underutilised section of the park, right near the Monster’s Inc. attraction.

Here, a stage will see performances leading into and during the evening, with neon signs drawing you into the space. During Club Pixar performances, you’ll be able to learn dance moves like the Monster University Pep Rally Cheer and have some fun with 4*Town from Turning Red. Scenes from Wall-E, Up and Inside Out also are featured on the stage, as they turn out some interpretive dance moments. This will no doubt link into Inside Out 2 as they lead into its release this Summer.

Club Pixar also will present photo opportunities with Pixar characters, and the chance to play games back here inspired by their short film catalogue, from 4:30pm to 8:30pm daily. This is similar to what you’ll find permanently at the new Pixar Place Hotel, which I’ll get to later in the article. Next to this you’ll find “The Shorts Stop: Drive-In Theatre”, a Pixar short theatre with faux convertibles to sit in. The shorts will run day and night.

Back in Disneyland itself, keep a look out for the Pixar Pals Playtime area, which has transformed the Fantasyland Theatre – opposite the Toontown Railway Station. If Club Pixar is the “nighttime” entertainment at California Adventure, then the Playtime is what you’ll be experiencing by day.

Here, you’ll find a dance party, locations for crafts and specialty foods – all together making for a fun family zone. There’s also oversized photo locations with meet and greets with Luca and Alberto from Luca, and Wade and Ember from Elemental – all of whom are making their debuts during Pixar Fest 2024. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible will be there as well, in their new super suits, and Dug from Up will now be interactive – which should lead to to very fun encounters.

A new parade with Better Together: A Pixar Pals Celebration!

Over at California Adventure, guests are going to enjoy a brand new Pixar parade, with a song they’ve created just for it – the incredibly catchy “Better Together”, which also serves as the name of the show.

Robin Trowbridge, Show Director at Disney Live Entertainment, said over a year and a half of work went into creating the parade, and as for the song, “we wanted it to be catchy, we wanted people to walk away with it” – and sure enough you can expect to be singing it for the rest of the day.

So which films are represented in the parade? Trowbridge said, “the biggest challenge was, there is just so much (Pixar content) to work with… How do you whittle it down?”. In the end, they open with one of the newer Pixar films, Turning Red, which Trowbridge said best reflected the overall themes of the parade, and the festival as a whole: friendship and acceptance. They even add the sign language for “Better Together” into all the accompanying dance performances.

“We have the most Pixar characters represented in one parade ever”, Trowbridge continued, and this includes the first ever floats for Luca and Soul, as well as Up, Inside Out, The Incredibles, Toy Story, Coco and Monsters Inc. 

New treats to eat and take home

No Disneyland event would be complete without bespoke eats and merchandise. John State, Culinary Director at Disneyland Resort, said on the dining side, they would be “pulling some common threads from the 2018 Pixar Fest, with at least four new films serving inspiration.” This will be experienced across 29 locations with some 80 limited time culinary options across both parks.

Coco has inspired the Marigold Bridge Cupcake, for Luca, there’s a cheesecake parfait (with Luca and Roberto in the chocolate decoration). A fried boloney sandwich with a warm cinnamon compote is returning from Up, and a cheeseburger pizza for Toy Story to the Alien Pizza Planet.

Elsewhere, you’ll find a Dineaco Blue Cheeseburger for Cars, a Ratatouille pizza at Gusteau’s To-Go, and Mood Swing Mac & Cheese – inspired by Inside Out, which comes either as normal Mac & Cheese, with Cheetos, or “Angry Red Hot”, with Red Hot Cheetos. And if you’re thirsty, look no further than the Monster’s Inc. inspired Shake 2319, with coconut, guava and pineapple, being served at Schmoozies! in Hollywood Land.

Check out the entire foodie guide HERE.

And then there’s the new merchandise options. One of the coolest ones, in my opinion, is a light up Pizza Planet truck, complete with alien driver, and a compartment for popcorn. Guests can hang these around their necks and enjoy popcorn on the go while they’re in the parks, and then have a very nice toy to return home with. There are also 50 Pizza Planet trucks hidden throughout the parks, inspired by the hidden trucks you’ll find in every Pixar film. Look out for them!

Pixar Fest 2024 itself will have its own merchandise, from t-shirts to water bottles, and a colourful new bucket hat, which, when turned inside out, is covered in Pixar’s iconic ball.

You’ll be able to find these new treats at retail outlets and dining options across both parks, and in the Downtown Disney area.

Elsewhere across the Disneyland Resort…

Speaking of Downtown Disney, Pixar Fest isn’t limited to experiences inside the parks. In the area between the entry of the two parks, you’ll find a 25-foot sculpture built around the iconic Pixar ball (a much smaller version of which can be purchased in stores around the parks).

You’ll find branding for the festival throughout Downtown Disney, with select merchandise and dining options extended out here, as well as photo opportunities – such as Cars from Cars dressed up as Woody and Buzz down near the Disneyland Hotel.

And at the Pixar Place Hotel, which opened at the end of January, fans of the animation company will be able to enjoy Pixar activities year round. Like the “Pixar Shorts Court”, which (similar to what you’ll find at Club Pixar) sees the shorter Pixar films getting some love in an outdoor games area open to the public – whether you’re staying at the hotel or not. Currently these are in operation daily from 11-5 (but check the website for up-to-date hours), and includes a Bao toss, a shuffleboard court inspired by La Luna and more.

For guests staying at the park, a new Finding Nemo water area sees an impressive new water slide added to the hotel amenities – within which you might just hear Crush’s voice as you fly along the water. It’s worthy of a spin for guests of all ages – I was personally surprised by just how much speed I got!

And of course Pixar characters and branding can be seen in every aspect of the hotel. Even look to the floors, where metallic silhouettes of Pixar characters are built in – just as they are at the Pixar Animation’s headquarters. This is also the only place in the Disneyland resort where you’ll be able to meet Bing Bong from Inside Out!

Also be sure to check out California Adventure’s Animation Academy, which will be Pixar focused during the festival. You might just learn how to draw Nemo, like we had the chance to!

Pixar Fest 2024 runs across Disneyland and California Adventure from April 26th until August 4th.
For all the details, head to their official website.

The author visited Disneyland as a guest of Disney Parks & Resorts and stayed at the Pixar Place Hotel. All photos by the author, except the headline image, which was taken by a Disneyland photographer, and provided by Disney Parks. 

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.