Fall in love with animation at Disneyland’s Pixar Place Hotel

They say you shouldn’t sleep where you work, but Pixar chief Pete Docter means it at as a compliment when he says that Disneyland’s reimagined Paradise Pier Hotel — now branded to the Emeryville-based animation powerhouse — is like “walking into Pixar.”

An exaggeration, sure, but the Pixar Place Hotel entryway that greets guests echoes some of the branding seen on the company’s official campus, thanks to a large desk lamp — a nod to Pixar’s “Luxo Jr.” short and the “i” in Pixar’s logo — atop a ball with a red star. Likewise the mix of character designs and encased maquettes that dot the check-in area.

But the chilled-out takes on Pixar soundtracks, splashes of color and a couch that nods to Heimlich the caterpillar from the film “A Bug’s Life” ever-so-slightly shift the tone. There’s still an underlying corporate campus feel, but the aim is something warm, inviting and slightly whimsical — check the back of the lobby couch that acts as a jumping-off point for wall sketches of Remy from “Ratatouille.”

The feel — part art gallery, part lounge — is a drastic improvement from the hotel’s Paradise Pier days, when its entry corridors felt more like commuter spaces than comforting ones. The revamp of the Paradise Pier Hotel into the Pixar Place Hotel is the latest reinvention for the place of lodging at 1717 Disneyland Drive. Walt Disney Co. acquired the Anaheim property in 1995, when the 15-story building was known as the Pan Pacific Hotel, but its Paradise Pier Hotel days were likely numbered when the Paradise Pier section of Disney California Adventure became Pixar Pier in 2018.

“For those of you who are into the creative process, I think you’ll be really happy,” said Docter at the hotel’s opening ceremony this week. “This hotel really celebrates that. You get to see rough drawings, color studies, animation sketches.”

There’s more to know if you’re considering a stay at the Pixar Place Hotel. Here’s what stood out from a tour of the property.

Achieving the Pixar tone

Disney likes to say that the Pixar Place Hotel is “Pixar-themed.” That’s not fully accurate, as the hotel is more Pixar-branded than it is themed, as a theme is an idea or a recurring art motif. Think of the California Craftsman look of the Disneyland Resort’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa or the Midcentury Modern feel of the Disneyland Hotel next door.

The Pixar Place Hotel is striving for a contemporary theme that splits the difference between playfulness and elegance. This is evident in the cleaner look of the hotel from the outside, , as it has been repainted white with subtle strips of color. Inside, there are cool, museum-like grays and whites that are broken up with intentional touches that celebrate the art of animation.

The floor, for instance, is accentuated with not-so-hidden stainless steel caricatures of Pixar characters. The maquettes, from films such as “Monsters Inc.” and “Finding Nemo,” are framed in glass cases with illuminated color panels. And near the rear of the lobby, wall sketches, which Disney said were painted by Pixar artists, evolve into lit CGI-like wire-frame portraits, attempting to show the evolution from hand-drawn to computer animation.

The art of the Pixar Place Hotel aims to show the evolution of computer animation.

(Todd Martens / Los Angeles Times)

There’s a mix of styles, as much of the artwork was created specifically for the hotel. Across from the check-in desks, for instance, sits a “Finding Nemo” wall, where characters are seen in a more painterly presentation. The showcase piece of the lobby is a large mobile, situated above the Pixar lamp and ball, with abstracted, stained glass-like figures from “The Incredibles,” “Wall-E,” “Finding Nemo” and more. They are flanked by colored panels, which react to the music played in the area, an effect that is of course better seen in the evening.

“Pixar is a balance of sophistication and whimsy that really is core to their values,” said Kirstin Makela, an art director at Walt Disney Imagineering, the company’s secretive arm devoted to theme park experiences. “They’re a studio that’s been at the cutting edge of what they do. They take it very seriously that their characters are represented in that high esteem that they deserve because they are works of art.

“So it really is about creating a space that feels like a living art gallery that allows for the work to be elevated and feel celebrated, and allows for the work to get that dynamic pop of color and energy,” Makela continued.

Inside the rooms

Above a bed sits a mural featuring scenes from various Pixar films.

The revamped Pixar Place Hotel rooms have significantly more color than in prior incarnations.

(Todd Martens / Los Angeles)

Gone are the carpeted tan-and-beige-heavy rooms that marked the Paradise Pier Hotel, which seemed to be going for a sandy beach-type feel.

The remodeled Pixar Place rooms have wood panels for flooring, and are significantly brighter, thanks to a large Pixar mural above the bedding. The latter is a shift in hues, as the piece transitions from key scenes from Pixar films including “Up,” “Ratatouille,” “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “Soul,” “Coco”and “Inside Out.” The work is lit from the bottom, and has a brushed rather than CGI feel. It’s present in standard rooms and suites, and Disney said the goal was for it to look and feel something like a rainbow.

There’s other Pixar art in the room, as above a red couch is a framed piece showing different characters — Bo Peep from “Toy Story,” Joe Gardner from “Soul,” Sadness from “Inside Out” — in varying states of movement. Disney credited the latter to Tasha Sounart, a creative director at the animation studio. Also included in the rooms is the hardbound “The Art of Pixar” book, and various depictions of the Pixar lamp and ball, from an actual lamp on the desk to traces of the ball and the lamp in the bedding, carpeting and decorative pillows.

A close-up of lamp and "The Art of Pixar" book.

Each room features the Pixar lamp that serves as the company’s logo.

(Richard Harbaugh / Disneyland Resort )

In describing the aesthetic, Imaginering’s interior design manager Tami Empero said, “The trend in hotels today are really neutral colors, like beiges and grays. We really focused on red, yellow and blue to drive home the Pixar theme.”

A hotel with character(s)

A pianist performs in a hotel nook featuring art form Pixar's "Soul."

At select times, a jazz musician acting as Joe Gardner from Pixar’s “Soul” will perform in the hotel lobby.

(Christian Thompson / Disneyland Resort)

The Pixar Place Hotel is unique in that it has exclusive character interactions to help give the space a sense of life and playfulness. On a third-floor pool deck, for instance, guests will find the pink, elephant-like creature Bing Bong from “Inside Out.”

And in the lobby, a piano will feature a jazz musician given a slight Joe Gardner makeover. Entertainment offerings will vary by day, but expect to find the Bing Bong most mornings and afternoons near the pool, and jazz music is currently scheduled to be played five days per week, mostly in the evenings.

A pink elephant-like creature greets guests.

Bing Bong from “Inside Out” will meet guests on the pool deck of Disneyland’s Pixar Place Hotel.

(Todd Martens / Los Angeles Times)

Imagineering also found some places for clever injections of Pixar personalities. Take, for instance, the pool deck’s fire pit, where flames sprout from fixtures designed to look like Anger from “Inside Out” or Ember from the more recent “Elemental.”

The pool deck is home, too, to a water slide for little ones featuring “Finding Nemo’s” turtle character of Crush and a splash pad that boasts a number of characters from the underwater film, including Hank and Dory. Notable design elements include lighting designed to mimic seaweed and some choral reef rockwork.

A fire pit in which fire is rising from the head of the character of Anger.

A fire pit in the look of the character Anger from “Inside Out.”

(Christian Thompson / Disneyland Resort)

Some lesser known Pixar works are also highlighted outdoors near the pool, home to a walk-up window featuring salads, burgers, chicken fingers and the like, as well as frozen alcoholic floats. The outpost, dubbed Small Bytes, opens in March.

A gaming area features chess tables, a nod to the short “Geri’s Game,” as well as shuffleboard that references “La Luna” via star-affixed discs and a cornhole-inspired game that nods to the animation studio’s “Bao,” in which players will toss adorable dumplings into steamer baskets.

Perks, dining, pricing and a piece of fine print

Stoic black and white portraits of Pixar characters overlook a dining area.

Southern California chain Great Maple operates the three dining areas of Pixar Place Hotel.

(Christian Thompson / Disneyland Resort)

While all Disneyland Resort hotels offer slightly earlier access to the parks (30 minutes before opening) — and Pixar Place is no different — the animation-focused hotel also has its own, relatively convenient entry to Disney California Adventure park. The gate is across the street from the hotel and tucked away next to the Grand Californian. Pixar Place Hotel guests can use it to enter and exit the park.

There are three dining options at the hotel, including the poolside walk-up window. The core restaurant is the latest outpost of Southern California chain Great Maple, which features a diner aesthetic and mostly comfort food options. Pixar Place is the first hotel at the Disneyland Resort to outsource its food offerings, meaning all three dining facilities are handled by Great Maple. I’ve only dined at Great Maple once, and opted for the $28 burger, a hearty offering albeit a bit on the pricier side for a family-focused theme park hotel. Near Great Maple in the lobby is the more casual Sketch Pad Cafe, a grab-and-go coffee shop. The hotel currently does not offer in-room dining.

Great Maple does feature stoic, black-and-white portraits of Pixar characters, but its look slightly clashes with the rest of the hotel, as green-tinted bar seats and booths deviate from the Pixar colors featured so prominently elsewhere. A better fit would have been something more akin to the Lamplight Lounge, the Pixar-focused restaurant at Disney California Adventure that features music and artwork from the films, as well as menus and drinks that nod to the studio’s history.

While it’s worth noting that the Pixar Place aesthetic, from the lobby to the rooms, is a drastic improvement from the dated Paradise Pier Hotel, it can certainly no longer be considered a budget — or even low-priced —offering at the Disneyland Resort. In a sampling of room rates throughout the year, I found nothing lower than $405 per night for a standard room, and about $100 more for high-traffic holiday months.

Back in 2018, for instance, I stayed at Paradise Pier at a rate of $327.60 per night. I did stop staying at the hotel because it’s not the quietest of places to sleep, meaning you will hear the alarm clocks of neighboring rooms, as well as any loud guests, some coughs and sneezes included. Since this is a family-focused hotel, expect that it will be on the noisier side.

So if you opt for this locale, maybe just use those Bluetooth-enabled alarm clocks to play the “Soul” soundtrack on repeat as a bit of low-level white noise.

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