5 Movies You Need to Watch Before Visiting Disney California Adventure

When it first opened in 2001, Disney’s California Adventure served as a testament to the beauty and excitement the state of California had to offer. In the 21 years since the trajectory of the renamed Disney California Adventure (DCA) has shifted to incorporate more of Disney’s IP property and bring more magical characters in for Guests to enjoy!

If you’re planning your next trip to the Anaheim Resort to visit this special second gate, rewatching some of your favorite films is the perfect way to prepare! Disney California Adventure has a lot to offer in terms of movie franchise tie-ins, especially since the recent addition of Avengers Campus in 2021. Disney’s Imagineers have done an excellent job building immersive attractions and experiences so that Guests can step inside the worlds of some of their favorite characters. With everything new that’s come to the Park since it opened, it can be hard to keep track of each storyline. Here are five films you need to watch in anticipation of your next adventure at DCA:

Children in 3D glasses shoot targets in a Toy Story Midway Mania vehicle

Credit: Disney

Toy Story (1995)

Toy Story follows Woody, the prized possession of little boy Andy, as he grapples with a new toy entering the spotlight, a futuristic Space Ranger, Buzz Lightyear. The original Disney California Adventure featured a boardwalk-style amusement park area known as Paradise Pier and the accompanying Paradise Pier Hotel. In 2018, Disney rethemed the land has been to Pixar Pier, featuring characters and stories from Pixar Animation Studios’ many films. Attractions like Toy Story: Midway Mania and Jessie’s Critter Carousel utilize characters from across the four Toy Story films. Start with the tried and true original to really bring your vacation to infinity… and beyond!

Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid, a fish blows a rocky horn

Credit: Disney

The Little Mermaid (1989)

Even though Disney closed Ariel’s Grotto (and the fan-favorite Cove Bar) in 2018 to make way for the Pixar Lamplight Lounge, this aquatic princess’ presence remains strong in the Park! The Little Mermaid tells the story of Ariel, a spirited teen who longs to visit the human realm and falls in love with a shipwrecked prince. The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure lets Guests step — or swim — right into scenes from the movie. Watching the original film to remember “it’s better down where it’s wetter” is the perfect preamble for your return to the sea, and the release of the upcoming 2023 live-action!

RELATED: Creepy Vibes ‘Under the Sea’ as ‘The Little Mermaid’ Ride Malfunctions

Flo's V* Cafe neon sign in pink and blue and Ramone's before a rock formation

Credit: Disney

Cars (2006)

Disney Pixar Cars centers around the journey of racing superstar Lightning Mcqueen after becoming marooned in a small town known as Radiator Springs. The charming atmosphere full of lovable automotive entities quickly became beloved by fans. If you’ve ever wanted to grab a drink at Flo’s V8 Cafe or go tractor-tipping with Mater, now you can! The film has a great balance of action-packed race scenes and slow and steady cruising, plus a fantastic soundtrack to join Lightning and just… take a drive.


Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout Tower before a blue sky

Credit: Disney

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy brings space adventurer Peter Quill, and a team of sci-fi alien bounty hunters together in order to save the universe itself to a soundtrack of 80s hits. The franchise was one of the first Marvel properties to make its way to Disney California Adventure prior to the opening of Avengers Campus in 2021. Its take over of the former Tower of Terror brings Guests on a rockin’ journey through the inner sanctum of the infamous “Collector.” Watch the movie at home to get “hooked on a feeling” you can carry with you when you ride the thrilling drop ride, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Break-Out!

Russell and Dug Meet and Greet

Credit: Disney

Up (2009)

Many original visitors will recall an area of Grizzly Peak with rock climbing, rope bridges, and caves to explore. It’s now home to the Wilderness Explorers from Disney Pixar’s blockbuster Up. Up, a movie about the unlikely friendship between grumpy senior citizen Carl Fredricksen and the cherub-cheeked Wilderness Explorer Russell follows the duo’s daring escapade through the South American Paradise Falls. This one is a must-see before visiting characters like Russell and Doug yourself at DCA, a place where adventure is truly out there!

A Walk in the Park: Come On Every 'Bunny' Get Your Ears On at Disneyland Resort | Disney Parks Blog

Credit: Disney

Bonus Tip! For a true blast from the past, check out Trolley Troubles (1927), the first animated short to feature Walt’s once-lost character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Many of Oswald’s appearances are lost to time, but this one is available online! The dynamic cartoon depicts the zany antics of the adorable rabbit as he navigates a runaway trolley car! An excellent watch before you head on down to Buena Vista Street just inside the entrance to DCA, where you can catch Oswald outside Oswald’s Service Station and ride the Red Car trolley for yourself (we promise it won’t run away).

Whether it’s your first visit to Disney California Adventure or just your most recent, these movies can help you step into the magic before your travel date arrives! You can view any of these movies before you go using a Disney+ subscription.

About Spencer Beck

Spencer is a lifelong lover of theme parks, princesses, and Disney history that recently relocated to Northern California. She completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA, where she was the founder and first president of the campus Disney Club. A former Cast Member still mourning the loss of the Disney Store, she now haunts the halls of the Walt Disney Family Museum, and shares her opinions with anyone who will listen @pinknpurble everywhere.