How Disneyland Turned San Francisco Into San Fransokyo Square

How Disneyland Turned San Francisco Into San Fransokyo Square
San Fransokyo Square at Disney California Adventure Park features sights, shopping and splendid cuisine inspired by Walt Disney Animation Studios' Academy Award-winning "Big Hero 6," in Anaheim, California. (Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort/TNS)
Tribune News Service
By Brady MacDonald For The Orange County Register

Disney California Adventure visitors crossing over the Shinto shrine-inspired Golden Gate Bridge into San Fransokyo Square will join an ongoing celebration of the “Big Hero 6” super heroes who saved the fictional wharf-side district from a villain’s evil wrath.

“What you’re seeing the day you visit San Fransokyo Square is Big Hero 6 Day. It’s a big show of appreciation,” Walt Disney Imagineering Art Director Michael Dobrzycki said. “Of course, every day you visit is Big Hero 6 Day, so it doesn’t matter which day you go. If you come this time next year, it will still be Big Hero 6 Day.”

San Fransokyo served as the central location in the 2014 Disney animated superhero movie drawing upon inspirations from both cities to create the fictional metropolis. Imagineering has spent the summer slowly but steadily turning the Monterey Bay-themed Pacific Wharf land into an architectural cross between the San Francisco Bay and Tokyo Bay areas.

Imagineering created San Fransokyo Square as a small wharfside district within the larger San Fransokyo urban downtown area seen in the movie. The challenge for Imagineering was to overlay the existing 1920s Cannery Row-inspired Pacific Wharf food court with a distinctly San Fransokyo theme from “Big Hero 6.”

The backstory of San Fransokyo Square finds the wharf fishing community revitalized after the fisheries, canneries and tanneries in an old waterfront village fell on hard times during a big tech boom in the fictional city.

The touristy wharfside district is now home to boutique shops, restaurants and leisure-related businesses.

A travel agency has moved into the district. The San Fransokyo Tribune newspaper has offices above one of the restaurants. A local DJ hosts karaoke nights that serve as the soundtrack for the background music heard throughout the land. San Fransokyo Square even offers nods to the pro sports teams of the fictional city—the NBA Samurai, NFL Emperors and MLB Ninjas. The chamber of commerce represents all the fictitious businesses.

“Where we are today in the San Fransokyo Square story is shortly after the final events from the ‘Big Hero 6’ movie,” Dobrzycki said during an online video interview. “As we know, the villain Yokai wreaks havoc in downtown San Fransokyo and causes a big mess. You’ll notice that San Fransokyo Square doesn’t have all that damage.”

We have Big Hero 6 to thank for protecting the waterfront village and the chamber of commerce is throwing a celebration in honor of the superhero team.

It’s been a long time since San Francisco transformed into San Fransokyo, according to the backstory for the animated film and themed land. A century of fictional history has passed in San Fransokyo by the time the “Big Hero 6” movie takes place.

“You’re just in a pre-established different place,” Dobrzycki said. “It just happens to be in this parallel but alternate California city.”

The San Fransokyo seen in the film and the park is an alternate universe where the city of San Francisco ended up with an extensive Tokyo overlay.

“It’s almost the world outside your window,” Dobrzycki said. “It’s just there’s this one funky little change to it. And that’s the events that led to it becoming more like Tokyo.”

San Fransokyo’s Shinto shrine-inspired version of the Golden Gate bridge serves as the gateway into the alternate world.

“As you cross that bridge you are in a whole new place,” Dobrzycki said.

“If there is that interaction where you say, ‘I’m from San Francisco,’ our San Fransokyo cast member will be like, ‘That is so cool. This place used to be called San Francisco. Tell me about your place,’” Dobrzycki said. “It can be that kind of interaction because we used to be San Francisco also.”

While the origin story of San Fransokyo is never explicitly explained in the movie, the subsequent TV shows have offered clues about how San Francisco ended up with a distinctly Japanese flair. According to the backstory, the change started after the 1906 earthquake when Japanese Americans helped rebuild San Francisco.

“For the guests, for all intents and purposes, the forward-facing story is that this is just a mash-up between Tokyo and San Francisco that happened somewhere in the 20th century,” Dobrzycki said.

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