Saving months of speculation, last week during the special fan presentation Disneyland Paris showed us exactly what’s ahead for the refreshed Sleeping Beauty Castle. No, no dramatic changes of story or style — in fact, if anything, a return to the grace and elegance of opening day in 1992. Ever since the enormous restoration project began, fans have been trying to predict what colours the new team would choose for Le Château‘s third era. Now we can reveal all, long before the scaffolding comes down, along with a big photo update on current progress!
As we walked inside Walt’s – An American Restaurant on Main Street, U.S.A. at 9am last Friday, we were greeted by Peggie Fariss herself at the door! Joining Disneyland Paris six months ago as the new head of Walt Disney Imagineering Paris, Peggie has a long history at the company, having begun her Disney career as a Storybookland Canal Boats ride operator in 1965. Her first job at Walt Disney Imagineering was to complete historical research for the Venetian scene in Spaceship Earth at Epcot.
Upstairs we turned the corner into the Adventureland room of the restaurant, where around 15 seats had been assembled around a projection screen, to be greeted by Thomas Bardenat. Head of the new Projects for Parks Content department, acting as a bridge between Walt Disney Imagineering and the park operations departments, Thomas oversees the completion of these refurbishment projects and their impact on daily visitors. He has a 10-year career at Disneyland Paris and first worked as a Phantom Manor ride host.
At this point it was hard not to be distracted by three easels set up around the corner of the room, displaying three boards of never-before-seen (and perhaps never to be seen again) concept art for Sleeping Beauty Castle, Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship and the refreshed Guest Entry Sequence (the parking entry plaza and moving walkways) with “before” and “after” photos.
Having only arrived in Paris quite recently, Peggie began by joking that we all probably still knew more about the parks than herself. But she was certain of one thing. Describing how Imagineering always tries to do the best for every park around the world, and love each park the same, she nevertheless concluded what we all knew: Of all the Disney castles, “this one is the most beautiful.”
So what are the new colours? Originally a more subdued shade of pink with heavier gradients and shadows to give a more believably medieval look, the second era after a 1998 refurbishment saw the landmark given a stronger pink hue and a less interesting array of turrets. No longer did two slim, fully-golden turrets stand out. Murky gold gradients appeared on four of the roofs, including the large, rectangular-topped roof above the main window. Will 2011 see the Castle go right back to 1992? Not exactly, but the new scheme is certainly very closely matched to the original colours.
- Five new shades of rose pink have been chosen — darker for the base and lighter for the top. Chosen in Paris by Walt Disney Imagineering colour specialist Alain Champault with the direction of Tom Fitzgerald, they were transferred directly onto the original 1992 model of the castle by Katy Olsen at Walt Disney Imagineering’s headquarters in Glendale, California, allowing the Imagineers to see the colours in three dimensions, rather than just flat concept art.
- According to Peggie, the Castle will look as if it is “soaring into the clouds” with the new pink tones.
- Where the majority of the rooftops now currently have a green/blue mixture of tile colours, the blue will be brought out much more — using a palette of blues, rather than a mixture of greens.
- Two thin golden spires, either side of the main tower, will once again be painted fully golden as per the 1992 colour scheme. During the last refurbishment they were given a less metallic gradient effect, with blue on the bottom.
- Above the lower stained glass window, the roof which currently has a gold/blue gradient will once again be fully blue, with metallic gold accents only around its edges.
- As Peggie explained, it was essential that the final colours were chosen in Paris, not California, as the quality of the light is very different between the two locations. She pointed to the book “Designing Disney” by legendary Imagineer John Hench which explains this effect in detail.
Speaking about the technicalities of the refurbishment, Thomas revealed:
- Final completion date currently set for late August.
- At the moment, crews are painting behind the scaffolding and decorative scrim during the day and using a 65 metre crane at night to complete repairs and initial repainting to the exposed upper towers.
- From June onwards, there will apparently be less and less scaffolding covering the Castle, and as work enters the final stages painting will only take place from sunrise to sunset, as it will require seeing exactly how the “temperature” of the colours look.
- There will be no work to the interior during this project.
- Clearly, there is currently some visual impact of the restoration works for guests, but with the park operating 365 days a year there was no alternative and the team have kept disruption to an absolute minimum.
There we go! A Sleeping Beauty Castle which “soars up into the clouds”, with shimmering gold accents and blue rooftops returned! Cleaned, repaired and repainted to look as good as new — as good as 1992. Now, let’s take a tour of the site…
Note: Just today (2nd April) the white scaffolding above has now been covered by an extended decorative scrim!
Looking up at the main tower, you can already see the difference in colour temperatures on the main tower. Meanwhile, the tallest spire appears to shimmer with a clean, pearly appearance.
Built using forced perspective and without the usual sense of scale given by floorplates or standard windows, it’s surprising to see the size of a person next to the main window. Reawakening this Castle isn’t a small project by any means.
The reverse of the Castle currently keeps its off-white scrim, which also blocks off access to the main steps down to the Castle Courtyard and the Sword in the Stone. Guests must walk right around each of the left or right wings to access Fantasyland, creating an added bottle neck in the past few weeks with the larger parade route entrance to Fantasyland also closed.
The different shades of rose pink can already be seen coming into place on the upper towers.
Much of the work completed already appears to be patching up holes and cleaning off dirt, priming the Castle for its new colours. The two rooftops on the left above, for example, show numerous wounds from the past 13 years now being addressed.
Below, the flat rectangular rooftop which will soon lose its faded gradient effect for the crisper, original blue.
Many fans have noticed a problem with the stained glass window at the top of the castle, which currently has a dark shadow around its bottom edge. Presumably to be fixed, given time…
Up close, you can really see just how much work remains to get this landmark gleaming again, particularly on the rooftops. The famous spire below, decorated with snails as an “in-joke”, will be one of the two to regain its fully-golden metallic paint scheme during the project, but for now it appears to be patched up with a piece of wood.
The level of detail on Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant remains astonishing to this day.
Inside, the famous view out toward the Carousel and the rest of Fantasyland is currently blocked off.
Walls are painted a pleasing colour to merge into the background of the courtyard.
Above, your route into and out of the Castle. Below, the view across Le Théâtre du Château, Castle Stage, and the wishing well area also currently closed to provide a base for the works.
Inside, and again the amount of work still to do is humbling…
…But someday soon, in the late Summer of this year, Le Château will be gleaming again.
As good as Once Upon a Time. Maybe even as good as 1992. Maybe even better.
Coming next: Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship to be rebuilt with original Peter Pan colours, and a first look at Fantasyland’s new parade route paving!