A senior member of Disneyland Paris management has suggested a plan to renew Disney Village will be “the next step” after recent park renovations, sparking much speculation about the entertainment district’s future.
In a Forbes business magazine article Francis Borezée, Vice President of Resort and Real Estate Development is quoted as saying “We have renewed a number of attractions in the parks, so the next step will be to renew the Disney Village.”
He continues: “We will start with the renovation, but then we have an opportunity to expand where today we have tents which are used for business events. If we do that we could develop a new convention center.”
Disneyland Paris has conducted a root-and-branch polishing of its existing theme park experience with numerous attractions and assets completely renewed between 2015 and 2017 under the codename Project Sparkle, which has now developed into a new internal strategy known as “DLP2020”.
It’s no surprise the dated and jumbled district of Disney Village would be touched at some point, but still comes as a relief to see it in print, especially as Walt Disney Studios Park looks set to push the bar ever further with its upcoming €2 billion expansion.
Looking at what might be involved in any larger-scale Disney Village upgrade, it’s almost easier to list the things that are probably safe.
World of Disney, Earl of Sandwich and the IMAX cinema building with its recent Vapiano and Five Guys additions all set a higher standard of more timeless, if less daring architecture, more in line with the likes of Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, Florida. Then there’s the ever-popular Annette’s Diner and Starbucks Coffee plus the recent LEGO Store all unlikely to change.
Although important to note Francis Borezée doesn’t state it himself, the piece’s author, Christian Sylt, immediately suggests Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is likely to go, which is probably a good call for numerous reasons.
Twenty six years is a long time to run any entertainment production, then there’s the added cost and complexities of managing its real livestock, the growing cultural move away (thankfully) from using animals for any of kind of entertainment purpose and the huge amount of space this takes up backstage. Those paddocks behind the arena sit exactly where new buildings have previously been suggested to line a new connecting street, turning Disney Village into a loop.
But even looking shorter term, in the era of Marvel, Star Wars and Frozen lands, Buffalo Bill now feels like an odd choice for the resort’s flagship dinner show. It’s clear a different production in that arena (such as the longstanding rumour — or rather, fan-made speculation — of a Disney on Ice-type show) could earn the resort more money, more easily; though it would be a very significant investment.
Francis Borezée’s aspirations still seem to roughly match this 2011 masterplan for Disney Village, hotel and convention centre expansion
Yet several more mundane things seem immediately likely (even essential) for a Disney Village renovation project, starting from the ground up.
Stepping from the painstakingly repaved areas of Fantasia Gardens and the resort hub into Disney Village with its crumbling in-places coloured concrete in wavy lines feels like an immediate step down. Given the resort’s recent love of a major repaving project, this is surely on the cards and would give an immediate boost.
Next, the branding. Since access between Disney Village and the parks was freely opened up and the red archway which used to form its entrance demolished, the entertainment district has no distinct entrance branding. Making it just a seamless district is a good idea, of course, but some kind of smaller-scale signposting on the ground is still necessary, similar to the Disney Springs entrances.
And then there’s the logo itself. Although recent graphic design for Disney Village flyers has improved tenfold, the 2002-era logo has never been a strong piece of branding. If they’re serious about renewing the district and more importantly, giving it a real, consistent identity, it has to go.
Looking again at Disney Springs, which revamped Florida’s Downtown Disney area, Planet Hollywood remade their restaurant into a “Planet Hollywood Observatory“, with a cleaner, more subdued interior and far classier exterior. Given it has such a prominent site in Paris, we have to hope a similar upgrade could be planned here.
Robert Earl, the owner of the chain, apparently agrees, quoted in this article as saying “There is a plan to renovate the restaurant in Paris, but Disney are evaluating what they are doing first.”
The façade of Gaumont Cinemas is equally lacking, especially next to the intricate faux stone of World of Disney. It’s a wonder Disney ever allowed the Gaumont Pathé chain to have so much of its façade be a giant movie billboard, often for non-Disney releases and sometimes ill fitting with the family-friendly Disney vibe.
Though the upstairs buffet seems a popular dining choice, Billy Bob’s Country Western Saloon lacks any kind of quality Disney feeling from its exterior. The Steakhouse has a great interior, provided you’re not seated in the theme-less extension, but likewise suffers from a desperately bad first impression outside.
Though Disney just rekindled its McDonald’s Happy Meal relationship in the US, the Disney Village building has the golden arches far from prominent than Disney would ever want these days, and looking ever more out on a limb.
Surprisingly, Rainforest Cafe is being demolished in California to make way for a new resort hotel. There’s not such a pressing need for land in Paris, but the restaurant does still sit awkwardly in what has become an ugly building, originally designed in a minimalist style for the Key West Seafood restaurant with Hurricanes Discotheque on the first floor. Today the upstairs is wasted as a Cast Member cafeteria and the outdoor Rainforest Cafe décor thoroughly dated.
Then there’s what we’ll call the “northern block” of the village, the long, somewhat oppressive metallic-clad wall containing a number of single-storey venues under a covered overhang. Compared to cheaper later additions, it almost has a unique quality to it owing to its Frank Gehry design and early 90s time period, but that doesn’t mean it works: especially not on a real estate level.
The Sports Bar is busy enough and a Cast Member favourite almost by default, but does it really have a place in the entertainment district of 2018? New York Style Sandwiches likewise trudges on without a real uniqueness or raison-d’être. The World of Toys boutique looks positively, embarrassingly ancient next to the contemporary LEGO Store.
Using the space originally occupied by a tourist information centre, The Disney Gallery has that awkward, pointless staircase taking up half its floorspace and should have been gutted years ago. Disney Fashion has worked well in recent years, but its entrance still has sporting elements from the former Team Mickey store closed absolutely years ago; giving it a less generic name and a better exterior could make it a real destination.
Taking up the vastest amount of space, though, is the huge Disney Store: again still crawling onwards even after World of Disney should have displaced any need for it. Imagine if even this half of the “block” was demolished and opened out to create a real new “place” with pleasant landscaping and two-storey buildings maximising the available land — and Disney’s income.
Disney Store, 1992 meets World of Disney, 2012
Finally, will Disney at last come up with a solution for the giant metal pylons which still litter the main avenue? Originally designed to give an “industrial warehouse” feel of an open roof with (actually rather neat) string lights zig-zagging between them, they’ve long since outlived their need. Later attempts to soften them with coloured balloons failed miserably.
Now’s the chance: either bring back the starry sky or better still, say goodbye to these blots on the landscape entirely.
What’s most likely to change at Disney Village?
Rather than a single street guests rush through to get to the “real” Disney experience of the parks or back to their hotel rooms, it’s entirely in Disney’s interest to finally make Disney Village a place where people want to be, throughout the day.
We have to hope this long-awaited renovation, if it happens, would address these basic issues first and be as ruthless as possible in its execution, before we even consider a new street, hotel and convention centre beyond.