Yeah sure, John. During his European publicity tour for Cars 2, which included hosting a special showing of the film for fans in Paris, John Lasseter also dropped into Disneyland Park on Wednesday. Stopping for this photo at around 2pm with the 2011-12 Disneyland Paris Ambassadors Régis Alart and Osvaldo del Mistero, Pixar’s creative chief had the pleasure of seeing Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant nearing the end of its lengthy restoration, complete with newly-returned golden spires.
If you follow the official Disney Parks Blog you might have already enjoyed the superb “Tilt-Shift” videos of Magic Kingdom and Epcot at Walt Disney World, which turned those grand Disney parks into something resembling a toy train set or stop-motion animated film. Well, great news Disneyland Paris fans — they’ve taken a trip across the Atlantic! A brand new Disneyland Paris tilt-shift video premiered just hours ago today, in honour of the ninth birthday of Walt Disney Studios Park. Take a look above — it’s a seriously beautiful piece of work.
As the Disney Parks Blog explains, “Tilt-shift videos like these use different photo angles, focus settings and color saturation adjustments to make the subject of a photo appear miniature.” And most awe-inspiring, “It took more than seven months and 4,000 photographs to produce this 2:38-minute clip.” The variety of attractions, events and locations captured is truly impressive, far greater than the two earlier single-park videos, successfully making everything from Disney’s Fantillusion to Moteurs… Action! look like a small-scale model magically coming to life. We even get to see the up-scaled Toy Story Playland attractions downscaled again to the size of a toy!
Nine years ago today, Disney’s tenth theme park worldwide opened its gates. For such a milestone, the original Walt Disney Studios Park of 16th March 2002 was perhaps not the best representative of the Disneyland ideals. Be it through desperate lack of budget or not, the park drastically missed the mark of what a European audience — or any audience — wants from a theme park. Forget the beautiful landscapes of Tokyo DisneySea, opened a year earlier; here there were almost no outdoor themed areas to speak of at all, just 25 hectares of freshly poured tarmac asphalt and 10 attractions housed in uninspiring “soundstages” of concrete. The bid to pay tribute to European filmmakers was noble but possibly misguided — Florida’s raining Singin’ in the Rain umbrella scene was changed to the barely known Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, for example — and the glitzy warmth of Hollywood was oddly missing. The park suffered from a complete lack of escapism, when what people really wanted was a whole park with the colour and spirit found inside, say, Disney Studio 1.
Because that’s the thing — the park has always had some great attractions. Nine years on, CinéMagique remains beautifully subtle and wonderfully entertaining, one of the best movie-based attractions ever. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith might not be pretty on the outside but the ride inside arguably beats its kitsch Florida cousin, whilst after 9,000 performances it’s easy to take for granted just how impressive the stunts of Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular really are.
Having dug itself a hole by ploughing too much (or, you could say, not enough) money into an unpopular park, it took Euro Disney SCA far longer than it should have done to begin expanding the second gate. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror should really have opened in 2005 (or earlier), rather than begun construction that year, whilst the Toon Studio expansion of Crush’s Coaster and Cars Quatre Roues Rallye should have been there from the start, not five years after opening. No-one should have ever green-lit the Television Production Tour, now occupied instead by Stitch Live! since 2008 and Playhouse Disney Live on Stage! since 2009.
The modest Hollywood Boulevard turned out to be a great surprise and even Toy Story Playland, maligned by some corners of the fan community, is a marked step above any other themed areas in the park. To get the Ratatouille dark ride built in the years ahead would be an amazing feat: the first new dark ride at Disneyland Paris (ignoring Buzz) in all its 20 years and possibly the first real implementation of Audio Animatronics in the whole Studios park. But let’s just hope it doesn’t end there, that we see the park continue like its last four years rather than the first five. May the park continue to improve and expand, to revisit Theater District and fix the original areas, to add places to eat and places to buy things, and maybe, one day, rename Production Courtyard. We can but dream… Here’s to the future!
Never ones to tease too far into the future, as expected the operating company of Disneyland Paris spent last week’s Annual General Meeting mostly talking up this year’s new additions and projects. Euro Disney SCA didn’t even announce the huge World of Disney store, currently rising right in the middle of the resort. But the assembled shareholders did manage to get one piece of crucial information from Philippe Gas, CEO: The Ratatouille ride project is real and is well advanced. Yes, yes — tell us something we didn’t know — but it’s very reassuring to hear after the land for the project was cleared during Toy Story Playland construction only to lay completely untouched ever since.
Even rumours about the proposed dark ride have gone quiet. At one time we were hearing the attraction would feature everything from a trackless ride system to 3D glasses and ride-in projection screens, whilst it’s impossible to count how many times the ride has been “green lit”, according to various sources, when in fact Euro Disney SCA have apparently still yet to agree its financing. Nevertheless, we already have our Ratatouille “rue” and a ready-and-waiting patch of former forest. In December, skyam on Disney Central Plaza snapped the photo above of the cleared area of forest from Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop, whilst the aerial view below, from last Summer, shows the site from the reverse angle, over Frontierland.
What you immediately notice from both angles are the trees which haven’t been removed, sitting right in the middle of the site. The first photo gives a good idea why — if they were to be removed, the previously secluded area become horribly barren, with guests able to see right through from Parachute Drop to the industrial backstage buildings in the distance. The plan submitted to Chessy town planning office suggested a large area of greenery in front of the attraction and other proposals for the area have all tried to create the same, something resembling a city square park. Paris certainly has plenty of those, and the Studios still needs more secluded, green areas. But when will we finally be able to explore this true Parisian quarter?
The expectation that the ride would open during the 2013 financial year (so, any time from October 2012 onwards) still seems to stand, allowing the resort to extend the 2012 anniversary year in a similar style to the 15th’s “Celebration Continues” campaign. But given we’re already in March 2011 and the extended time-scale needed for a complex dark ride, it’s looking less likely that the ride could match, for example, the December opening date of Tower of Terror. A few months after a two year wait is a minor detail, however — simply getting the funding in place and signatures on dotted lines is what matters now. And judging by an interview Philippe Gas gave to the Telegraph newspaper last October, we’re not the only ones anxious to see Rémy receive his very own attraction at Walt Disney Studios. “High on Mr Gas’s agenda are the development of the Disney Studios, where he plans more attractions and restaurants with the intention of turning it into a ‘one-day experience’ […] ‘Ratatouille is perfect, as it is set in Paris,’ he said, pointing to a large wall poster of the film in his office.”
The orange halfpipe of RC Racer was always unmistakably inspired by the classic Mattel car series, but now it’s official. Several Hot Wheels logos have just appeared around the attraction, including one on the base of the travel carry bag at the entrance and another stuck on top of the one of the 2D illustrations on the side of the “plastic” station building. In all advertising for Toy Story Playland featuring the trademark orange track, Disneyland Paris has been obliged to print a disclaimer stating the Hot Wheels inspiration, but this is the first in-park nod to the brand.
If you’re no longer an avid viewer of 50-year-old BBC children’s television show Blue Peter, this one might have passed you by as well. But late last year, presenter Joel Defries took a trip over to Disneyland Paris to experience first-hand the new Toy Story Playland, its attractions and what went into making them. As well as riding RC Racer and Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop, he met with Tom Fitzgerland, Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Vice President and Senior Creative Executive, and senior show producer Chrissie Allen, who gave some insight into the two year process of designing and building the new land which officially opened on 17th August 2010.
Bestowed with a good few minutes of Imagineering know-how, Joel is then tasked with dreaming up his own blue sky idea and goes out to explore Walt Disney Studios Park for inspiration (!). Before long, he concludes: “There’s no water here! I want to do something with water!” Good thinking, Joel.
Approaching nine years old, the bedtime rules for Walt Disney Studios Park could finally be about to change. The latest Disneyland Paris park hours show an extended opening schedule for the second gate on the first two weekends of March 2011. As a test, likely to gauge demand and guest feedback, the park will now close at 9pm rather than the usual 7pm on the 5th, 6th, 12th and 13th March. This will surely be a bonus for any fans and if positive could give a tantalising glimpse at a time ahead when the Studios can be enjoyed until nightfall, without the need to join the daily schlep over to Disneyland Park.
The cause for longer hours will have been helped by the three new attractions in Toy Story Playland (not to mention their long queue times), as well as the five other permanent attractions that have been added to the mix since the park’s hours were brutally slashed in late 2002. Up until November in its opening year, the park had closed no earlier than 8pm and stayed open through July and August from 9am to 9pm, but this was cut back to a solid 9am to 6pm schedule from 2003 as guest demand fell short and a financial restructuring (largely due to the cost of the park) required cost-cutting. The situation was so bad, you might remember, that Disney offered guests with a 1-Day 1-Park ticket to the Studios complimentary evening access to Disneyland Park after 6pm. It wasn’t until the 2007 Toon Studio expansion that the park began to live a little with later 7pm closing times on busy weekends.
But is the park even ready to stay open until 9pm? With just two counter servicerestaurants and a buffet, and only three stores, Walt Disney Studios Park has a long way to go to match the offer of its neighbour, an important factor as guests stay in the park later into the day. If the demand is there for a later closing time, we have to hope Disney will satisfy the demand for better dining, retail and entertainment that will surely follow.
There’s a grand “Happy Birthday” and many congratulations in order today — for Disney California Adventure, the problematic second park at Disneyland Resort in California which opened back on 8th February 2001 and is currently nearing the end of an enormous $1 billion makeover project that will transform the original, mediocre gate into a park worthy of the Disney name. If you’ve not been following progress, you’re missing out — be sure to check the official site, Yesterland, MiceAge, this fantastic infographic and all the other great Californian fan sites — it’s a fascinating look at what can happen when Disney really, truly puts its money — and more importantly, its heart — into making something work. Those three beautiful new attraction posters above, a Disney tradition brought forward for a new generation, are the final signature of intent.
What’s the relevance to Disneyland Paris? Well, it’s looking more and more like our own second gate, a similar project of early 2000s misguidedness, has just lost its running partner; been left behind at the starting block. Whatever analogy you want to use, Disney California Adventure is finally getting really good, really fast — and Walt Disney Studios Park, well, it’s still ambling along like all is well. Of course, though they’ve been lumped together for years as Disney’s follies, the two parks were very different. Where California Adventure had in many of its original areas and attractions a disheartening sheen of “hip” tackiness that Imagineering are now having to steam-clean out of the place, Walt Disney Studios was (and still is) simply massively under-built. And not under-built in the rather charming “there’s plenty of room to expand” style of 2005’s Hong Kong Disneyland, either. As a member on our forum succinctly put it, it’s like “a place filled with nice Disney attractions still in their boxes, waiting to be put in a Disney park.” Ironic, then, that Toy Story Playland, probably the best (at least, most fully-realised) themed area in the park is based around toys being unpacked from their boxes.
Even that expensive new land has almost entirely failed to be integrated into the park around it, as seen above. When Walt Disney Studios doesn’t even get a themed path leading to its new land, what hope is there for going back and readdressing the original, lacking areas, like California is doing? What for the original portion of Toon Studio — the barren, soulless area in front of Animagique — do Euro Disney SCA really consider that to be Disney quality? Will Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic ever be given a raison-d’être beyond being an extended drive out to Catastrophe Canyon? Whatever happened to those plans Imagineering dreamed up to turn the depressing and utterly theme-less corner of Production Courtyard into a buzzing Theater District to match Hollywood Boulevard, complete with Soarin’, a new period-specific façade for CinéMagique and new dining and retail? At one time, we we seemed sure to see the terrible, emotionless “Production Courtyard” name become “Hollywood Studio”, to match its “Toon” neighbour, with Backlot following suit. Where Disneyland has “lands”, the Studio would have a collection of different theme “studios”, and finally some vision.
Yes, Walt Disney Studios has been given Toy Story Playland whilst California Adventure will get an expensive Little Mermaid dark ride and an enormous Cars Land, but right now this isn’t about size or scale, it’s about vision and intent. Disneyland Paris doesn’t have the money for a Cars Land, but it probably doesn’t need it. The best part of the California makeover isn’t the new attractions but the sensible and thoughtful re-touching of the original park — adding detail, atmosphere, charm and soul. Paris could spend as much as it likes on that mythical Ratatouille dark ride to be nestled at the back of Toon Studio, but it will just be another self-contained patch of quality. The park as a whole still won’t work if the original areas remain unfinished. Luckily, these corners of the park are so devoid of anything that they’re practically a blank canvas. There’s no giant tile mural needs knocking down here. The attractions are top quality, they just need to be unpacked from their boxes, wrapped in a cohesive theme. So where is the vision for Walt Disney Studios, the intent? Maybe it’s still to come. We’ve heard rumblings of a “30-year plan” — but that means if you’re in your 30s today, you’ll be just about retiring by the time the park has moved forward. Today, to the eyes of a visitor, the Studios isn’t going anywhere — and the worst thing a Disney park can ever be is static.
Although the green army men’s parachutes themselves have yet to arrive, the six ride seats, each able to carry six trainee toy recruits, managed to stay up in the air for some time, before being lowered again back to the ground.
When the ride opens, the seats will rise and fall gracefully to simulate a lightly bouncing “parachute drop”, inspired by the famous scene in the original Toy Story — the first to be animated in the entire film — where the green army men jump through the bannisters of Andy’s staircase on their mission to relay news of his birthday presents.
Other visible progress on Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop can be seen with the fine mesh which is now covering the lower half of each of the six arms, from a distance thankfully giving the tower a bulkier, more solid appearance, hiding the thin, human-sized safety rails.
On the opposite side of the tower, a new first corner section connecting two of the arms together can be seen, with a staircase leading up to it, appearing to emerge from out of the tower itself. Concept art for the tower has differed on whether all of the arms will be joined together like this, even if purely for decoration. It would certainly make sense to create an even appearance all the way round, but so far no fixings for additional sections can be seen on the other arms.
These days it only happens at Halloween and Christmas, but there was a point in the recent past, around the time of The Lion King Carnival and similar events, when it seemed Main Street Station was never without decorations.
But, those seasonal logos have made a comeback. As spotted in a behind-the-scenes video, concepts prepared by the Entertainment department called for a return to Main Street Station decorations — although we couldn’t quite get a good look at them. Last week, they began to appear.
First with a new idea, at least for seasonal decorations at Disneyland Paris: Ruffled semi-circular fabric bunting in red and yellow, a common way Main Street is decorated for Halloween in the overseas parks — where there’s no orange paint in sight — and a welcome idea for Paris.
And then, the old tradition: A large logo plaque and sculpted character models.
Models that are, it’s been noted… a little off-model. The tacked-on Mickey is oversized compared to his new friends, and we’d better be careful what we say about that Woody and his eyes… there must be something in the s’mores at Cowboy Camp!
So far (perhaps there’s more to come?) there are only additional characters to the left of the main logo, with Tiana and Frog standing in front of one window and Remy in front of the other.
As we saw in the concept art, the Baroque style of the logo frame is continued through the new Main Street lamppost decorations, although the colour scheme seems to have become darker and less symmetrical.
The final colours of the ribbons under each frame are blue, yellow, red, green and purple, rather than the fresher pattern of purple, white, yellow, green, yellow, white and pink promised…
Still, we can probably all agree this is how Main Street should be decorated. A big, big improvement on the mess last year; at last a reasonably subtle way to extend the year’s theme and bring the current advertising campaign into the parks.
Perhaps, then, it simply fell to Main Street Station to be this year’s sacrificial piece of Disneyland Park for the less successful decorations, now that the castle is finally off-limits. At least, better to have Woody frightening children there than from somewhere on our dear château!
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