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|Oo la la! A look at Disney in France|
|Walt Disney Studios, Paris: A Review|
ONE | TWO
When MousePlanet’s Ian Parkinson provided a sneak peek from his visit on a stockholder preview day last month into Walt Disney Studios, the newest “second gate” park at the Disneyland Paris Resort, I saved his column to read until now. I wanted everything to be a complete surprise because I knew that I would be attending the grand opening of Walt Disney Studios — a different experience from the opening of Disney’s California Adventure park in Anaheim, where I had watched the park grow from the parking lot up.
If you plan to head to the Studios in the near future, set this column aside to read when you return. If you have no travel plans that stop in Paris, however, let me share with you my impressions of the tenth Disney theme park.
The exterior of the $530- million park resembles perfectly the Hollywood studio it is meant to re-create, from the giant arched gate to the trademark water tower. After passing through the gates, you find yourself in a courtyard known as the Front Lot. To the right and left are the usual Disney facilities — stroller rental, guest relations, and the obligatory souvenir shops — housed in Spanish-style buildings.
Ian found this area sparse and dull, but having been on a few studio lots, I can tell you that walkways and plain buildings are pretty much the norm. A Sorcerer Mickey fountain draws your attention to the center of the courtyard, and points the way to your first destination: Studio One.
Studio One, the Paris equivalent of Disneyland’s Main Street, is set entirely within a giant soundstage building where the fictional movie, Lights, Camera, Hollywood is being filmed. Everyone must walk through this building to enter and leave the main portion of the park. Facades inspired by Hollywood legends and landmarks such as the Brown Derby, Carmen’s Verandah, and the Leaky Tiki, hide a large souvenir shop on one side, and a counter-service restaurant on the other. Although the level of detail here is impressive, I think much of it is lost on the visitor. For example, the caricatures hanging inside the Brown Derby facade are copies of the original drawings from the original Hollywood restaurant, but you would not know this without reading the press release.
Like the Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando and Disney’s California Adventure, the Studios provide roving entertainment in the form of “streetmosphere” performers. Inside Studio One, a “director” might tap you to play the monster in his new movie, a budding starlet might pose for a photo with you, or the Disney characters might stop by between takes. There is no question that you are on a set – walk though a doorway, and you are in a prop room. Turn a corner, and now you are in a completely different movie. The trees are silk, the sunset is painted on the wall, the décor is totally kitschy... and I absolutely loved it. A table alongside a walkway provides an ideal spot to watch all of the hustle and bustle, as does the two-story seating area of En Coulisse Restaurant.
After you pass through Studio One, there are three more “Production Areas” to explore. The Animation Courtyard is home to three attractions: The Art of Animation Building, the Flying Carpets, and Animagique, which we unfortunately missed. The Animagique theater closed early on the preview day, then opened late on grand opening day. This became one of my rare complaints about this park: the shows do not begin until afternoon, making it difficult to catch them all.
The Studios version of the Animation Building is a pale copy of the version at DCA. Guests are led through a series of four rooms and presentations, beginning with the first room, which houses a collection of instruments such as a Zoetrope and a Praxinoscope that were used in early animation. One of the two remaining multi-plane cameras from the Burbank Studios is on display on the far wall. Visitors are encouraged to look at the displays for a few moments, and then are shown a video on a small monitor focusing on the European pioneers of animation. I was disappointed that the clips of Walt and Roy Jr. were dubbed into French, and then captioned in English, as Walt should not need a voice-over.
The second stop is a small “screening room,” where an eight-minute film montage of cartoons demonstrates the range of theme and emotion found in Disney animated features. This was a charming film, including clips in a half-dozen languages to make everyone feel included.
The third room is an exact copy of the Drawn to Animation film shown at Disney’s California Adventure. A live actor performs the show in French, but headsets at each seat offer simultaneous translation into English, Dutch, German, Spanish, and Italian. While I usually enjoy this show at DCA, the headphones do not filter out the sounds of the live show very well, resulting in an excessively loud experience.
The last room offers an area geared more towards children, who can practice their own animation techniques. Again, compared to the California version, I was underwhelmed. The best part was the bilingual instructor who coaches “students” in sketching the Disney characters. The scaled- down recording studios, where children can record voice- overs and sound effects, pale in comparison to Ursula’s Grotto at DCA.
We exited the building through a tiny gift shop that forms the inside of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice hat, and found ourselves next to the Flying Carpets over Agrabah attraction.
Reviews of Flying Carpets over Agrabah have been mixed. Some people love it, some hate it, and nearly everyone agrees that it was shoehorned into the area. The attraction is supposed to look like a scene from Aladdin, being shot in front of a flat set, and that is exactly what it resembles – right down to the exposed scaffolding and the bare-bones “green room” queue, where the actors wait for their big scene. The main point of contention seems to lie in whether one finds that particular concept entertaining. However because it is one of the few attractions geared especially for children, and that the family can experience together, I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Besides, I was much more disappointed to realize that this Aladdin, unlike the Walt Disney World version built last year, lacks a special car that makes it easier for riders to transfer from a wheelchair. If you have ever questioned the need for the Americans with Disabilities Act, here is your answer: Disney does not make rides accessible, even when the proven technology already exists, unless there is a law that requires it.
The next area is the Production Courtyard, home to the Studios Tram Tour, Television Production Tour, and Cinemagique. If you have been on the WDW tram tour, you can pretty much imagine this one. Each car of the tram offers a video narrative of the tour in French and one other language, co-hosted by a famous native speaker. Jeremy Irons does the honors for the English version.
The tour takes you through the backlot, where you see props, sets, and effects used in making motion pictures. The prop storage area resembles a movie junkyard more than an attraction, and one of the highlights of the tour is the recycled Catastrophe Canyon set from Florida. The whole tour is pretty stale compared to tours offered by Universal Studios, but the drive- though costuming building was interesting. I have always wanted an office that has an audience every 15 minutes.
The tour route itself seems entirely too short, crossing back on itself twice, and almost appears to take you out of the park. Between the delivery trucks on the local road that were easily visible over a short fence, and the cast members who looked startled to realize that they were taking a break in an attraction, this was too behind- the- scenes for my tastes. I guess the best part of the tour is the amount of land it occupies – that space can be put to really good use in a future expansion.
Cinemagique is presented in a 1100-seat theater, and stars Martin Short and French actress Julie Delpy, who plays Nicole on the American TV show ER. As the show begins, a hapless audience member, portrayed as a loud American talking on a cell phone in the middle of the theater, stumbles onto the stage and then into the black- and- white movie on the screen. He falls for the female starlet, and they look for a way to get back to the “real” world together. Their efforts take them through a series of famous movies, until they reach their happily- ever- after ending. There are few special effects in the theater including two rather pointless sprays of water into the audience, but the show itself is charming in a funny sort of way.
The Television Production Tour is a working studio for the Disney Channel France, and is the largest television production facility in Europe. The studio is home to live programming six days a week, and the new headquarters for the show Zapping Zone. If you are fortunate to visit while they are actually taping a show, the tour becomes rather interesting. Otherwise, children may enjoy the tour, but adults have probably seen all of this before.
Adrienne Vincent - Phoenix is MousePlanet’s Merchandise and Special Events columnist, as well as the super shopper behind MouseShoppe - your Personal and unofficial Shopping Service for the Disneyland Resort.
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