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Oo la la! A look at Disney in France
Walt Disney Studios, Paris: A Review

ONE | TWO



Photo by Vicki Groff

The Backlot is home to Armageddon, Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, and the Stunt Show Spectacular. Armageddon is all about special effects, and uses the movie of the same name as a backdrop. In the pre-show, a bilingual “assistant director” invites a few audience members to act out a scene against a gray screen, and their images are composited into various movie clips. You are then led into another set where a space station sequence is being shot. The dialogue alternates between French and English, with screens around the room offering additional captions.

Unfortunately, the attempt to present the show in six languages results in a lot of confusion about what is actually happening around you. Airlocks blow, alarms sound, and there is a lot of jostling and shaking, but you are not sure why. It is clear that "something has gone terribly wrong" with the space station, but the details are lost in the translations.

You might remember that Armageddon was said to be slated for Disney’s California Adventure, but was shelved to make room for the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It!” show. As we walked out of Armageddon, I wished aloud that they had, in fact, put the attraction inside DCA. I need to remember that even in France, offhand comments have a way of getting overheard. It turns out that the president of Imagineering happened to be standing right behind me when I said that. He laughed, introduced himself, then said, “It could still happen.” Hmmm…. I guess we shall stay tuned.

Moteurs, Action! Publicity photo © Disney
Moteurs, Action! Publicity photo © Disney

The Stunt Show Spectacular, Moteurs, Action!, is a ballet of cars, motorcycles, and water skis, set on stage, and set on fire. French stunt designer Remy Julienne, a man so famous his name is trademarked, helped the Imagineers develop this original show. I will not attempt to describe it, mostly because we could not catch a showing. The fates struck once again, and the show we were scheduled to see was rained out.

The publicity video we did see however looked amazing, and since Ian just raved about it in his review, I know what my first stop will be during my next trip. Unfortunately, this show does not offer Fastpass, so be prepared to arrive early to get a seat, even with a capacity of 3000 people per show.

Photo by Vicki Groff
Photo by Vicki Groff

The final backlot attraction is Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster avec Aerosmith, with an updated introduction and storyline. Instead of racing to get to a concert, the boys from the band are creating the ultimate roller coaster, and you get to test the current version. I love the Florida ride, but this one is even better.

Whereas the Florida version has you careening around black- light enhanced flat sets, this one is tricked out with amazing show- lighting effects. The ride is also incredibly smooth; something your neck should appreciate, because you will want to ride it again and again.

Backlot Express

In a major departure from typical European dining, the Studios has only four restaurants, all of them either buffet or counter service. Twelve quick-serve catering trucks round out the food offerings. Considering the myriad of table- service restaurants found in Disneyland Paris, it seems the designers did not expect anyone to stay for dinner.

My favorite of the restaurants has to be Backlot Express, which is themed as a commissary sharing space with the studio prop house. Backlot Express is a combination of Rizzo’s Prop Shop and Hollywood and Dine from Disney’s California Adventure, with props covering the walls and ceilings, and are even used as tables and chairs.

The shopping opportunities are also more limited than I expected to find. There are only two larger gift shops, plus the smaller boutiques at the exits of Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster and the Art of Animation. Little street-side carts offer souvenirs, toys, and candy. Balloon vendors abound, and the Zoot-suit dressed cashiers in the Studio One shops are a definite must-see.

The Italian Cinema Band
The Italian Cinema Band

Where Disneyland Paris features about 70% park- exclusive merchandise, the Studios figure is closer to 30%. In fact, most of the Studios-logo merchandise — everything except the actual dated Grand Opening apparel — was readily available throughout Disneyland Paris, Disney Village, and even the hotel gift shops. The Paris merchants decided that a good way to create interest in the new park was to make the logo merchandise highly visible.

An outdoor stage is the venue for the daily “Sister Act Three” show, as well as several streetmosphere performers. The characters are out all over the park, including gangster- suited Chip and Dale, a paint- splattered Goofy, and Mickey and Minnie, who sign autographs at their trailer between sets. A variety of musical groups offer impromptu concerts around the park.

Mickey and Minnie sign autographs between takes
Mickey and Minnie sign autographs between takes

During the mildly crowded preview and grand opening days, we found that the entire park could be done in about four or five hours, allowing for several rides on Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. While there are less than 10 rides and shows, most of them are entertainment- type attractions that take more time to experience. The one- day park Studios ticket also allows access to Disneyland Paris for the final three hours of operation on the same day. By taking advantage of this offer, you can explore the park in the morning and afternoon, return to your hotel for a nap and dinner, and then spend the final three hours inside the Magic Kingdom.

The Studios feels small even at 50 acres, and it is not “pretty” in the Magic Kingdom sense. Where Disneyland Paris is lavishly landscaped with water, the Studios is actually the first Disney park without a body of water inside. Yet I do not think the park is supposed to be pretty. It is supposed to be a studio, and it certainly looks like the ones I’ve seen, with all plain buildings and streets. The real magic is what happens inside the buildings and behind the walls, and I think this park has been true to that theme. Just days after opening, it does feel a bit sterile. For now, I suggest we give the trees a chance to grow, wait for Tower of Terror to loom on the horizon, and enjoy the park for what it is.

I do like this park, but it needs some growth before it can stand on its own. Like the Disney-MGM Studios and Disney’s California Adventure, this is a good half-day park. One major difference between this park and its predecessors however, is that everyone here freely admits that this is only a half-day park. Disney only expects to draw four million visitors a year; a huge cry from the numbers DCA was expected to pull in. After the Disney-MGM Studios opened in Orlando, we watched Disney’s mad scramble to add more attractions to fend off the critics. A similar effort is underway at DCA to attract families. Yet in Paris, they openly discuss future expansion goals, and let you know that the park is a work in progress. They even send you over to enjoy Disneyland Paris at night.

Publicity photo © Disney
Publicity photo © Disney

In Paris, the Disney marketing machine does not insist that the park is more than it truly is, and that makes all the difference. Disney is selling the new park as an enhancement to a Disneyland Paris trip. As such, the park is exactly as marketed: a park that is a nice change of pace and something new.

And like a full-bodied glass of red Bordeaux that accompanies your lovely French dinner, the new park serves as a complement to — rather than competition against — Disneyland Paris.

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You can e-mail Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix at: avp@mouseplanet.com

Walt Disney Studios, Paris: A Review

ADDITIONAL INFO

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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