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|Oo la la! A look at Disney in France|
|Disneyland Paris - Rebranding a Resort|
Most Disney press events are a ballet of carefully choreographed moments designed to lead the media from show to attraction to party to interview without the bother of lines or crowds... or reality. From morning to night, members of the press are guided by cast member media hosts through a planned itinerary of events, with their every need met. These events seem designed to ensure that when the reporters collapse in their hotel rooms 16 hours after the start of the day, they have only enough energy to meet their deadlines by rehashing the press releases so thoughtfully provided by the press office.
Most press events also have themes or messages, which one can usually determine by reading those same press releases. What points do the publicity people want to make sure reporters provide in their coverage? What facts, figures, trivia or opinions do they hope to float out to the masses? While the official line can be interesting, the unspoken message—the story behind the story—can be far more more intriguing.
Take last year's grand opening of Disney's California Adventure, for example. The obvious goal of that three-day media extravaganza was to make sure that the press not only saw the new park, but encouraged its readers to visit as well: "Hey, everyone, there's a new park here - come see it!" Yet the underlying theme of the event was almost a plea to the media to please, please be kind. It seemed as if everyone in the resort—from the overly friendly media hosts who couldn't find a bad word to say about anything, to the anxious publicists determined to put the right spin on everything—were holding their collective breaths, waiting for the reviews to come in. Somehow you knew they were hoping for the best but were preparing for the worst.
Likewise, there was an unspoken theme surrounding the events at the Walt Disney Studios opening in Paris. Sure, the media was there to check out the new park, but the Disney marketing machine was there to make sure the press all believed—then told its readers—that this park belongs in Europe.
The road has been tough for Disneyland Paris, after all. When Euro Disney opened, French critics derided it as an American cultural invasion; tourists stayed away in droves, and the park faced the very real possibility of closing just four years after it opened. A massive bailout effort kept the park afloat while Disney went back to the drawing board to rethink its entire presence.
But a funny thing happened on the way to its tenth anniversary. The park became more European, adding alcohol sales and reworking its menus. Local consultants helped American Imagineers develop new shows and attractions for the local European consumer. Slowly, the park has become the most-visited attraction in all of Europe, doubling the annual tourist traffic of the Eiffel Tower.
In order to ensure that the Walt Disney Studios opened without the same cultural resistance that faced the French Magic Kingdom, every speech, press release and interview reinforced the message that this new park was all about Europe. Disney CEO Micheal Eisner repeated this theme: "it's not an American park, it's a Disney park." During opening day speeches, Roy Disney said, "Disney looks to Europe for its roots, and for its future."
During the pre-opening celebrations, the press was repeatedly reminded that Walt and Roy visited Europe frequently, with Walt first coming to France in 1930. Disney President Bob Iger pointed out that Walt looked to European folk tales, from Cinderella to the Little Mermaid, as the inspiration for his films.
The new park focuses a great deal on the contributions of European artists who pioneered early animation techniques. The Art of Animation building prominently features displays of early animation apparatuses, and celebrates the European roots of animation, from the Altamira cave paintings in 15,000 BC Spain to the Praxinoscope, invented by Frenchman Emile Reynaud in 1877. Animagique relies on European-developed black light techniques, and the wildly popular Disney Channel France show "Zapping Zone" has made its new home in the Studios. It is hard to overemphasize the cultural significance of asking Remy Julienne—who is so popular in Europe that his name is trademarked—to design the park's Stunt Show Spectacular. The show looks to be the hit of the new park.
Disney has made a massive effort to make the park accessible to guests from all over Europe. With every show and attraction presented in up to six languages through the use of signs, captions, video narration, and simultaneous audio translation, it is as if every ride has suddenly become "it's a small world." Some attempts are unnecessary and others simply annoying, but that so much thought went into the effort is something for which the Imagineers should be commended.
The efforts toward inclusion even extended to the selection of the park's official first family. Seven families—representing Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Holland, the United Kingdom, and Denmark—were chosen to share First Family honors. Over 100 European children representing eight countries were invited to participate in the pre-opening events and opening ceremonies.
Local promotions are heavily aimed at bringing visitors in from Britain and Scandinavia. Inclusive two-day packages offering hotel rooms, park tickets, and even train or air transportation, are available for a little as $150 per person. All roads seem to lead to Disneyland Paris, and the marketing effort around the area is intense.
Euro Disney ran a summer-long campaign in 2001, aimed at the Parisian tourist market, co-promoting the city of Paris, the Ile de France region, and Disneyland Paris. Now the expansion of the Val de Europe shopping complex—the Disney-owned center only a few minutes away from the park by train—as well as three properties being developed by Disney partners at the nearby Val de France hotel district, will provide visitors with an additional reason to extend their vacation at the Disneyland Resort.
The timing of this expansion could not be better. In the aftermath of September 11, France has replaced the United States as the top tourist destination in the world. Disneyland Paris, which spent the first part of its life wary of media exposure, is suddenly in the spotlight again. This time, however, the comments are positive, and it seems the rebranded resort is in a position to take advantage of the new possibilities.
It seems that Disney has managed to win over both the critics and the masses. The French newspaper Le Monde seems more interested in the economic impact of the new park and surrounding developments, than with any further cultural invasion by the "American animation giant." There is also a subtle change in the way Disney is appearing in the local communities. 10 years ago, people did wear Disneyland logo apparel in public. Today, cast members proudly wear their "Grand Opening team" jackets around town. Local fan groups hold regular on-property meetings, and collectors gather to share in the newest Disney craze: pin trading.
Perhaps the French finally realize that the parks are here to stay, or perhaps they have had enough time to decide that it was all their idea in the first place. Either way, the Disneyland Paris Resort is now firmly entrenched in the local landscape, and it is finally "tres cool" to be a Disney fan in Paris.
Article by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix
Photos from the Studios opening & press events by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix
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