Is Disneyland Paris an innovator?

How often have you heard that Disneyland Paris keeps things ‘safe’ or that it is not an innovator? That it is a Disney resort that typically does not take any major risks and is never really a leader in the Disney parks offerings? To suggest that Disneyland Paris is a risk-free resort is ignoring the impressive work that Disneyland Paris takes on launching new seasons (Swing into Spring and the Festival of Pirates and Princesses are just two examples of this); but also has taken in the past.

Disneyland Paris is a resort that indeed has never been afraid to try something new, in fact the resort has a rich history of doing so. Many things that seem normal to fans of a Disney park have started life in Marne-la-Vallée. Let’s take a look at four of the most notable Disneyland Paris innovations.

On-board audio

I think I can, I think I can. Rolling around the track on board Casey Jr. with the iconic song from the Walt Disney classic: Dumbo (1941) seems normal now; but upon opening in March 1994, a small revolution was taking place in Paris as on-board audio had arrived in a Disney park. This, of course, was not to be the only time this technology would be used in Disneyland Paris, it would feature heavily in another attraction that was due to open just one year later.

Casey Jr - Le petit train du cirque at Disneyland Paris

Space Mountain: de la terre à la lune opened in June 1995 to much fanfare and was the first Disney rollercoaster ride to feature on-board audio which was synchronised to a score composed by Steve Bramson (and rests a score that is much loved by Disneyland Paris fans to this day).

Since then, on-board audio has made it’s way to many other Disney attractions around the world including Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Avec Aerosmith that can be enjoyed in the Walt Disney Studios Park as well as The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror.

Lopping Rollercoasters

In 1993 Disneyland Paris opened an expansion in the Adventureland section of the park, the land opened in 1992 with just one major attraction (Pirates of the Caribbean) and an immersive Adventure Isle area. Towards the back of the land, something was being prepared that would break the Disney mould. Indiana Jones et le temple du péril is perhaps not the attraction you would first consider when looking for an innovator, but this was the very first Disney attraction to feature an inversion. Whilst Indiana Jones would only feature one loop, it would open the floodgates.

Indiana Jones et le temple du péril at Disneyland Paris

In 1995, Space Mountain opened in Discoveryland with three inversions. There are still very few Disney rollercoasters that feature inversions, but Paris features three of these coasters (the most in any Disney resort). Other Disney inverted coasters include: California Screamin’ (Disney’s California Adventure, Anaheim), Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Avec Aerosmith (Walt Disney Studios, Paris; Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Orlando). and Raging Spirits, which is heavily based on Indiana Jones (Tokyo Disney Sea, Tokyo).

Projection Mapping

Whilst projections and projection mapping had been used in Disney parks prior to Disneyland Paris’s unique spectacle Disney Dreams!, nobody had quite done it just as Disneyland Paris was about to. Walt Disney World Resort projected Disney photopass photos taken during the day onto Cinderella Castle in The Magic, The Memories and You and in Disneyland Resort World of Color had opened to critical praise. Disneyland Paris were ready to take projection shows to the next level.

The Tangled scene in Disney Dreams! at Disneyland Paris

Disney Dreams! ran from March 2012-17 and was performed nightly at park closing, the show centred on Peter Pan losing his shadow which would be diving through Disney stories. The show followed a simple, yet emotional plot and earned Disneyland Paris worldwide respect. Shows such as Dreams! were swiftly copied at Tokyo Disneyland, Shanghai Disney Resort and Walt Disney World (who have recently debuted Happily Ever After). Disneyland Paris, however, have launched new projection mapping shows including Disney IlluminationsStar Wars: A Galactic Celebration and Goofy’s Incredible Christmas. But, of course, France has a large son et lumière tradition, it just took Disney a while to wake up to its potential in the parks.

A fire-breathing dragon

In March 2014 the Festival of Fantasy parade opened at the Magic Kingdom; the highlight of this parade was a new float depicting Maleficent that breathed fire. The Disney fan community went crazy for this this and praised its originality, Disney copied this float to Paris for Disney Stars on Parade which opened in April 2017, again it opened to similar plaudits.

However, the float was not as original as it may well have seemed. When Euro Disneyland opened in 1992, it featured a parade known as the Disney Classics Parade which featured… you guessed it, a fire-breathing dragon. Images of it can be seen on the Disney and More blog. It turns out, Disneyland Paris returned to its roots to celebrate the 25th anniversary and it just took Florida 22 years to catch up!

Is Disneyland Paris a sort of testing ground?

With all these wonderful new features that have been copied and transposed into Disney parks worldwide would make you believe that Disneyland Paris is a ‘testing ground’. Of course, this is not necessarily the case. Disneyland Paris is situated in Europe, a market that had not yet been cracked by Disney and is a very different market to the ones it has previously entered; to achieve success, modifications and attempts to please the local audience would have to be made. Inversions would likely fall into this category, as would the invention of Disney projection mapping shows. That’s not to say that Disney does not test ideas in Paris but, as with most things, it just isn’t that simple.

Retheme or Expansion: A careful balancing act

Retheme or Expansion: A careful balancing act

With the opening of Star Tours: L’aventure continue and Hyperspace Mountain, Disneyland Paris has rethemed and repurposed two successful and popular attractions. Fans are divided on whether or not this is a good or bad thing. For some, any new experience is an occasion to be celebrated; others dislike how classic experiences are modified from their original design and that preference should be given to expansion.

Rethemes are not inherently bad

For many retheme=bad. But this is not always the case. Take the recent re-opening of Space Mountain with a Star Wars overlay which has opened to fan approval. There are other rethemes that have fans more sceptical such as the one that has recently taken place at Disneyland in Anaheim where the Tower of Terror has become Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout. It’s difficult to take an emblematic attraction and change it. Space Mountain is one of those attractions that is beautiful on the outside and inside but was difficult to market. Hyperspace Mountain is still beautiful from the outside but has an intense marketability. 

If the idea is good, the retheme will also be good. The worry is purely on whether the retheme is purely for marketing reasons or if there is an plausible reason to change the story.

Why not expand?

The more complicated question is answer is why not expand? Expansion is quite simply expensive. In 2014, Disneyland Paris inaugurated Ratatouille: L’Aventure totalement toquée de Rémy which included the attraction, shop, restaurant and mini-land costing €200 million. Additionally there is a recruitment of new cast members to cover the cost of a new attraction and increased maintenance costs. This should not stop development but it does go someway to explaining as to why new attractions don’t come daily or yearly. Ideally new attractions bring an increased number of visitors to the resort and higher revenues; however this was not the case in Disneyland Paris for the Ratatouille development. Rethemed attractions are not only cheaper but allow marketing for new experiences based on popular franchises. Hardcore Disney fans may object to a franchise being shoe-horned into the park, but the average visitor simply doesn’t care – they want to see a film and characters represented.

But retheme and expansion can work harmoniously

The two are not mutually exclusive. It’s not as if you can have one but not the other. In fact an expansion could work best when involving a retheme. For example, the previously referenced retheme in Disneyland with Guardians of the Galaxy involves a bigger plan, the plan for a Marvel superheroes land. One can assume that this will involve expansion. Thus an attraction has been used with the vision of becoming the gateway to something bigger. Something very similar could be happening at Disneyland Paris with the closure of Cinémagique; rumours are spreading that this theatre will become a Marvel-based stunt show. It is very possible that the Walt Disney Studios park will have a Marvel themed area and why not some of this being an expansion? It’s not entirely inconceivable after all.

Would this be a good solution to the loss of a beloved attraction? Potentially.

Are Disney prioritising retheme over expansion and new attractions?

Quite simply, no. Whilst the retheme of attractions seems to be recently prevalent it is certainly not new. The most known example in Disneyland Paris is the change from Space Mountain: de la terre à la lune to Space Mountain: Mission 2, but other things have been rethemed or renamed. Hakuna Matata and Agrabah Café have all been given new names over the past years at Disneyland Paris. Even looking at the trends in Disney parks across the world, expansion is still taking place. In Paris we have very recently had La place de Rémy, in Florida the expansions of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land are underway and in Anaheim Star Wars Land is also underway. The Asian resorts are also seeing extensive expansions from the major projects in Hong Kong and Tokyo to smaller projects in Shanghai.

Paris is simply following an international trend and it’s OK. Whilst we all want to see the Walt Disney Studios park expand, sometimes the price for a new attraction is a retheme, and that is not necessarily bad. Providing story exists and make sense a retheme can be just as good as an expansion.

Retheme or Expansion: A careful balancing act

With the opening of Star Tours: L’aventure continue and Hyperspace Mountain, Disneyland Paris has rethemed and repurposed two successful and popular attractions. Fans are divided on whether or not this is a good or bad thing. For some, any new experience is an occasion to be celebrated; others dislike how classic experiences are modified from their original design and that preference should be given to expansion.

Rethemes are not inherently bad

For many retheme=bad. But this is not always the case. Take the recent re-opening of Space Mountain with a Star Wars overlay which has opened to fan approval. There are other rethemes that have fans more sceptical such as the one that has recently taken place at Disneyland in Anaheim where the Tower of Terror has become Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout. It’s difficult to take an emblematic attraction and change it. Space Mountain is one of those attractions that is beautiful on the outside and inside but was difficult to market. Hyperspace Mountain is still beautiful from the outside but has an intense marketability.

If the idea is good, the retheme will also be good. The worry is purely on whether the retheme is purely for marketing reasons or if there is an plausible reason to change the story.

Why not expand?

The more complicated question is answer is why not expand? Expansion is quite simply expensive. In 2014, Disneyland Paris inaugurated Ratatouille: L’Aventure totalement toquée de Rémy which included the attraction, shop, restaurant and mini-land costing €200 million. Additionally there is a recruitment of new cast members to cover the cost of a new attraction and increased maintenance costs. This should not stop development but it does go someway to explaining as to why new attractions don’t come daily or yearly. Ideally new attractions bring an increased number of visitors to the resort and higher revenues; however this was not the case in Disneyland Paris for the Ratatouille development. Rethemed attractions are not only cheaper but allow marketing for new experiences based on popular franchises. Hardcore Disney fans may object to a franchise being shoe-horned into the park, but the average visitor simply doesn’t care – they want to see a film and characters represented.

But retheme and expansion can work harmoniously

The two are not mutually exclusive. It’s not as if you can have one but not the other. In fact an expansion could work best when involving a retheme. For example, the previously referenced retheme in Disneyland with Guardians of the Galaxy involves a bigger plan, the plan for a Marvel superheroes land. One can assume that this will involve expansion. Thus an attraction has been used with the vision of becoming the gateway to something bigger. Something very similar could be happening at Disneyland Paris with the closure of Cinémagique; rumours are spreading that this theatre will become a Marvel-based stunt show. It is very possible that the Walt Disney Studios park will have a Marvel themed area and why not some of this being an expansion? It’s not entirely inconceivable after all.

Would this be a good solution to the loss of a beloved attraction? Potentially.

Are Disney prioritising retheme over expansion and new attractions?

Quite simply, no. Whilst the retheme of attractions seems to be recently prevalent it is certainly not new. The most known example in Disneyland Paris is the change from Space Mountain: de la terre à la lune to Space Mountain: Mission 2, but other things have been rethemed or renamed. Hakuna Matata and Agrabah Café have all been given new names over the past years at Disneyland Paris. Even looking at the trends in Disney parks across the world, expansion is still taking place. In Paris we have very recently had La place de Rémy, in Florida the expansions of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land are underway and in Anaheim Star Wars Land is also underway. The Asian resorts are also seeing extensive expansions from the major projects in Hong Kong and Tokyo to smaller projects in Shanghai.

Paris is simply following an international trend and it’s OK. Whilst we all want to see the Walt Disney Studios park expand, sometimes the price for a new attraction is a retheme, and that is not necessarily bad. Providing story exists and make sense a retheme can be just as good as an expansion.

Marvel in the Disney Parks: An awaited success or a unwelcome party

Spider-Man on Disneyland Paris' castle

The news that Spider-man could be coming to the Walt Disney Studios Park this spring (Source:DLRP Express) has captured the interest of the Disneyland Paris community. The vast majority of which welcome this news as a huge leap forward for character interaction in our Parisian resort; gone is the addition of even more princesses, here come the superheroes.  Traditionally superheroes have been more targeted at younger boys and in this move Disneyland Paris seen to have introduces the final piece in the character interaction puzzle – there will now be something for everyone.

Spider-Man on Disneyland Paris' castle

For  others Marvel characters just aren’t Disney much like Star Wars and Indiana Jones is not Disney. It’s hard to argue against this point, whilst the figures and revenue streams all link up to the Walt Disney Company’s bank account, so does your football on ESPN and your LOST dvd purchases – that doesn’t make them ‘Disney’. The Disney brand is more often linked to the children friendly cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Rapunzel and Peter Pan than the light sabre battles of Darth Vader and Obi Wan.

Disney are keen to tap into these new revenue streams provided from Star Wars and Marvel as seen by the revival of the Star Wars film series, this has already begun with the introduction of a Marvel themed experience in Disneyland Resort over in Anaheim (United States of America) – in 2013 an Iron Man Tech exhibit opened featuring many Iron Man suits, this was followed by an equivalent for the Thor films and soon a Captain America experience. Spider-Man in Disneyland Paris will not be the first time the character will have been meetable at a Disney event – Disney fans at the D23 expo last August were given the chance to meet Spider-Man. Disney Parks & Resorts’ biggest Marvel investment so far will soon arrive at Hong Kong Disneyland with the Iron Man experience.

So the point is that Marvel in the Disney Parks is not really a will they – won’t they discussion, it is an inevitability. The question is should they be there?

They have as much right as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Armageddon to be in Disney Parks, in fact they have more of a right to be there. People think of Disney as Pirates and Princesses, this is probably aided by the Pirates and Princess nights that have happened in the past. A problem with Disney is their incessant attitude to franchises, Disney fairies, Disney Princesses etc – there just isn’t one for boys. What do boys love? Pirates – Disney has you covered with four (soon to be five) Pirates of the Caribbean films, but that’s about it. These Marvel superheroes are the perfect fit. Yes, the films constantly get 12 and 15 certificates in the UK, that doesn’t mean that Disney shouldn’t focus on them. Kids love Jack Sparrow, they get a similar age rating. Marvel are simply relevant right now, and probably always will be. They aren’t being forced into Disneyland Park in Paris, they wouldn’t fit. They are fitting into Backlot in the Walt Disney Studios Park, an area that has been rumoured to be eventually transformed into a Marvel area anyway. The Backlot Café next door to the proposed venue is already Iron Man themed. What’s the harm in a meet and greet?

The films are going from strength to strength, Iron Man 3 was the biggest film of 2013 in the UK, Guardians of the Galaxy has taken the internet by storm with the release of their new trailer, the next Avengers film is likely to gross high amounts of money. Disneyland Paris is capitalizing on the films success and beginning to appeal to a wider audience, and a different set of audience. This could only increase by the addition of a Marvel land – or better yet an Marvel third gate. A Marvel themed area/park would get guests to come across in their millions.

But, what do Superheroes stand for? Fighting crime? Often they are seen to kill and vanquish, is this a message Disney really want to send to children? Another hurdle to face is that often Marvel doesn’t ‘brag’ about its Disney status, some films are not even made by Walt Disney Pictures. In fact, Marvel is about as far from a fairytale story as you can get – take Iron Man for example, the story starts out as a weapons manufacturer ends up in a cave and creates a suit. Often his enemies are named things like War Machine. It’s easy to see why some parents would disapprove of the films and the stories. Violence is always a touchy subject in parenting and when to expose what and to whom.

Overall, Marvel can be seen as a welcome addition to the parks – from a business point of view, it makes perfect sense, you are diversifying your audience and potentially increasing revenues. Obviously some people take a differing point of view, and these needs to be respected. But if we keep Marvel in our little corner of the park, who are we affecting other than those who want to see the products? Next stop – Marvel Land? Or a Marvel Character rotation à la Princess Pavilion?

Want to read more? Why not read the article over at Dedicated to DLP?

Debate: Celebrating national holidays at Disneyland Paris

St. Patricks Day leprechauns at Disneyland Paris

Mickey and Minnie irishFor some years now, Disneyland Paris has put on extravagant celebrations for the national holidays of St. Davids and St. Patrick’s day, as well as for the annual bonfire night celebration. Compared to these holidays, the national holiday of France is the least well observed, passing with a simple five-minute firework display.
St. Patrick’s day was marked by Mickey, Minnie, Chip and Dale in a Irish dress as well as short shows featuring traditional Irish dancing and music (despite the pipe band being from Scotland!). Disney Magic on Parade was extended with a pre-parade and the day ended with a spectacular firework show using Disney Dreams! projection technology and Disney music with a Irish touch. Disney Village also featured a few Irish themed shows in Billy Bobs.
St. Davids Day was marked by a Welsh market in Disney Village, whilst Disneyland Park featured similar events to its Irish cousin, such as the characters in Welsh dress, a pre-parade and fireworks.
We were particularly impressed by Bonfire Night in Disney Village, which was an impressive twenty-minute firework display around Lake Disney directly following Disney Dreams! There is no doubt that Disneyland Paris celebrates these nationals holidays very well, most likely to attract these guests to the resort.

However, Bastille Day (14th July) is not particularly celebrated in Disneyland Paris. Bastille Day is essentially the French national holiday in celebration of the storming of the Bastille prison. For the last few years the only sign of it being celebrated in the park is the five minute firework display, without Dreams! projections set to traditional French music (Such as Boum! by Charles Trenet). In the United States, Disney World and Disneyland celebrate their national holiday with limited edition merchandise, a pre-parade, street decorations and an extraordinary firework spectacular! Would these Disney Parks get away with not celebrating Independence Day? American guests would not accept such an oversight by Disney parks management.

So why was the 14th July not celebrated? Perhaps due to the parks already hitting capacity every year on the holiday and so Disney management has decided not to add more so as not to attract even more guests. Perhaps as Disneyland Paris is close to the major celebrations in Paris and the celebrations taking place in every town and village across the country (including those just 10km from the parks), management decided that putting on ‘traditionally French’ events was not worth the expense. What is certain is that a 14th July celebration could be done reasonably cheaply by involving the Disney Music Days program with local schools to perform on stages across the park. The local community would make the day feel more special, and Disneyland Paris betters its community relations. This scenario really is a win-win.

What is your opinions on national holidays in the Disneyland Paris parks? Perhaps you are reading from a country where you would like your national day celebrated? Tweet @dlptownsquare or comment below.

Thanks to @CafeFantasia @parcorama and @dedicatedtodlp who started this debate on twitter and inspired me to write this article. Go follow them, they tweet fantastic Disneyland Paris content each day!