After twenty five years of turmoil, it feels kind of surreal to write about it but this is finally happening. Earlier this week, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that The Walt Disney Company will invest two billion euro in Disneyland Paris. The new development mainly includes an important transformation of the infamous Walt Disney Studios. Three major additions have been revealed in the statement: new Marvel, Frozen and Star Wars themed areas alongside new attractions and shows. To make this announcement even bigger, Bob Iger met French president Emmanuel Macron (not related in any way to first EuroDisney ambassador and favorite gay icon of mine Sabine Marcon). But you don’t get to have brunch with a country’s president even when you invest two billion just to announce it. They probably discussed lobbying stuff like tax cuts, land and how to facilitate Disney’s buyout of EuroDisney. But for your convenience I’ll focus here on what you truly care about: attractions.
In the ill fated history of Disney’s Paris resort, the Walt Disney Studios park certainly is the darkest chapter. It has been designed with no ambition, no budget, no taste, no sense, almost no ride and technically no desire to build it. Nothing but the strict, contractual obligation to open a second theme park by 2002, as stated on the convention between Disney and the French government. Walt Disney Studios instantly became famous for being the worst Disney Park ever made thanks to its signature Basic Supermarket Parking Lot aesthetics. In my opinion, it’s not just the worst Disney park but one of the worst amusement parks ever made. But enough with the past. Those fifteen years of WDS nonsense have been painful enough. For more on the WDS fiasco, read my dedicated article.
This week’s highly anticipated announcement is the natural next step to The Walt Disney Company‘s recent buyout of the Paris resort. Now that Disney is the sole owner of Disneyland Paris, it finally has full control of what it can or cannot do. While we can’t be blind to the fact that EuroDisney minor shareholders have been pretty much robbed in the process, as a theme park nerd, I’m happy when I can visit a great, fully functional, profitable theme park. I’m even more happy when I don’t have to fly to the US or Asia and double my visit budget to do it. It’s been frustrating enough to be a European theme park nerd when the world’s greatest amusement park operator struggles so much do deliver quality investments where I live, to the point it became a joke. Yes, DLP is still Europe’s number one tourism destination but the the European theme park market leaders in terms of ambition, creativity and guest experience/service have become Europa Park and Efteling. Not Disney. *Awkward silence*
So, what’s in this announced investment plan? Two billion euro will… Wait. Let’s pause for a moment. Two. Billion. Euro. Two billion euro will be invested in Paris, *including* a transformation of the Walt Disney Studios park including new Marvel, Frozen and Star Wars inspired areas, rides and entertainment and also a new lake. These will open by phases starting in 2021 (while in an interview Bob Iger states from 2020 to 2025). The press release doesn’t go much deeper into details, but the concept art, as vague and purposely blurred as it is, maybe reveals a little bit more. Let’s now brainstorm and speculate on what hasn’t been detailed! Please note that the things presented as rumors next on this post come from reportedly insider sources from the ED92 forum.
This might be the first phase to open to guests considering the recent announcement to revamp the stupid Rock’n’Rollercoaster into an Iron Man feat. Avengers attraction. DLP insiders also whisper that RNRC and the Moteurs Action Stunt Show are both set to close by the end of 2018. Bye Felicias. Looking at the released concept art, this new Marvel superhero land seems themed as a colorful fantasy-sci-fi futuristic land, like the overall aesthetics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as opposed to the long rumored New York style theme for this Marvel area. I’m curious and a little bit anxious to discover what it’s going to look like considering Disney’s attempts at doing Marvel theming so far. While the inside of Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout at Disneyland and Iron Man Experience in Hong Kong look fun and sleek, the outside of these rides is quite generic (Iron Man in HKDL) and over-the-top-tacky like it’s based on Power Rangers aesthetics (GOTG in Disneyland).
This new Marvel land seems to include Disney Channel/Stitch Live and Restaurant des Stars buildings, Blockbuster Cafe, the Armageddon soundstage and the stunt show seems to stay, but is rumored to be re-themed on The Avengers. While Tower of Terror appears untouched, some sources say it will keep the overall style and experience but get rid of the Twilight Zone IP, so it can fit the classic Hollywood entry land. And stop paying rights for an IP nobody realizes it’s here or even remembers. If true that’s a great news. Tower of Terror is badly located on the park’s map and theming it on Guardians of the Galaxy would make it look like the central icon of the parc, the one that defines the whole park is a Marvel IP. Phew!
I just hope the Marvel area will not just use its most famous franchises as attractions and newer characters like Black Panther, Dr Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy will also have a presence in a form that is more than a name on a store front.
Oddly enough, there is no clue about a truly new Marvel attraction built from ground: from what we know and guess so far, the makeover of the dreadful Backlot into a Marvel area seems more like a re-theme of existing things than actually adding entirely new content to the park. Which makes sense considering the first phase is supposed to open around 2020-2021 and larger, full fledged Disney attractions usually take more than two years to build.
This land will feature an whole mountain, the castle and a village town of Arendelle and boat ride similar to the Frozen Ever After ride from Epcot, which was in fact a re-theme of the Norway pavilion Maelstrom ride. Remember, it’s that ride people suddenly started giving a shit and acted offended in true internet fashion when the closure was announced. Hopefully the boat ride will be more elaborate and modern than Epcot’s dated, generic and inappropriately low capacity ride system. Some rumors once had that the ride system from Shanghai’s Pirates of the Caribbean would be used on Hong Kong’s Frozen ride, whose exterior environment and design strongly looks like the one presented on the WDS revamp concept art, but at this time I have no info on which of these two systems will eventually be used on in Hong Kong and Paris Frozen attractions. One thing is sure: this boat ride will be a welcome slow-paced dark ride that the whole family can enjoy. While the screen-heavy Ratatouille attraction is barely ok, the Frozen ride in Epcot balances tangible sets and brillant next-gen audio animatronics much greater. A restaurant is also rumored to complete the Frozen land.
While it’s hard to tell when this land, along the completion of the lake, will open to guests, sources seem confident reporting it will open after the Marvel and before the Star Wars expansions. So approximately around 2023.
Star Wars Area
Between the Marvel and Frozen areas around the lake will be what looks like a scaled down version of Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge. Oddly, it only features the part of the land featuring the Millenium Falcon simulator ride planned for the US parks, but the full scaled Millenium Falcon spaceship has been removed from the WDS concept art, replaced by an X Wing – a spaceship that’s located at the entrance of the ambitious Battle Escape dark ride on this concept art for the US parks Galaxy’s Edge. Just saying. Also, sources confidently claim that Battle Escape will make it to Paris when this Star Wars land opens at the completion of this investment phase, around 2025. If that’s all Paris should get from Galaxy’s Edge, or maybe if the full land also opens in phases over times, I think Battle Escape is a better pick than Millenium Falcon, and possibly the hottest project of the whole announcement.
Hollywood, Pixar, a lake and a lot of blurred greenery
But here is the thing: it seems that the released concept art’s only purpose is to just show a general idea of the the announced investment to the public. Look how it’s literally a mishmash of Google Maps imagery, copy/paste from US and Hong Kong Disney park project artworks and few actual illustration that looks like a final product (only Marvel does). In other words, pinning Disney’s three biggest IP’s on a map to make a big splash in the media – which they successfully did this week across Europe.
This artwork also features more hints, unannounced stuff and also some keystones of any decent Disney theme park seem to be lacking. Like this main street completely free of any theming. You know it’s not going to stay like this. The long rumored classic Hollywood theme would be the perfect fit to link this mixed bag of single IP-based lands and also as a strong unifying theme umbrella for the revamped park. I wish the style and execution will be as immersive and ‘feel good’ as Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure (more on this in my review). Plus, it would make a nice use of the existing Studio 1 that’s in the way and is unlikely to be entirely demolished, as suggest the slightly re-worked facade displayed on the artwork. I can’t wait for more detail on this very part of the project. Meanwhile, I’ll wish of a Red Car Trolly style transportation system that will go from Studio 1 and ride all around the lake.
But when is this entry land going to be ready is an unanswered question at this time. Now that it finally can make it to the news headlines for something else than deficit, layoffs or neglect, Disneyland Paris certainly doesn’t want to use all marketing bullets at once and I assume that more announcements will be coming in the next months and years with more details on the announced lands, and new, unannounced things will be revealed as well. Like this expansion of Toy Story Playland: displayed on the artwork in the form of Walt Disney World‘s upcoming Alien Saucer ride, but not mentioned in this week’s release.
The concept art also suggests a fountain show on the lake, boat transportation (although I’m not sure both of these things are really compatible), what looks like a parade, and last but definitely not least: a lot of greenery. Oh and plenty of unused land too, ready for later expansions.
Trying to figure out how Disney is going to spend two billion euro is complicated, even considering the budgets of similar projects. The publicly announced cost of the Disney California Adventure was 1.5 billion dollar and included large scaled projects like Carsland, Buena Vista Street, the World of Color night time fountain spectacular, the Little Mermaid omnimover dark ride and a lot of cosmetic additions here and there. But the reported cost of the whole Galaxy’s Edge in the US, including two rides, is one billion dollar. So go figure what to understand of these numbers.
It took me almost a week to process the idea that Disney is finally stepping in and does what the Paris resort needed for ages. Long term vision, solid investment, and fixing errors of the past. Usually I’m not especially a fan of this ongoing trend of adding massive single IP-based lands. It seems like a short term investment but takes a lot of space in a park for later expansion. And it swipes the distinct identity of different parks. Every park now becomes a collection of IP’s with just E-ticket rides and no clear connection. That said, in the context of Disneyland Paris, I quite like the planned vision for Walt Disney Studios: a super ultimate IP park with Hollywood as thematic umbrella. While it’s not going to be the most cohesive and perfectly masterplanned Disney theme park like Epcot or the castle parks, the transformation of Disney California Adventure is the greatest proof that an elaborate park map isn’t the only thing that makes an amazing park. Immersion is, and DCA is now packed with fantastic immersive environments.
From what we know at this time (aka not that much when you think about it) the soon to be revamped Walt Disney Studios park seems to follow the Universal theme park model, which is becoming Disney’s model too: large flagship IP-based attractions immersed in their own environment, next to each other. Picking Marvel, Frozen, Pixar and Star Wars surely is a safe bet and that’s exactly what Disneyland Paris needs after decades of inefficient investment. It urgently needs to become a profitable, sustainable business. But Disney must be careful following this path because E-ticket rides are not enough to make an enjoyable theme park experience. Little things are needed too, from small scaled rides to hidden walkways and things to discover here and there. That’s what makes the main park so amazing in Paris, or in Animal Kingdom and Efteling.
Walt Disney Studios extreme IP fantasy will sit next to Disney’s most beautiful classic castle park ever made, and I think both theme park concepts could greatly compliment each other. At least for a couple of years, because this new ‘Single IP land’ path seems to be Disney’s new way to design theme parks. I mean all theme parks, including classic castle parks. We can only hope that Disney’s creative minds and decision makers will have the bright idea to differentiate different park identities in Paris, but I wouldn’t raise my hopes too high about this. After all, we’re also in the middle of Disney Parks and Resorts head Bob Chapek taking control, and it’s hard to understand how far will theming execution go under his management. Remember he came in board to better control cost management after the Tom Staggs era investments were reportedly way over budget. Notably Shanghai Disney Resort and the Disney California Adventure makeover. To give you an idea on the theming execution level, the only project that has been entirely supervised under Chapek and is open already is Mission Breakout at DCA. I’m letting you form your opinion by yourself with this information.
Visiting Shanghai Disneyland reminded me of the unanimous buzz surrounding Universal’s Islands of Adventure in the early 2000’s: a thrilling, immersive and innovative theme park that is filled with IP’s. The newly announced projects for WDS, and thinking about what could come next in these large empty spaces brings me the same feeling. If the transformation of Walt Disney Studios is as ambitious and well executed, it can only be just as successful. And after two decades and a half of depressing debacle, that’s all I wish for Disneyland Paris.
And because every answered question brings new questions yet to be answered, it’s hard to believe the Disneyland Park will spend another decade without any new attraction. With that in mind, let the speculation on both WDS *and* DLP continue!
Speaking of speculating on the WDS makeover announcement, make sure to listen to this episode of the Rien Que d’y Penser podcast. I was invited as a guest to discuss the two billion investment. Great opportunity to learn French!
What do you think of this whopping two billion investment plan? Do you like the selected themes? What do you think of the single-IP-land model? What else would you like to see? I’m curious to know what you think so let me know and let’s discuss in the comment section below!