Wednesday, August 8, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 16 - Walt Disney Studios Paris

"To all who enter this studio of dreams...welcome.  Walt Disney Studios is dedicated to our timeless fascination and affection for cinema and television.  Here we celebrate the art and artistry of storytellers from Europe and around the world who create the magic.  May this special place stir our own memories of the past, and our dreams of the future."
Michael D. Eisner, March 16, 2002

After then Euro Disneyland opened in 1992, a second park had been planned and promised for 1996.  Another version of the Disney-MGM Studios park was long in the works to serve as a second park for the Euro Disneyland resort.  When Euro Disneyland failed to meet expectations, thanks to an overbuilding of hotel rooms in the resort, the plans for a second gate were quickly shelved.  

What did finally open in 2002 was a much smaller version of the studio style park.  Just a year after Disney wowed with the opening of Tokyo DisneySea and baffled with the opening of Disney California Adventure, a severely under-built Walt Disney Studios Paris opened at the Disneyland Paris Resort.  The Park opened with four areas (Front Lot - an indoor main street, Back Lot, Production Courtyard, and Animation Courtyard) and an anemic nine attractions. Seven attractions have been added to the park, six of which were added to expand Animation Courtyard into Toon Studios, but the park is still viewed as the worst of the now twelve Disney theme parks.

The good news is that Disney has committed to transforming this ugly duckling into the swan that it should be.  Disney has announced an unprecedented two-billion euro, multi-year expansion and renovation of the studios park, transforming the Production Courtyard and much of the back lot into Marvel Studios, adding an attraction to the Toon Studios, adding Galaxy's Edge and Arendelle lands around a large new lagoon area.

The concept art is amazing.
(c) Disney

This is a massive expansion and addition.  To give you a sense of size, the first image below shows the bounds of the potential expansion property that surrounds Walt Disney Studios Park.

all rights - Martin Smith
The plot provides for a large scale expansion like Disney has never seen.  The image below provides a rough estimate of the amount of land the new expansion will entail.

As you can see, the expansion will nearly double the size of the existing park, adding many popular new draws, while still leaving room for more exciting lands.

And while I'm excited about the expansion, there are a few priorities that I would want the company to stick to while proceeding.

Primary Goals:

  • Down with Studio 1! - The park has long suffered from an over-reliance on the sound stage building theme.  In particular, the park has one of the least interesting and inviting "Main Street" experiences of any theme park, first proceeding through an open courtyard surrounded by sound stages and then being forced through Studio 1, a giant sound stage with shops and food court lining its interior.  Once through Studio 1, guests then have a backlot street directly facing them and then more sound stages to either side.  This opening act needs to be completely re-written, replaced by a new enticing Hollywood street.  It is truly amazing how much difference the transformation to Buena Vista Street made in California Adventure and there must be a similarly appropriate change here.
  • Pixar Prioritization - in the front Animation Courtyard/Toon Studio area, there is a small sample of Disney studio properties and then a large section of Pixar Animation.  Given Disney studio prevalence in Disneyland Paris and in other locations in this park, I would change the focus to have all Pixar together to the right as you enter the park.
  • Intelligent Park Layout - as a new ring is added around the planned lake, walking paths should be added in a similar fashion to allow moment around its edges.  Put another way, you should not have to go from Marvel Studios back to the main street and hub and then out to Galaxy's Edge.  If they are close enough to each other, then you should be able to move from Marvel Studios to Galaxy's Edge in addition.  This should continue with other planned additions around the lake.
  • Vive la France! - Just as in Disneyland Paris, planned additions should be looked at for their connection to France and the continent, not just their world wide appeal.  There are specific Disney properties that are immensely popular in Europe that should be accounted for in the park.

With these goals in mind, I’ll walk through each land in the park and discuss the updates.  I'll be walking through the park clockwise from the Front Lot and Studio 1, heading through the newly planned Marvel Studios first and working around to Toon Studios/Pixar Studios.  This clockwise approach is generally the approach we take in visiting such theme parks, so it makes the most sense to me to approach it this way in addressing the parks needs and changes.

Front Lot/Studio 1 -> Hyperion Avenue:
As stated in the first goal, one of my primary desires would be to radically transform the act one for this park.  The courtyard to Studio 1 approach is one of the most underwhelming beginnings to a park, particularly with the over-abundance of soundstage style buildings.  To correct this, Studio 1 and the front lot completely transforms to Hyperion Avenue.

Hyperion Avenue is the address of Disney's first studio in Los Angeles.  Not the more famous one on Buena Vista, but his first studio.  A studios with a distinctive design and a more distinctive billboard.

Original Walt Disney Studios
The goal would be to completely remove Studio 1, laying Hyperion Avenue right through the middle of it, headed straight on back to the new lake.

Guest services, wheelchairs, and restrooms to the right as you enter the main courtyard through the turnstiles would get redressed as the Hyperion Studio complete with billboard.

New Entrance
With Hyperion running down the middle, shops and dining options would be built on each side of the street, in classic Los Angeles and Hollywood style.  A mixture of Hollywood Boulevard in Disney Hollywood Studios, Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood Studios, and Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure.  I would like to stick closer to the 1920s/1930s Los Feliz look, including a lot of Spanish Revival, to match the Disney Hyperion Studio look.  As the guests progress down Hyperion Boulevard, the time period of the architecture can move forward as well.

I would like to borrow one concept from Disneyland Paris and create arcades on each side of the new buildings on Hyperion.  Here they would pay homage to the previous themes of the park, by having the Production Arcade on the left and the Animation Arcade on the right.  Each would pay tribute to the history of film.  Live action film in the Production Arcade and animation in the Animation Arcade.  Would be a wonderful way to pay tribute to French film, like George Melies.

Hyperion Avenue would continue on through what was Studio 1 up to Disney Bros. Plaza and would then continue on to the new lake.  As Hyperion continues, the goal is to remove the false fronts that have provided a back lot look and replace them with fuller buildings to finish out the classic Los Angeles and Hollywood theme.   For example, the false fronts on the right in front of the current Art of Walt Disney Animation building would be removed.  They are unnecessary and block a very unique and interesting building.

Likewise, the false fronts and terrace to the left in front of the Tower of Terror would be replaced with a store, much like Keystone Clothier in Disney Hollywood Studios.  Disney has proven adept in placing functioning buildings in unique shapes and places.  This should be no exception.

Hyperion from Disney Bros Plaza to the new lake
The entire stretch would give good opportunities for new buildings for retail and dining.  These should be positioned in a way, particularly on the right to grant access to Toy Story Playland, but to separate the themes, keeping the street more old Hollywood and keeping the Toy Story Playland setting feeling more isolated.

On the left hand side of the street, past Tower of Terror, I would add a copy of Mickey's Runaway Railway from Disney Hollywood Studios.  This building should be designed to look like a continuation of the street with unique storefronts, much like the Grand Avenue section in Disney Hollywood studio.  The entrance to the ride would be a classic theater facade facing the lake.

This will create a long stretch from park entrance to lake shore, but the new view should be worth it.

Marvel Studios:

The previous Production Courtyard/Backlot area will be transformed into Marvel Studios.  Parts of this are already in preparation.  There is a Marvel Stunt Show in the old Cinemagique building and an Iron Man retheme of Rock 'n' Roller Coaster has been long rumored.  The concept art gives us little clues to work from.
(c) Disney
I hope to utilize the space in a greater way, making use of what has already been planned, but adding the rest in an appropriate manner.

Cinemagique will stay a stunt show, but will become a S.H.I.E.L.D. Training facility and Stunt Show.  This will be an indoor Marvel version of the Jedi training, making use of the drones and projection technology that has already been implemented.

Next door, the current Disney Jr. and Stitch Live space will give way to a Spider-man dark ride.  There are rumors of a Midway Mania style ride and a swinging version of Peter Pan, which would be very interesting.   I would shoot for the latter, but want to keep this a ride with a very low (if any) height restriction.  Spider-man is the entry Marvel character and it should have the broadest possible audience able to ride.

Directly across, in the garden area by Tower of Terror, I would build a smaller theater to be used for Marvel promotions.  This would be a preview theater that would be used to show 4-D-ish clips for upcoming Marvel features and could be used to show Marvel one-shots or to house meet and greets in the interim.

Marvel Studios
The two restaurants past the Spider-man ride would remain as restaurants, but would likely get new menus and styling.  Restuarant des Stars would keep its menu and buffet, but would become a S.H.I.E.L.D. commissary.   Disney Blockbuster Cafe would change its menu and name and become a version of the Shwarma restaurant in Avengers.

Across the way, the Armageddon "ride" would become a Hulk encounter.  Themed to a science expo where Banner is presenting, with the effects used in Armageddon updated to represent a Gamma-ray explosion and culminating in an encounter with a very sophisticated Hulk audio-animatronic.  This may need to eat into the space for Cafe des Cascadeurs.

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster would be updated and themed to Iron Man and a Stark Expo, as rumored, and Moteurs Action! would be replaced by the ultimate Avengers E ticket rumored for Hong Kong.

The main pathway would proceed on between Iron Man and Avengers into the new expansion.

Avatar: The World of Pandora:
Avatar is mentioned here as a placeholder.  It's hard at this point to get a sense of exactly how much land each of the new expansions will be taking up.  Depending on the image, there may be an expansion pad between Marvel and Galaxy's Edge and there may not be.  Some have suspected that if there is space, it would be for the Star Wars hotel, similar to the one being added in Florida.

If there is available land, I would place any Avatar addition between Marvel and Star Wars. I'd like to keep all live action, higher adventure areas on the left side of the park, with the more family oriented, animated additions on the right.

This version of Avatar could be a clone of the addition in Animal Kingdom or any combination of Flights of Passage, an expanded Navi River Journey, or the planned roller coaster.

An indication of the potential for Pandora
Not certain, but a possibility to file away.

Galaxy's Edge:

The next addition that is known is Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.  What is not known is the particulars of this new land.  Based on the concept art, it does not seem to be an exact copy of the land being added to Disneyland and Disney Hollywood Studios.  The art below seems to only indicate the addition of one ride, potentially just the Battle Escape ride, but not the Millenium Falcon.  Rumors are conflicting.
(c) Disney
Hopefully, there is enough land being added to permit a great expansion of this property.  No land should open with just one ride, and if nothing else, I would add the planned but scrapped Bantha transportation ride around the land.   There seems to be plenty of room to build the full version and include the hotel.

Plenty of room
In an ideal world, this would not be Batuu like Disneyland and Disney Hollywood Studios, but would be a complete different location in the Star Wars Universe.  Perhaps Coruscant or Endor.

I am however, glad they are starting the framework for this addition.  I just hope it continues.

The Kingdom of Arendelle:

The next planned addition is the Kingdom of Arendelle, or a Frozen themed land.  From indications, the mountain will act as a weenie for the park, with it nearly as tall as the Matterhorn and making it the tallest structure in the two Paris parks.  The mountain is rumored to house a version of Frozen Ever After in EPCOT.  This would be a near copy in show scenes, only not constrained by any previous existing ride structure.  The ride would be a copy of the one planned for Hong Kong (Tokyo's version will be more extravagant).

(c) Disney
The area will also have a restaurant and a store (Oakens?).  It may have a secondary ride.  Hong Kong was planned to have a second ride, which has changed over time.  First it would have had an lps sleigh ride, much like Cars Rally here in Walt Disney Studios Paris.  It is now planned to have a version of the Seven Dwarfs mine train themed to sleighs in the wintry mountains.

I would plan for Cars Rally to move here and be updated to the sleighs sliding on ice version of the second ride.  This is largely due to my thoughts for the next themed area.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs mini-land:
In the next available expansion area, I would add a mini-land themed to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  The movie remains the fourth highest grossing film of all time in France.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs remain popular and this would be a unique addition for the resort.  While Frozen is being copied in other locations, Tokyo is getting unique Tangled and Peter Pan sections, Florida has Storybook Circus and the Little Mermaid, and Shanghai has the Burton Alice.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs could make for a very interesting and unique addition for Paris.

I would add a version of Snow White's Scary Adventure in a building designed to look like the castle in the beginning of the film and transitioning into the dark forest.  This would be the classic ride, updated with the project mapping effects that Disneyland has been adding.  I would add a copy of the Seven Dwarfs mine train from Florida, leaving off the vignette in the cabin at the end, and instead replaced by animatronics of the Dwarfs crossing the log to return home.  Finally, I would add a dining option in the Dwarfs cabin.

With Snow White's Scary Adventure moved to this park, it could be replaced in Disneyland Paris with a "C/D" ticket Tangled ride.  Tangled would keep the similar German location, especially fitting next to the Italian Pinocchio.

For the next addition, I again would like to focus on something that is still immensely popular in Europe.  The Duck family comics were staples in Europe long after Disney stopped making comics in America.  As such, the Duck family and Ducktales are a very big draw in European markets.

For that reason, I would add Duckburg as the next section.  This would contain Donald Duck, and his friends and family.  Scrooge McDuck, Launchpad McQuack, Darkwing Duck, Daisy, Huey, Dewey, Louie, April, May, June, the Aracuan bird, Jose, Panchito, Darkwing Duck, etc.  The Beagle Boys, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica de Spell.

Life is like a hurricane here in Duckburg
This land would be themed to look like the city of Duckburg, with a walkthrough of Donald's boathouse, a Junior Woodchuck restaurant, like in Tokyo, perhaps a Launchpad's Crash Course spinner.  It would culminate at Scrooge's Money Bin for a grand animatronic dark ride on the scale of Pooh's Hunny Hunt in Tokyo.  This would be a great adventure for all ages, traveling with Scrooge McDuck on a quest to get his number one dime back.

Pixar Studios:
Finally, I would consolidate the Toon Studios into Pixar Studios.  Much of this land is already Pixar with only the Art of Walt Disney Animation, the Flying Carpets Over Agrabah, and Mickey and the Magician being from Walt Disney Feature Animation.

I would replace Art of Walt Disney Animation with the Art of Pixar Animation.  This would accompany an internal change, removing the Mushu pre-show and replacing the interior with a setup much more like Disney California Adventure.  This would be accomplished by breaking the interior up into a series of rooms including an Animation Academy, the Pixar zoetrope, a character close-up for Pixar meet and greets, a Pixar preview theater for a Pixar short festival and movie previews.  This would also include a Pixar gallery store.

Pixar Studios, with Finding Nemo subsection
I would next change the first set of buildings and rides over into a Finding Nemo section anchored by Crush's Coaster.  Mickey and the Magician would be replaced by the Finding Nemo musical, Flying Carpets would be replaced by an octopus ride or the Blowfish Balloon Race from Tokyo.  The Cars Rally would be replaced by The Whirpool teacup ride from Tokyo DisneySea.  Finally, I would carve out a section of Studio 4, behind the Ratatouille store and restrooms, to add Turtle Talk.   The current living character initiative attraction (Stitch Live) is being replaced, so I'd like to add back a more thematically appropriate one.

The Ratatouille and Toy Story sections would remain largely the same.  I would add the Alien Swirling Saucers as is rumored for Toy Story Playland and would seek to add a Woody's Roundup Carousel.  This section could also use an Andy's Toybox counter service.

Toy Story Additions
Likewise, while I would like to add Turtle Talk, it would bear exploring adding a counter service seafood restaurant at the back of Studio 4.

Seasonal Overlays:
This is another park where seasonal overlays are not needed.  It would be great to have appropriate decorations particularly in the Hyperion Avenue, Arendelle, Duckburg, and Toy Story Playland sections.  Arendelle would be very interesting with touches from the Olaf's Frozen Adventure short.

Parades and Nighttime Spectaculars:
This park has also suffered from a lack of parades and night time entertainment.  Disney has begun using the Tower of Terror as a backdrop for projection shows for an electronic music festival, for Christmas, and for Star Wars celebrations.  Once the lake is added that should no longer be the focus, but can be a nice bonus.

A parade will not be desirable given the extreme length of a possible performance path.  Generally, I would think day time and night time entertainment would be best suited for the lake.  The lake could house great harbor shows like in Tokyo Disney Sea, providing varied day time entertainment.

At night, the lake could house a combination of fountains, pyro barges, electric light floats, and possibly drones (depending on the size of the lake) to create a truly unique night time experience.  I think Disney could even reuse a name from the park for any nighttime spectacular.  Disney Presents Cinemagique!

Cartoon Mascot:
For the cartoon mascot for the park, I'm turning to the character that really started to turn the park around.  Remy from Ratatouille.  With the addition of the Ratatouille ride and restaurant, the park really started to be noticed.  This area changed the traditional thinking of adding Parisian or French inspired design into the parks and started to finally draw the crowds to this location for something unique.  Remy deserves that recognition.


As always, thank you for working through this with me.  Next up in the series will the the Disneyland Paris resort as a whole.  Hotels, Disney Village, and future expansion.

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