Toon Studio expansion rumours take flight

Thursday, 12th June 2008 at 20:33

ImageIs a lone helium balloon spotted by Cast Members flying over the back of Toon Studio a sign that the land is ready to expand already? As the recent rumours suddenly take flight, we explore the chances and the contenders for a Phase 3 of the Studios.,

Between an indoor Little Mermaid land, an outdoor Bug’s Land and an indoor — and very Goofy — soundstage, the rumours that filled the years from the opening of Walt Disney Studios Park to its first major expansion — Crush’s Coaster and Cars Quatre Roues Rallye — seemed almost to have completely run out of the steam by the time the first piece of the park’s Phase 2 was completed.

Toon Studio instantly became the most popular area of the park, but no-one seemed to want to put their neck on the line with a suggestion for where it could go next. Until now…

Rumours have been spreading for several months about the addition of some kind of Ratatouille-themed experience in the land. Initially started by a throwaway comment from infamous MiceAge columnist Al Lutz, the suggestion seemed more of a guess (Ratatouille + Paris = Logical) than something based upon real Imagineering fact, supposing that Paris might be a more natural home for Rémy than California Adventure:

“Ratatouille has done very well in Europe however, and the merchandise and toys are selling better in France than they did in America. With that, the Ratatouille attraction concept may very well be slotted in to the Walt Disney Studios park in Paris.”

Fast forward a few weeks or months and the rumours appear again, this time from well within the boundaries of Disneyland Resort Paris itself…

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A French fan claims to have spotted Imagineers in Toon Studio holding plans and discussing certain things relating to Ratatouille. Concept art showing a real-life recreation of Gusteau’s restaurant — apparently intended to go behind the Studio Tram Tour station — was even spotted. An optimistic bit of make-believe or a real in-park assessment of plans for the future?

This week, the biggest step yet to the start of a Toon Studio expansion project arrived and the rumours really “took flight” — literally. Walt Disney Studios fans will remember well the heart-pounding sight of seeing those four coloured balloons floating in the sky in 2006, showing where the four corners of Crush’s Studio 5 building would later be built and its visual impact on the rest of the park and resort.

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That day has arrived again, as Grandmath, a consistently well-informed member of the Disneyland Resort Paris community, just reported today on magicforum:

“The balloon (yes, they used just one, but they moved it around at different locations) was pretty high, mm maybe as high as Crush’s Coaster main building. Seems pretty tall for a dark ride, but yet again, we don’t know what is planned there. Maybe the dark ride will be built on several levels, such as Phantom Manor or Pirates of the Caribbean.

“As for the space, in fact don’t consider that the grass area as the perimeter for the building. I saw an expansion map with this building on it, it was stuck to the Costuming building, and expanded on the current tram tour road. Therefore the Tram Tour station was relocated as well, to fit with this new building (and allowing for the extension of Hollywood Boulevard).

“I’m sure that this is some signs of larger things to come, not just a simple building on the grass area. Tram Tour is surely being involved too… but then again, we’ll see in a few months!”

Exciting, no? The recent dearth of rumours about the medium-term future of the resort has thankfully been lifted and suggestions are popping up from all angles… but where is the money coming from? And what are the real contenders?

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As you’ve no doubt read recently on DLRP Today, the resort’s finances continue to climb up, up and away. Well, not quite “away” — there’s still some work to go before the resort can claim a profit, but everything is looking good. The effect of the four major new attractions at Walt Disney Studios Park — and to a lesser extent the three earlier additions to Discoveryland — simply cannot be questioned.

The resort squeezed a huge amount of investment and change out of the €240million gift card agreed in January 2005. With that now all but complete, it seems they have every intention to do the same again. If real profit will ever be found at this resort, they have no option but to continue investing sensibly and keep the ball rolling. A similar round of investments spread over several years, leading up to the 20th Anniversary in 2012, currently seems the most likely option.

So, what could the future hold for Toon Studio?

The rumours pointing to a Ratatouille dark ride of some kind now seem too strong to ignore. Indeed, the film was unsurprisingly an instant and massive success in France and picked up great box office figures all over Europe. Just one glance at the queue to meet the characters Rémy and Emile in Toon Studio — which regularly outnumbers that for even Mickey Mouse next door — shows the popularity of this film with guests here.

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Another, mostly ignored, type of expansion could be something aimed at younger children. Way back at the end of 2003, then-CEO André Lacroix announced a “playground” for the Studios at the same time as The Legend of the Lion King. The new Videopolis show began the next year, but what of the playground? Currently, the park has only Flying Carpets and Cars aimed squarely at this audience, with mega-hit Crush’s Coaster taking itself out of the market — and upsetting some younger Nemo fans — with its 1.04m height restriction and reasonably intense thrill. This is definitely an area to watch.

Finally, what about an import? The Studios has an incredibly low number of “clone” attractions and its first expansion phase didn’t do much to change that, with both Crush and Cars Imagineered exclusively for the park. The most likely important would be Toy Story Midway Mania, the 4D carnival games dark ride which sees you ride past giant 3D screens armed with an interactive cannon to score points. Whilst the attraction, developed at the same time for both California and Florida, has opened well at both parks, it doesn’t seem like a strong contender for Paris.

A similar attraction, the upcoming Monsters, Inc. Ride & Seek dark ride for Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland also seems unlikely, with no rumours suggesting its consideration for Paris. Indeed, since Bob Iger took over The Walt Disney Company and executives such as John Lasseter from Pixar came over to Imagineering, the focus seems to be more on unique experiences for each park, with only attractions such as Midway Mania appearing in two locations when developed at the same time.

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The reports of balloon height tests from Grandmath throws some question to all the existing rumours for Phase 3, however — even the Ratatouille attraction. A building attached to the ImagiNations Costuming building, pushing out onto the Studio Tram Tour route, almost as tall as Crush’s Coaster?

Just like the spinning Maurer Sohne coaster (with whom Disney had never worked before), the attraction themed to an almost unreleased film (Cars began construction before the film was in cinemas) and the extra little Toon Town gate of the park’s second phase, expect a few surprises… and even more Walt Disney Studios Park exclusives.

[Photos: DLRP Today; Google Maps]

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