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As California Adventure turns 10, Walt Disney Studios loses its running partner

Tuesday, 8th February 2011 at 22:53

There’s a grand “Happy Birthday” and many congratulations in order today — for Disney California Adventure, the problematic second park at Disneyland Resort in California which opened back on 8th February 2001 and is currently nearing the end of an enormous $1 billion makeover project that will transform the original, mediocre gate into a park worthy of the Disney name. If you’ve not been following progress, you’re missing out — be sure to check the official site, Yesterland, MiceAge, this fantastic infographic and all the other great Californian fan sites — it’s a fascinating look at what can happen when Disney really, truly puts its money — and more importantly, its heart — into making something work. Those three beautiful new attraction posters above, a Disney tradition brought forward for a new generation, are the final signature of intent.

What’s the relevance to Disneyland Paris? Well, it’s looking more and more like our own second gate, a similar project of early 2000s misguidedness, has just lost its running partner; been left behind at the starting block. Whatever analogy you want to use, Disney California Adventure is finally getting really good, really fast — and Walt Disney Studios Park, well, it’s still ambling along like all is well. Of course, though they’ve been lumped together for years as Disney’s follies, the two parks were very different. Where California Adventure had in many of its original areas and attractions a disheartening sheen of “hip” tackiness that Imagineering are now having to steam-clean out of the place, Walt Disney Studios was (and still is) simply massively under-built. And not under-built in the rather charming “there’s plenty of room to expand” style of 2005’s Hong Kong Disneyland, either. As a member on our forum succinctly put it, it’s like “a place filled with nice Disney attractions still in their boxes, waiting to be put in a Disney park.” Ironic, then, that Toy Story Playland, probably the best (at least, most fully-realised) themed area in the park is based around toys being unpacked from their boxes.

Even that expensive new land has almost entirely failed to be integrated into the park around it, as seen above. When Walt Disney Studios doesn’t even get a themed path leading to its new land, what hope is there for going back and readdressing the original, lacking areas, like California is doing? What for the original portion of Toon Studio — the barren, soulless area in front of Animagique — do Euro Disney SCA really consider that to be Disney quality? Will Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic ever be given a raison-d’être beyond being an extended drive out to Catastrophe Canyon? Whatever happened to those plans Imagineering dreamed up to turn the depressing and utterly theme-less corner of Production Courtyard into a buzzing Theater District to match Hollywood Boulevard, complete with Soarin’, a new period-specific façade for CinéMagique and new dining and retail? At one time, we we seemed sure to see the terrible, emotionless “Production Courtyard” name become “Hollywood Studio”, to match its “Toon” neighbour, with Backlot following suit. Where Disneyland has “lands”, the Studio would have a collection of different theme “studios”, and finally some vision.

Yes, Walt Disney Studios has been given Toy Story Playland whilst California Adventure will get an expensive Little Mermaid dark ride and an enormous Cars Land, but right now this isn’t about size or scale, it’s about vision and intent. Disneyland Paris doesn’t have the money for a Cars Land, but it probably doesn’t need it. The best part of the California makeover isn’t the new attractions but the sensible and thoughtful re-touching of the original park — adding detail, atmosphere, charm and soul. Paris could spend as much as it likes on that mythical Ratatouille dark ride to be nestled at the back of Toon Studio, but it will just be another self-contained patch of quality. The park as a whole still won’t work if the original areas remain unfinished. Luckily, these corners of the park are so devoid of anything that they’re practically a blank canvas. There’s no giant tile mural needs knocking down here. The attractions are top quality, they just need to be unpacked from their boxes, wrapped in a cohesive theme. So where is the vision for Walt Disney Studios, the intent? Maybe it’s still to come. We’ve heard rumblings of a “30-year plan” — but that means if you’re in your 30s today, you’ll be just about retiring by the time the park has moved forward. Today, to the eyes of a visitor, the Studios isn’t going anywhere — and the worst thing a Disney park can ever be is static.

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  • I couldn’t agree more, Apart from Studio 1, the whole place feels cheap and directionless.

  • Money talks

  • I totally agree with you Anthony. The Walt Disney Studios park lacks vision. There doesn’t seem to be any master plan. The park has a totally random, messy layout. It looks ugly and there aren’t enough attractions that literally attract you.

    DCA is going to be a beautiful theme park when they’re finished with the expansion plan. Meanwhile, WDS is going to be left as the smallest, ugliest, crappiest Disney theme park ever built, and most likely stay that way for decades to come.

  • Indeed, Money talks. And Euro Disney don’t have too much to spend to the extremely expensive Imagineering.

    From the very beginning, the Walt Disney Company has built an economic model for EuroDisney that is highly (and almost only) lucrative for the Walt disney Company itself. And not for EuroDisney.
    Sadly, I just can’t imagine the Walt Disney Company (TWDC) changing that model to make Eurodisney earn more money, because it simply means less money from the benefits for TWDC. These amounts are huge.

    Also, I think the management of Disneyland Paris is just not ‘Disney minded’ and dont care that much about quality. Do they even know how high is the Disney quality standard? I don’t think so.

  • Hit the nail on its head! The whole area doens’t feel Disney. The only way of getting the bal rolling is by investing a lot, earing back and reinvest that money. However the current Management of DLP doesn’t feel like spending a lot in new rides, theý focus on refurbishing hotels and building new cottages, which is fine. But they forget to spend most of their attention to the park itself. After Ratatouille (if it ever gets built) the best we ncould get is a refurb of the park itself, instead of other new rides.
    Hope they’ll be able to work together with some sponsors, like they older rides in the Magic Kingdom did.

  • What WDS terrible misses, is a script, something that tells you a story and makes you experience the park. The Studio-Theme is great, but there are toooo few cues: e.g., why not clearly separate Toon-Town (with a “Tunnel” as in Roger Rabbit) where all the Toon-Attracions are (TPL, Crush, Carpets) from the rest. Or decorate the Production Courtyard with things you expect to see there (camera cranes, actors waiting for their turn, etc.)

  • No other Disney park has seen much a big transformation in such a short amount of time as DCA has. I agree WDS feels unfinished

  • Pussnboots/Tom  11th February 2011, 07:32

    You really took that metaphor home, Anthony! Haha. Excellent article.

  • The place is definately lacking that something extra. Even if they stuck in some themed fountains, topiary etc, it would look a lot better. At the moment, everywhere is just concrete, with rides dotted in between.

  • Have been to DCA three times now over the past 4 years. It does have a different feel, very special in places and will certainly been even better when the revamo is finished. They’re making the entrance and “main street” look and feel like the era when WD first set up his studios in 1923. But they’re also doing it to compete against Disneyland land park which is also next door (a la Paris).

    I think Paris always suffers from being the poor relation in terms to the limitations of weather and to some degree attendance figures but as a lot of you have said, it’s about the money. There’s only so many times we can visit a place that’s the “same old same old” but with increasing prices and a reduced offering.

    Feb half term 2005 saw Fantillusions parade, Kids Carnival and the main park open until 9 or even 10pm. Over the years there has been a gradual reduction in everything. Lion King has gone (bring back Mulan!!), still got Mickey’s Winter Wonderland (seen it – time for a change). There’s the big hitters but e.g. when BTM is closed, Frontierland is very dull.

    We need a big investment in Paris – in both parks.
    But WDS, especially in the rain, is a very dull experience.

  • Im a UK citizen, and Disney fanatic. I have been to Orlando 8 times, Disneyland Caifornia twice, Disneyland Paris twice, and Disney Hong Kong twice. All 4 parks are superb, but I would rather travel from London to Orlando than the short distance from London to Paris. This is purely down to the attractiveness of the parks over there and value for money.
    The Walt Disney Studios doesnt feel like Disney, and Although the main Disneyland Paris Park is lovely, there isnt enough to keep you interested in the second park for an entire week, nevermind two. Disney really need to address the issues you have highlighted in your article or there is a chance no one will return to Disneyland Paris after visiting once. I wont be back until they improve that picture above for a start. Its the small things that count and Disney Paris havent got that right yet.

  • Hi,

    John is very wrong. we`ve been several times at Disneyland Paris and we totally disagree with the opinion of going to the Disneyland once and never coming again.

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