EuroDisney has a lot to answer for.
Disney's first European resort was an exciting prospect to many when it was originally announced, but it faced a lot of financial difficulty after it debuted, with rumors about bankruptcy and closure permeating its first few years of operation. It eventually rebounded and was rebranded as Disneyland Paris, although it is struggling with a horrendous debt load even today.
The failure of the Euro Disney Resort and its headline park, Euro Disneyland, wasn't a localized phenomenon. The financial struggles of the Paris park wreaked havoc on Disney's ambitious plans for the 1990s, which CEO Michael Eisner had famously referred to as the "Disney Decade". The Imagineers were hard at work designing new concepts and attractions for theme park fans, but many of them never came to fruition - largely because the previously bullish Eisner had been rattled by the EuroDisney experience.
Keep reading to learn more about the infamous Disney Decade, what problems Euro Disneyland’s financial struggles caused and all of the concepts that had to be tinkered with or discarded altogether.
The “Disney Decade”
The Disney Decade has become infamous in the intervening years, but when it was introduced it was described as a “dream” of the current Disney CEO Michael Eisner and president Frank Wells for the company. The term debuted in Disney’s 1990 employee annual report, along with many of Disney’s intentions for its parks over the next ten years. Here is an excerpt from the report, titled “Building a Dream Together,” courtesy of famed Disney historian Jim Hill.
“[W]e’ve given the dream a name. It's called the 'Disney Decade.'
The Disney Decade is about a dream, and it's about us. The plans are incredibly exciting and will touch every aspect of this Company ... New hotels, new attractions and a new theme park at Walt Disney World. The biggest expansion of Disneyland in its history.
Some might think that we're overly ambitious. We don't think so ... We're confident about achieving the mission we've set for the next ten years. After all, people the world over expect Disney to dream, and dream big.
If the Disney dream, in its sheer size and scope, takes your breath away, we want you to know it does the same for us. But we're certain that there are still plenty more dreams to go around. Just wait until ... ten years from now ... when we'll be talking about Mickey's Millennium!"
Most would likely agree that Michael Eisner and the company were overly ambitious, and many Disney employees and afficionados would probably liken the Disney Decade less to a dream and more to a nightmare.
What went wrong with Euro Disneyland
So what caused Euro Disneyland to be such a disaster initially? There are a few explanations for the lack of success the park had in its early years. The debut on April 12, 1992 was far from perfect, for one thing. Based on reports of expected attendance, the government was worried that the roads would be chaotic, so the French radio warned of traffic. People staying home due to the warning and a one-day strike that cut a railway connection from the center of Paris contributed to a paltry attendance, estimated to be less than 25,000 visitors, on the opening day of Euro Disneyland.
Various controversies may have also played a role in Euro Disneyland’s problems. Some pundits felt that the park would purport American cultural imperialism. The bigger issues, though, were centered on employment practices. Disney wanted to enforce an appearance code like they do in the United States, but French labor unions saw that as an attack on the workers’ individual liberties. Disney’s policies and especially their working conditions proved unpopular with employees. The Hollywood Reporter reported that a quarter of them, about 3,000 individuals, had quit by May of 1992.
The big issue, though, was an untimely recession and a collapse in the French property market, which left the financial plans of Disney and its partners in the EuroDisney project in ruins.
It’s hard to think of a bigger ego blow Disney has suffered than the lack of success Euro Disneyland had in the early years. The company which thought itself on top of the world suddenly had to start second-guessing itself. That was especially true for its theme park plans, specifically the Disney Decade it had boasted about only a couple of years earlier. Many of its ambitious plans for Disneyland and Walt Disney World had to be downsized or scrapped in the wake of the Euro Disneyland disaster.