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From Box Office Bomb to Blockbuster: The Cinematic Story of Walt Disney Studios Paris


While Walt Disney Studios’ 2002 opening had left Disney fans the world over speechless and did absolutely nothing to help the resort's sinking finances, Disney did begin to inject more life into the miniscule and underbuilt park. It just took a few years.

Image: Disney via

Its first notable expansion came about in 2007 – five years after opening – when the Animation Courtyard area of the park was joined by (or maybe, became?) Toon Studio. On paper, we’re meant to believe that this portion of the park is somewhat like an extension of Toontown (which Disneyland Paris doesn’t have) where cartoon stars film their movies.

In practice, the expansion brought with it two attractions to join the Flying Carpets: a spinning family flat ride called Cars Race Rally and – most impressively – Crush’s Coaster. This indoor spinning family coaster is, at its core, an off-the-shelf carnival ride, but a few show scenes made it an unexpected highlight for the park. The problem is that for years, the low-capacity family coaster was essentially the park’s only family feature and one of only five rides, period, earning multi-hour waits on even the most lightly attended days.

Image: David Jafra, Flickr

That same year, the park opened its first certifiable E-Ticket... The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror rose in the park’s "hub" area (technically Production Courtyard).

The version of the ride used in Paris – identical to California Adventure’s with its pueblo-deco architecture and high-efficiency ride system – is a wonder even if it doesn’t live up to the Floridian original. It goes without saying that the ride was a much-needed boost to the park’s lineup, and the incredible in-depth story of how Disney designed and “dropped in” the ride is part of our must-read Lost Legends: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror feature.

Image: Disney

Almost as important as the towering ride itself, a much-needed placemaking project created a sort of “mini” Hollywood Blvd. of detail around the towering 1920s hotel. The new avenue of romantic West Coast architecture leads to a new entry for the Studio Tour, too – a flat panel "tunnel" beneath the Hollywood Hills.

Image: Disney

The next big boost came in 2010 with the opening of Toy Story Playland – the first of four eventual versions of the mini-land that would open at Disney Parks worldwide. The expansion upped the park’s ride count by three, though each ride included is a lightly-dressed off-the-shelf carnival ride, and Disney fans typically view such Toy Story themed lands critically as “cheap and cheerful” additions that don’t add much to a park’s experience… 

In other words, Toy Story Playland brought the park's ride count to nine, though five are fairly inoccuous family flat rides... much less grand on average than, say, Epcot's nine ride lineup.

Image: Disney

The park’s real star opened in 2014. Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy is a superb dark ride using Disney’s heralded trackless technology, and the ride fittingly rocketed to the top of the park's billing. Most easily understood as Disney’s take on Universal’s Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, the Ratatouille dark ride is a hit, and finally gives the park a can’t-miss experience for international visitors and locals alike.

(And for that matter, Ratatouille also gave the park its 10th ride. If you can believe it, that officially gives Walt Disney Studios Park an unthinkable twice as many rides as the original Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida... a surprising fact found in our must-read Ride Count Countdown.)

But perhaps even more telling than what it is is what the new Ratatouille attraction is not. It is not, for example, placed on a large studio "soundstage." Instead, a brand new cul-de-sac off of Toon Studio leads to a sub-area themed to a Parisian courtyard.

Image: Disney

Every bit as beautiful as Epcot’s France pavilion, this mini plaza really ought to be a “land” in and of itself. While the Ratatouille attraction is the star, you'll also find shops and a restaurant perfectly situated along the lifelike streetscape. In short, it's the kind of area you'd like to visit, explore, and spend time in – arguably, the first such area for Walt Disney Studios Park.

That means that Ratatouille not only gave the park something worth talking about, it also made a very clear distinction: going forward, this park will shed its "behind-the-scenes" views for stepping into your favorite Disney and Pixar films. And that is perhaps the most important sign yet... Why?

Studio fatigue

While Disney and Universal led the charge with their Orlando parks (in 1989 and 1990 respectively), they’d inadvertently opened the floodgates for “studio” themed amusement parks the world over. Warner Bros. Movie World (1991), the Paramount Parks (1992), and MGM Grand Adventures (1993) opened in consecutive years, spurred by Disney’s example… Under the guise of visiting a “real” movie studio, big, boxy, tan showbuildings and façade-lined streets could populate these parks. Owning a theme park no longer required the detail and immersion of Magic Kingdom.

And for the time, it was a perfect fit. People longed to see behind-the-scenes of moviemaking, and the emerging world of special effects and a lingering and growing interest in celebrity made the idea of a glamorous movie-making park seem all the rage.

Image: Disney

But the glitz and glamor of a movie studio park didn't age well... On the last page, we'll look at the three killer blows to the concept and analyze how – or maybe if – Disney has any chance of saving this box office bomb of a theme park from itself. 

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There are 4 comments.

What a great review.
Actually The WDC was obliged by contract to build a second park ten years after opening the first park. Also a third park was part of the contract with the French government but I think that was renegotiated.
What I find extremely depressing is that these problems have been around since 2002, fifteen years and there have no plans been announced for any expansions or improvements of the park. Meaning, even if they'd publish any plans, due to the fact that the current refurbishment plan runs till 2022 we won't be seeing any improvements of the park before 2025-2027. Meaning there is no reason to visit this park for almost another decade!
Also the original DLP park has been refurbished to look great for its 25 anniversary but this park too has not received any new large attraction for over 10 years.
I really don't think it's going to work this way. Especially since the other large european themeparks are churning out amazing attractions year after year.

I totally agree with your assessment of this park. I know it very well as I go every 2 years. It is lacking in magic compared to the main Disneyland park in Paris and particularly the Florida & California parks, and I think you've hit the nail on the head as to why. The horrible boxy studio buildings and lack of theming and immersive lands. The comparison of the two carpet rides in the article was striking! Like you said, fountains under one and concrete under the other! Wish they would do what you've said and close a section at a time and re-do them to be immersive themed lands. Starting with that horrible studio 1 entrance building! Still love the park though but just feel it could be so much better, compared to other Disney parks I've been to. Certainly a lot better now with all the additions, I particularly love crush's coaster and Tower of Terror, and Ratatouille was smart. My little boys adore the cars race rally ride and the toy story rides. They are getting their first taste of Orlando Disney magic next year, so excited, it's a whole other level to Paris.

Great article and I agree with all however currently on Trip Advisor it is currently number 1 in Marne-la-Valley out scoring Disneyland Paris!!!!

Great Article, i absolutely argee with you. I don't get why The Walt Disney Company/ Disney Imagineering do have so much trouble, to come up with a great Idea to make WDS a Beautiful Park.

I have to say, i do find it very easy to make something amazing out of it. Front Lot, Production Courtyard and Backlot melt into one big Hollywoodland, behind R'n'Rc will be Star Wars Land, right of it Marvel Land and the rest Pixar Land and in the middle of The Park a giant Lake. Sure, i could explain it in detail, but that would be as long, as your Article.


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