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25 Years Ago, All of These Disney Parks Projects Were Cancelled. Here’s What Could’ve Been.

COP-OUTS

Overcome with fear and determined to never make a mistake like Disneyland Paris again, Michael Eisner pressed forward with the “Disney Decade” with promised parks at resorts around the globe with one caveat… Retail and dining executives would plan the parks, with Imagineers given precious little chance for input. After ambitious beginnings, the final three parks whose openings he oversaw were so abysmally shortsighted, underbuilt, and creatively starved with such low budgets, each has necessitated billions of dollars in reconstruction in the decades since.

1. Disney’s California Adventure

Image: Disney

We mentioned the dismal cancellation of both DisneySea and WestCOT, and the “brilliant” plan those dining and retail executives had to give Disneyland a second gate. Their idea was that, by bringing the rest of California to Disneyland, visitors could skip the rest of the state and stay on-property longer. Maybe it’s hard to comprehend how they could’ve honestly thought that would’ve worked, but they gave it their best shot.

When Disney’s California Adventure opened in 2001, its four themed “districts” were meant to represent modern California. The time is now. The place is here. Corrugated steel walls, circus freak posters, a modern Hollywood backlot whose flimsy flat sets recreated the real Hollywood…

Image: Disney

Packed with puns, modern music, and a severe lack of things to actually do, California Adventure was immediately rejected by Disneyland’s loyal, local guests with less than 1 of every 4 visitors to Disneyland bothering to see the brand-new park next door.

Thankfully, Disney saw that piecemeal additions would never truly fix the park’s deep-rooted, foundational problem: it was too modern; too “edgy.” The “hip, MTV attitude” executives had touted as the park’s selling point was instead its weakness. Who wants to see a Hollywood set of Hollywood with the real Hollywood just 45 minutes north?

Image: Disney

$1.2 billion and five years later, the park was rebuilt one land at a time to construct more timeless, romantic, idealized lands (like the lands at Disneyland next door) adding Cars Land and Buena Vista Street to round out the park and make it a worthy companion to Disneyland. As before, you can read the full story in the Disaster Files: Disney’s California Adventure feature.

2. Walt Disney Studios Paris

Image: Disney

The financial failings of Disneyland Paris ensured that its already-announced second gate – The Disney-MGM Studios Europe – trim the fat from its budget... and its offerings. Before Eisner could see just how badly California Adventure would perform, work was already finishing on Paris' second park, Walt Disney Studios. Far and away the most embarrassing theme park Disney has ever designed, Walt Disney Studios opened with three rides. Three.

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

A Studio Tram Tour.

And a Dumbo-style Magic Carpets ride.

Suffering from all the same problems as California Adventure but with a quarter of the rides, a quarter the size, and a quarter of the budget, Walt Disney Studios only worsened Paris’ financial tailspin and ensured that any financial investment in the resort immediately go to keeping the sad movie park afloat. And it has, with piecemeal additions from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Toy Story Play Land to Crush's Coaster and Ratatouille: The Adventure... But those Band-Aids on a broken bone can't fix the park's foundational flaw. Which is why fans were breathless when Disney did announce a California-Adventure-sized redo to the park, poised to bring lands dedicated to Star Wars, Marvel, and Frozen on board.

As you can imagine, we took a virtual walkthrough of the embarrassing park upon its opening in its own in-depth feature, Disaster Files: Walt Disney Studios Park, which also dives into the unbelievable rebirth this park is about to undergo.

3. Hong Kong Disneyland

Image: Disney

The last of Eisner’s paper-thin parks, Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005 (just as he was being shown the door by the “Save Disney” campaign that had rallied to remove him before his contract was up). Easily the smallest Magic-Kingdom-style park on Earth, Hong Kong Disneyland may look in pictures like a carbon-copy of the original in California, but up-close, it’s got the same flat, cheap, façade-style as the other two Cop-Out parks.

In fact, Eisner had allegedly wanted Hong Kong’s Main Street and its diminutive copy of Sleeping Beauty Castle to have exposed scaffolds and structural steel behind flat facades with the castle cutaway to show its inner supports (a clear cop-out he’d learned from his time building on-the-cheap “studio” themed parks). Imagineers rallied against the plans, building a Main Street that’s at least trying to look real.

Image: Disney

Still, Hong Kong Disneyland opened with no Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Star Tours, or even “it’s a small world.” The park’s Fantasyland contained one dark ride (you guessed it – Pooh) versus Disneyland’s six or Magic Kingdom’s four. An aggressive expansion announced in 2009 did add three new mini-lands (including the stellar Grizzly Gulch and the enviable Mystic Point) but Hong Kong’s government (57% owner in the resort, mind you) balked that even that wasn’t enough given the opening of nearby (and much grander) Shanghai Disneyland in 2016.

Image: Disney

That’s why Hong Kong Disneyland is now set to recieve a second five-year reconstruction. In this round, it'll recieve an entire Frozen mini-land within Fantasyland, annex part of Tomorrowland to create an entire new Marvel super hero land, and (most unexpectedly) extend its itty bitty clone of Disneyland's small castle skyward to turn it into the tallest Disney Parks castle on Earth...!

25 Years Ago…

As Disneyland Paris dutifully celebrates its 25th Anniversary, the fortunes of the French resort have never looked better. Even if Walt Disney Studios is still in desperate need of a new lease on life and the original Parc Disneyland hasn’t gotten a new E-Ticket since a Lost Legend: Space Mountain – De la Terre a la Lune, we’re thrilled to see Disney’s most beautiful castle park shining once again.

Image: Disney

That said, if Disneyland Paris had never existed at all, Disney’s parks in the United States would look very, very different today… So even as we celebrate, we mourn that 25 years ago, astounding, would-be possibilities vanished.

What do you think? Which of the attractions cancelled or closed because of the financial failings of Disneyland Paris would you most like to see again? How is it that, even 25 years later, Disneyland Paris still can’t seem to balance its budget? Is the loss of some of these would-be concepts worth the innovation and storytelling present in the Parisian park?

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There are 7 comments.

Wow, you guys are really hard on Disneyland Paris.
The Parisian park also helped other Disney Parks around the world!

- "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril" was the first coaster with an inversion in a Disney Park. This was asked by Disneyland Paris in 1993 and was supposed to be opened for only a few years because The Walt Disney Company thought that a looping in a Disney Park would never work. "Rock'n'Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith", "California Screamin'" and other Disney-Coasters are here because Indiana Jones was a success.
- Without the Walt Disney Studios Park, "Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show" would never have existed in Florida.
- "The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure" was designed for Disneyland Paris and was supposed to open just a few years after the grand opening of the park in 1992!
- "Toy Story Playland" was designed for the Walt Disney Studios Park and is now exported in many other Disney Parks around the world.

The list could go on and on. Of course, we can't compare just a few experiences to a whole park, but Disneyland Paris is not the only reason of the "heartbreaking closures of Lost Legends instigated by Disneyland Paris".

Of course Paris led to innovation! I proudly call it the most beautiful Disneyland style park on Earth, easily beating even the original. In many pieces I've written here, I've praised Tony Baxter (a personal hero) who production-designed the whole thing. Paris is an absolute wonder! I'm not hard on it at all.

But never before in Disney Parks history has a single project been so ambitious that its failure lead to a sincere, fundamental change in executive leadership's understanding and actions. After Disneyland Paris failed to meet expectations (and by the way, 25 years later, it's *still* not financially balanced despite being the number one paid tourist attraction in Europe... think about that!), all of these projects were cancelled or closed. That's a tremendous, unimaginable impact.

The projects you listed above are great examples of Disney's low-cost efforts to "plus" to the park, and each has its own story:

- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril was rush-ordered to bring the park a new thrill ride ASAP. Imagineers had already planned to build Indiana Jones Adventure and Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune in a "Phase II" expansion of the park when it needed a boost of public awareness, but the park needed it *right away.* To compensate, Indy was designed and tossed in as a quick fix while Space Mountain could be hurried into production (in a much less ornate fashion than originally designed.) So the Indy roller coaster, while it might've been Disney's first with an inversion, is in fact the product of the cancellation of the much more elaborate Indiana Jones Adventure. The only follow-up Disney coaster that owes its existence to Temple of Peril is DisneySea's Raging Spirits.

- Walt Disney Studios Park was a contractually-obligated park that's easily Disney's least successful and lowest quality, and Lights, Motors, Action was cloned for Florida's own vacant Studio park where it's already been closed.

- The Little Mermaid ride designed for Disneyland Paris was ornate and unique, and after the park didn't meet expectations, it was cancelled... in other words, we could've put that ride on this list! The ride that eventually opened at Disney California Adventure and Magic Kingdom has very little in common with the Paris concept, which is a shame.

- Toy Story Playland was designed for Walt Disney Studios *because* the tiny park needed a "cheap and cheerful" infusion of family rides, and is now seen as a scapegoat concept that's dropped into any park that doesn't have enough to do and needs a low-budget way to get more: Hong Kong Disneyland, Shanghai Disneyland, and Disney's Hollywood Studios. It would be fair to list this as a "Cop-Out" in this feature.

In other words, don't get me wrong: I *LOVE* Disneyland Paris, and Disneyland Paris has contributed SO MUCH to Disney Parks and theme parks in general. But it's interesting to consider how different every other Disney Park on Earth would look today if it weren't built.

Oh, well, then excuse me for reading your post in the wrong way.
It is true that Disneyland Paris is not making any money right now (and for the last 25 years), but I thought you were blaming the park for every cancelled projects. Yes, some of them are cancelled because of the financial disaster that is Disneyland Paris (you mentionned Indiana Jones Adventure in you comment, wich is a good example), but not all of them.

Anyway, I know understand your point of view and I agree with you on many points. Thank you for your reply!

You also forgot to mention when President of The Walt Disney Company Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash when returning from skiing in 1994.

I would love Horizons to come back, even in VR

I always wonder....would the UK have been a better choice of location for a park in Europe? Was the UK considered?

By time they'd done any narrowing down, the choice was between two sites in Spain and two in France. Ultimately, France offered the better financial package of tax credits and write-offs, and had a more central location in Europe. The selling point was that Marne-la-Valleé was close to Paris, and within a 4-hour drive of almost 70 million people and a 2-hour flight of 300 million. I suspect UK sites probably were in the initial list of over 1,000 that Dick Nunis came up with, but France's central location, connection to the rest of Europe, and all the available space so near to an international city, Paris nabbed the deal!

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