The rat is out of the bag, and it’s official. In 2021 – Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary year – Disney will continue its multi-year transformation of Epcot with yet another anchor attraction: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. In this frantic new family ride, Disney promises that "guests will be able to shrink to Remy’s size and scurry to safety in a dazzling chase across a kitchen with the sights, sounds and smells of Gusteau’s legendary Parisian restaurant."

But of course, as Imagineering fans know, this controversial Epcot adventure isn’t exactly an Orlando exclusive… In fact, the newest headlining attraction headed for the France pavilion at World Showcase is already thrilling riders in the real France, where Ratatouille: L'Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy literally helped save Disney’s most pathetic theme park…

Image: Disney / Pixar

To our count, that makes this DisneyPixar E-Ticket a pivot point for two of Disney’s theme parks (reshaping the ongoing revitalization plans at each), and that’s all the evidence we need that the rat-sized adventure belongs in our growing library of MODERN MARVELS: in-depth stories tracing the real-life histories of the best rides on Earth, like Indiana Jones Adventure, Revenge of the Mummy, The Enchanted Tiki Room, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and so many more.

Ready to venture into the streets of Paris to explore the origin story, experience, and future of this Epcot-bound attraction? Let’s start at the beginning…

Parisian pitfalls

Click and expand for a much larger and more detailed view. Image: Disney

When the new EuroDisneyland opened in 1992, Europeans indicated that there was a fundamental flaw with the French park: that it was located in France. The Parisian press famously launched a media blitz against the “cultural Chernobyl,” decrying the park as a piece of American imperialism; a corporate invasion akin to installing a McDonald’s atop the Eiffel Tower.

Disney famously combated that perception by remaking the very-American concept of Disneyland into a romantic, literary park more fit for French audiences. There, Imagineers tweaked tried-and-true attractions to layer sensational stories decadent drama, creating fellow Modern Marvels: Phantom Manor and Space Mountain: De la Terre á la Lune, perfectly appealing to European taste.

Image: Disney

Still, the French resort that was meant to mark the height of Michael Eisner’s tenure as CEO instead crashed-and-burned. Despite Disneyland Paris being among the most beautiful Disney Parks on Earth, the overbuilt resort limped its way through its first decade (and even today struggled to balance its finances). But if Disneyland Paris was slow to grow in its first ten years, things were about to get a lot worse…

Box-office bomb

Make no mistake – Disney has endured its fair share of box office bombs over the company’s history. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Just ask the teams behind John Carter, Mars Needs Moms, The Country Bears, The Black Cauldron, or The Lone Ranger. Of course, those film flops have something in common. While they may amount to pop culture punchlines and represent massive fiscal year write-offs, they are – by their nature – impermanent. Flops come and go, migrating to DVD bargain bins and streaming services where they can recoup some of their cost, before disappearing from pop culture altogether.

But on the rare occasion that Disney misses the mark with one of its theme parks, time doesn’t cover the wound; it makes it worse.

Image: Disney

Such is the case with the second theme park added to Disneyland Paris. Just imagine: the financial failure of the resort made Michael Eisner nervous about big projects, and in the wake of Paris’ opening, budgets were slashed and projects were cancelled across Disney Parks for decades… including cutting the budget big time for the second park Disney was contractually required to build in Paris… Oops…

So reviled, low budget, and under built was the French resort’s second gate, it earned its own in-depth feature, Declassified Disaster: Walt Disney Studios Park that includes a walk-through of the pathetic park as it was when it opened in 2002.

Born in the wrong era

Click and expand for a larger and more detailed view. Image: Disney

What can we say about Walt Disney Studios Park? Clocking in at about 30 acres (compared to next door Disneyland Paris’ 90 acres), the miniscule movie park opened with three (yes, three) rides – a pointless “studio tram tour,” Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and a magic carpet-themed spinner. That’s it.

You can imagine that a starved, under-built, low-budget second gate was the last thing that the still-strangled Disneyland Paris needed… Because now, any money the resort could muster up for improvements and expansions would have to go to the Studios park, leading to a decade of neglect for Disneyland Paris itself…

Image: Disney, via wdsfans.com

And indeed, in the ensuing years, the tiny park was “plussed” with attractions like the Crush’s Coaster indoor family ride, a version of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a Toy Story Land of family flat rides, and new shows. But here’s the problem: each new attraction – while it may have drawn in more crowds – was like a Band-Aid on a broken bone; a dozen new E-Ticket attractions couldn’t really fix Walt Disney Studios Park.

So what was really wrong with it? A glut of “movie studio” themed parks had cropped up across the world in the ‘90s (led by Disney’s own Studio park in Orlando, then Universal Studios Florida). Those parks and their sisters are marked not by detailed, themed “lands” or immersive storytelling, but by their big, beige studio “soundstages,” mished-mashed intellectual properties, and flat, empty “façades” meant to make guests feel as if they’re on a backlot. In such "studio" parks, The Muppets and Star Wars can be neighbors across a concrete industrial plaza with designers able to shrug and say, "Why not? It's a movie studio!"

By time Walt Disney Studios Park opened in 2002, the age of the “studio” park was largely over… And Disney should’ve known that, since they’re the ones who ended it! 

Image: Disney

After all, it was Disney’s Animal Kingdom (opened in 1998) that kicked off the new era of theme parks, with Universal’s Islands of Adventure (1999) and Tokyo DisneySea (2001) following close behind, with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (2009) cementing that new era. This new set of parks set guests down inside of totally immersive, cinematic, all-surrounding worlds, like Harambe at Animal Kingdom or The Lost Continent at Islands of Adventure. Suddenly, bland, beige, industrial, concrete “studio” parks looked a lot different in the eyes of the public… they were low-budget cop-outs…

So while Crush’s Coaster and Toy Story Land and Tower of Terror might’ve given the park much-needed attractions and much-needed capacity, they failed to solve the real problem… they failed to begin the park’s transformation away from the “studio” style…

But Disney had just the film to change that… Read on…


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