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20 ans

This last weekend, Disneyland Paris kicked off the press events marking the arrival of its – brace yourself – 20th anniversary celebration. That’s right – twenty years! I’ll pause if you, like me, need to take a moment and breathe.

Anyway, you can read a lot of coverage of the events at Disney and More, but the main point of interest is the new night-time show, Dreams. Now I haven’t been a fan of how the newfangled castle-projection technology has been used so far at the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. The technology has loads of potential, but the shows in the American resort are the typical “memory/magic/dream/wish/memory/dream/magic” boilerplate that I’m so tired of. I don’t want to look at other people’s vacation photos while I, myself, am on vacation. Anyway… The good news is that Steve Davison’s team has really knocked it out of the park on this one and has delivered a show that is not only technically interesting but also entertaining and fresh. Sure it relies on the “clip show” motif of classic Disney songs, but there’s no shopworn “Sorcerer Mickey” running the show and nary a hint of an over-wrought, saccharine gimmick.

It’s a great show. Incorporating the new projection technology with low-level pyro and advanced LED fountains and water screens similar to California Adventure’s World of Color, it’s a technological tour de force that’s also easy on the eyes. The scene which ties in with Tangled (!) looks spectacular, and I’d love to see it in person. It’s great to see Rapunzel in a major show, along with nods to Princess and the Frog and even The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I know it’s Paris, but it’s still kind of bizarre to see Quasimodo in a huge Disney show in 2012. I do rather wish they’d used more of Facilier’s number from his film, along with its unique color stylings, but the demented clockwork creation was so cool I can’t complain.

Paris really came out ahead with this one; not only is it their highest-quality addition in a long, long time but it outclasses its peers here in America. Check out this high-resolution video; despite the rather irritatingly bad direction and editing, it still gets across the scope and impact of the new show:

It’s good to see Disneyland Paris get a break after two decades of tribulation; the resort is still saddled with the consequences of Michael Eisner’s decision to overbuild its hotel inventory in 1992. That debt has haunted it through the years despite excellent attendance, and has kept it from adding the new attractions that are needed to keep folks interested. Maintenance has suffered too – at times, over the years, the park has been so ill-maintained that it more closely resembled one of those abandoned knock-off parks you see pictures of from China or Japan.

Things seem to be turning around, though. The Disney company has poured some money into EuroDisney SCA’s coffers which has gone to long-overdue repairs and enhancements. The park is starting to shine again. A ride based on Ratatouille is coming to the moribund Studio park. Possibilities remain for replacements or enhancements of shopworn attractions like Star Tours and Captain EO.

Hopefully it will pan out. Things were turning around for the resort around the turn of the millennium, but Disney was contractually obligated to add a second gate and so EuroDisney SCA was saddled with not only more debt but also a park that was hardly up to snuff. Not only is the Walt Disney Studios the absolute worst – and worst-attended – theme park in the Disney empire (not even cracking the top 25 parks worldwide), but it forced upon EuroDisney the expense of operating an entire separate park. Without an adequate slate of offerings to draw and keep guests, it will remain a leech on the resort’s resources until it receives a sweeping and complete rehab even more grand (and expensive) than the one seen recently at California Adventure.

The original park needs additions as well – it’s been a long, long, long time since Disneyland Paris received a new attraction, and – as you will see – there were plenty of things planned way back in 1992 that have yet to emerge. There are twenty years of pent-up dreams waiting to burst onto the scene at Disneyland Paris; I hope they get their shot.

But let’s travel back to a more optimistic era – back in 1992, when “EuroDisneyland” first threw open its gates. This seems like a good time (if there ever was a “good” time to watch this!) The Grand Opening of Euro Disney. Broadcast on CBS on April 11th, 1992, this odd special features some of the most awkward moments in any Disney televised event, ever. But it also has some nice looks at a park that few Americans ever get to see.

For some reason the park opening is hosted by the incredibly awkward pairing of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. A “celebrity couple” at the time, these two have no obvious connection to Disney or France, and certainly don’t seem to have any live television broadcasting experience. Even more fascinating is the ever-present feeling that they completely and absolutely loathe each other; Johnson seems contemptuous of Griffith throughout, as she obliviously reads from cue cards like a poorly-programmed animatronic.

No really, it’s worse that I’m saying. I watched this live when I was a kid, and was incredibly uncomfortable throughout. It was like watching some unbelievably awkward public-access television event, like when my hometown of 15,000 would live-broadcast the small town Christmas parade. Cringeworthy throughout.

But what a lineup of talent! Cher! The Four Seasons! The Gipsy Kings! Pat O’Brien! I wonder how many drunken calls he made to Melanie while they were there…

Witness the awkward interactions! Not only our hosts, but Pat O’Brien surrounded by children! Pat O’Brien aggressively interviewing a French child about baseball with a dragon in the background! Candace Bergen going off-script and making fun of the French! And – because I can’t mention it enough – the awkward, awkward strangeness of our hosts. Why were they picked? Why does he keep blowing her off? Why does she keep making weird noises and giggling at inappropriate times? Why are they both wearing old-timey flasher-style trenchcoats? Did anyone else who was on the production staff think that was really weird? Why do they cut away to them talking over the fireworks? Why was this pre-taped event so awkward and roughly put together?

And then there’s spectacle! Witness the splendors of a park filmed, always, underneath an oppressive and gloomy grey sky! Witness actual park footage in an opening special, with actually trumps Walt Disney World. Enjoy the man getting killed as part of the wacky tale of Frontierland! And lots and lots of… acting! Enjoy Jules Verne getting really excited about Michael Jackson!

Be sure to notice (and laugh) when Candace Bergen is putting her hands in cement – the logo is for the Disney-MGM Studios Europe. That never-built park also gets a nod later in the show, when a sad list of “coming soons” are rattled off. We’re still waiting for many of them!

Between stern celebrities, lipsynching children, and live musical performances that fade out weirdly it’s a good old-fashioned time. Of course we get a visit from Uncle Michael E., and an always-welcome appearance from Roy E. Disney. At least Eisner’s scissors worked. And then there’s the cute-as-a-button Sabine Marcon, Disneyland Paris’s first ambassador. She was everywhere back in the day.

So sit back and enjoy a trip back to the start of the “Disney Decade”, when Westcot was a thing! I can’t wait until Russia opens in World Showcase!

And if that wasn’t enough to sate your appetite for Parisian wackiness…

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3 comments to 20 ans

  • Adam, "MarkTwain"

    I too thought the inclusion of Hunchback in the show was an interesting choice, but then realized that almost every Disney animated film with a French setting was featured in the show – Hunchback, Beauty & the Beast, and even the seldom-seen-in-entertainment Ratatouille. Even Princess and the Frog has that whole French-Creole thing goin’ on. (I said *almost* every film due to a distinct lack of the Aristocats).

  • RO93461

    I was there on opening night. It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago, and given the grim economic woes and severe decay the park has weathered, it’s harder to believe it’s still open. I have to think that the extra care and detail that went into the park by all involved helped sustain it through decades of nothing major being added. In fact, they know that people will still go in spite of that. Whereas the hotels were the Albatross the first decade, the needs of an under built Studio have been the Monkey on it’s back in recent times as that’s where the money has largely gone for new attractions. DLP is one tough Croissant!

    Congrats to all who have fought hard and made it a survivor!

  • loved the Dreams show – fantastic projections on the castle. Loved the waterfall effect in the Jungle Book bit.
    shame they edited in the talking chick right at the finale! WT??

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