What would Johann Wolfgang von Goethe say to Disneyland? He finished his poem The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in 1797After some turbulence times in autumn my friend and I decided to book a trip to Disneyland Paris. We wanted a weekend without worries, too much action and brainpower. While there is enough to do for adrenaline junkies there is also enough to enjoy for those of us who do not need to be scared to death to have fun (I personally lost my enjoyment of roller coasters after surviving Thorpe Park’s SAW scare ride). So we gave the rather extreme rides in both parks a miss and concentrated instead on the shows. Disneyland opened in Paris 25 years ago and planted excitement in everyone’s primary school imagination. Not that knew anyone who went. I am not even a huge cartoon fan (and prefer Shrek by far to most Disney and Pixar film), but I had a crush as a kid on Robin Hood (yes, the fox) and that was enough for me as an actual adult to happily agree to the idea of visiting.
Experiencing these two twin theme parks for the first time with a Star Wars takeover named Season of the Force was indeed a good take as neither of us brought kids along. We met and posed with Darth Vader which was menacing and only realised afterwards that the posing was what we had queued for and that did not convince us paying the 29 Euro for the picture. We went on the Hyperspace Mountain, (surrounded by surprisingly impressive steampunk props) and afterwards with 3D glasses on the Star Tours ride – having seen the latest Star Wars film The Last Jedi in cinema let us follow the story better, as the voice over was completely in French (even after 5 years of French lessons in school it made it never on my CV). Here your seat is wobbling rather than moving and you are given the illusion of speeding through laser shooting scenarios and being on the iconic Millennium Falcon which they mastered superbly. It was one of the highlights and I wish there had been more attractions like this. The high fructose It’s A Small World boat tour was not to everyone’s sophisticated taste (we reminded each other that we had agreed to a “no cynicism” weekend) but I could not stop laughing as it will make watching the first Shrek film now even funnier.
Of course, the firework in the evening with the projection onto the Disneyland castle (Sleeping Beauty’s it is), surrounded by fountains rounded up the day perfectly. Maybe I should watch Frozen again and just close my eyes when they claim in the beginning that the story is based on Hans Christian Andersen.
I wish I could have climbed up this bean stalkThe next day we had reserved for the Walt Disney Studio Park – also in the Disney Village which embraces not only Disneyland but also cinemas, restaurants and shopping separately and are accessible without a ticket for those who just want to have a little peak.
Again the 3D ride was a clear highlight and here you follow the story of Ratatouille through the Paris restaurant scene. It was so good we went a second time and as we sat in another rat (this attraction has rat shaped-wagons) we experienced another twist of the story. I wonder what the third variety would have been?
The weather was hit and miss as you must expect when visiting France in January and so we joined the Stitch show (admittedly one of my recent Disney favourites – the scenes of the sisters arguing are brilliantly believable) to escape the cold and the rain. Luckily this was in English and amusing indeed but addressed to a much younger audience though.
We also went to the Armageddon experience which is no actual ride. Instead you learn about special effects and how to act with these being added later by a computer to the acting footage. The introduction was charming but too long and I had not seen the film (in preparation for this trip I had watched those Disney films based in Paris like the Hunchback of Nôtre Dame and Aristocats – unexpectedly neither of these films’ characters were very present, not even in the gift shops). The finale placed the whole group of visitors on the bridge of a star ship and the action started with dramatic sound, light and fire effects, simulating fatalities. I mainly remember smirking over the very confused look of the children in the audience when leaving, all being very, very quiet and brooding about what they had just witnessed.
More enjoyed by everyone was Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular, a stunt show of half an hour with actual motor cycles, stunt cars and explosions. There is only one of these a per week day in January and again, this one was thankfully in English. I passionately believe in public transport (I am writing this blog entry on the train), never felt the need to have a driving license and have never gone crazy for cars (maybe I therefore never watched the film Cars). I got the joke about the black Fiats representing the Italian mafia when chasing the red car and was impressed by the jumps the cars did, the shootings, explosions and seeing an actual stuntman in flames. Surprisingly truly entertaining action and not to be missed.
That two of the five show halls in Disney’s Studio Park were closed that day was a shame – of course January is not high season (the longest we queued all weekend was 45minutes at the ride Crush’s Coaster) but especially because of the cold and rain I had hoped to enjoy all of film halls rather than I would have on a summer day. The actual open one, The Art of Disney Animation, began with exhibiting the history of painting, films and animation (not forgetting pioneering German silent classics like Nosferatu, Metropolis and the Nibelungen) and then in a cosy cinema a best of cut of classic Disney animations. We were afterwards moved to a third room where we a presenter explained in French how the actual cartoon artists draft their ideas together until they come up with a final character. The not-French speaking audience was asked to pick up headphones from the seats and then pressed the language they preferred for translation – I did not figure it out and by chance I picked the German one. The smooth voice-over was wonderful: While the presenter had funny dialogues with Mushu, the dragon from Mulan, the German voice from the actual film was used for him here as well and therefore I had an unexpected encounter with East Frisian comedian Otto. It was a fantastically synced set up and was topped when a second screen was added: Not only the real presenter in front of us and the animated Mushu were talking but now also his creator on another screen. Because of them all making me laugh out loud I will give watching Mulan another chance.
As the icing on the cake in the Walt Disney Studio Park has to be pointed out again the evening finale: Scenes of Star Wars were projected on the Hollywood Hotel ride (I gave this free fall tower a miss) and lights and screening incredibly well choreographed. We had lasers shooting above our heads and the building switched from being Tatooine to Naboo to Endor and all the other famous places in the Star Wars universe while retelling all eight films in 15 minutes – of course with the imperium striking back. The display on the stage next to it showed iconic snippets of dialogue and I did not feel any highlight was missing. The scores have by now become true pop culture hymns and led the narrating. On the stage were Stormtroopers, Darth Maul, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Rey and of course robots C-3PO and R2-D2 and with another firework for the finale we left the park smiling. During the day we had enjoyed the March of the Stormtroopers already (it had rained during the only performance in English) but now in the dark with all the effects waiting with an overpriced cup of tea for an hour had been worth it! The force was indeed with us.
An homage to Jules Verne – we are in France after allI am not sure if an annual trip to Disneyland is my style, but I will definitely come back one day – ideally for a Muppet take over! I love good set designs and costumes and they do this so well here it was the best decision for an escape from everyday sarcasm, cynicism and heavy thinking. Let me know when a new 3D ride has opened as well!
And yes, I took a picture of a child visiting with a Shrek cap – a six-year-old taught me how to be a punk in Disneyland.
*** out of 5 Stars
Entry for 2 and 4 nights in the Holiday Inn hotel 20mins away by Metro cost 612 Euro.
The park’s Star Wars theme returned in 2019.