Sunday, May 12, 2013

FLIP goes to Disneyland Paris!

Last week I went to Disneyland. I took two nieces, aged seven and four years old respectively, for cover, just in case anyone wondered what a 45 year old man was doing voluntarily spending 3 days in an amusement park. They loved it - and so did I.

The park is 20 years old this year - which reminded me that it was around 25 years ago that I bought shares in Euro Disney, as it was called then. I was convinced, aged 20, that this would be the best investment of my life. What could possibly go wrong? Disney Parks are a money machine, right? 25 years later - I would surely be rich.

As it turned out, everything went wrong. The initial investors, including me, lost the whole lot - every last Franc, Euro and Centime. Why? Well, I'm no financial analyst, but I would be willing to bet that one of the main reasons has something to do with the fact that the weather in northern France is not unlike the weather in, say, London - not that the French like to admit this, of course. That is to say, it is grey, cold and wet, for much of the year.  Unlike the weather in, say Los Angeles or Florida.

Part of the Problem
Of course, Disney gets to sell lots of pale blue ponchos, which must be a nice revenue stream, but still. I mean, this was in May. Imagine what it's like in January. Do the rides even work when it freezes? And does anyone actually go during winter?

But I don't mean to sound sour. It was huge fun, and the park is as well-designed as any Disney park, with the kind of attention to detail that makes the company such a unique organization. They even have their own train from London's St Pancras station - just like the Hogwarts Express.
Head for platform 9 and 3/4
It all works beautifully well. The train whisks you in speed and style to the Disneyland station, where you get greeted with the same kind of have-a-nice-day enthusiasm that you might find in Anaheim or Orlando. Except that, honestly, there's something weird about that. After all, the French never tell you to have a nice day. So when they do, you kind of wonder - what's going on? Are they making fun of you? Luckily, only a few of them have been trained to do this; most look as bored and vaguely annoyed with the whole thing as you would expect.

The other problem Disneyland Paris has is language. Should the park signs and commentary be in French? Or in English? Obviously no-one wanted to make a decision either way on this sensitive issue because every ride is a weird compromise between the two. Not translating from one language to the other as you might expect, but rather alternating between the two, which means you really need to be biligual to figure it all out.

On the positive side, unlike in Anaheim, you can actually get a proper drink. I even saw someone drinking beer in the park, of which Walt would probably not have approved. But we had dinner at the Blue Lagoon (The Blue Bayou in LA) where we had some seriously nice food and a fantastic bottle of Provence rose. Yum. And there are way, way more nice places to eat here than in the US parks.

I also wanted to see the Magic of Animation tour because, having worked at the Animation studio in the Disney MGM Studios (as it was then) in Florida back in 1989, it made me come over all nostalgic. And I wondered what the tour would look like without a real studio attached. So imagine my surprise at seeing my old Florida kumrad Tom Bancroft introducing the park visitors to the mysteries of the animation process. There he is on the video screen below, top left.
Tom Bancroft talks to his animated creation, Mushu
Tom and I both started at Disney Florida at about the same time, working on Roller Coaster Rabbit under the expert guidance of Rob Minkoff. The Disney desk hasn't changed a bit - and neither has Tom.

Tom in 1989

Speaking of the 1980s, you can even go back in time and see Captain Eo, which really took me by surprise. After all, I thought that the Michael Jackson brand was pretty much a busted flush, but maybe Disney decided they had invested in the ride and they weren't going to write off such a big investment just because of a few nasty allegations that were never really proven.
A time machine to the 1980s
Captain Eo is also brought to you by Kodak, which just goes to underline further the fragility of brands that once seemed unassailable. Disneyland Paris is still full of signs announcing places to shoot yourself a Kodak Moment, but there aren't any Kodak cameras for sale anymore. In fact, there isn't a Kodak anymore.

One of the many gift shops was selling cute baby Pocahontas toys bearing the legend "The Animator's Collection", which seem to have been designed by Glen Keane. So that's what they had Glen doing after Rapunzel.
Baby Pocahontas by Glen Keane
Unfortunately, no-one seems to have told Disney marketing that Glen isn't working there anymore.


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