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Ratatouille at Walt Disney Studios Paris – Flashback 6 Month review

Five years, five months ago, Disneyland Paris began preparing for its Summer 2014 headline attraction, the follow up act if you will to the 20th anniversary – Ratatouille: The Adventure. It began behind closed doors and would be the final major addition in the former CEO Philippe Gas legacy in Disneyland Paris.

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Over the years the fan community watched from afar and from above – thanks to the helpful placement of the Toy Story Parachute drop. It emerged from the ground in an expansion pad in the corner of the Walt Disney Studios. Originally we fathomed it would just be a ride, but as it grew it became clear from the foundations and from the slowly leaking details it would be a world of its own.

We take a look now, nearly six months from its opening at its story.

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Designed to fill a family need in the park, Ratatouille was positioned to become a “E-Ticket” (top tier ride) for the park, using the very latest in projection, trackless car design and integrated oversized reality – it was to be one of the most immersive rides and environments to be deployed by Disneyland Paris – showing off a unique skill set of Paris to deliver some of Disney’s best attractions.

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It was bold, especially as competitor Universal Studios (across the pond in Florida) opened its new Harry Potter London/Diagon Alley on the same timetable. While Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts went on to win the 2014 award for Best Ride, Paris held its own with Best Restaurant. You can see our thoughts on having ridden and seen both: Harry Potter and the Parisian Rat

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Taking in the absolute pleasure of being hosted by Disneyland Paris for the opening and fan press event for Ratatouille, I had the time to get to know the history of the ride, learn the inner thinking of the imagineers and understand the concept and goals. Lofty goals to mark the starting of a park revamp and rebrand to something less garish and less bland – it achieved that for sure.

IMG_4174I could recall details and feature highlights from the hour long presentation, but you’re far better reading the full story from our friends; such as the excellent transcript by @CafeFantasiaThe Making of Ratatouille (Presentation), Ratatouille: The Adventure – The fantastic new addition to Disneyland Paris by @DLPTownSqaure, or listen in to Dedicated to DLP Episode #40 (@DedicatedToDLP) which discusses the fan event in detail.

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Six months on, and the proof is well and truly in the pudding. Disneyland Paris proudly mentions the attraction at every press event they hold. Wait times sky rocket and the guests love it. We’ve included a varying selection of commentary from some of our twitter followers, hopefully showcasing the variety of opinion and discussion.

@DLRPWonders: I loved it! The theming, the “ratmobile”, the 3D element..I really had the feeling to be in the film. However they could’ve  made a better use with certain elements like the fire, which isn’t noticable at all until you’re already on to the next scene.

@IamAJuicyGirl: If I had to choose between that ugly Backlot or La Place de Rémy, I’d wait 3 hours in line too.

@NI_DLP_Geek: Very poor. The change from props to projector is too immersion breaking with the latter giving no actual sensation of movement.

@basatwork: It’s amazing!!! You don’t know what happens.. Even the 2nd time..You are part of the show….

@emmahibbs: just amazing! You notice different details each time, my family’s new favourite ride. You feel part of the movie.

@RamshackleMac: I’m a huge ratatouille fan, and the ride really gave me a feeling of being in the film. Not just great ride technically, but also animation/soundtrack/restaurant theming adding so much. Ride itself very immersive, especially the huge screens! Maybe some of the effects could be enhanced (spray from champagne was great first time, next time barely felt it).

This week (November 28th) marks the opening of the Chez Marianne boutique. The final crowing piece on the Ratatouille chess board. Early photo’s and leaked information tells us that it will be a lovely addition, eloquently themed and perfect for increasing the profitability of the area.


Crushing Crush
is the best way to describe the success and demand of Ratatouille, not only does it beat the long standing holder of the perennial longest wait, it does so with a much higher capacity with all the modern tricks of Fastpass, EMH and Single Rider. By all rights, it is now the longest wait in Disneyland Paris, and after six months, still holding this crown is a testament to its build quality and story telling ability across the age ranges.

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Ratatouille has delivered for Disneyland Paris, and it will be interesting to see the crowd demand fluctuate over the yearly announced theme park admissions statistics. The area and ride being so successful that now Disneyland Paris offer EMH to two parks during certain months of 2014 – a strategy rarely seen before, even in the states.

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Guest blog by Peter G Bell

Welcome to the third and final instalment of a three part guest blog series by @PeterGBell, a former Disneyland Paris Cast Member who worked in the heart of the magic during the opening of the Walt Disney Studios. Peter has been a fan legend to the Disneyland Paris community sharing deep insight to the world behind Disneyland Paris in English!
You can see part one over at the Hollywood and Lime – A park in bad shape
You can see part two over at DLP Town Square – Lost in Space? Why Buzz Crash Landed in Discoveryland?
And now we have the pleasure of introducing part three:

The Sound of Silence

The Walt Disney Studios attraction that almost was

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Disneyland Paris has a rich history of unbuilt attractions, some of which are almost as famous as the ones that made it off the drawing board. Thanks to overly optimistic press releases, leaked concept artwork and items such as the EuroDisneyland souvenir map, we’ve all had the chance to see what we’re missing – the original Little Mermaid dark ride, the Beauty & the Beast animatronic show and Discovery Mountain, to name the three most prominent. But people often forget that the Walt Disney Studios Park has a ‘lost’ attraction of its very own.

 

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The Sound Studio is steeped in mystery, despite the fact that it’s clearly marked on early plans and features prominently in the park’s promotional concept artwork, sandwiched between Cinémagique and the former Disney Channel tour. Originally intended to open with the rest of the park in 2002, it was mothballed shortly before construction was due to begin, thanks to shrinking budgets and the arrival of Flying Carpets Over Agrabah – a cheaper, last minute substitute that helped address the park’s dearth of child-friendly rides.

 

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But while the Sound Studio didn’t make the line-up of opening day attractions, it wasn’t scrapped altogether. As ironic as it now seems, Disney were already planning to rapidly expand the Studios Park, with the aim of adding a new attraction each year until 2005. The Tower of Terror and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast were on their way, but the Sound Studio was first in the queue; construction was due to begin in the latter half of 2002 and the doors would open the very next year.

Of course, as we all quickly discovered, the Studios Park didn’t make money – it devoured it – and the expansion plans were pushed back a year. Then another year. And another. Finally, after months of deliberation, they were shelved altogether.

 

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The expansion wasn’t to happen until 2007, following a major restructuring of the resort’s finances, and by then the plans had changed. Heavy on shows and light on family rides, the park saw its reimagined Animation Courtyard double in size with the addition of Crush’s Coaster and Cars Race Rally. And although the Tower of Terror finally materialised, there was no room at the party for the Sound Studio. Its expansion pad remains empty to this day, leaving us to wonder what we might have experienced had things been different.

Some assume it would have been similar to the (now defunct) Sounds Dangerous show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando – a film-based attraction with immersive binaural speakers built into each seat. After a few establishing scenes, the image on the screen disappeared, leaving the audience to experience the movie via sound alone.

 

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It’s certainly an interesting concept, but it’s not what I understand to have been in the works for Paris.

I worked as a Cast Member in the Studios when the park first opened and I remember the anticipation surrounding the forthcoming attractions. Several of our managers had seen the plans and I quizzed one of them about what we could expect from the Sound Studio. He told me it was going to be an interactive experience that would allow guests to add their own soundtrack to a short, silent film.

This sounds far more like the attraction that preceded Sounds Dangerous – the old Monster Sound Show, starring Martin Short and Chevy Chase. The format was more elaborate but more engaging: guests watched a short comic film featuring dialogue and music but no sound effects. When the film finished, members of the audience were selected to complete the soundtrack, using a variety of props and equipment to create audio effects such as crashing thunder, creaking doors and a falling chandelier. The film was then replayed with these new effects spliced in.

 

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It seems the Parisian version would have been broadly similar, though with a few changes to accommodate European tastes. The use of a silent film would have sidestepped the tricky issue of multilingual audiences, for example. And it would have starred an actor who was not only popular with Europeans, but whose knack for physical comedy made him perfectly suited to the silent medium: Rowan Atkinson. Yes, the man behind Blackadder and Mr Bean almost had a starring role in the Walt Disney Studios Park.

 

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Will we ever get the chance to see (and hear) the Sound Studio in action? Alas, I think not. Shortly after the Toon Studio expansion in 2007, Imagineering officially abandoned the pretence that the park was a working movie studio. Future attractions would not take guests ‘behind the scenes’ but would immerse guests in the worlds of the stories being told, just as they do in the neighbouring Disneyland Park. Thus, everything from Toy Story Playland onwards has made no mention of cameras, movie stars or hot sets. The park is all the better for it, but it means the Sound Studio is now without a home.

 

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Disney have never released any official details about what the attraction was to have held, but who knows? It came so close to becoming a reality that they must have plenty of material in the archive. It’s just possible that, one day, they’ll let us see test footage of Rowan Atkinson, gurning and pratfalling in perfect silence, waiting for a soundtrack that will never come.

Once again, my sincere thanks to WDSFans.com and Photosmagiques.com for allowing me to use images from their sites. Other images were sourced from the excellent Yesterland.com and Disney Parks Blog.

 

 

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Harry Potter and the Parisian Rat

Harry Potter and the Parisian Rat (Ratatouille)

It’s been a big year for theme parks, across the world expansion has been the keyword, from New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom (Orlando), Ratatouille in Disneyland Paris’ Walt Disney Studios, and Harry Potter Diagon Alley in Universal Orlando. Now we’ve managed to visit them all and I’d like to work through some thoughts and comments.

In the show off from a boy wizard and an animated rat – theres no clear comparison, they both take the time to service two very different needs.

I’ve spoken before on the spectacular theming in Place de Remy. WDI took the time to work a Remy-esque Paris into reality in a beautiful set thats takes you on an immersive journey that leads you from the facades of Paris, to the rooftops, before riding through a technically special ride system, before finally exiting in one of the nicest restaurants on property.

Diagon Alley is the Universal move to further develop the Potter-mania franchise and expand its footprint in its parks. It’s wildly successful so far, with Universal looking to have their busiest ever year in the studios. Diagon Alley also shows real commitment from Universal to being better, real showmanship in the immersive atmosphere. No warehouse shots from the side of the attraction with this debut.

Diagon Alley sits alongside the great immersive transporting locations, Adventureland in Disneyland Paris near Pirates, New Fantasyland of the Magic Kingdom Orlando. It really does take you on a journey away from the reality of life. It’s intricate, it’s detailed, it’s expansive. It’s damn impressive. Once you turn an unassuming corner on the London front, you enter a world you cannot see from any other angle. Truly you become a wizard. It’s alive, it’s buzzing, its all new.

I took a good number of photos and found myself wandering, constantly looking further, above, beyond, behind and excitedly trying to see what else was here. I spent about 45 minutes exploring. I can’t do it justice. @CafeFantasia would have a field day, and possibly a second and third day just taking photo’s of all there is. Universal laid down a gauntlet and happily showed they can play the high quality game in placemaking.

 

Surely it’s not all that good? There must be a downside?

 

Yep.

 

Sadly the ride is lacking. Gringotts is up first. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. The queue is expansive, outside its quite bland, a ton of switch backs, in the gardens, a few posters as you get near to the ride. One prop to keep you company for the hour you’ll wait in this one switch back. A snack bar half way is a nice touch. As you come back on yourself, you leave the queue to use a locker, a member of your party holds your spot – the official procedure is to climb/duck the fence to get back in. It shows where Universal lack the experience of Disney, either not enough lockers, no onside storage allowed (and there was plenty room and no physical reason why you couldn’t take a bag on with you), or just not thinking through how to rejoin the queue.

Inside Gringotts is spectacular, on a par with inside Hogwarts for the forbidden journey, the goblin animatronics work perfect and look real. You pass on further and into a photo room where you get a quick snap and a card to buy the picture. Identification for the bank apparently. Apart from a Harry Potter frame, theres nothing memorable about the photo, no props, no background, no characters.

Onwards and into the pre-show elevator to the vaults of Gringotts, well done to Universal for this, it’s like a mini ride within ride. Wakes you up a fair bit before, even more queueing. Again lack of experience shows here, Universal occasionally has to shut down an elevator of the two because too many people enter the “safety goggle” station – over the next 30 minutes its apparent theres no reason or logic other than a crew member using a walkie talkie to tell them not to use side B for a bit.

Load station is particularly bland. Crew members cheer at cars as they come back, causing the returning guests also to cheer, a tad forced and a tad cheap. Many simply do not respond to the crew members.

The ride. It runs a good few minutes. It’s fast moving, sharp turning and stopping. It’s the Mummy Returns ride. Two scenes have physical props, the rest is a six screen run. Unlike our friendly little Rat, Potter simply moves from one IMAX screen to another, throwing in every Potter character you can imagine. Theres no Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey type scenes with dementors leaping at you using massive set pieces. Theres no Mummy Returns real fire, props or characters. Theres no novel movement between screen. It becomes incredibly predictable.

Take the slingshot start of Rocking RollerCoaster, hit the breaks, show a 20 second video, CATAPULT to the next screen. Quick fight. Quick tour of all the characters involved in the movie. Queue Harry to save the day (in less than 6 seconds!) and done. Clapping maniac spots you and begins again. Exit.

Surprisingly, the story isn’t told as well as the movie. It’s quick and they cram in far too much during the 20 seconds. Where they excelled before and laid the way for attractions to have video and props. They’ve decided movies were good enough this time. The props in the two scenes with props are not dragons, or cars screaming towards you. Nope, they’re backgrounds, tunnels (which you don’t visit), walls, podiums.

I suppose the bench had been set high with Forbidden Journey, Mummy Returns, and Transformers. The ride was rushed.

The Hogwarts side still has the better ride. I’ll cover the Park to Park train ride on the Hogwarts express on the next post.

Boy Wizard on theming, immersivity and atmosphere. Ratatouille is a more impressive ride. Less adrenaline the latter but visually more appealing and interesting. Potter 2 wants to be a mega coaster, but is held back by the family aspect. The Rat is a family ride that accepts what it is.