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Walt Disney Studios Paris, and the problem with movie studio theme parks

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Published: July 22, 2012 at 5:52 PM

I hadn't planned on spending much time at Walt Disney Studios Paris. Not only is the 10-year-old park Disney's smallest and least-attended (drawing an estimated 4.7 million visitors a year, according to AECOM), it languishes at the bottom of all Disney parks in the Theme Park Insider readers' ratings. Given that lack of popularity, Walt Disney Studios Paris seems to have replaced the resurgent California Adventure as the runt of the Disney Parks litter.

Entrance to Walt Disney Studios Park

Still, the discount Disneyland Paris ticket I bought online included both parks at no additional charge, so I figured I'd start my day at the Disneyland Paris Resort with a quick visit over at the Studios, to experience a couple of the park's unique attractions.

The Partners statue at Walt Disney Studios Park

At the top of my list? Crush's Coaster, a Maurer Söhne spinning coaster/dark ride that opened in 2007 and still draws long lines at the park. Knowing this, I arrived at the park a little over 30 minutes before its posted opening, hoping to use my theme-park-power-walking skills to work my way to the front of the rope drop and into the queue before the line could build.

Crush's Coaster

Busted. When I arrived, the Crush's Coaster queue already was filled to overflowing, spilling across the Toon Studio plaza. Had the park opened early? No. The rides weren't yet operational, but Disney allowed early arrivals to enter the park and fills its queues in advance of the park opening. I'd never seen nor heard of that happening in a Disney park before.

The queue for Crush

So when the opening spiel sounded, the ride's wait-time sign finally lit up: 120 minutes. After 20 minutes inching forward in the queue, I became convinced the sign was accurate. And there's no Fastpass or single rider option to lessen the time in line. We would be blowing 15 percent of our day at Disneyland Paris Resort waiting for one, five-year-old roller coaster with an 8 rating on the site.

Crush's wait time
The wait went down, a little, when I took this photo. Maybe because we bailed on the line?

No, thank you.

So instead we decided to take in the park's top-rated attraction, Cinemagique, which had its first showing of the day 40 minutes later. In the meantime, we wandered the park, taking photos and making comparisons to the other Disney parks we'd visited in the past year. Across the walkway from Crush's Coaster stands Disney Studios' little version of Cars Land.

Cars Land Paris, such as it is

It's home to just one ride - Cars Race Rally, a spinner that works a bit like Mater's Junkyard Jamboree.

Cars Race Rally

Walt Disney Studios' newest land is Toy Story Playland, which also has been duplicated at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Toy Story Playland

Toy Story Playland reminded me of the original Pixar-themed Disney Parks land: A Bug's Land at Disney California Adventure. It's aggressively decorated, but ultimately features just a handful of low-capacity carnival rides. In the case, a slow drop ride, a Himalaya, and a halfpipe.

Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop
Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop in Toy Story Playland

Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin
Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin

RC Racer
RC Racer

Still, cranes looming over the land are working on building a new Ratatouille-themed dark ride, which might help provide some much needed capacity for this park.

Construction cranes

Working our way around the park, we passed the park's Studio Tram Tour, which, like the one in Florida, offers a ride through Catastrophe Canyon though no working film or TV production studios.

Entrance to the Paris Studio Tour

The Tower of Terror here is a duplicate of the one in California - with the Twilight Zone theme and single drop shafts. No fourth dimension, as in Florida, or delightfully wicked Harrison Hightower, as in Tokyo.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Paris

Walt Disney Studios Paris also offers a couple of popular attractions also found at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida: Rock 'n Roller Coaster...

Rock 'n Roller Coaster

...And the original installation of the Motors, Action Stunt Show, though the show's been updated to feature Cars' Lightning McQueen.

Motors, Action Stunt Show

There's an Armageddon-themed special effects show, too…

Armageddon

…but based on your reader ratings, we'd decided to opt instead to see Cinemagique.

Cinemagique

It's a delightful show, starring Martin Short and France's Julie Delphy in a clever montage of scenes inspired by classic Hollywood films. The characters literally "break the fourth wall" on occasion, bringing the action off the screen and into the theater. It's charming and sweet, though I feel compelled to warn theme parks: Please stop making movie-based attractions featuring cell phones, unless you're willing to reshoot them every year to keep the film from looking pathetically dated. Short's clunk old Nokia just killed the narrative momentum every time it appeared on screen.

Once the film was over, we couldn't wait to get out of this park, and into the much more elaborately themed and enjoyable Disneyland Paris. A walk through the Disney Studio 1 building that serves as the park's "Main Street" illustrates the inherent problem with this - and other movie-studio themed parks.

At first glance, I was excited - They've got a Brown Derby restaurant? I didn't know that!

The Brown Derby?

But a couple steps forward revealed that the Brown Derby exterior was just a flat facade, as were all the exteriors in the building. Behind the Brown Derby wall stood an ordinary counter-service restaurant, serving burgers and chicken.

Restaurant en Coulisse

Restaurant en Coulisse

Universal created the movie studio theme park with its Studio Tour in Hollywood. At Universal Studios Hollywood, the false fronts and flimsy finishing materials were genuine components of the film production that took place within the park's backlot. Years later, when Disney opened the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida and Universal created its Florida theme park, designers used those elements to create an impression of working studios. (As Disney did again, here in Paris.)

But when DVD and Blu-Ray extras spill the secrets of film production, and nine-year-olds are using Chroma key and After Effects to create professional-looking short films on YouTube, who cares about visiting a film studio? At least in Hollywood, you've got history, and the appeal of touring the sets where many classic movies were filmed. But at Walt Disney Studios Paris? Nothing's ever been filmed there - except what visitors are recording with their iPhones.

The irony? Universal - the company that created the studio theme park - doesn't even build them anymore. Take a look at Universal's latest theme park - Universal Studios Singapore - and you won't find ubiquitous false fronts and "we're filming a movie" conceits on its rides, as you did at Universal Studios Florida decades ago. Instead, in attractions based on Transformers, Madagascar, and Shrek, Universal's chosen in Singapore to immerse us in the narratives of movies themselves. They've ditched their old way of simply placing us into the process of creating those narratives.

Walt Disney Studios Paris, alas, does it the old way. Want an illustration? Take a look at the park's Aladdin-themed spinner ride, Flying Carpets over Agrabah:

Flying Carpets over Agrabah

Then compare that with the same ride in Tokyo DisneySea, where the ride is called Jasmine's Flying Carpets.

Jasmine's Flying Carpets

In Tokyo, you ride like royalty, in a lush environment that employs fine building materials and elaborate fountains. In Paris, you're riding atop a flat concrete floor, in front of a painted backdrop, while a minimally animated Genie barks orders at you. You're not royalty - you're a peon, an unpaid extra in an anonymous movie scene. This isn't an escapist fantasy. It's work.

And that's the inherent problem with studio themed parks. They don't whisk us away into the magic of great movie stories. They drop us into the somewhat ugly and tedious work of creating them. Who wants to visit a job site on vacation?

That's why Universal took a different approach in Singapore, and, using the rubric of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it is transforming its other theme parks from the old, process-driven model to a narrative-driven one. In short, Universal stopped making Universal theme parks, and started making Disney ones instead.

At some point, if Walt Disney Studios is to become anything other than the worst of the Disney theme parks, it will need to make the same change.

Coming tomorrow: We start our week-long, land-by-land tour of Disneyland Paris!

Readers' Opinions

From Chad H on July 22, 2012 at 6:31 PM
Funnily enough... This is what Disney got right in the first place.

Walt realised that a studio would be a boring place, and rather than create the studio tour the letters he received from fans suggested, he created disneyland instead.

I'm fairly sure at Warner Bros Movie World Australia they don't bother with the Studio tour or special effects demo anymore.

From Rob Pastor on July 22, 2012 at 8:39 PM
This park doesn't even seem worthy of a Six Flags banner. Pretty pathetic.
From AJ Hummel on July 22, 2012 at 9:01 PM
When I went to Disneyland Paris a couple weeks ago, we planned to spend about a third of the day in this park and 2/3 in Disneyland Park. It turned out that we only did 2 attractions here before switching over (Crush's Coaster and CineMagique...we would have done Rock 'n' Roller Coaster as well, but it was closed). While the park is still decent, it just isn't up to the Disney standard of quality, and the whole place feels somewhat tacky. I have a feeling some of the other attractions would have been fun and I would have liked to see a couple other shows, but nobody else in my group was interested in them. If I were to go back and only had one day for both parks, I would probably plan about 3-4 hours for this one, but it isn't worth any more unless you have a full day to devote to seeing everything. I don't feel like I did enough to judge the park, but from what I did do it seemed like a decent park, but a lousy Disney park.

Fortunately, I learned from another website that this park doesn't do the traditional rope drop, so we arrived 45 minutes early to be sure we'd get on Crush's Coaster with a short wait (hopefully under a half-hour). It ended up taking 50 minutes, and the ride was posting around 90 for the rest of the time we were in the park. It's worth a 50 minute wait, but it's not worth over an hour wait.

From Dominique Mol on July 23, 2012 at 2:28 AM
Wow Robert,

That is a very well written analysis of why studio parks don't work as wel as they want them to.

As for the WDS park, I actually do like this park a lot,
besides the horendous queu; Crush's Coaster is actually one of the best rides at the entire resort! It's just so sad the capacity is as low as it is. Cinemaque gives me teary eyes every time I see it. The Stitch encounter is much funnier then the Crush encounter in the U.S. parks (they run french and english sessions), I much prefer the WDS version of the Rock'n roller coaster over Florida's, Animagique is one of the better Disney character shows!

What is really not working in this park for me is; Armageddon, what could have been a great experience is fun for a one time visit.. the placing of the TOT ride, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the ride and the theming.. but the placement is just completely affull.. who thought that putting such a huge building smack in the middle of the park would be a good thing? The should have extended a boulevard, even if it would have been with facades only and put it at the end, like Walt's much talked about Weenie system.

I guess they did put it right in the middle to make sure people could see it when arriving at the parks and become a weenie to lure people in the park.. but once inside it just doesn't fit into the area.

Still you can have a fun day at the WDS park, and to point out a little gem there: Cafe des cascadeurs is a original roadside diner right behind the TOT, they serve the best burgers in the entire resort and feels ike you ust walked into an episode of happy days.. but since it is a tiny little venue the queu can get pretty long.

From Carl Fox on July 23, 2012 at 4:13 AM
Went to DLP in March last year and out of the the 4 days we were there we had 1 and a half days in the Studios Park.

We want we a then 2yr old and a 4 yr old

Overall the park was good we had the best character meets and parade experiance here and the rides we went on we're good (other than Crush) it is however a mish mash of areas and themes.

You didn't,t really miss anything not riding Crush our 4yr old rode it twice and thought is was ok first time and came off crying second time for me the first 30 secs or so are great but once you leave the launch hill it's a dark jolting mess. The majority of the ride is just to dark pitch black in fact with a few missable video scenes.

Toy story land went down really well and by all accounts it's improved with parachute videos and better flooring. We didn't make RC due to size but the kids would have loved it.
The Cars ride is great, wonderfully themed and fun little ride.
The shows we saw were good playhouse Disney and the blacklight show (as a time killer on the last day)

We ate in the restaurant and saw a little Remi (AA figure on a table) the food was good and the kids loved Remi.

I never got to ride the rock&roll coster but my wife did on a previous trip and said it was great.

Ultamitly it depends on what you want from the trip with two kids it keeps the time fun and different, for me a lot about going to Disney is character meets and the park was the best for that including a whole host of princesses.

If we were to go again I would certainly budget the same about of time for the studios park as the kids may be tall enough to go on a few more rides but I does need some big rides or experiance to make it a huge destination and I don,t think ratatouille will be that ride.

DLP is however the poor poor relative of the other Disney parks the financials are poor meaning lack of investment and the prices are sky high meaning people go but not often return it's certainly not a year on year destination.

Overall the park served as a taster of the great Disney parks experiance and just made me want to go to Florida although now I'm obsessed with going to Disneyland (yes I have the right name)

From 81.70.136.4 on July 23, 2012 at 6:03 AM
You are so right about the movie parks. I like how USF is changing into a movie themed themepark instead of a movie making park (although there have been movies made in the Orlando park). The only movie explaining attractions now are Disaster and the horror make-up show and the animal show and I would love to see them changed.
I hope Disney will invest heavily in the Studio park in Orlando. It's the worst park of the 4 but has the most potential to become awesome.

The studios at DLP is doomed to stay cheap. Europeans don't buy enough food and souveniers in the parks to earn enough money. The resort is in deep depths and trowing more money at the parks is to big a risk.

From Robert Niles on July 23, 2012 at 6:51 AM
After visiting four Disney resorts in the past year, here's how I would order them in terms of the best ones to visit, for high-quality, unique attractions and overall service:

1) Tokyo Disney Resort
2) Disneyland Resort
3) Walt Disney World Resort
4) Disneyland Paris Resort

From Jason McLaughlin on July 23, 2012 at 7:10 AM
It's certainly got better since it opened.

I remember me and my partner going way back in 2002 when it had first opened and being hugely disappointed, they had little there beyond the RnR Coaster, the Studio Tour, the awful Armageddon attraction (Disney's version of Twister IMO)and a few other smaller attractions.

We went back earlier this year with our two year old and were surprised at how much its been expanded, the Toy Story land and the Cars area is a great addition as is Crush's Coaster (we were lucky to avoid the queues as my partner is registered disabled so she was able to have a special pass) The Tower of Terror is a great addition too but I agree its in completely the wrong place, it should be in one of the corners of the park, not slap bang in the middle of it.

Yes it may be the least popular of the Disney parks but its still worth a visit.

From Anon Mouse on July 23, 2012 at 7:24 AM
What Universal Studios Singapore is doing is essentially going back to what Disneyland is. 180 degrees Back To The Future!!! Movie narratives as theme park rides. Disney never should have gone the studios route. If Disney Studios in Florida is ever revised, I think it should be renamed as Disney's Hollywood Adventure. Dissolve any references to movie making.

At Universal Studios Florida, they removed their most classic movie references. Jaws and King Kong are gone. I'm disappointed, but they do have Harry Potter X2 (times two).

From Michael Owen on July 23, 2012 at 7:40 AM
My main problem with Walt Disney Studios is that it seems to be a large collection of half-baked attractions as opposed to a more focused collection of quality attractions.

For those who have visited both American Disney Resorts, it's really not worth your time. it has the somewhat watered down version of the Tower of Terror, a Rock n Roller Coaster which is less visually appealing from the outside and Crush Coaster which, whilst fun, is far too short.

For me, having done both U.S resorts, the only saving grace is the fantastic cast members who work the Tower of Terror at Walt Disney Studios. Questions have often been raised about the French staff at DLP, but the "bellhops" at WDS are by far the best of all the Towers.

From Dominick D on July 23, 2012 at 9:36 AM
This park needs a DCA like renovation. Fast.
From Shaun Fisher on July 23, 2012 at 10:38 AM
Great article. I agree that an immersive experience is something that audiences crave. If we want to see how something was made, we can look up the bloopers/extras on YouTube or DVD/Bluray.
From Rob Pastor on July 23, 2012 at 11:45 AM
Just about anyone that has spent much time on an actual studio filming will attest to how boring film making is. I've been on a number of sets, and watching a 15 second clip that takes one or two days to film is not very exciting or immersive. Your points are well taken Robert.
From Eric G on July 23, 2012 at 2:30 PM
I don't know how anyone can really call California Adventure a runt. Walt Disney Studios Paris was and still is a dud. Animal Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios both after all these years are severely lacking of attractions. California Adventure was a pretty good park from the start and has only gotten better after a decade of refinement.

It's only flaw was the close proximity to one of the best theme parks in the world.

From 72.197.30.46 on July 23, 2012 at 9:19 PM
This is an excellent article Robert...you've hit the nail on the head with this one. Sure these Parks will get visitors, they have good attractions. But great attractions don't make a great theme park. Great themeing makes a great theme park. How ironic that Disney has lowered their standards and followed universal, while universal has improved their standards and followed Disney. Tragic actually now Disney has all these problems that it could have avoided if it followed its tried and true formula that Walt pioneered. Oh and without a doubt your order of best Disney resorts is correct as well.
Oh and these parks cannot be rethemed like CA adventure because they have no theme. Hollywood or a movie studio is not a theme, or a bad one at most. Whereas CA adventure always had a theme, CA history and culture, it was just the execution of the theme that was weak. I really don't see how they could be rethemed because there's too many contrasting themes piled on top of eachother toy story mixed with nemo mixed with cars mixed with tower and rrc yeesh what a mess. As long as these Parks turn a profit Disney will not retheme them. They're better off building a 3rd park in Paris from scratch and improving animal kingdom and Epcot at wdw.
From 87.64.17.15 on July 23, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Thank you Robert for this very interesting post. I can agree on almost everything that has been said on this page, comments included.

Several months ago, I wrote a post on my on blog explaining the major reasons why the WDS park was such a failure. Of course no reason is good enough to excuse the total lack of taste and things to do in this park but it can help you understand how they came to this complete mess.

http://parcorama.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/walt-disney-studios-park-celebrates-10-years-of-troubles/

Guillaume - Parcorama

From 206.162.175.146 on July 24, 2012 at 1:17 PM
Excellent article! I have visited DL Paris many times, ioncluded the oft quick jaunt to the Studios. Attention to detail is sorely lacking and the park seems sparse and lacks in any kind of magic. And don't feel too bad, Crush's Coaster is pretty fun but not 120 minute-wait-fun! I've heard rumours they would be using that ride mechanism fir a future ride at the Studios in orlando. Hmm, perhaps a Monsters Inc ride?
From 71.53.228.79 on July 24, 2012 at 3:21 PM
I agree with most comments made, and with the general thesis. My caveat would be that I think what really works at Disney's Hollywood Studios is Hollywood. That portion is made to be as immersive as any experience elsewhere. I think Disney's California Adventure got it right the second time with Buena Vista Street. It's when you step into their Hollywood Backlot, or in the backlots and studios of Disney's Hollywood Studios, is where it falls apart. I think the thought of calling it Disney's Hollywood Adventure is short of brilliant.

And as for Walt Disney Studios Paris, I will say that the backlot concept there actually works better than the one in Orlando or Anaheim. But that's not saying much.

J. Jeff Kober, Disney at Work

From Anthony Murphy on July 24, 2012 at 5:09 PM
You really missed out on the Crush Coaster, one of the best Disney attractions out there! It is bascially a mix between Primevel Whirl (better themed) and THe Seas with Nemo
From Alfredo Bucciante on July 26, 2012 at 2:42 PM
I know the Studios were actual movie studios in the past, but maybe just a small part of them, and it could be just for animation productions.

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