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New Attraction Review: The Forest of Enchantment at Disneyland Paris

February 18, 2016, 12:03 PM · While much of Disneyland Paris sees the most extensive refurbishment work in its 24-year history, the Spring festival that takes over the park with seasonal entertainment and floral installations is finding ways to piece itself in. Headlining this year is a new show for Frontierland's Chaparral Stage – "The Forest of Enchantment: A Disney Musical Adventure."

Jungle Book
All photos courtesy Disneyland Paris

In a brisk 20 minutes, the show follows the standard formula of placing songs and characters from Disney's animated classics into an original setting, in the style of a jukebox musical. Here, we get highlights from Pocahontas, Jungle Book, Tarzan, Tangled and Brave. (Yes, amazingly, not a single bar of 'Let It Go'...)

The ensemble, as creatures of the titular forest, serve as one of the most intriguing and imaginative framing devices for a Disney show in recent memory. The thought that's been put into this really shines through in the movement and costume work – each performer has a distinct look and persona, and wouldn't look out of place in a Cirque du Soleil show.

This standard has been a mark throughout the Katy Harris era of Paris's entertainment offerings – even when each show needs to find a new package for the familiar classics, there's an integrity and level of detail that means they serve as successful pieces of theatre on a wider level. For many families, a trip to Disneyland Paris is going to be the one big leisure expense of the year, with prices in the West End and similar far out of reach. If the parks can offer a taste of that to visitors who might otherwise not encounter this kind of performance, that's something to applaud.

Ensemble

So much so, it's almost a disappointment when the show brings out the familiar characters and songs. But it is undoubtedly what audiences will have come to see, and the ensemble remain involved and weave throughout these set pieces in ways that feel integral to the design. The familiar and new elements mix well, thanks also to some neat musical arrangements.

The live vocal performances (sitting alongside some lip synching) are strong. In the preview I attended the standout was the performer playing Rapunzel, who gave a genuinely nuanced performance with a real commitment to telling a story through song – trickier to achieve in a space like this. The show is sung entirely in English, a notable change from norm for Disneyland Paris. Not that it especially matters; we all know the words to 'I Wanna Be Like You' whether we admit it or not.

It's a good fit for the arm of Frontierland that it's nestled into. While the Frozen additions over the Summer were nicely designed into the space, they weren't an intuitive match – but the look and content of Forest really feels like it's been inspired by the area that houses it. When a show only has 20 minutes to deliver a complete package, the advance storytelling that a location provides can help a lot.

Tarzan

The problem – as is often the case in the Chaparral – lies in the supporting frames of the auditorium that block the view for much of the audience. The recent Frozen Sing-along got away with sightline issues as there was so much distraction in the effects, screens showing film clips and performers scattered throughout the audience. Forest however is a more subtle, intimate show (and in many respects more traditional) and so sights are a more prominent issue. If you're going, I'd strongly advise queueing at least 30 minutes prior to the show to ensure you get a centre-bank seat. It's well worth the investment in time.

Sightline issues aside, the design work is good. It's simple – as a result of having to fit on top of the Frozen Sing-along set which remains to be revived on a quick turnaround this summer – but the simplicity has been made to work for it. The characters and stories emerge from the hidden nooks and corners of the set, often conjured with minimal décor. The Tarzan set piece uses nothing more than a rope dropped for him to swing on, The Jungle Book created with the appearance of King Louie's throne, and Brave with just a few target boards for Merida to fire arrows at. (The Tangled set piece gets a little more elaborate, but 'Now I See The Light' does kind of call for it – and it's a beautiful, earned moment.)

Tangled

It's not the bombastic show many will expect, but represents an imaginative kind of theatre we don't see so often in the parks. Moreover, it fits the identity that runs throughout the Parisian park in comparison to its international cousins – there's a beautiful intimacy to the place that's often lacking in the bigger Magic Kingdoms, and it's satisfying to see that represented here.

The show runs until May 8th, when the Frozen Sing-along returns. Current rumours suggest it might be revived when Anna and Elsa check out – if it gets the response it deserves this time around, I expect it will.

Replies (9)

February 18, 2016 at 12:45 PM · Ehhhh.... I'm not really loving this. It's Disneyland Paris and the entire show is in English? I think we'll wait until after May 8 when the Frozen Singalong (which alternated French and English shows, with the other language and usually Spanish on the subtitled monitors) is back. (Not least because although English-speaking Anna and Elsa are better than nothing to my kids, they will choose French if they get a choice.)

I know some folks are Frozened out, but the two times I went last summer (we live not too far from DLP), all the kids I saw at the show were thrilled, enthralled... it was like Beatlemania for little kids.

February 18, 2016 at 1:38 PM · DLP like Hong Kong is in big trouble.

Years of under investment.

February 18, 2016 at 10:15 PM · DLP is not in big trouble. While attendance is down, 10 million people is nothing to panic about. DLP does need some work, but Disney has already announced it several improvements. Walt Disney Studios Paris on the other hand does need a lot of work. It would of been smarter to just improve and expand DLP Park, but like many leftovers of the Eisner years, Disney has to fix the mistakes his management made. As for this show, I think it sounds fun and wouldn't be suprised if it comes to one of the U.S. parks.
February 19, 2016 at 8:02 AM · I did not enjoy it at all. Really cheap, unimaginative - more like a mediocre high school production, but without the charm. That I did not have to endure "Let it go" for the 85645th time was a nice surprise, but was not enough to save the show. Plywood cutouts on wheels - really?
February 19, 2016 at 8:10 AM · "It would of [sic] been smarter to just improve and expand DLP Park" -expanding an existing park (not even possible in this case) does not make people stay an additional day, so that was *never* an option. Besides, let´s be glad they did not ruin the work of art that is Disneyland Park Paris by cramming (potentially cheap) stuff into it, ruining the perfect layout and overall feel of the park.
February 19, 2016 at 1:49 PM · expanding an existing park makes ME stay an aditional day! If a Park is only open Friday to Sunday and the nearest Park is not around the corner and also only open on the Weekend I likely stay 2-3 days
February 19, 2016 at 1:49 PM · The TOY STORY LAND rather worrying in the DLP Studios is very cheap. Hope that's not a sign of things to come.

Building a french theme Ratatouille in Paris was also horribly misguided. You have a french city just outside the gates, why on earth would they want to build a replica in the park?

February 20, 2016 at 4:06 AM · To my fellow anonymous poster above.

Epcot has the American Adventure. But America is right outside the gates. DCA has a ride where you fly over California. But California is right outside the park. WDW has several rides that involve you flying in outer space. But there's an actual Space Center that's about an hour's drive away. DLP has a Castle. But it's on a continent that is filled with many castles. So what's your point?

You guys are seriously being way too hard on this show. Not every show has to be a big budget spectacle. Some shows just work better with a smaller budget.

February 24, 2016 at 5:18 AM · Probably should have checked back into this thread earlier... Yes, the Frozen show was a huge success for sure. (As you'll see from my review!) Beatlemania is a great comparison. I've never seen such hysteria in a theme park show.

I have a lot of respect for DLP trying a change of pace with this one though. Forest asks for a little more patience from its audience than other shows, but the result is something that really drew the audience in. I hope it's an indication of things to come.

It'll be interesting to see how the financial situation changes as TWDC take fuller control. DLP are going all-in on resort expansion at the moment, bolstering Val D'Europe and adding neighbourhood hotels and options like the upcoming Nature Villages. It's creating an experience that isn't totally Mickey-centric... which might seem like bad business from an traditional Disney mindset, but I think it's the right way to appeal to a central European sensibility.

As for Ratatouille... Although it wasn't reflected in an increase in annual attendance, I've heard that the guest satisfaction with the ride is very high across the board. It's as much Paris as the Main Streets are the USA; a stylised version that plays to people's romantic idealisations.

The California comparison is smart. Early concept DCA failed to capture the imagination by playing pretty much for-real the State beyond the gates. But by switching the focus to a romantic/historical interpretation, Disney found the key to inspiring guests' imaginations.

This is perhaps something for a full article rather than a quick post. But Paris (like many places in the world) is struggling to match its historic identity with a troubled present - even more so since the recent terror attacks. I'd suggest that creating a rich narrative environment that celebrates the city's romantic image is a smart move, both for local and international visitors.

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