We'll cover the exterior and La Place de Remy – where the attraction is situated – fully in a future piece. But even on the approach, it's a palpable gear-shift from the rest of the park, rich in detail, colour, texture – it's simply a pleasure to amble around, taking in the detailing and the references to the film. This is Paris, sure – and we are only 40km away from the City of Lights itself – but it's a heightened, romantic interpretation. As the attraction's Art Director Beth Clapperton put it – it's “Pixar's Paris.”
Stepping into the entrance for the attraction itself – an homage to the arched entrances of Paris' historic theatres – we're quickly swept into the quiet, romantic charm of Paris at night. We walk between rooftops, taking a moment while admiring the skyline to watch the Gusteau's sign magically come to life, just as it did in the film. It's a clever piece of projection that begins to blur the lines for us between physical sets and animated film, and serves to deliver what little exposition we need to know: we're on our way to Remy's restaurant.
The interior queue is otherwise relatively simple but atmospheric. As we wind through a series of corridors – not elaborate in their detail, but charming in design and coherent to the world of the story – we pick up our 3D glasses and emerge onto the loading platform for the ride. It's a wide open space, surrounded by the same rooftop sets we've passed by earlier in the queue but on a much bigger scale...
We've shrunk to the size of rats, and ahead of us are the specially designed “Ratmobiles” that will take us on – two rows of three seats in mouse shapes units, positioned on what can best be described as large black hockey pucks. The mice are far from intricate in design, and the “pucks” (that control the travel of the vehicles) are somewhat incongruous to the otherwise faultless mise-en-scene – but once you're in, you'll not have much chance to be distracted by this.
In a presentation this morning, Show Designer & Production Manager Bjorn Heerwagen explained that the Ratmobiles were built at the same time as the vehicles for Mystic Manor – they use the same trackless ride system, guided by GPS. But they have an extra couple movements in their repertoire that you won't find in Disney's other rides with similar systems, allowing for tilting and vibrating controls to more accurately mimic the movement of the rodents.
Once we're seated, the Ratmobiles take off with a balletic flourish. Grouped in the teams of three Ratmobiles that we'll stay with throughout the attraction, we spin and glide away from the platform – and its a real surprise just how smooth the ride is. The physical sensation of moving in these vehicles is a pleasure in itself, and establishes an important principle: far from being a white-knuckle endurance test, this is an experience to enjoy.
Our first stop is a vision of the ghost of Gusteau, as per the film, who floats above the roofs and bids us to enter – Remy is preparing for our meal. We pass into the first of the ride's large projection domes, where Remy and Gusteau decide what he should cook, with the Parisian skyline as a wrapped-around backdrop. It's a similar principle to the domes used in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, but on a bigger scale -we feel truly immersed in the animation.
The dual languages here – and throughout the attraction – are handled well, the characters switching seamlessly between French and English. There's little in the way of exposition; true to form for a Pixar animation, the visuals deliver the most important information.
Just as Remy has the idea to cook Ratatouille, the rooftop window he's precariously balanced on tips open (a canny nod to the original Star Tours, an attraction with which Ratatouille shares some DNA) so he – and, of course, we – drop through an open window into Skinner's kitchen...
And the chase begins. So far, so familiar to those familiar with the source material, and throwing us into the action of the story is of course necessary – while Pixar had nearly two hours, our adventure lasts under five minutes. The story here is comparable to Islands of Adventure's Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in that it delivers a “highlights narrative,” with plot points and set pieces from the film compressed into what could serve as an alternate story.
If you know the film, you'll notice the blurred chronology in retrospect – but it serves its purpose as an effective way to set up a chase scenario. While Forbidden Journey suffers from the lack of a clear villain, instead confronting riders with a series of threats in the style of a ghost train, Ratatouille's antagonist is clear – Skinner is front and centre throughout, pursuing us through rooms and floorboards. Pixar's knack for character design is a gift here – his sinister, bulging face looks like it's been designed for exactly this type of attraction.
As we scurry from room to room, the 3D screens are well-integrated with the physical sets. As we “ride along” on a dining cart, over-sized wheels at the side of the screen spin along. And in a next scene, where Remy and Emil are raiding the fridges for food, their silhouettes appear to interact with physical props. (Scents of the food particularly come into play here – not overused, but enough to further convince us of the reality of the setting.)
It's worth pointing out that the ride is certainly tamer than you might expect. There are jolts, bumps and spins, but the thrills – and be sure, there are many – arise from the integration of on-screen action and ride vehicle. Perhaps the biggest shock of the journey comes in a moment of animation as Skinner bursts through the wooden grating, his hand lunging straight at our car. The movement backward in response to this is pretty gently in isolation – it's the large-scale 3D that makes the moment.
Of course, we do eventually manage our escape. The final scene of the attraction sees us find safety in Remy's kitchen, and the unload station is perfectly framed as a view from the park's new restaurant – which just happens to be Bistro De Remy. A shrewd sales pitch, perhaps, but it's also a welcome extension of storytelling, allowing us to continue our immersion in Remy's world. (But more on the Bistro in a later piece.)
There are some technical imperfections – some inevitable distortion of the 3D effect as a result of having three vehicles in play, and some film clips stop and reset before being out of view of all vehicles. In an attraction where your attention is very specifically directed to one spot, this wouldn't be so much of an issue – but Ratatouille is full of richly detailed environments, and the film elements are full of details to discover. When the designers have gone to so much effort to create such scenes, it becomes an issue for imperfections like these to slip through.
These are minor quibbles, of course, particularly in the face of the scale of the accomplishment. But as the last week has demonstrated, Disney can't afford to deliver any less than the rich, immersive storytelling on which they once had the monopoly – and Ratatouille, on the whole, pulls off a remarkable achievement in creative scope and technical innovation to achieve this.
Those expecting Disney's response to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man will be disappointed. With no height restriction whatsoever, this is definitely not a thrill ride. Think of it instead as an opportunity to further immersive yourself in the film. With its huge, wrap-around projection domes, Michael Giacchino-composed score and animation as full of detail and imagination as you would expect from Pixar, the Ratatouille attraction takes you that bit further into the film.
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