MARNE-LA-VALLEE, France – It was a second gate that was very much second-rate.
When the Walt Disney Studios Park opened in 2002 as a companion to Disneyland Park here, it had the look and feel of the Disney/MGM Studios at Walt Disney World, right down to the Mickey Mouse-themed Earffel Tower near the entrance and a host of copy-cat attractions.
And much like the Disney/MGM Studios, the Walt Disney Studios Park got off to a slow start.
Right out of the gate, it had a reputation as a “half-day park” [spend a few hours, go on just about every one of its limited attractions, then head on over to Disneyland Park].
Since we last visited in 2015, the Walt Disney Studios theme park has seen significant changes in an effort to elevate its profile, thanks to a major financial investment from the parent company. That effort stalled significantly during the lockdowns incurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, and many of the planned new attractions have been either delayed or scrapped.
Gone were park staples Cinemagique, Moteurs … Action! Stunt Show Spectacular, and Armageddon – Les Effets Speciaux. Re-imagined attractions include Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and the Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic.
Much like the Disney-MGM Studios [now Disney’s Hollywood Studios], the Walt Disney Studios started out as a park where guests could get a behind-the-scenes look at movie and television production. Much like Hollywood Studios in Florida, the Walt Disney Studios’ theming has morphed into a more attraction-based experience.
The entrance to the Walt Disney Studios Park remains the same. The area has all the earmarks [pun intended] of a typical Hollywood film studio: There’s a stylized gate leading to the Front Lot area, with the looming presence of the Earffel Tower off to the left.
You walk into Studio 1, which was originally intended to look like a working film set. It’s almost a carbon copy of the Hollywood Boulevard section in Florida, right down to a gas station [Oscar’s in Florida, Last Chance Gas in Paris].
There are signs that evoke Hollywood’s golden era, such as The Brown Derby, the Hollywood and Vine Five and Dime, and Schwab’s Pharmacy.
The one difference is that the version in France, which features gift shops and dining options behind the classic signage, is enclosed.
Upon exiting Studio 1, you’re greeted by the fabled Partners statue, with Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse pointing the way.
Most folks turn left, past the Studio Theater [former home to the popular “Cinemagique” film, which starred Martin Short], Stitch Live! and Studio D show venues, and head toward the newest, most adult-oriented section of the park: Marvel Avengers Campus.
Featured here is the new Spider-Man W.E.B Adventure, which expands on the Toy Story Mania! arcade game theming. You’re seated inside an enclosed vehicle with several other guests and your mission is to help Spidey knock out as many rogue spiders as you can, using just your hands as web-slingers.
All the frenetic action takes place on a giant screen inside your vehicle, as literally thousands of spiders run amok in front of you. A running tally is kept to find out which guests inside the vehicle had the most success while flailing away at the elusive arachnids.
The Spider-Man W.E.B Adventure takes the place of the outdated Armageddon attraction.
Next to the Spider-Man Adventure is Avengers Assemble: Flight Force, which is the former Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, re-imagined: Same high-speed launch, same loops and inversions, different graphics throughout.
There’s also a Hero Training Center on the campus, where guests can perfect their powers with Spider-Man or his fellow Avengers.
In addition, a variety of character appearances take place on the roofs of these attractions, where periodically, Avengers heroes interact with guests as they crane their necks below.
Located right next door to the Marvel Avengers Campus is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, in all its classic, spooky sci-fi glory … although it’s a bit disconcerting hearing Rod Serling’s pre-show spiel in French.
The placement of the Avengers Campus near the Tower of Terror opens up the possibility of retheming this plummeting elevator attraction into something similar to California Adventure’s Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission BREAKOUT! Same drops, but with a Marvel theme.
The opposite end of the Walt Disney Studios is devoted almost entirely to the world of Pixar Animation films; indeed, it’s called Worlds of Pixar.
There’s an entire area devoted to Toy Story. Included in the Toy Story Playland section are the child-friendly Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop [kind of an outdoor, milder Tower of Terror], Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin, and RC Racer.
Crush’s Coaster is a delightful, spinning coaster attraction that seeks to replicate the perilous journey Marlin and Dory took while riding the EAC to find Nemo.
Ratatouille: l’Aventure Totalement Toquee de Remy is the signature attraction in the Worlds of Pixar area. Ever since it debuted in 2014, it has been a top draw at the Studios.
Guests board a “ratmobile” on the roof of Gusteau’s Restaurant and are shrunk down to the size of a rat. After spinning on the roof for a minute or two, your vehicle “falls” through an open glass window and down into the kitchen, where a frenetic chase through the restaurant commences, with protagonist Skinner leading the pursuit.
You speed through the kitchen [and under a hot stove], the pantry, and into the main dining room. The ride culminates with Remy enjoying a dinner of ratatouille with some of his rat buddies.
Also in the Worlds of Pixar area is the Cars Road Trip attraction, which is a scaled-down version of the former Studio Tram Tour.
Other than the Catastrophe Canyon scene, complete with its fire and cascading water, Cars Road Trip bares little resemblance to the original … although the “I-Fuel Tower” – which consists of a stack of automobile parts in homage to the Eiffel Tower – is quite clever.
In the Toon Studio section, the Animagique Theater plays host one of the most popular shows in the park, “Mickey and the Magician.” The lavish production replaced the popular Animagique black-light show, which featured Donald Duck bumbling his way through a variety of Disney classics.
Mickey and the Magician thrusts wannabe magician Mickey Mouse into several Disney production numbers, including Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin and Frozen. The 1,100-seat theater offers great views from just about every seat and the stage sets and performances are first-rate.
Although there have been a significant number of changes to the Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris, the park still has a way to go before it reaches its full potential.
In 2025, the Walt Disney Studios is scheduled to introduce a new Frozen-themed land, The Kingdom of Arendelle. Plans call for guests to be immersed in the mythical kingdom after the events transpired in Frozen, but before Frozen II. In keep with the Frozen theming, Queen Elsa has declared a Summer Snow Day for all of Arendelle’s citizenry.
An updated version of Frozen Ever After [modeled after the boat ride featured in the Norway pavilion at EPCOT] will be part of the new land, as will a restaurant, a gift shop, mountain peaks and more than 1,000 trees in an effort to recreate the atmosphere of a Norwegian fjord.
Also on the drawing board for the Walt Disney Studios Park is the placement of a large, man-made lake, which is planned to include a Tangled-themed area. In and of itself, the lake will be a welcome addition since the Walt Disney Studios is devoid of water features.
Original plans for a Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction in the Walt Disney Studios Park appear to have been scrapped, but the area remains on the drawing board “for your future enjoyment.”
NEXT TIME: A look back at the evolution of Disneyland Paris.
Chuck Schmidt is an award-winning journalist who has covered all things Disney since 1984 in both print and on-line. He has authored or co-authored seven books on Disney, including his An American in Disneyland Paris, for Theme Park Press. He also has written a regular blog for AllEars.Net, called Still Goofy About Disney, since 2015.