Tony Baxter Tour of Disneyland Paris
Full transcript of the tour Imagineer Tony Baxter gave to a group of fans, to celebrate Disneyland Park’s 25th Anniversary
At 14:00 on Friday the 31st of March 2017, a very small group of fans gathered in front of the Town Square Gazebo on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland Paris, for what promised to be a truly unforgettable experience. Normally I get anxious waiting for things to start, but knowing what was coming up, I was incredibly happy and excited.
And then, “like a bolt out of the blue”, Tony Baxter (the Executive Producer of Euro Disneyland, and today a Disney Legend and Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering) appeared, ready to take us all on a 1-hour tour through the park he created! As someone who’s been geeking out about Disneyland Paris since around 1989, and first visited just a week after opening in April 1992, this was a lifelong dream come true.
During the tour, I focused entirely on tweeting (using #TourBaxterTour), posting as many quotes and photos (and back at the Disneyland Hotel, video clips) as possible. However, Denise from @MouseSteps was there, and shot a fantastic 53:32 video of the full thing, which she kindly gave me permission to use. So, I thought it might be useful to transcribe the whole tour, to help preserve Tony’s immense knowledge and insight into the most beautiful of all the Disney parks. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Good afternoon. So, our format is gonna be this. I thought I’d start down here and tell you a little bit about the whole philosophy of the park. And then we’ll walk down Main Street and discuss the sequencing of the lands. And, are we then gonna go into one, the same way we did the last time? Yeah? I’ll try to sell you all four of those lands, and then I can give you the chance to pick the one that you’d like me to take us further in, and we’ll finish there in that way.
All of Main Street was originally depicting Walt Disney’s childhood in the Midwest of the United States. And that was great for his age and generation who could come back as adults and revisit their early youth. Well here we are, we’re 110–115 years from Walt Disney’s childhood, so this has to have a different meaning. And so, we felt it was still valid because it’s a very peaceful and kind of quiet introduction to what’s gonna be a lot of entertainment that happens once we pass through this portal. So it’s sort of a conditioning experience, leaving the real world, and coming back to peace and quiet, and then entering a world of fantasy. And so I think it sort of sets you up, for something that you don’t see in your normal everyday life.
Now a lot of things are different here than what we did in California and Florida and around the world. Beginning with the hotel, out in the front. When we looked around Europe, especially here in Paris, there’s a tremendous amount of care given to the sense of arrival. So if you go to the Louvre you’ve got the Tuileries in front. You go to Versailles there’s the gardens. Down by Chenonceau and Chambord, this beautiful sense of parking your car and going through something wonderful. And so we thought, especially being next to Paris, we needed something here that was a gift, something that was wonderful and invigorating before you came in. And we thought, what would be a symbol that would be inviting and warm and seemed like an inn. Now when you look around you see the City Hall and various public buildings here that are, what would I say, emulating a real city hall, but they’re not really a city hall. And the hotel, we thought, well it’ll just be emulating a real hotel. It’ll just be a nice, artificial inn. And when we showed it to management, we thought, well they’ll love it, they’ll give us extra money for this. And he said, “no, we love the idea, but where are you gonna get the money?” and I said “well, I thought maybe you’d like it, and we’d get to build this extra thing”.
And Michael says, “well what if we made it a real hotel?” and we all were just flabbergasted, because the idea of building a hotel that actually participates in the park, that’d never happened before. And so, one thing lead to another, and we were given the opportunity. We changed out, we didn’t build one of the hotels down past the Disney Village. And so, that money came into play, and we created the Disneyland Hotel. And I’m very proud of it. It’s the only hotel that was designed pretty much entirely by Eddie Sotto at Imagineering, and I helped him with the fighting to get it done, and make sure that it happened. And it’s, I think, everybody’s favourite of all the hotels. And the idea of being close to Disneyland, that’s what all of you people like, you know. So it’s turned out that, a lot of folks said “oh, people want to get away at night and be away from the park”. That’s not true. We hear again and again how excited people are to be a part of the closeness of the Disneyland Park. So that, I think, was the major change down here.
Town Square Gazebo
Now the Gazebo. Walt Disney wanted a Gazebo exactly there at Disneyland, and they had to take it out because the flagpole went there. When we came to France, we thought it might be OK to have an American Flag over in the corner. But it would not be right to put an American Flag right smack-dab in the centre of the park. So we all thought about it and said, “what if we bring back Walt Disney’s idea and build the Gazebo up here”, so this is the only Disneyland Park that has what Walt Disney originally conceived for the centre of Town Square. If you go to Orange County in California, you will find the original Gazebo. It was sold to a garden supply place down in Newport Beach, Roger’s Gardens. And the Gazebo still exists, and they’re cherishing it because it’s such an artefact from Disneyland. But to find one in a Disney park in the Town Square? Only in Disneyland Paris.
Liberty and Discovery Arcade
So, let’s talk a little bit and then we’ll start walking, and then we can walk and talk. Main Street is a lot of recognition to the Main Street that was done in Walt Disney World. But, we were told that they wanted a coverage over it because of the weather here. And today we’re getting a little sample of that. Yesterday it was hotter than California, and today we’ve got a little bit of sprinkle. But, we knew that the Europeans, especially the French and the visitors that come to France, love the idea of being out in the cafés. If you walk through Paris, everybody’s out on the streets, dining in the cafés. It’s an amazing culture and atmosphere. And the last thing anyone wants to do is go back into a dark space. So covering Main Street, it would’ve lost the vitality, and we have done that in Tokyo where shopping is very very important. But when you choose to do it, you can’t have parades, you can’t have horses and you can’t have automobiles with gas. None of those things can work indoors. So, I really think we made the right decision to go this way. But we still had the requirement of getting people through here when it’s snowing, or when our parades are very crowded on Main Street. So, to the back of both sides of Main Street is an Arcade. And these Arcades are extremely beautiful, but they cost far less than covering Main Street.
Plussing Main Street’s Interiors
So, we had extra money after we finished that, and we were able to take the interiors of every shop and “plus” them. We call it “plussing”, where they are far more beautiful and far more detailed than anywhere else. And people were asking us, “why are you doing that?”, you know, we’ve never done that before. And the answer is simple. When you’re in Orlando for Disney World, nobody goes to Orlando, nobody sees what the stores are like in Orlando, and they’re not very different from anywhere else in the world. The same is true of Anaheim. But here in Paris, the shopping and the culture and the history and the beautiful architecture and the interiors and everything is exquisite. And we know our guests are gonna be familiar with that, and they’re gonna go to those places. Because, unlike Orlando and Anaheim, how many of you have ever been to the cities of Anaheim or Orlando? Most of our guests go right to Disney, and then right back to the airport. Here in Paris, we know our guests are going to the city. So, what you see inside these buildings, I’m very proud, I think Eddie Sotto did a job on Main Street that looks just as elegant, just as rich as anything you’d find in a Parisian boutique, to this day.
Alright, so we’re gonna, I think we’re gonna walk down the street, and if anyone has anything they’d like to ask about, just butt in. I love to talk, so I’ll be glad to just start off on anything.
I have a sentimental question. The Flora’s Boutique, although I love it a lot… @CuriousAxel
Town Square Photography
OK, I know where you’re going. That little stand in there for the photographer’s studio and everything, I miss that too. But, I worked heavily with Kodak when we did Journey Into Imagination for Epcot, they were one of the biggest companies in America, and all of a sudden, the little things you’re holding in your hand. How many are using film today? Inside that, is there a film in there? No? So, all of a sudden we had a shop that, it didn’t work anymore, there was nothing that could be sold there. Even the SD cards, they have such capacity now, I remember having to buy four or five SD cards when they were 8GB, you know, to come on a trip like this. Now you get one that’s 128 or 256 and it lasts for, like, three trips! So, there’s no reason to have that store.
So unfortunately, Disneyland is not a museum, that’s the thing I’ve had to… we grow up with things that we love, and if it was a museum they might stay there forever. But it’s a living, breathing thing that’s gotta be relevant to new children. This is a good example, I remember putting in Jasmine’s Palace to a ride we have in California’s Storybook Land (we have one here too). So we took out one of the older scenes, and we put in Jasmine’s Palace from Aladdin. And all of the old-timer’s were like, “oh my gosh, you’re disrupting Walt Disney’s vision”. But I rode it one day, and there was a little girl in the boat, and she was sitting there and she goes, “Mommy, look, it’s Jasmine’s house”. And I realised, unfortunately we have that problem of making it still very appealing and comfortable for the generations that grew up with it, but the younger kids have to find their childhood in the park too. So, that’s what we deal with. Alright, so let’s, let’s head out…
Windows on Main Street
I am very lucky. My favourite reward that I’ve ever gotten is not the Disney Legend Award, but I have a window on Disney’s Main Street in Disneyland. And that’s absolutely, I think, the finest thing for me. It’s not that I don’t like any of the other things, but when I looked at those names when I was young, and I saw Marc Davis and Claude Coats and all the people who have guided my career up there, the thought of ever being a part of this was amazing.
Now Michael Eisner and Frank Wells were the closest I ever came to working with a Walt Disney. These two guys, you know, Michael being the Walt and Frank being the Roy, guided this company into doing some of the greatest things that have happened for the Walt Disney Company, from The Little Mermaid on up through The Lion King in film. And then you look at the parks, we added Animal Kingdom and Disneyland Paris during that great period. And the most unfortunate day of my career was when a phone call came in that Frank Wells had been killed in an accident. And it did change the company. The Disney Company is great when everything is working terrific, like it was with Walt Disney and with Michael and Frank. And now I think we’ve got great leadership with Bob Iger, so we’ve kind of, you know, it varies that way.
So I think that this is something that we have to look to. And when I look up there, I think of those days when we built this, and those guys that were really guiding us on, and how terrific it was. I’m lucky to have one of those. All of these names were people involved in the building of the park.
Alternative 1920s Main Street
At one time we were gonna make Main Street a little bit more modern, like into the 1920s, because we found that in Europe, America was beginning to be interesting only after the development of technology. The Jazz Age had happened where there was a new type of music, there was the automobile and cities like Detroit and Chicago that came into being after the invention of cars. So it wasn’t like here where everything is built around river traffic pretty much, and the distribution was via horse cars and whatnot. So your cities have a different feel, it’s more romantic. In the states everything is big and post-automobile. So there was an interest in that, there was even an interest in the gangsters. So we put it together, once we moved it forward to 1920. Then Michael had a bad dream one night. He says, “we can’t destroy Walt Disney’s dream, we have to take it back and make it look like all the other Disneylands”. But we knew in Paris, Victorian architecture is something you created. So to make it a little more distinctively America, we put up a lot of these billboards and advertisements that give it kind of that brash, kind of young-country look of America.
Walt’s - An American Restaurant
OK, Walt’s Restaurant. Has everyone here had a chance to dine in there? It’s probably the finest restaurant in the park. I managed to get in there the other day. Always, like, hard to get a ticket. But, what’s interesting about the rooms, each room up there is based on the art that was used to create the different lands of Disneyland. So you can dine in the Adventureland room, the Frontierland room, the Fantasyland and so-forth. And you’re surrounded not by, not like if you went into the land and we’re trying to envelope you in an experience, but you’re surrounded by the art that guided the designers and got management excited about what we were going to do. So those were the very concept pieces that literally guided this park. So it’s a really unique experience, and beautiful. The food is delicious and very expensive!
Tony’s Main Street Gazette Window
Marty Sklar, above me there, was the lead of Imagineering for all the years that I worked there. So, it was kind of nice to be partnered with Marty on the Gazette there. So, all of these mythical things like the Main Street Gazette, they’re designed to give you the sense of there’s a vitality that people live here in Disneyland. I even do a program called “Who Lives at Disneyland” where I try to create the type of people in a little short film, so that our Cast Members know what it is they’re trying to do when they go to work in the different areas here. Now the funny thing is, Cast Members like the idea of the Main Street Gazette and they’ve actually created the Main Street Gazette, on their own, it’s not a part of Disney or anything. They publish their own little paper about the goings on and what different employees are doing. And it’s a beautifully done, piece of antique-looking paperwork.
So, we’re coming up to the hub, and this is as old as Greece, the idea of a spoke-and-wheel organisational system. I know we’ve tried to come up with other ways of doing this, in Epcot and other parks. But, actually in terms of making it simple for the guests to understand — and of course you’ve all, since you’re fans, you’ve gone to other companies’ parks and whatnot — and I honestly don’t think there’s a better way to orient the guests as to where they are. Because, you come in here neutral, and you have all these different choices of Adventureland and Frontierland and Discoveryland and Fantasyland, all beckoning with adventures that are very distinctly different. And the other thing I feel about Disneyland in general, that Walt Disney began and we haven’t changed much, is those words “Adventureland” and “Frontierland” and “Fantasyland”. They’re very clear on what kind of things you would expect in there as a guest, and they’re very clear to the designers what it is we need to design that goes in there. So that, you find a land that is a reflection of what the word says. It’s harder to do when you’ve got, I remember like we had Condor Flats in California Adventure. That was a hard one to figure out. Well what would I design for Condor Flats, you know, that doesn’t tell me anything. But when I say “let’s go to Fantasyland” you know it’s gonna be all about fairytales.
Sleeping Beauty Castle
Alright, so once you get down here to this hub with these spokes like a wheel, people stand and they look and they’re beckoned by these various icons that suggest the type of stories that would be beyond. And it’s pretty obvious that a castle, especially a fairytale castle, is gonna be the gateway to all of the classic — Walt stole them from Europe — they’re all the beautiful classic fairytales that The Brothers Grimm, and Charles Perrault, Henry Dobson, Lewis Carroll in England. So, you know, these stories inspired Walt to do these incredible animated films. And so, for the first time ever, bringing those back here to Europe was not really a challenge, it was really fun, to be able to bring those stories back here to where they began.
So, the castle is far more fairytale-like than the ones in California and in Florida. California’s is derivative from Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig’s Castle in Bavaria. And the one in Florida is made up of a lot of different pieces from the great castles that are down along the Loire Valley, like Chenonceau and Chambord and so forth. So, when we did this we said, “there’s no way we can take the pieces of the French castle and put them together and put it out in Marne-la-Vallée”. So, we went back to the artwork. And we had a lot of inspiration from Disney because of Sleeping Beauty and La Belle au Bois Dormant that this is based on. We also had books and tapestries here that inspired all of us. If you have a chance, if you haven’t done it, go to the Cluny Museum where the six tapestries are (The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries). You’ll stand in an octagonal room with all these beautiful tapestries, and it looks so much like the landscape that we have around our castle. And the Duc de Berry wrote the Book of Hours in the medieval period, and some of those little paintings have that distorted perspective that was typical of that era that kind of guided us in how we were gonna deliver this.
La Tanière du Dragon
Now the most important thing to me in that castle is, beneath the castle in the rockwork dwells a fire-breathing dragon. So, that’s something that I had loved since I was a child. When I saw the movie Sleeping Beauty I was twelve, I just fell in love with that. When I was in college I did a concept for an attraction with a fire-breathing dragon at the end of it. And I’ve been showing that picture a couple of times here, to groups, presentations, and it looks very close, when I was 19-years-old, to what we were able to do in the castle.
So Fantasyland was sort of a pleasure because, all of the stories in there belong here in Europe. There are things that, we were able to take each of the bits of architecture there and reflect Italy, reflect Germany, reflect England, and reflect France. But, we’re bringing it back in a very abstracted and kind of fantastic kind of way.
Let’s say, Discoveryland while we’re looking at it. It was a challenge. Part of the thing we wanted to do when we moved from the states over here, was to develop an area, a whole land, that was celebrating French culture, European culture. And how do you do that? You know, build a village of French architecture? No. We decided that everybody in the world has done amazing things because they really were influenced and inspired by the dreams that were written about by great minds like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and Leonardo da Vinci. Generation after generation for hundreds of years have gotten, you know, inspiration from this. When Jules Verne said that the first launch to the Moon will take place in Florida, in the middle of the state, now how did he know that? I don’t think he knew that. I think there was some little kid that read that story and said “well why don’t we launch from Florida?” you know because Jules Verne said that’s where we should do it, so let’s do it. And I think, you can’t underestimate how inspired we are by the dreams we read about when we reach like 12 and 13 and 14 years old. Those things live with you for the rest of your life, or at least they should. So we came up with the idea,
Let’s make Discoveryland a place where the dreams are celebrated, and the dreams fuel the future.
So people ask me all the time “well, why does George Lucas fit in with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells?”. Well, you just answered it yourself. If you were living 150 years ago, Jules Verne would be your George Lucas. If you were living 100 years ago, it’d probably be H.G. Wells. And today we are lucky to have someone of that calibre, in George Lucas. All of our lives have been changed by people like this. So, the idea is to keep evolving Discoveryland to include and celebrate all the great dreamers that caused all of us in the current generation to dream things and create a better world. So that’s sort of what went on there. And I think it’s wise because, in the world we live in today, architecture and things — like every one of you is holding a cell phone. I’ve got a 4K. How many of you have got a 4K screen on your cellphone? — you have to buy new things every year. If we were to build a place that was in that style, by the time we finished building it you’d look at it and say “oh, I can see this is old already”. Whereas, when you create something that’s about dreams, I think it’s sort of immune to that, and it becomes something that always looks good when we come here. I’m always blown away, especially at night, when I see Space Mountain lit up, it’s spectacular.
OK, Adventureland. We had a lot of fun with that. We created an entry that’s far more exotic than anything we’ve done before. It’s all about the Arabian Nights, the stories of Aladdin, and it was coincidental that, at the very time we were building this, they were in production on the film Aladdin. And it really made us think a lot about that. And the more we looked into the European perspective on stories and fables and whatnot — we found things like Babar the Elephant, the Sinbad stories, 1001 Nights — these were all really part of this culture because they were sort of foreign. So, reading stories like Cendrillon, and Sleeping Beauty and so forth, that’s your local thing. That would be like us reading The Wizard of Oz. But, like, when you think of exotic, there aren’t exotic fairytales about America. But there are a lot of fairytales about the Middle East and so forth. So, the front entrance is designed a lot around creating a place where a giant Roc bird’s egg could nest on the roof over there, and where you could walk through a hallway and meet genies and Aladdin and so forth.
But directly ahead of you is the Swiss Family Treehouse, which is the kind of icon for an island devoted to pirates. And, when we did this park, we debated about doing Tom Sawyer Island which is a kids play area in California and Florida, or coming up with something new that was a little bit more international. And we tested it, and everybody was more excited about going to a pirate island and finding buried treasure and all of the things that that would give you. So we shifted. We chose not to build Tom Sawyer Island, and we created Adventure Isle. And then we put all of our pirate-related stories very close together there.
So, we have Pirates of the Caribbean, which is our flagship, and the work that’s going on in there you will not believe how great that’s gonna look with some new, brand new, things in there that are gonna be “how did they do that?”
And then we’ve got the Ben Gunn’s Cave, and the Skull Rock and the Pirate Ship. And then we took of advantage of the fact, since we were building this all at once, it’s not like Disneyland and Florida where little by little they added things. We were building this all on opening day. So we moved Peter Pan’s Flight very close to all these pirate activities. So we got that advantage of Captain Hook, and the whole Never Never Land, is very very close to all of our pirate activities.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Now the surprise for all of us, a lot of times we do an attraction based on a movie. But, we never dreamed that we were gonna have a huge series of hit films based on a ride. And so, as Pirates of the Caribbean became more known around the world as movie, than a ride, we’ve been able to take advantage of that. And I think you’ll see in the new version, a lot of new things in there that really bring both the movie and the ride closer together. And we have the space available there to do amazing things with Adventure Isle becoming a place for the pirates.
And finally, last but not least, is Frontierland. In America we take it for granted, you know, it’s just this place in the American West that we go to. But, when you look here — and we went to many many little book stores, not the ones in Paris but out in the villages, to see what people think about in terms of America — and everything that came to the top was kind of, I call it that John Ford-John Wayne West, that the movies depicted back in the early colour days of film, the monuments in the stone, and these rugged men on horses. And when I arrived here, the number one billboard all over Paris was the Marlboro man. So, the cowboy was alive and well. Then when I turned on the television, Zorro, Disney’s television shows from the ’50s, those Zorro episodes were still running. And they are today. I was told by a group yesterday, Zorro is still on television here. So, the whole idea of the kind of mythic American West is really really exciting for people that live so far away from it, that getting a real taste of it here in Frontierland was something that ran at the top of the charts, in terms of the interest level to see this.
Big Thunder Mountain
Now, we’ve always added Big Thunder as the very last thing, late in the game to Disneyland in California and to Florida. The land was already built so you go, “where can we put it?”, “oh, way over in that corner in Walt Disney World” and “way over in that corner in Disneyland”. But because, again, we were building everything on opening day, where should Big Thunder be? It’s the best ride we have in this whole land, so let’s put it smack-dab in the middle. Well that’s fine, but how do you get out there if the river is running all around it? And I had an ulterior motive. I knew that one of our weakest parts on the ride in California is the ending, because we have to save a little bit of the energy to get you out of the station and back down into the beginning of the ride. So, unlike the first and the second thrill portion, they go all the way to the bottom. On that final one you have to stay a little bit above the bottom so that, when we launch the next car, it has somewhere to go before it picks up. But, by putting it out on the island, we could dive all the way down under the river, both going out and then at the end we add to that this terrific thrill, getting from a very high point all the way down, where we hit the fastest speed I think of any Disney coaster anywhere around the world. I might be wrong on that, but I believe it is. And it’s pitch black and it’s turned Big Thunder over here in Paris into the favourite ride in this park.
Definitely my favourite Big Thunder anywhere in the world. And something we’re really proud of now, because we’ve added a new finale to it and freshened it up, and I think it looks better than it did even on opening day.
So, that’s the centrepiece. What’s great about its location is, it’s not just fun to ride, but it’s really fun to look at.
Pick a land
Now I talked a lot about all the lands, maybe more than I should have. But I’ll give you a chance here, to pick one of these four, and we’ll go in there and talk a little bit in more detail based on what your interest level is. So, let’s start, how many would like to go to Discoveryland? And, raise your hands. I do not see one hand. How many would like to go to Fantasyland? I do not see one hand. So we’re gonna leave the park. How many would like to go to Adventureland? One, two, three. That means, everybody wants to go to Frontierland. So, I was right when I told you Europeans really love that part of the world, right? OK, so let’s go.
Entrance to Frontierland
I think in this opening scene, we built this before the movie Pocahontas had come out. But, that movie sort of shows the struggle between opening up the West to Western thinking, versus the Native American who loves and dearly cherishes the beauty of the past. And we thought, maybe there’s a way we can demonstrate that with this encampment. And it’s not an unfriendly Indian Village like was often the topic back in the early Western days, where they were all fighting with bows and arrows. You know, there were a lot of Native Americans that were very peaceful people and they traded with the settlers and so forth. So what you see here, is kind of that moment in time, where you had the Native Americans that had the nature. And I think the song in Pocahontas, that I love, that sort of describes this is “Colors of the Wind”, where you see John Smith’s desire to exploit the land and develop it, versus Pocahontas’ desire to really love and appreciate the wonders of the land.
Legends of the Wild West
Now we knew going in that Europeans might not have as much knowledge about the type of people that live in a space like this. So, if you’re interested, you can go into great detail in this park. Like I said, every land has details upon details that I think are richer than we were able to do before. So if you step into the fort here, you’ll go up and you’ll see a lot of characters that are part of the Western story, all the way up to like Buffalo Bill and Davy Crockett and his sidekick Russell. And you can kind of strengthen your feelings for what it might’ve been like to live in such a rustic environment. And this was only, like, 150 years ago, that the world was like this. It’s hard to believe, ‘cos if you’re in L.A. sitting in a traffic jam, you can’t imagine that, you know, that isn’t that long, 150 years ago, that things were so incredibly different with none of the technological things we have today.
Like I said, we built all of this at once. In Disneyland there’s actually two forts, I think there is in Florida too, and neither one of them is completely an attraction unto its own. So here we said, let’s just build one fort and make it way bigger, and have an attraction within it that gives you some storytelling to set up the thing. And one of the best views of the island out there, Big Thunder, is where that man is taking a picture right now. So, if you wanna get a good unique view, come here at nine in the morning when we open, and get that shot, it’s really spectacular when the sun hits the mountain in the right way.
So, walking through the fort, it sort of becomes a gateway, a gateway to the West. And we step out, we were very careful in each land to have a symbol beyond them. So, I think Big Thunder is the most, well you’d have to debate on it, it’s Big Thunder or Space Mountain, the most dramatic reveal as you step into the land.
Rivers of the Far West
Alright, I think we’re at the edge of the Rivers of the Far West. And, they’re not any real river in particular, they’re just indicative of the look of very many different rivers that might flow through the Western area, the Colorado and the Pecos River and so forth.
Big Thunder Mountain
What just happened, in the last year, is a major major reconstruct on this to bring it back and actually improve it from when we opened. So it’s actually better than when it opened. Technologies are so refined now, we went in and did a lot of technological things. Just like, even the capture of your photo, which used to be a big cumbersome thing. They were able to get rid of all this ugly equipment that was in there and make it really look nice over there, where the water splashes come up.
All the trees were replaced, so they’re in scale with a mountain like that. Part of the illusion comes across because we scale down all the trees. If we’d put in full size trees, you’d realise that the mountain is just a little over a 100 feet tall, when we want you to think it’s 1000 feet tall, or 300 metres or so, you know. So we did that by changing plant materials and everything else we can, to affect that distance.
We talked a little bit about this being the centrepiece, and what we really wanted to do is something that Walt Disney had taught us all, that he wanted all the lands to be alive with lots movement going on. So by putting the most kinetic piece in the centre, no matter where you go, except when it’s not running, you have all this activity and excitement. And so, if we start over there, where the Molly Brown is coming in and the Haunted Mansion, they see the splashdown effect that we have over there on Big Thunder. Coming through the middle here, all the way over to the load area, it’s totally captivating.
Now our other Frontierlands really show a panorama of very different parts of the American West. But a lot of our West looks a lot like Europe. And we thought, let’s not do all those parts that just reflect beautiful green forests and whatnot, let’s try to keep an entire Frontierland dry. Now that may sound easy, but here where it rains every day, the ground wants to be green, and swans want to swim in this water and everything. And so, trying to keep it look like an authentic American Western Desert is very very difficult. So, for our cactus and succulent plants that come out just about now, maybe in another month, they have to be kept in a greenhouse all winter long, to keep them from being frostbitten by the cold in the winter. And they bring those out and it adds to the atmosphere of the place.
And other things that were changed, is like, if you were to look at the Haunted Mansion, which is just about in the same place at Disneyland. We have New Orleans Square which is a part of the West, it was the West when America was moving, but it’s not the West that comes to mind when you think of the cowboy and the Native American. So we took out, we didn’t do New Orleans Square. We created something that continues this effect of being in the Far Far West. The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland is done in a very colonial and beautiful elegant style, and Walt Disney did say, he said “we’ll take care of the outside, we’ll make it beautiful, and then the ghosts can take care of the inside”. But we thought about that, and we said, because we know there will be five languages spoken commonly in this park, why not do something that says “haunted” from the first get-go. You know you look at it and you go, “now where is that Phantom Manor, where is it? Oh, there it is,” because you can recognise that. It isn’t a beautiful building, it’s a very frightening scary building.
And, even the name, if we had used “Haunted Mansion” which we used in the United States, it would’ve been something “maison hantée”, something like that, and that would not be readable in some of the other languages. So, Phantom Manor is very close in all of the languages, so we went with that. And so, being visual was a really key important part of this park. And I think that’s why the lands are so distinctive from each other, they really are, more so than I think what you would see, where, an American audience could really be comfortable with all the subtleties of Kentucky and New Orleans and St. Louis and all the variants that we have all mixed together there. But, when we were wanting to tell a story here for people where this isn’t in their neighbourhood, let’s make it very very clear. And I think, because of that, it’s more powerful, it really is.
Big Thunder Mountain’s Placement
So, going this way, you know we have the load area for Big Thunder Mountain, and part of the fun there is, the people that come by at the end of the ride have just gone through the fastest part of the experience. And so, I love watching their faces when they come up out of that hole over there. And there’s a great place you can stand along the fence and get some really good views of people, kind of, being shocked by the light, because they’ve been in this black hole down under the water, speeding along at a real clip, and then all of a sudden popped it back up into the station. It’s kind of fun, how did we get out there, how did we get back? When I remember we proposed it, they said “how high are you gonna have to build the track to get over the smokestacks to get out there?” and I said, “we’re not going over the smokestacks, we’re gonna go under the water”. “Oh, OK”. So, anyway, in the end, we have the only Big Thunder where Tom Sawyer Island is in all our other parks. And we didn’t get rid of the activities of Tom Sawyer Island. We have those activities and many more, over on Adventure Isle, with a new theme and something that I think everybody around the world can truly enjoy.
So, we could… I have a few more minutes, if you want to walk towards… OK, so, which way would you like to walk? Over to the Haunted Mansion, or over that way? That way, OK. Somebody is assertive, so that’s what we’re gonna do.
Phantom Manor’s Narration
Phantom Manor is a different show from anything we’ve done before. Some of the things in there are a little more scary than what you’d find in California. And we don’t have the narration which was something that we rely on heavily in California. We did record the famous actor Vincent Price, in one of his last performances doing that. I believe you can still hear him laughing at the end of the Stretching Room. I would like someday to think about bringing that back. He speaks with a American accent in French, and a lot of people felt that we shouldn’t use that. But I thought later, why did I let myself be talked out of that, because if it was an American gold baron, he would have an American accent. We love seeing films with French, because it makes it romantic, ‘cos that language is very romantic, so hearing the accent is good for us in America. And so I think having an American accent would have a similar feeling for the French. But maybe I’m wrong, I was told I was wrong, but I think that would be really good. So that ride is very different. I think it was technically ahead of its time, and what’s really exciting is, now that technologies are coming in to being, they’re gonna allow us to really fulfil some of the dreams we had for that.
I think, far in the future, we’re gonna see some changes in there that will be to your liking, to bring those effects really to life.
Pat Burke’s Props
OK, so we’re moving now into the South West, keeping the same dry look. What you’re looking at, you know, I told you Disneyland is not a museum, but it is a museum, ‘cos here in Frontierland you’re immersed, right now, in authentic mining equipment that was garnered from all over the South West, from Colorado down to New Mexico.
And there was one of our Imagineers named Pat Burke. Pat would’ve done this on his own. He didn’t have the money to do it, so he would just go and photograph and bring back pictures. And we said Pat, “how would you like to actually go out there, and find all these things, and then you can buy them?” you know. And so, he was a very very humble and quiet person, very very nice. And he would kind of, you know, look at something and say “that’s a very beautiful stamp mill”, that’s a stamp mill down there, and he would crush the rock that would be mined. And once it was crushed then they could separate the gold out of it. That’s a real piece. That’s a real steam engine that was used to haul the ore out of the mines. So everything you’re looking at was actually used about 150 years ago for this equipment.
But Pat would stand there and say “woah, I really like, that stamp mill is really nice”, “boy, I would love to have that”. And the person might say, “I can see that you’d really care for this, and I’m getting older, and I’m not gonna be able to make sure it’s well loved and everything, so I’ll give it to you for a nice…” and he goes “OK”. And then he’d get out the cheque and it’d be “Walt Disney”, you know. And they were probably sitting there saying, “wow, we could’ve probably gotten a lot more money”. So what was the result of that? Pat had a fixed budget, and we thought he’d only be able to get a few things for that amount of money. And everything you see here is due to Pat being able to expend that budget in the best way possible to create, I think this is the best museum of Western artefacts anywhere in the world. But instead of them being in a room where a plaque describes what it was and how it was used, they’re out here and you’re seeing them because Pat knew how they were used. He put all these scenes together, so everything you see is exactly how the miners would’ve had it in operation when it was working. So they’re not out of context in a box, they’re actually here, integrated with the attraction to continue that theme that this is a real chance to get on a wild mining ride through the West.
OK, so now we’re down to probably around 5 minutes. So, how about some Q&A before we have to break up a little bit?
I got a question. After 25 years of operational experience, and the reaction from guests, if you have to rebuild the park today, regarding the design, would you do something differently? @Parcorama
I’d say it more like this. We’re 25 years into the future and there’s new things now. There were no cellphones, really. There were PCs, but not, it wasn’t a part of your life. There were so many things that are different now, that you probably would just do differently because time has moved on. So, I look at it and I go, “alright we have Snow White and we have Pinocchio” but the movies Beauty and the Beast and Lion King and Tangled, which I love that movie. Wouldn’t a Tangled ride be really good? And you know, of course now we have Frozen and all the other opportunities. None of those existed. So you’d say, to make Fantasyland more right there with kids today, of course we’d pick those. But at the time we built this, the films that we had were the ones that we chose.
So, time is a factor in that. It’s not, like, would I necessarily do it differently, ‘cos what I think about this park, it’s the most beautiful park, just walking through it, even if you don’t go on rides, you’re having a wonderful time looking at it. And so, the rides are the part that does need to change as time goes on. So you’ll find, every Disney park, we have disappointed fans. When we took out Adventure Thru Inner Space, which I grew up with in California. I can still do the entire spiel, “for centuries, man had but his own two eyes to explore the universe”. That was my childhood, and now it’s going away. But Star Tours is a better show, and more people are interested in that. So, part of the challenge we have is, looking at the park and saying “what is still really relevant?”. Something like Pirates of the Caribbean, you can keep putting new things into Pirates, because everybody loves that theme and that story. And then you have to look for the opportunities, where, “what do the little girls, what Princesses do they like now?” and those characters really need to be here. But nobody’s ever gonna take my Dragon out, they better not.
Maybe you can you talk about the Shooting Gallery here? It was like, there’s the story of the land, somewhere inside the Shooting Gallery?
Yeah I know where it is, but I can’t remember what we did in there. Yeah, Boot Hill. You’ve hit on something that I haven’t checked out since I’ve been back here. And, generally what we do, once we’ve got a solid idea for the area, one of our designers is given that task, somebody that we trust. And you say, that’s your piece, and you now come and make it the very best that you can. And each one of us has something that we contribute to it. So, I probably trusted him, he was into the, at that time whatever the target systems were. Now you can do it with lasers and whatnot, but at the time it was an electronic eye thing and whatnot. So, I couldn’t really speak about that.
Which part of the park holds the memories for you where, maybe this is a place you wanna come back to again and again, still this many years later? @MouseSteps
Well, I have that feeling for every area here. Let’s just go through it. I love Big Thunder and to get to do it four times and put it on three continents, that’s pretty… How many mountains are on three continents, you know? So that’s probably Frontierland. The castle, because it was such a challenge, and the fact that I got my dragon, so that’s pretty cool. And then, probably Discovery Mountain and the submarine, the Nautilus, that complex over there. I could go over there on that again and again, both of those. And they’re such a compliment, because the one is aggressive and scary, and the other one you can just get absorbed and lost in the fantasy of what Jules Verne and Harper Goff (who’s the designer of that boat) were able to do. So, those are my three. And the hotel, I love the hotel, ‘cos it was such a challenge. And I love the fact that it’s now become a product for Disney, so we have the Hotel MiraCosta and the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel in Tokyo, and we have the Grand Californian in California. And, we wouldn’t have those if this hadn’t proved to be something that was a wise decision.
You said you went back into Pirates here when they were working on it. Was that the same feeling when you went into Pirates when they built it, back in Disneyland, when you started back there? @CuriousAxel
I didn’t think about that, no, because I remember this Pirates of the Caribbean from the 20th Anniversary when I was here, of being beautiful and finished, OK? So I went into it this week and it’s like construction, there’s nothing there. The figures are gone, the sets are all being repainted, the trees are all being replaced and all of this stuff. So, it was weird. I thought that they were gonna go in, you know the feather duster in Beauty and the Beast? You know, I thought, a little bit of polish here and there? No, it’s like, start over. It’s like, they are literally rebuilding that ride, and adding new things. So, it was unique.
Whereas, when I saw that Pirate ride. He’s talking about, I got to ride on the Pirate ride, it was the day that Walt Disney died, and the ride wasn’t ready. But I’d never seen a Pirate ride. There were no figures in it, it was dead quiet, there were no songs being played, they were just moving the boats through. And I was out there at the park ‘cos I didn’t know what I was gonna do with my life. My hero had just died that day, and I was just a young kid. And I said, I looked in the window and the boats were going, and I walked over to the employee thing and I said “well, could I ride on it?” and he says “yeah, sure, get in”. And, to ride through that ride for your first time in your life, when nobody’s seen a Pirate ride anywhere in the world, and all the time you’re going “and Walt Disney just died today?”, that was just, that was shock.
So, you know, this was very different. This was, remembering it being finished and beautifully lit and all that, and now it’s all work lights and scaffolding, and all the work going on to put in the new things. So, it’s strange.
But what excited me about it is how much work is going on. I know it’s going to surprise everybody by how great it is, when it reopens.
Is there a date on, like, when that’s coming back? July? OK, July. And now I know why it’s taking so much time, ‘cos they’re doing so much work, you know, it’s gonna be beautiful. ■
At the end of the tour, Tony was very generous in allowing us to have our photos taken with him, despite a second event (Meet Tony Baxter: Photo and Autograph Session) starting in just 5 minutes over at Videopolis. I think I briefly thanked him in person, but we were very pressed for time. So Tony, if somehow you’re reading this, I want to properly thank you for showing us around your park, and for giving Europe the gift of the best Disneyland Park ever built; a place that has genuinely brought so much happiness and hope to hundreds of millions of people.
Also, I want to thank my contact at Disneyland Paris for being incredibly kind to me in making my dream come true. And finally, I want to recommend you check out the great articles written by my friends @DisneyKindOfDay and @Parcorama, who shared this once-in-a-lifetime experience with me, and made me feel very welcome and at home.