The Sound of Silence — the Walt Disney Studios attraction that never was…
Disneyland Paris has a rich history of unbuilt attractions, some of which are almost as famous as the ones that made it off the drawing board. Thanks to overly optimistic press releases, leaked concept artwork and items such as the EuroDisneyland souvenir map, we’ve all had the chance to see what we’re missing — the original Little Mermaid dark ride, the Beauty & the Beast animatronic show and Discovery Mountain, to name the three most prominent. But people often forget that the Walt Disney Studios Park has a ‘lost’ attraction of its very own.
The Sound Studio is steeped in mystery, despite the fact that it’s clearly marked on early plans and features prominently in the park’s promotional concept artwork, sandwiched between Cinémagique and the former Disney Channel tour. Originally intended to open with the rest of the park in 2002, it was mothballed shortly before construction was due to begin, thanks to shrinking budgets and the arrival of Flying Carpets Over Agrabah — a cheaper, last minute substitute that helped address the park’s dearth of child-friendly rides.
But while the Sound Studio didn’t make the line-up of opening day attractions, it wasn’t scrapped altogether. As ironic as it now seems, Disney were already planning to rapidly expand the Studios Park, with the aim of adding a new attraction each year until 2005. The Tower of Terror and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast were on their way, but the Sound Studio was first in the queue; construction was due to begin in the latter half of 2002 and the doors would open the very next year.
Of course, as we all quickly discovered, the Studios Park didn’t make money — it devoured it — and the expansion plans were pushed back a year. Then another year. And another. Finally, after months of deliberation, they were shelved altogether.
The expansion wasn’t to happen until 2007, following a major restructuring of the resort’s finances, and by then the plans had changed. Heavy on shows and light on family rides, the park saw its re-imagined Animation Courtyard double in size with the addition of Crush’s Coaster and Cars Race Rally. And although the Tower of Terror finally materialised, there was no room at the party for the Sound Studio. Its expansion pad remains empty to this day, leaving us to wonder what we might have experienced had things been different.
Some assume it would have been similar to the (now defunct) Sounds Dangerous show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando — a film-based attraction with immersive binaural speakers built into each seat. After a few establishing scenes, the image on the screen disappeared, leaving the audience to experience the movie via sound alone.
It’s certainly an interesting concept, but it’s not what I understand to have been in the works for Paris.
I worked as a Cast Member in the Studios when the park first opened and I remember the anticipation surrounding the forthcoming attractions. Several of our managers had seen the plans and I quizzed one of them about what we could expect from the Sound Studio. He told me it was going to be an interactive experience that would allow guests to add their own soundtrack to a short, silent film.
This sounds far more like the attraction that preceded Sounds Dangerous — the old Monster Sound Show, starring Martin Short and Chevy Chase. The format was more elaborate but more engaging: guests watched a short comic film featuring dialogue and music but no sound effects. When the film finished, members of the audience were selected to complete the soundtrack, using a variety of props and equipment to create audio effects such as crashing thunder, creaking doors and a falling chandelier. The film was then replayed with these new effects spliced in.
It seems the Parisian version would have been broadly similar, though with a few changes to accommodate European tastes. The use of a silent film would have sidestepped the tricky issue of multilingual audiences, for example. And it would have starred an actor who was not only popular with Europeans, but whose knack for physical comedy made him perfectly suited to the silent medium: Rowan Atkinson. Yes, the man behind Blackadder and Mr Bean almost had a starring role in the Walt Disney Studios Park.
Will we ever get the chance to see (and hear) the Sound Studio in action? Alas, I think not. Shortly after the Toon Studio expansion in 2007, Imagineering officially abandoned the pretence that the park was a working movie studio. Future attractions would not take guests ‘behind the scenes’ but would immerse guests in the worlds of the stories being told, just as they do in the neighbouring Disneyland Park. Thus, everything from Toy Story Playland onwards has made no mention of cameras, movie stars or hot sets. The park is all the better for it, but it means the Sound Studio is now without a home.
Disney have never released any official details about what the attraction was to have held, but who knows? It came so close to becoming a reality that they must have plenty of material in the archive. It’s just possible that, one day, they’ll let us see test footage of Rowan Atkinson, gurning and pratfalling in perfect silence, waiting for a soundtrack that will never come.
This post was originally written for DLRP Roundup.