When I used to visit Disneyland Paris as a child there was a myriad of shows on offer to me. I speak not just of parades or character trains, but of proper, full scale theatre shows. The Disneyland Park was built with three colossal theatre stages: the Videopolis Theatre in Discoveryland, the Fantasy Festival Stage in Fantasyland and Le Théâtre du Château just outside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Just two years after the park opened the Chaparral Theatre in Frontierland was added.
Videopolis was dreamed to be the hub of Discoveryland, presenting live music during the day and night. It even once held a show which was so popular that a Fastpass system was trialled for it. Both the Chaparral Theatre and Fantasy Festival Stage began their lives as open air venues, becoming converted into full covered theatres stages because they were so popular. As I write this, only of these four mighty stages remains in use, and that’s merely for a small seasonal number, not a full theatre show.
In the age of declining guest numbers and continued financial hardships, Disneyland Paris needs to give its guests a reason to return year after year. A family visiting once and thinking “we’ve done that place now” is simply not good enough. My family are much the same, they’ve done all the rides and ask me what’s new and I reply “well, a new dark ride which cost over two hundred million dollars called Ratatouille”. They reply “one attraction? Is that all?”
Although I’m excited to try out this fancy new dark ride the next time I visit, I can’t help but understand exactly what they mean. Once you’ve been on a ride you’ve had the experience. Go on it a few more times and you’ll notice some extra cool things, but the experience doesn’t change. We are hardened fans, we visit the same attractions again and again endeavouring to find tiny new details which we had never noticed before. We love it. But most guests to Disney aren’t the anoraks that we are. They want totally new experiences and who can blame them.
The problem is that Disneyland Paris can’t just keep shoving out new attractions to provide guests with new experiences. A good attraction takes time to design and build – forgetting the sky high costs for a moment – and it’s important that quality stays paramount. I wouldn’t expect a new attraction every year. In fact I would only expect a new attraction once every few years. Which leaves open the question of how Disney can provide enough new experiences to guests. I’m sure you’ve already guessed what my response to this will be: shows are the perfect solution. And they are indeed perfect precisely because they aren’t permanent fixtures. By the very nature of a theatre show, it will run for a few years and then be changed. So by the time our example family is thinking about another trip to Disneyland Paris, they may only have one or two new attractions to go on, but they will also have new shows to see.
The crucial aspect here is that a show fills this category of being an experience. Each show has its own story, its own style, its own music, its own atmosphere… The list goes on! What this means is that unlike the next time I go on Big Thunder Mountain when it will be almost exactly the same as the last time I rode it, the next time I visit the Chaparral Theatre I would get a totally different experience to the last. It’s still the same venue, maybe it would even be the same cast, but it would be a totally new experience. A reason to visit again.
Let’s not forget that Disneyland Paris has produced some fantastic shows in the past. I can vividly remember watching The Legend of the Lion King in Videopolis (though thankfully not having to Fastpass it!), The Tarzan Encounter in Chaparral, Mickey’s Winter Wonderland in Chapparal and I even have a little memory of Pocahontas le Spectacle in the Chaparral too. These were great shows and its a tragedy that they’re a thing of the past now. To make matters worse, these are only the ones which I can remember seeing! The list of shows which have run across Disneyland Park’s four stages is extensive, seriously extensive, and I implore you to do a little bit of research into it if you’re not aware of quite how many shows Disneyland Paris used to run. By 2010 this had pretty much all stopped though. That’s half a decade we’ve gone without proper theatre shows.
The savvy reader will, I am sure, have gotten a little bit frustrated at me for not mentioning the Walt Disney Studios Park by now. The park runs three shows, plus other attractions which are very show like in their nature. But the problem I have with the shows at the Walt Disney Studios Park is that all three (CinéMagique, Animagique & Moteurs… Action!) opened in 2002 on park opening day and have run since. They are permanent shows and so do not provide an experience which changes year on year. They’re very good shows, don’t get me wrong, but once you’ve seen them once – that’s them done.
A savvy reader will also probably be itching to argue back at me that actually by Summer 2015 the Disneyland Park will have two new shows, a fact which I shall discuss now. Indeed, it’s good news – but it isn’t great news. For those of you who may not be aware, from July the Videopolis Theatre will be hosting a Jedi Training Academy (though still not technically confirmed by Disneyland Paris) and the Chaparral Theatre will host a Frozen sing-a-long as part of this year’s Frozen Summer. These, however, are not really what I would call shows. The Jedi Training Academy is less of a show, and more of an experience for young children to learn to be a Jedi, meanwhile the Frozen Sing-a-long is exactly what it says on the tin: a sing-a-long, not a theatre show. I’m thrilled that these two events are coming, because both Videopolis and Chaparral need desperately to be filled. And of course they are things to do which will appeal to people, particularly given how MASSIVELY popular the franchises of both Star Wars and Frozen are. But they do only go a certain way to filling the void of shows because the Jedi Academy is just for kids to join in with and the Frozen sing-a-long is just an opportunity to sing badly with a group of similar minded individuals – it really isn’t in the same league as The Legend of the Lion King. Regardless though, they are a vast improvement over empty stages and so Disneyland Paris is most certainly moving in the right direction in my books.
I think this is a positive note to close this article upon. The future of shows in Disneyland Paris does look brighter than it did a few months ago, it really is great news that by summer the Disneyland Park’s two biggest stages will finally be in action again – even if it isn’t in quite the way I had hoped. With events such as Swing Into Spring coming to the resort as well, we are seeing the art of performance returning the joy of live action and unique and ever-changing experiences to the parks. Disneyland Paris isn’t quite back to its impressive old self with regard to full shows, but this look better for the future and maybe for the resorts 25th birthday in 2017 I’ll get my wish finally realised.
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