February 12, 2014

When Reality is Better Than Imagineering Art: Disneyland Paris' Frontierland

Walt Disney Imagineering art always promises grand vistas, gorgeous colors, and a scale and scope that makes even the smallest addition look like it is the next "E" Ticket attraction. I love it! From The beautiful Tower of Terror art for Japan, to just about everything created for EPCOT Center, each piece seems worth digging out that magnifying glass to look for details.

The concept piece for Disneyland Paris (above) is absolutely stunning. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad commands the eye as the centerpiece of the land and the propellant of the story behind the town, Thunder Mesa. Dramatic with its piercing sunset, the concept calls for further investigation. In the shadows, viewers will find the foreboding Phantom Manor in the distance, perched high up on a cliff. 

Every once in awhile- before the suits get to cutting the budget- the end result of what's actually built turns out better than what the artist could paint. Such is the case with the park's Frontierland.

The photo above is taken by me from Fort Comstock, up in the arcades. (Click on it for a large view.) It's a darker, overcast sky in the afternoon of winter. I wish I would have taken this exact same shot during my first two visits to the park instead of my last. The first trip came in Fall of 1998, and the second in the Summer of 2007. The most recent trip was January 2013, unfortunately when the photograph wouldn't look as close as possible to the artwork. On the other hand, seeing Paris and Disneyland Paris at Christmas is worth the trip.

As with each land in Paris, Frontierland is expansive, impressive in scope and scale. Designed for each land to be visually hidden from the others, it's easy to suspend belief and soak in the time and place created as being real. 

Being very familiar with both Stateside versions, it was a bit disorienting to find familiar attractions in different locations. Yet that is what makes this park so fun to explore. And once inside the doors of a familiar attraction, the Imagineers have made sure everything else is fresh and different from what you can find back home. Team Leader Tony Baxter did a terrific job bringing in the best of the crew for design. Kudos go to Imagineer Pat Burke for creating the most perfect Frontierland ever. 

Each attraction here is part of a larger story. I'll leave it for you to discover, but let's just say gold, greed, and murder make for a pretty intriguing piece of theme park. Not necessarily child friendly, although it is easy for kids to not see the connection and still have a great time here. We spent several hours touring the Wild West that never was. After three visits, and hopefully more in the future, Frontierland remains my favorite destination in the park. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

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