March 3, 2018

What's Next for Disneyland Paris

Thoughts about the future of Disneyland Paris and a little retro Disneyland today. Let's start in California. 

This is a sweet piece of great Imagineering concept art for Walt Disney's original Magic Kingdom area, the very popular Frontierland. Not entirely politically correct. Perhaps having the Native American Indian encampment outside the fort's gates dates the timing of it, but from the perspective of just being artwork, it stands up quite well.

From what I can uncover from all my reading, this never made it past the design stage. Once the park made its debut in 1955, the tepees were positioned on the far side of the park. 

In what eventually became Bear Country then Critter Country, the village was found on the outskirts, but it was so worth discovering! There were Native American dancers and arts and crafts to be found. It created a slice of history in the middle of a theme park. A bit of Disney's America long before a park like that was even considered. 

Walt was not only showcasing Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and other heroes of the Wild West in Frontierland. He was also giving due respect to the people who lived there long before them. The sense of place brought new depth to the theme park experience. As Robert Iger and company continue to force film characters into places and parks they don't belong, I'm very thankful for Walt's original vision... and it continues on in Disneyland Paris' Frontierland.

Perfection reborn in Paris.

At opening, Disneyland Paris parc was not a place where shoving in characters or being politically correct took hold. The piece of concept art above is very similar to what was actually built. It's just the beginning of a land that is my favorite of all when I visit there. 

From the hub to the fort, walking up inside the stockades is thrill!  The views are incredible, including Big Thunder Mountain on the island and Phantom Manor off to the side. Frontierland is one of the places where Disneyland Paris' version fully outshines similar areas in Florida and California, even with its recent changes that make room for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. The sense of being totally immersed in one land at a time is in itself a testament to the detail in the park and the vision of Tony Baxter and his whole crew, including Frontierland project lead Jeff Burke. (Read my detailed article here.)

The town of Thunder Mesa holds its own stories, some obvious and some hidden. The legends tell of a search for gold (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) and a wealthy family torn apart by a forbidden love (Phantom Manor). There's clues all around. In fact, you can spend a whole day in just this area of the park and at all not feel shortchanged. It's a brilliant piece of theme park eye candy!

With Walt Disney Studios Paris getting a two billion plus (much needed) overhaul, it's time to look once more at what is needed in the first French Kingdom. The suits need to bring more bodies to that side of the park. Indiana Jones' cheapened roller coaster romp is just not doing it. If it's not Adventureland, then Frontierland is the place for expansion. If it's done well and in the spirit of the original park design.

There's room for many more stories to be told and much more land here to be used to tell them. Bring on a new version of Marc Davis' unbuilt Western River Expedition instead of Splash Mountain. Think it through. Expand the story from mining to logging, but let the land's integrity remain. I say no more characters on this side of the park unless they strengthen the already amazing story.

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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