Fading Star…

Parkeology was on location at Disneyland Paris the other week. We discovered things both expected and surprising.

The PR photos make it look so, well, magical!

Disneyland Paris features Discoverlyland in lieu of Tomorrowland. It is meant to serve as an ageless look into the future as imagined by Jules Verne. One surprise came at the realization that the costume designers confused Jules Verne’s 1886 with Bill Cosby’s 1986: 

What’s a 100 years or so between friends?

Last week there was an accident on Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland Paris. This was a week after our return but it was still sort of creepy to hear about this happening so closely to the time we were riding it again and again and again (my daughter would still be riding it if she was allowed). 

You may want to check out the posts here from the Disney and More blog… Alain does a good job keeping up with the goings on at Disneyland Paris. Ironically the avalanche scene really did drop a rock onto the tracks, the train hit the faux rock and debris hurled into some passengers, one of which was seriously injured. It sucks.

Sadly the ride that was seemingly operating the best was big Thunder.

This is what may be the biggest surprise of our visit and one that honestly should probably not be a surprise… that is the general shocking and even appalling condition of much of the park. In the near future we will post some on the flip side of this, in other words some of the cool things being done well there, but in light of the accident I wanted to share some snapshots from a couple weeks back.

It is true that we have no idea what caused the Big Thunder accident but one leading theory is poor maintenance, I think we take for granted that Disney parks will be clean, well run and in nearly flawless shape. People get all worked up when a trash can has not been painted this week or when some paint on the upper tiers of Space Mountain starts to peel… but we are talking a whole different league here folks.

The Pirate ship in Adventureland is a central key feature. Much of the land is designed around it, it was once a beautiful focal point…this is what it looks like today, right now:
(Click on them to make them larger)

I’m not sure what is better, the authentic rotting wood, peeling paint, moldy moss or perhaps the weeds
growing out of the cannon opening.

Mind you, these are not taken with some crazy telephoto lens or anything… you can walk right up to and touch the thing (though wear gloves or you will get a splinter). This is on view in plain sight of every single guest… I don’t think this was the Paris country fair or Six Flags over fromage that we stumbled into… this is Disneyland Freaking Paris!
Yea, they have announced that this entire ship will be scraped and replaced in time for the 20th anniversary of the park next year… but how could this be allowed to get to this state? How could they allow it to sit there right now like this? Do they expect people to be excited about this finally being addressed after two decades of neglect?

Looks pretty nice here.

How about that Discoveryland we mentioned before… it’s holding up right? Well the cost cutting is clear everywhere, ranging from showing old movies on screens at Videopolis instead of live stage shows (the guide promises a live Lion King show… it is not playing) to much worse. 

Even nicer here.

The French version of Space Mountain is undoubtedly the best. Not just because it goes upside down, in fact I hold that against it, rather because it has a very cool Verne from Earth to the Moon theme, onboard sound and a magnificent show building. One of the key and coolest features of the show building is that giant cannon sitting along the side. Guests used to be blasted out of the cannon with a huge “boom!” and a billowing puff of smoke. Today neither the smoke nor the recoiling motion of the cannon (or the sound) work. Worse yet rust is streaking down the sides and the new “mission 2” show is a huge step backwards from the original. Oh well.

Not so nice anymore.

Sometimes it is not big expensive things… ever hear of a vacuum cleaner guys? I think vacuum is a French word… Le Vacuum s’il vous plait?

This is the ceiling as you enter Buzz Lightyear caked with dust and cob webs… it doesn’t really cost much to clean this off say every 5 years or so, does it?

And speaking of big expensive things… it looks like they are going to allow the Nautilus to head the way of the Pirate Ship. It HAS to costs less to fix this thing now than is does to replace it in 3 years… or maybe they will just shut it down and remove it like they did with the once (but no longer) functioning geysers in Frontiereland. By the way, most of these shots were taken the actual first day the Nautilus came back from a month long rehab… what exactly did they do during that time? They did not even bother to clean the garbage out of the pond. Imagine what it was like BEFORE the rehab!

The 3rd and 4th shots may look almost the same… but they were
taken days apart and no one bothered to remove the soda can
floating there for that whole time. Oh yea, the sub is
also falling part.

Pirates of the Caribbean actually just came off a month long rehab as well and yet the sword fighting pirates were hidden behind a thatched curtain for a good part of our trip (when they are broken they are hidden from view) and the once swinging pirate is now the motionless hanging pirate… I guess it takes some work to keep these things functioning huh?

This may look exciting but when you see a him just hanging there with no motion
it is not quite as amazing.  He does not even get a yeti strobe light!

Check out these shots of the concrete in the large plaza area between Disneyland Paris and the dreadful Walt Disney Studios Paris (better than years before but still amazingly bad). Again, these are not some isolated small patches of hidden concrete… this is what the majority of the ground is like, you cannot walk without navigating large potholes. This type of thing exists in the actual parks as well.

The attention to detail is just astonishing. They have perfectly recreated the pot hole
ridden streets of New York or Chicago, BRAVO!

I could go on and on, there really is this type of thing all over the parks, especially the older and much more detailed Disneyland Paris park.

See that scroll molding above the display.  On your next visit look closely,
you will see one missing.  that was the one that nearly ended up
embedded in my head 6 years ago… and is still not repaired.

In 2005 I was standing in one of the covered arcades that run parallel to Main Street. As I was admiring a display I heard a loud snap and a decorative piece of molding came tumbling down from the top of the display. This is a piece of wood molding about 3 feet long, is crashed to the floor nearly hitting me on the head! I took the wood and leaned it on the display, assuming that it was a freak occurrence and that it would immediately be repaired. In Japan the arcade would be shut down while teams of uniformed workers rebuilt the entire complex, probably repaving sections in gold and magic but this is Paris not Tokyo… I did not expect much. Well 6 years later that same molding is still missing from the same display… simply never replaced or perhaps even noticed. A sign of unfortunate things to come.

OK, there must be a French word for paint because they are using some here.

Now to be fair they are currently repainting the castle (it needs it), recently rebuilt the Molly Brown paddle wheeler (which was in almost as bad shape as the pirate ship) and have been repainting much of Main Street (of course the tarps are un-themed white eyesores but there is painting going on at least).

I think the current management has realized how horrible parts of the park are and they are desperately trying to address some of this prior to the spotlight that the twentieth anniversary will shine on them. But for example the rehab plans do not address the Nautilus or Space Mountain at all. They seem to be trying to spruce up some of the more obvious and famous facades while letting others fade… and don’t even think about something as unheard of as adding a major new attraction.

Pardon monsieur, may I have your assistance in climbing the fence and
destroying the landscaping?  Merci.

Europeans do not have the same admiration and social respect for the parks as Americans (and certainly not the Japanese) have. This general chaotic nature of the guests makes it challenging to maintain the park. During a small parade all hell broke lose with guests climbing over fences, trampling landscaping and generally acting what we would consider to be rude. But that is cultural differences and should be expected… but the lack of any Disney supervision or guidance is still shocking.

In Tokyo this would be the stuff of nightmares.

At one point we were trying to cross the street prior to a parade heading in. The cross path was clearly marked but several guests were sitting in the crosswalk smoking and blocking the way. A cast member was standing feet away… when I asked him to move the guests he shrugged and looked at me as though I was insane… then motioned to climb over them as though he could not be bothered.

The park still is wonderfully designed, contains some impressive attractions and could be a true gem, but alas it has been allowed to decay, to literally rot in some cases. It is likely that we hit it at a low point, that it has never been worse and will only get better… but should it ever have been allowed to get to this point to begin with.

Wake up guys! Allow me to translate:


Votre parc est en train de s’effondrer et bientôt personne ne se souciera plus.”

Looking good Jules!


Stupid Things I Notice While Riding Soarin’

Like many of you, I’ve ridden Soarin’ a number of times.  I’m talking Peyton-Manning-to-Marvin-Harrison number of times.  Cher-Cosmetic-Procedures number of times.  Maybe not Rednecks-on-COPS number of times, but certainly Jessica-Simpson-Attempts-Fourth-Grade number of times.  I’m telling you, I can recite every line of dialog in the movie word for word (that’s a little Soarin’ joke.  Some of you get it).

I’ve talked before about the Rocky Horror Picture Show aspect of Disney, for those of us that go a lot.  You tend to find little things that you fixate on and quote in your head, or watch for.  When the bumblebees start singing in It’s Tough To Be a Bug, I’m the only idiot in the audience watching Flik do his little dance on his way off the stage.  And when Waldo starts bouncing on people’s heads, I’m listening for Beaker’s only intelligible line.

So today I thought I would drag everyone into my own obsessive compulsive world and highlight all the stupid things that I can’t help noticing as I ride Soarin’.  And in an admirable show of restraint, I will not mention my tendency to lean out over my seat and see if I can spot a baseball cap lying in the pit at the foot of the screen.

Some of these are easter eggs that you’re already familiar with.  Some of them are just things that bother me.  And now that I point them out to you, they will be stuck in your head and you will just HAVE to watch for them also.  You’re welcome.

“Hello, and welcome to Soarin’ (over California)”

You West Coasters can’t find this one, but at Epcot, the ride’s title is just a single word.  The only problem is, it uses the same preshow video as “Soarin’ Over California” at DCA.  So when Patrick Warburton gives his little spiel, there is a very subtle dissolve after the word “Soarin'”, in order to cut out the extra words.  It’s hard to catch, but it’s there.  Blink and you’ll miss it.

Nice job doctoring the logo behind him as well.

Fly Fisherman Can Bring Down Aircraft

Early on there’s a scene where you fly over a river, containing canoes, kayaks, and one guy in waders fishing.  As the helicopter carrying the camera approaches him, he casts his line, then immediately pulls it back again.

I don’t know what it is about this guy, but I find his action utterly distracting.  To me it looks like he wants the helicopter to get a good shot of him fishing, but at the same time he is terrified that his line might accidentally snag the rotors and bring the whole chopper down.

“Dude!” I silently scream.  “You’re 80 feet away!”

Staged Snowboarders

A sweeping shot of a ski slope, with several skiers passing beneath the helicopter.  As we approach the summit, a snowboard hurdles over the cliff.  And immediately wipes out.  It’s the only genuine laugh in the movie.

But what catches my eye is how the snowboarder is clearly waiting for the camera.  This isn’t some fortuitous shot where the camera just happened to catch some inept idiot in midflight.  He’s perched up on that cliff the whole time during the sequence, and decides to shove off just as the camera nears the top of the mountain.

As a bonus, there is another snowboarder doing the exact same thing to the left.  But since he never wipes out, we never see him.  Must be Shaun White.

Trust me, it’s easier to spot them in IMAX.

The Hang Glider

Nothing really special about him, other than that every time he appears in front of us, I spend the whole sequence trying to figure out if he is CGI, or a real person somehow composited into the shot.

I just find it too unbelievable that they would let a real hang glider fly out in front of a moving helicopter.  They never show the guy’s face. He’s in a helmet and covered head to toe in what looks like a water heater blanket.  CGI or real?  I vote CGI.

Watch out for that fisherman!

Executive Golf Course

Maybe this is just one of those Disney urban legends, but the guy swinging the club on the golf course is rumored to be former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.  He certainly has the country club upbringing, the shiny forehead, and the obvious disdain for Jeffrey Katzenberg.  If it’s not really Eisner, don’t spoil it for me.  Also, I think his caddy is Roy Disney (no, not really).

Maybe if he spent a little more time going over DCA’s attraction list rather than hanging out on the course…

Hidden Mickey!

At parkeology, we detest Hidden Mickeys.  That stuff’s for amateurs.  Nevertheless, I watch for the hidden Mickey on the golf ball every time as it zooms towards our screen.  There, I admitted it.  Now I feel dirty.

Note to Cinematographer

Your shot is too dark for us to see the surfers.  Seriously, it was maybe my third or fourth time before I realized that people were surfing down there in the shadowy waves during that sunset flyover of the ocean.  It’s like the opening scene of Jaws.  Those kids could be skinny dipping with sharks for all we know.

If you look closely, you can also find a Munchkin who hung himself on a tree in the background.

Christmas Rationale

The movie ends at Disneyland, which is fitting.  But why did they choose Christmas season to film this shot?  That’s the Christmas parade down there.  You can see the big Main Street tree and Small World’s all decked out for the holidays.

So this shot is only relative for about 2 months out of the year, yet it’s your big finale.  You couldn’t wait until January to get a more normal view?  The only thing I can think of is that maybe all the Christmas lights helped the nighttime shot to turn out a little better.  But that explanation feels weak.  No matter, I spend the whole time trying to make out which rides are open (answer: not many).

Apparently in Disneyland, people are allowed to stand in the middle of Main Street while the marching Toy Soldiers came straight at them (lower left).  Unless… could it be this shot was staged??

So those are my obsessions.  What do you fixate on?

Stocks and Bongos

The most evil buzzword in the theme park industry today is “interactive” (followed closely by “guest experience,” and rounded out by “Potter-killer.”)  I’m a traditionalist, darn it, and I prefer my theme parks shaken, not stirred.  If I have to hear about another “living character initiative” or “NextGen project,” I think I’m going to have a “protein spill” all over my “social media collaborators.”

That’s why today is not so much about finding new secrets, but reminiscing about some old ones.  I’ve got your interactive right here, courtesy of some Magic Kingdom Day One features.
We come to Disney parks for the awesome rides, the incredible resorts, and above all the absolute top-notch quality of the fast food restaurants.  But we fall in love with it because of the details.  As Tower of Terror says, this is something you won’t find in any guidebook, but thousands of people enjoy two of these traditions every day.  And I guarantee had more fun than at that Stitch Dance Party in Tomorrowland.
Introducing the Talking Tower of Terror!  A Parkeology Living Character Initiative.
How’s this for some picture-taking fun?  Locate a medieval humiliation device in the middle of the Magic Kingdom and tell your sister to climb on in!  Yes, I’m speaking of the Liberty Square stockades.
These things are never NOT without a line (triple negative FTW!).  And yet they are the most simple things imaginable.  Holes for your head, holes for your arms.  The very height of hilarity. Spaceship Earth can slap our faces on cartoons and the Haunted Mansion can transform our heads into a ghost balloon, but big wooden holes are what we really want.
Nothing says “liberty” like public imprisonment.
Why does this primitive little diversion bring people so much joy?  There’s nothing digital about it.  It can’t even graph your face onto a cat (thank you, Image Works).  There’s not a word of explanation, no PhotoPass guy stationed out front.  People just intuitively want to try it out.  The next time Disney wants us to text our second-grade-level jokes to Monstropolis, they would do well to remember that simple is often best.
And even if you are well past those first few visits, where the stocks still had that shiny “new place to stick my face” smell, you can still play one of my favorite Walt Disney World games.  Just stand around nearby and listen for about 15 minutes.  You will invariably hear some idiot tourist call them a guillotine.
Our next bit of sugary goodness comes from the far off reaches of Adventureland, where you will find six chummy tiki gods waiting to impress you with their awesome drumming skills.  They’ve been around since opening day (or very near it), and originally began life down at the Jungle Cruise, where they were arrayed in a circle (although some people call a circle with six points a hexagon).
Drumming tiki gods.  Or future sarcophogi for the Dapper Dans. 
They’ve moved locations a few times, and now are directly in front of the Magic Carpets.  The basic idea is that each tiki has a particular drum sound, and they play a little beat with each other, and pose for pictures, sort of like a static wooden version of Blue Man Group.  You can’t stick your faces in them (at least not without looking creepy), but it was so great to stand in the middle of their circle and listen to the echoes.
During their last move, they were (criminally) enhanced to spit water.  Now that seems to be what draws folks in, especially folks in diapers.  But next time you pass them, listen for the drums, and remember what made the Magic Kingdom so special.  Then text me about it so we can collaborate our social infomediaries.
Because true Adventure is about spitting.