The chase around a port in France: Part 21 of our Fire! Serie

The chase around a port in France: Part 21 of our Fire! Serie

The third attraction to feature fire at the Walt Disney Studios was the Moteurs Actions! Stunt Show.  Initial concept arts implied a James Bond license for a car-based stunt show at the park.  Still, it eventually turned into the second unit shoot of a generic action movie.  The plot is simple: a good spy wearing a shiny silver jacket is given an envelope with documents by another spy.  He is spotted by the bad guys, wearing motorcycle helmets and all black, and the chase is on.  Remi Julienne, a legendary stunt producer, helped Walt Disney Imagineering design the show and the stunts.

Opel, then part of the General Motors (GM) group, sponsored the show, and as a result, the villain cars were all heavily modified Opel Corsa compact cars.  The red hero car is a custom design inspired by the Opel Tigra, with a few versions used in the show.   Heavily modified barely touches all the modifications the vehicles required for the rough and intensive driving the stunt performers would put them through.  For example, the car engines were all swapped out for high torque, high RPM (rotation per minute) 1500CC motorcycle engines mounted in the back.  Removing the interiors except for a single seat for the driver, a roll cage, and the essential operating parts removed much weight, improving handling.  Given the dangerous maneuvers, the car’s fuel tank barely contains a US gallon (3.78 liters) of gas to prevent large fires and improve safety.

The cars have manual transmissions with a push-and-pull design, allowing the driver to go up and down in his gears quickly. Twisting the top of the lever put the car in reverse, providing four forward gears and four backward gears.

The set was inspired by Villefranche-Sur-Mer,  near Nice, and designed to look like what someone would imagine a waterfront city in France would look like.  Various facades provide details, doors, and hiding spots.  A channel of water was constructed between the set and the large guest bleachers.  Those bleachers have room for 3200 guests, adding capacity to the park and making each expensive performance as effective as possible.

After a preshow, which sometimes involved a stunt motorcyclist, we were introduced to the show by a production assistant.  She then presented the second unit director.  Driving along on a modified pick-up truck that allowed close-up shots of the action, he and his crew gave guests a look at how their favorite action scenes were shot.  An exciting montage of action scenes involving cars, explosions, and jumps was shown to finish warming up the crowd.

While all that is going on, and later in the show, during the vocal parts, the large crew moves large props, trucks, and other things around the stage to set up the next scene.

Initially, when the show opened, volunteers were selected from the crowd to be background extras.  They were brought on the stage to play the panicked crowd sitting at a café when the chaos began.  This was soon removed due to the various accidents with the drivers and cars, and it was a liability that was unnecessary.  Instead, a kid was selected to “drive” a car later in the show.

The Ballet Chase got things going in a significant way, with the hero driving his red car launching out of backstage, pursued by a bad guy.  Spinning out of control, he is ambushed by five other black cars but gets out of this jam using his onboard machine gun to shoot at the other vehicles.  This was cleverly done by having smoke come out from the hood area of the red car, which was then timed by small pyrotechnic sparklers on each of the other vehicles. 

One impressive stunt is when the red car is chased by two black cars, which spin around in a synchronized manner with the others.  This ends with all three cars facing the same direction.  Another variation of this stunt with three black cars and the red car also happens later.  Crazily, later, after ducking backstage, the red driver drives magnificently backward, an impressive feat.  The barrels placed in the middle of the stage serve a purpose after: the red car, chased by four black cars, jumps over those barrels using hidden hydraulic ramps that lift.  After, another shooting at the black cars sequence ends with a rocket that splits a black car in two.

The backward red car is switched in when the original car ducks backstage.  They took a regular hero car and flipped the red body around: the driver looks out the back window, wearing a small mannequin on the back of his flame-retardant suit.  Given the speed of the cars and how far the guests sit, it’s a great illusion.

Stunt drivers are introduced, and the red car switch shown on the screen.  During that time, the crew builds a market on the stage with two large delivery trucks and stalls with food.  As we all know, movies are shot “out of sequence” and appear in the film before the ballet chase. 

Black villain cars are shown driving carefully around the market and using ramps to go up on two wheels.  This is impressive, starting with one, then two.  Once two cars are shown, the scene starts, with the red car driving into the delivery truck, using it as a ramp to jump to the other truck and down.  Alternatively, he can also go behind the two black cars balanced on two wheels if one truck is unavailable.

The market was rearranged, and the delivery truck was removed.  This opened up the stage once again for the next part: motorcycles.  The hero walks out and places himself on the stage, with the envelope in his jacket’s pocket.  Two villains on black motorcycles go after the hero and show off their moves with a front wheel wheelie.  The hero ducks into a store as the villains shoot at him.  This uses prop blank guns and the impact with pyrotechnic pieces mounted around the door to shoot off sparks.  Another villain also appears, this time high above the building. 

The villains dismount and go into the store, and luckily for the hero: it’s a motorcycle store!  He grabs a blue motorcycle and jumps out the window.  The villain on the building spots him and shoots at him in a rain of bullets.  Those are simulated using packed dirt in special pockets on the ground.  When it’s time to simulate a bullet hit, blasts of air shoot the dirt in the air.  This is very effective and something Disney uses significantly in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Walt Disney World.

The hero shoots at that bad guy and hits him.  He freefalls down to the ground into a crash pad constructed to look like cargo.

The chase is then on, involving villains in cars, motorcycles, and around the stage.  A florist on foot and in his truck runs obstruction for the hero, giving him space.   The ramps from the Ballet Chase are used again for jumps, and eventually, the hero abandons his motorcycle by grabbing a cargo net of goods that hung above the road.  He runs along the waterfront, trying to hide.  Near the middle of the port, he is spotted by a villain who opens fire at him.  Alas, this causes some gas pumps to explode. 

The hero then runs up on the stage, and the fire eventually spreads in front of him, forming a wall of fire.  A bad guy drives toward him, is shot, and then falls down, sliding through the fire.  He catches fire and runs around, flailing his arms before falling forward to be put out.  This is done using a unique electric motorcycle, and the stuntman wears five layers of protective clothing.  One unique thing is that the flammable gel put on the suit is usually lighted in a controlled way by a technician.  Here, it’s the firewall that does that, acting as an element of unpredictability. 

The volunteer driving the car is given a remote and directions “to pilot a red hero car.” In practice, a stuntman hangs on the non-visible side of the car, and he just follows instructions that the assistant say to the P.A.  This shows another movie-making trick, showing how driverless vehicles are done in TV shows and movies.

Last, a montage of the first unit and second unit scenes blended together shows the movie’s sequence: the hero meets with another spy, who gives him the envelope.  He is spotted by villains on motorcyles, and he grabs a motorcycle from a store.  Driving across town, he ends up near the port, where he abandons it, steals a jet-ski, and tries to get away on the water.  The chase continues, and he ends up near a fuel dock; a henchman falls through the fire when it gets blown up.  He summons his car using his watch.  The remote controlled car arrives, and he gets in, shooting the bad guys.  After a few moments of car chase, the screen fills with fire… and the water in front of us catches fire!

While all that is happening, the crew placed the large stand and drove the ramp truck right in front of it, under a window in the middle of the stage.  They moved barrels near the gas pumps and uncovered some trap doors.

The hero car jumps out the window and falls down the truck ramp.  It then drives toward the middle and goes over an hydraulic ramp, jumping above the barrels and the water.  Right after, the center explodes in a massive fireball, complete with high rocket pyrotechnics. 

The Fire Ramp as it is called, concludes the show in a great way, but it was too long.  It took too long to set up each scene, so guest satisfaction was not as high as it should have been.  In the following article, we will look at all the changes and possible variations that Disney tried to improve the show and tighten up its nearly 40 minutes running time.