Plans originally called for a new version of the Disney MGM Studios in Paris as the second gate. Unfortunately, the agreement with the French government meant that Disneyland Paris was forced to build a second gate or risk losing access to expansion land if it was not used before 2002. The complicated financial situation with the high debt load from when the resort was constructed and losses incurred between 1992 and 1994-1995 meant the budgets were not present to build the originally planned movie studio park. The Walt Disney Studios, as they were now called were scheduled to open in 2002. The decision was taken to build the park phase by phase to spread the building costs during a longer period of time, similar to how Disney’s California Adventure was also designed.
Outdoor Vending Carts were a popular concept then at Disney, so the Walt Disney Studios was designed to reflect that mindset. To provide a full meal to thousands of guests each day, the park opened with one quick service location (Restaurant en Coulisse, the Backstage Restaurant), a cafeteria restaurant (Blockbuster Café), a sit-down buffet restaurant (Rendez-Vous des Stars, Star’s Meet-Up Place) and the previously mentioned outdoor vending carts called the Studio Catering Co.
The park design philosophy was one where we were visiting an actual movie studio, as opposed to one where we walk through the sets (Universal Studios Florida is a great example) or visit during the golden era of Hollywood (Hollywood Boulevard at the Disney MGM Studios in Florida.) Guests entered the park through a grand plaza, with the water reservoir known as the Earful Tower above us with its Mickey ears greeting us. The park’s main store sits to the left, and Guest Services/stroller rental is to the right. So far, so good.
Studio 1 is a large building pattern after a studio soundstage, where guests have to proceed through while walking to the rest of the park. Another store on the left, the main walkway in the center and the Restaurant en Coulisse on the right fill the space. Unfortunately, smells can be an issue: when the restaurant is packed and cooking up lots of food, Studio 1 will smell like a fast food burger restaurant, which is not very immersive and make it feel very cheap.
When guests exit Studio 1, the park’s design philosophy is apparent and can be resumed as cheap. It’s a modern movie studio filled with asphalt, concrete and bare buildings. The only theming elements present are signs and props near the entrance of buildings and attractions. Add the park’s small size, giving guests a very poor first impression. This was very reminiscent of how Warner Bros. approchaed the movie theme when they owned Six Flags in the 1990’s, minus the visible steel roller coaster and rides.
Like Disney’s California Adventure that had some of the same flaws, one attraction saved the park’s opening day: Cinemagique at the Walt Disney Studios. Soarin’ Over California at Disney’s California Adventure was the first flying theater attraction in the world with an emotional score that helped launch a whole new ride genre now present across the globe. Cinemagique was simpler in concept: what if the Great Movie Ride was transformed into a wonderful movie paying homage to cinema? It worked, as the combination of humor with the clever use of famous movie scenes made this one of the greatest attractions ever.
Walt Disney Studios was technically cut up into four sections when it opened: Front Lot, featuring the entrance plaza, and Studio 1, Production Courtyard, the center of the park with Cinemagique as its signature attraction. The right side was Animation Courtyard featuring Animagique, a blacklight puppet show. The Backlot on the left was where actual productions were meant to be “shot” and where the thrilling attractions were. Rock n Roller Coaster, Moteur! Action! Stunt Show and Armageddon: Les Effets Speciaux were in the Backlot.
The reception to the park when it opened was very negative. The park did not have enough things to do, and with the resort insisting on charging the same price as the other gate, it failed badly. Add the September 11th, 2001 attacks bringing down attendance at the Disneyland Paris park meant the park could not expand quickly.
The park’s poor appearance, small size and a low number of attractions issues could not be resolved, and it dragged the resort’s financial numbers back into the red. Tower of Terror, meant to open around 2004-2005, only came in 2008. Beforehand, the park added another roller coaster and a kid attraction to the Animation Courtyard, now called Toon Studios. Crush Coaster and Cars Quatre Roues Rallye (Cars Four wheels rally), along with a meet and greet location were offered when this expansion opened in 2007.
Tower of Terror had its location planned and even a toilet themed the same way constructed soon after opening day. The rest of the expansions were challenging due to the need to accommodate back-of-the-house facilities. The large parking lot in front of Imagination, the name of the building housing the Walt Disney Studios costuming (for cast members to pick up their work costumes,) was used for Crush Coaster gravity building. It left a small place for a few cars to park backstage and the buses going around Disneyland Paris to park and turn around.
On opening day, three attractions featured fire, Studio Tram Tour in Production Courtyard and Armageddon: Les Effets Speciaux and Moteurs Action! in the Backlot. Studio Tram Tour was a new version of the Backlot Tour at the Disney MGM Studios/Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood with a massive difference: at no point during its existence did any movie or TV production take place alongside the Studio Tram Tour route. There was initially some TV production at the theme park, but it took place inside the Disney Channel studio near Cinemagique.
The attraction had three sets constructed that guests viewed and in two cases, experienced as they drove along in the large tram. The first was a reproduction of a set of Dinotopia, a TV miniseries that became a regular TV show that lasted only a single season. The premise was that two teenagers crash-landed on an uncharted island home to a society where humans and dinosaurs lived together. Alas, the set seen during the Studio Tram Tour had no actual dinosaurs to look at: only a static temple in a forest.
Next, the tram goes into the local version of Catastrophe Canyon. The set design and effect placement is similar to the Florida version, with only a few minor differences:
- The tanker truck is a more modern model.
- The back of the tanker truck was painted black, which solved the issues of the burned and sooted appearance of the truck in Florida.
- The exploding oil pump on the right only sent a gigantic fireball and did not burn for a few seconds after the initial burst of fire. This was later reprogrammed to burn longer, like in Florida.
After going through Catastrophe Canyon, the tram returned near the loading dock, passing by movie cars. The last set was a destroyed street of London, from the 2002 action film “Reign of Fire.” The set was impressive to look at, with a fallen elevated subway car, destroyed vehicles, and debris everywhere. Now, Reign of Fire premise was that dragons had returned to Earth and destroyed it, leaving scavengers and dragon hunters.
Like with the Dinotopia set, the best part of the movie was not seen. You heard the dragon roar, saw a jet of fire come out from a pit, and then…. The tram drove away with one last burst of fire from the same hole. The tram then returned to the loading area.