When Disneyland Paris, then called EuroDisney, opened in 1992, it was seen as something of a boondoggle, with a lack of thematic clarity and poor attendance. It’s commonly seen as one of the biggest blights on Michael Eisner’s tenure as the head of the Disney company (detailed lovingly in James B. Stewart’s “Disney War”). For years the park (which now includes a second gate) has limped along, surviving via a series of last-minute financial interventions and government subsidies but still struggling due to its massive financial debt. Still, it’s one of the more unique Disney parks in the world, particularly when it comes to the Jules Verne-indebted version of Tomorrowland (complete with the only Space Mountain that shoots passengers outside of the building — and upside down) and this summer will have a huge feather in its cap with the addition of an entire “Ratatouille”-themed section of the park.
The park has released the first teaser of the project, and it already has us looking up cheap European airfare.
The teaser begins with a memorable moment from Brad Bird’s brilliant film, with our heroic rat-chef Remy (Patton Oswalt), climbing up the side of a Parisian building. Except, this time, when he gets to the top, he sees the twinkling lights of Disneyland Paris, with fireworks wishing you happy holidays in a number of languages bursting overhead. Then we get a “2014″ and the Disneyland Paris logo.
In an accompanying press release describing this section of Walt Disney Studios (the second gate in Paris, loosely modeled after Florida’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios), the park promises that “the public will be able to find a family at the heart of his culinary adventure full of twists and turns.” The big ride, which doesn’t have an acceptable English translation (the closest is something like Ratatouille: The Totally Zany Adventures of Remy, which is kind of awesome) is a high-tech version of the classic Disney dark ride, with you assuming the role of a Remy-sized intruder on the famous Parisian eatery Gusteau’s. The trackless ride system, akin to the recent Hong Kong Disneyland marvel Mystic Manor, is a marvel, and the production artwork we’ve seen, with giant humans narrowly swiping you, is pretty staggering.
When you leave the big ride, there will be some kind of simulator ride, a gift shop stocked with exclusive items (of course) and a version of Gusteau’s restaurant where you can actually eat. It’s going to be pretty exceptional, and while many see this as the park’s last grasp at profitability, it should act as a nice shot in the arm for the entire complex (which includes an array of shopping complexes and hotels).
We can’t wait to see this rat back in the kitchen!
Gallery | The 10 Best Animated Disney Sidekicks of All Time
- Mushu (‘Mulan’)
Before Eddie Murphy became the voice of the lovable Donkey in the seemingly endless “Shrek” movies, he lent his exuberant talents to voicing Mushu, an equally lovable dragon in Disney’s truly underrated “Mulan.” Mulan’s ghostly ancestors enchant a “great stone dragon” to protect the young woman as she charges into battle on her father’s behalf. But Mushu, a tiny, wise-cracking dragon, accidentally destroys that stone dragon and goes to assist Mulan instead (“I’m travel-sized for your convenience!”). Mulan’s interaction with Mushu is priceless, and his design, which is a kind of puppy dog version of the giant dragons that accompany Chinese parades, is equally amazing. Combined, Mushu makes for one of the very best Disney sidekicks in recent memory. (It also goes to show you how essential it is that these characters talk; for a more recent example look at how lame Pascal was in “Tangled.”)
- Timon & Pumbaa (‘Lion King’)
Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) are such unforgettable Disney sidekicks that, years after the original film was released, a “Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead”-style direct-to-video movie called “Lion King 1 & 1/2,” where the events from that first film are retold from the sidekicks’ perspective, was released. As two outcasts (Pumbaa was exiled for farting too much, while Timon’s backstory is never revealed because those lyrics were cut out of the final version of “Hakuna Matata”) who befriend the guilt-riddled Simba (Matthew Broderick), they are comic foils with equally damaged psyches. When Simba finally makes a bid to reclaim the throne, it’s an even more powerful gesture because he brings his court jesters along for the ride.
- The Seven Dwarfs (‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’)
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was the very first animated feature ever, an artistic act that many in Hollywood scoffed at (it was dubbed “Disney’s Folly”), and still one of the very best. One of the reasons for this is the appearance of the Seven Dwarfs — Dopey, Bashful, Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy, Doc, and Sneezy — they have cool jobs (harvesting oversized gems from the earth), are good dancers (!), and fill out the emotional grey areas that Snow White, for all her singular power as a character, is somewhat lacking in. It’s a testament to the Dwarfs appeal that there are still theme park attractions being built around them today; in 2014 Snow White Mine Coaster, the finishing touch of the New Fantasyland project, opens in Florida’s Magic Kingdom. For sidekicks, they’ve come an awful long way.
- Jiminy Cricket (‘Pinocchio’)
Sure, Jiminy Cricket can kind of be a wet blanket at times, and from a narrative standpoint he rests precariously in between wooden boy Pinocchio’s conscious and Basil Exposition from “Austin Powers,” but it’s the spring in his step and the loyalty in his actions that make him an A1 sidekick. Jiminy Cricket is the definition of ride or die (seriously, think about what madness Pinocchio puts him through) and is responsible for both narrating “Pinocchio” (in a grandfatherly sing-song voice) and singing what might be the most emblematic Disney song in the history of the company (“When You Wish Upon a Star”). What he lacks in gritty texture he makes up for in dependability and charm. Also: what a snappy dresser.
- Thumper (‘Bambi’)
Few Disney sidekicks are as cuddly and adorable as little rabbit Thumper, from the cry-your-eyes-out classic “Bambi.” Thumper has a familiar sidekick trait: a speech impediment, and has the kind of unwavering enthusiasm that most people, when bad-mouthing Disney, assign all of their furry characters. More than a fully fleshed out character, Thumper is more a design triumph than anything else — just looking at him makes your heart nearly burst.
- Sebastian (‘The Little Mermaid’)
Originally envisioned as a stuffy English butler type, it was co-writer/lyricist Howard Ashman who had the stroke of genius idea to turn him into a Caribbean lothario. It transformed what could have been the traditional royal advisor role into an unforgettable sidekick, one full of island rhythms and wonderful comedic timing. In its original incarnation, “The Little Mermaid” would have also been without two of its trademark songs — the calypso love song “Kiss the Girl” and the free-for-all “Under the Sea,” both of which serve as grand moments in the film and also something that the recent “Little Mermaid” attraction at both Disney California Adventure and the Magic Kingdom bring to wonderful, three-dimensional life. Who knew a crustacean could make you feel so much?
- Baloo (‘The Jungle Book’)
Most sidekicks in Disney movies act as comedic foils or are merely there to reassure the main character that he or she is doing the right thing and should always be following their dreams. What makes Baloo such a unique and unforgettable sidekick is that he’s also a mentor to the main character, a young “man cub” named Mowgli. The relationship between Baloo and Mowgli is emotionally rich and dramatically rewarding; the way that Mowgli calls Baloo “Papa Bear” is wonderful and heartbreaking. In terms of relationships between main characters and sidekicks, it doesn’t get much better than this, especially when Baloo is belting one of the unforgettable songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, the longtime Disney songwriting duo dramatized in next month’s exemplary “Saving Mr. Banks.”
- Archimedes (‘Sword in the Stone’)
Unfairly overlooked, “Sword in the Stone,” a Disney take on the Arthurian legend, has style (through its scratchy animation process) and charm to spare, as well as one of the all-time best sidekicks in Archimedes, Merlin’s stuffy, uptight owl. (This is probably what Sebastian would have been like.) Archimedes is noteworthy because he’s not the lead’s sidekick (a young Arthur, referred to here as Wart), but rather the crazy magician’s sidekick. It would be like if Doc Brown had a talking parrot in “Back to the Future” (or something). Archimedes is hilarious, resourceful and pragmatic, a wonderful foil for all the magical nonsense flying around. It’s worth rediscovering “Sword in the Stone” just for this wonderful owl.
- Lumiere (‘Beauty and the Beast’)
There are a seemingly infinite amount of sidekick characters in Disney’s masterful “Beauty and the Beast,” thanks to the enchantment that turned all of the Prince’s staff into anthropomorphic objects. But the very best, most charming sidekick character in the whole lot has got to be Lumiere, the French maître d’ and chief matchmaker between the gruff, disagreeable Beast and the beguiling beauty Belle. Like most of these sidekicks, he also gets the best musical number: “Be Our Guest.” (Hot tip: if you’re dining at the Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland, ask for the grey stuff, it’s delicious. We’re serious. Do it.) Maybe one of the most mind-blowing things about Lumiere is that he’s actually voiced by the late Jerry Orbach, the longtime face of NBC’s crime series “Law & Order.” Talk about enlightening!
- Dawson (‘The Great Mouse Detective’)
OK, so we might be dipping into Disney esoterica with this, a little-seen 1986 feature that directly predates the so-called Disney Renaissance, a golden era that saw the studio return to both financial and creative heights after years of features that rested comfortably in an iffy, unsatisfying middle ground. A kind of animal world version of Sherlock Holmes, Dawson is the Watson equivalent, a pudgy little mouse who is embroiled in a kidnapping scheme involving automatons, the mouse version of the Queen of England, and a giant, ferocious rat voiced by Vincent Price. It’s a shame the movie wasn’t more of a success, both because it’s really good and because it would have been a whole lot of fun to see the further adventures of Dawson and his wonderfully wonky partner in crime, Basil of Baker Street.
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