Wednesday morning we were up bright and early… so early in fact, it made more sense to walk to the parks than wait for the free shuttle, which we did. Today was designated as a Disney Studio day so that’s where we headed, arriving at 9:30, a half hour before the park officially opened. This park is similar to the Studio park in Florida and parts of California Adventure in Anaheim, focused as it were around movie making so when we got in, walking through a Route 66 style road-stop (food and souvenir shops), we stopped at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine to decide what to do first. Rasa figured it would be better to get the scary rides out of the way first thing (there aren’t as many rides here, this park being more about shows and interactions). I concurred and we found ourselves in line for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This is exactly the same as in Anaheim (except in French) and just as scary. We got in and out in just under half an hour, so we were off to a great start on the day… except for that whole wobbly leg thing from plunging down from 15 stories, faster than gravity, so our stomaches were left higher than we were.
Walking slowly, our next stop was the Aerosmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster, yet another indoor, in the dark, coaster, this time with loops and spins. There was no line to speak of so no need for a FastPass, we just walked into the main queue, pausing only at the preset pauses to see the band explain the ride. Once inside the main staging area, it was maybe 10 minutes until we were sitting in a car with safety harnesses lowered and a countdown clock prepping us for another “rocket” launch (actually a magnetic rail system which is all the rage these days – I still like the “click-clicking” of the cars being pulled up a hill, though. Call me old-fashioned). The theme was “rock concert” so the coaster trains wound their way through rigging scaffolds and screaming crowds. It was a decent ride but nothing to write home about.
Not sure where we should end up next, Armageddon: les Effets Spéciaux was right across the way so it seemed like as good a plan as any. This is where I started to notice that the Disney attention to detail we’ve come to expect was
being allowed to slack a bit in this park. The show, an FX demonstration, was themed around the film Armageddon, which came out in 1998 and wasn’t that big a hit even then. The set-up was standard amusement park cutesy, except it was hosted by Michael Clarke Duncan… who died almost two years ago. This only started the bad taste of this attraction. The main bit, where the visitors are “extras” on a special effects stage, is also a bit off-putting. We’re in a Russian space station which is going to get destroyed by an incoming meteor. We’re subjected to bad mechanical effects, some fire and smoke and a bit of shaking…all as a pretense to being blown up. This is one attraction which needs to be either revamped or retired completely. It wouldn’t take much to rewrite the scenario, remove Duncan and still have the bad effects but without the ending in death part. Seriously. Call me, I’ll do it cheap.
Exiting that monstrosity put us mere steps away from Moteurs….Action! Stunt Show Spectacular, a car stunt show. Talk about a perfect antidote for Armageddon! This is a fun and exciting theme park stunt show featuring some great precision driving and clever motorcycle riding. Sure, the filmmaking “explanations” don’t really mean anything in terms of teaching people how films, especially stunts, get shot, but it’s still a really cool display of technical driving with some fun reveals. There’s also a silly bit with Lightning McQueen from Cars but the chase/ballet sequence is worth waiting in line.
Lunch followed then we headed over to see Cinemagique, some show about the history of film. Unfortunately, the theatre had been booked out for some corporate event and was down for the rest of the day. No problem, right in front of us was a really cool car serving as the backdrop for pictures with Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck. Since we’d already gotten a shot with Minnie, we stood in line to meet Daisy and Rasa got a great picture. She was excited to see Daisy, but even more excited to see the car. Seems Rasa is a bit of a motorhead so the stunt show and the fancy old cars were of particular interest to her.
Also in that same area was an interactive show featuring Stitch, friend of Lilo, from the film of the same name. The show in English was still about an hour off so we took the opportunity to enjoy the Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic. Like Universal Studios, this is an alleged look at a backlot in action. It’s not really. There is one backlot area which is dressed to look like a scene from Reign of Fire (It’s okay, most people don’t remember it). Like the similar attraction in Florida, there’s also “Catastrophe Canyon,” where the tram is witness to an earthquake which causes a gasoline truck to explode and millions of gallons of water to come pouring out of nowhere in a simulated flash flood.along the route between these two events there are various props and physical sets from productions like Dinotopia and Pearl Harbor (You get the feeling this ride is used as a threat to filmmakers – “If this doesn’t work, it’s gonna end up in the Paris backlot tour!”). The entire ride is narrated by a French Actress (who is okay) and Jeremy Irons, who looks so bored, he may have actually been a computer simulation. Again, not much learned about actual filmmaking, but it would be a great place for a French translation of my book to be sold.
The other thing about this ride, though, was the queue. While waiting in line, we got to see Cruella DeVil’s car from one of the Dalmation films. It was a really cool old car, restored… except once the restoration was finished, that’s where everything stopped. It rains in France (as we experienced the day before) so it would make sense to have someone come out and wipe the car down afterwards, but there was serious rust build up on the headlights and for me, this was really disappointing. Disney wasn’t necessarily the first in this game, but they were always the best. We held Disney to a higher standard because we expected an attention to detail we weren’t going to find in other amusement parks. Here though, it felt like once the initial work was done, the upkeep was too much trouble. I noticed it in several places and it just made me a little sad. It didn’t take away from the overall fun, but there was a little corner of my world which crumbled a little.
Thankfully, the Disney Stars ‘n’ Cars parade we saw next didn’t have that problem. The cool car we had seen early for the photo op was part of this parade featuring classics customized for whichever character was riding in them. The car carrying Jasmine and Aladdin was blue with a huge Genie head on the front while Ariel’s car was backed with a massive sea shell for her to sit in. There were maybe ten cars in all, so not a very long parade, but impressive and fun nonetheless.
Good thing it wasn’t long, too, since our window for an English language version of Stitch Live was fast approaching. This is an interactive experience just like the Crush Chat in California Adventure. Here, Stitch, an alien, is on the run from the interstellar police and takes time out from his adventures to talk to the people who’ve come to see him. It’s a wonderful use of technology, combining live motion capture with interaction. Great for both adults and kids. It’s a great rest stop and good for a laugh in the middle of the day.
Grabbing a cup of coffee to keep us going, we headed over to the Art of Disney Animation, a combination of exhibits and two sit down presentations explaining, you guessed it, animation. The fun of the first exhibit hall was it was all stuff I’ve taught in film class. Made me feel a little smart. The first auditorium, though, wasn’t so much educational as promotional. It was a visual history of Disney animated films. Fair enough, sure, but it would have been cool to have a bit more “behind the scenes” involved. That did come up in the next room, though, where we were treated to a simplified look at the evolution of an animated character (in this case, Mushu from Mulan). Again, it was a bit cheesy but did give a general overview. I know these shows are not meant for me, but I’d still like to be able to enjoy them without asking too many questions about the actual process.
One of the things Disney did get right here, though, was layout and flow. Exiting the Art of Animation led us right to the showroom for Animagique, a black light show combining live action puppets and animated classic scenes. Really well done and enjoyable to watch Donald (the star of this show) interact with the Pink Elephants on Parade and King Louie from Jungle Book. And it’s a big theatre so even though we didn’t wait in line immediately (we went and explored the Toy Story Playland, an area for kids) we still had great seats.
By this time, our Studios adventure was coming to an end for the day. The Disney Studios closed at 7pm so we had time for just one more ride. We chose Crush’s Coaster, a Finding Nemo themed roller coaster where you’re riding the back of a turtle who is surfing the Atlantic current. This ride was amazing! The basic set-up was two 4-person cars were tethered together, but each was free spinning (like Roger Rabbit in Anaheim’s Toon Town). Then the cars are sent on a roller coaster like track so while you’re experiencing the ups and downs of the coaster, the cars are spinning around for an added bonus. Granted, I probably couldn’t do it more than twice in a row without getting sick (not a worry that day, as the line was around 60 minutes long) but it was a unique ride well worth the wait. Of course, as we were leaving, what do I see? A guy named Saul wearing a UNLV hat. Naturally, I stopped and got him to take a picture with me.
With the Studios closing, we headed back over to Disneyland proper to once again try our luck at riding Peter Pan. And once again we were stymied. This time, it wasn’t weather but mechanical failure. The ride was closed indefinitely after we’d been in line for about 5 minutes so… no harm no foul and we were off to hit the rest of Fantasyland. Pinocchio and Snow White were ridden in fairly quick succession. No surprises here, they are both almost exactly the same as their US counterparts. Dinner was next on our agenda, hoping to try something different than the cheeseburgers/chicken sandwiches we’d been eating. We found some good, hot sandwiches just off Main Street and planned our evening. We were both a bit tired but wanted to see the nighttime show, Disney Dreams, which happened at 10pm, as the park closed. It was only 8 or so, but people were already gathering so Rasa grabbed us seats and I went and did some souvenir shopping. It’s amazing that this is where the biggest differences would make themselves known. One friend had asked for a small stuffed Mickey Mouse and I found one… eventually. Minnie Mouse was ever-present in many sizes, but Mickey was only around in large sizes. Even in head gear, Minnie Mouse Ear headbands were everywhere, but the only Mickey Ears on sale were the ones which lighted up in time to the show. Nowhere to get your name stitched on the back of black felt. It was weird. The other thing which was incredibly prevalent (and I’m sure this exists in the States and if it doesn’t yet it will soon) was the costuming of young girls in princess outfits. Everywhere you looked were little girls cosplaying their favorite member of Disney royalty. To make it easier, the shops were selling these dresses at 60 Euro a pop and evidently they were making money hand over fist. We saw only two outfits for boys, Robin Hood and Captain Hook (and of the two Robin’s we saw, one was a girl) and a few boys dressed as Buzz Lightyear (although we didn’t see those costumes for sale).
I finally finished my shopping and headed back to find Rasa. The crowds had grown exponentially by this point, about 75 minutes before showtime. We just sat and chatted, waiting for the sun to go down and the show to start. At one point there was a brief scare as a few drops of rain sprinkled the crowd, but it didn’t amount to much (we all had fears of the downpour from the day before) and at 10pm the show began.
Disney knows how to do a nighttime extravaganza, that’s for sure. Here, the story line involved Peter Pan’s shadow letting the magic dust from the Second Star on the Right escape so the adventure was to recapture it. During the chase, there were lasers and water curtains, explosions and fire and lots of animated music. It was 23 minutes of goodness and when it was over, since the park was closed, there was a mass, yet orderly, exodus. We walked back to the hotel, exhausted but happy, and still not sure what, exactly, our plans for the morrow would be.