Recently I wrote about the unique attractions of Disneyland Park in Paris. The former Euro Disney isn’t the only Disney park at the Disneyland Paris Resort in Marne-la-Vallée, though. In 2002 Disney opened Walt Disney Studios Park, a second gate with a movie studio theme similar to Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. While familiar favorites like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Avec Aerosmith serve as the major attractions, the rest of the park is filled out with various rides and shows that don’t always have a clear analogue at any of the American Disney parks. Only a few of them still stick to that studio theme, with half of the park’s small footprint featuring kid-friendly, carnival-style rides based on Pixar movies.
Between its small size, the lack of a unique landmark, a covered central shopping and dining are that feels more like a mall than a theme park, and a surplus of off-the-rack rides, Walt Disney Studios Park has earned a bad reputation among Disney parks fans. Yeah, you can have fun here, but it won’t take you long to do everything worth doing, making it a hard sell at the same price as the gorgeous Disneyland Park next door. It has no identity, no atmosphere, and other than the Disney intellectual properties that pop up everywhere, it doesn’t feel like a Disney park at all. In fact, unless you really want to ride the heavily hyped Ratatouille ride, get dizzy on Crush’s Coaster, or catch the soon-to-close-forever Cinemagique show, there’s really not much of a reason to go here at all.
Let’s underline it right here: the most compelling reasons to go to this park are if you have children who won’t mind the lack of Disney’s typical attention to detail, or if you’re a Disney super fan who wants to say you’ve been to every Disney park in the world. It is by far the least essential Disney theme park of the ten I’ve been to, and even its unique attractions, of which there are a few, are generally not that great.
Before we jump in, though, I’ve got to mention Toy Story Playland, which is kind of a controversial subject among Disney diehards. Although the three attractions at Toy Story Playland don’t currently exist at any of Disney’s American parks, they aren’t truly unique, as they can all be found at Hong Kong Disneyland. (They also won’t be coming to the version of Toy Story Land currently being built at Hollywood Studios in Orlando.) Even beyond that, though, they’re three more examples of glorified carnival rides lightly themed to Disney properties. Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin is a basic Caterpillar ride, which you might be familiar with from county fairs under the name Himalaya, although this version only goes forward and doesn’t blast Poison and Def Leppard at deafening volumes. Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop pulls you up and slowly drops you down, which is fun enough, but redundant for all but the youngest guests at a park that already has the Tower of Terror. And RC Racer is a simple back-and-forth half-pipe coaster that’s most exciting if you’ve never really ridden a roller coaster before. (It at least looks kind of neat, with its overgrown Hot Wheels aesthetic.) This entire section can be easily skipped if you value Disney’s traditional attention to detail and theming, which is barely evident here.
Now let’s look at the major attractions that you can’t find anywhere other than Walt Disney Studios Park.
The newest major ride at Walt Disney Studios Park turns Pixar’s tribute to creativity (and, uh, rat chefs) into a high-tech dark ride. Its combination of a trackless ride system and 3D screens affords more motion than most dark rides, both actual movement and the simulation of it, which sets this apart from the uninspired carnival-style rides that dominate the Toon Studio part of the park. Set inside an inspired recreation of Gusteau’s restaurant, and using vehicles shaped like rats, Ratatouille is adorably designed, and the smooth, unpredictable motion of the cars is as exciting as that of Disneyland Tokyo’s similar ride, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. The 3D screens aren’t a great fit, though; they’re too dark and blurry, and the sensation of motion is no match for the real deal. Whereas Hunny Hunt overwhelms you, placing you right in the middle of the world of Pooh, and uniting this modern technology with classic theme park tricks, Ratatouille is content to pull you up to a series of big screens like you’re at a drive-in broken into segments. In the end it feels hollow and a little unfulfilling. Still, as a one-of-a-kind experience, this should be the first ride you target at Walt Disney Studios Park.
This charming indoor roller coaster is a hyperkinetic thrill, as long as you can handle constant high velocity spinning. Your turtle-shaped vehicle swoops through an ersatz version of Finding Nemo’s East Australian Current. It’s similar to Space Mountain, but your vehicle starts to spin faster and faster as you rocket through the ride, so it’s probably more taxing for anybody who struggles with motion sickness. If you can handle high speeds, quick turns and non-stop 360 degrees motion, this is the best original ride at the park.
Don’t expect the splendor of California Adventure’s Cars Land in Paris. Walt Disney Studios Park has a small section based on Cars with one ride, Cars Quatre Roues Rallye, that only makes this list on a technicality. Yes, there is no ride exactly like this one at other Disney parks, but it’s very similar to a number of lighter, carnival-style rides found through the Disney empire, all of which are geared towards younger riders. Imagine something like California Adventure’s Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, a ride that briefly spins you around in vehicles themed to the Cars movies, and that, without the Disney theming, could easily be found at a county fair or traveling carnival. This kind of off-the-rack ride makes up most of the Toon Studio section at Walt Disney Studios Parks. Sure, they’re fun, especially for kids, but they’re not the kind of unique and intricately detailed rides that make hardcore Disney parks fans travel to the overseas parks.
The fake backlot tour at Hollywood Studios in Orlando is long gone, but a similar ride is still humming in Paris. You’ll ride a real tram through a fake studio backlot, eventually experiencing the ravaged London from the tanks vs. dragons should-be-classic Reign of Fire. (You know, the movie where Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey, looking a lot like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, literally fight dragons with tanks and missiles in a destroyed post-apocalyptic London.) You’ll want to not think about the layers of artificiality involved in this whole situation while you’re riding it—it’s a simulation of a facsimile of a fiction based in fantasy—but if you really miss the old Orlando backlot tour, and yearn for the days when studio parks tried to at least look like a movie studio in any way whatsoever, you might enjoy this amiable timewaster.
CineMagique isn’t a ride, but it’s the best reason to go to this park, at least until it closes for good on March 30, 2017. (Yep, you’ve got less than two weeks to catch it.) This filmed journey through the history of cinema stars Martin Short and Julie Delpy cavorting through scenes from over 60 classic films, stretching all the way back to the 1890s. It’s a breezy, heartfelt ode to film with only a little bit of schmaltz, and it’s a shame to see it go. If you can see it, you really should.
If you miss the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show that closed at Hollywood Studios last year after a decade-plus run, this is the attraction for you. This is actually the original version, opening alongside this park in 2002, and if you’re into cars jumping, crashing and blowing up all around you, it’ll certainly satisfy. Like the Studio Tram Tour, this is a complete anachronism in 2017, but such a throwback to the kinds of mindless driving action that popped up in so many films and TV shows in the ‘70s and ‘80s that it’s hard not to appreciate. I don’t know if it’s a reason to buy a ticket for this park, but if you’re there and have nothing else to do, it’s certainly worth the time.
Yes, this is a special effects show based on the movie Armageddon. You know, that Disney classic, a movie that’s irrevocably connected to Disney in the minds of all who’ve seen it, the film that Walt himself would’ve made the centerpiece of the original Disneyland were he still alive when it thrilled the world in 1998. Okay, I’m laying it on thick: Armageddon is a Touchstone film, which means it was released by Walt Disney Studios, even if the company’s name doesn’t necessarily show up in the opening credits. Still, it wasn’t promoted as a Disney film, and you’d have to care enough about the movie industry (or Disney as a company) to know Touchstone was a Disney label. To the general public, Armageddon is as much of a Disney film as Moonlight or La La Land or that other apocalyptic asteroid movie from 1998, Deep Impact. And unlike the Indiana Jones and Star Wars films, which weren’t owned by Disney when their attractions were introduced to the parks, Armageddon didn’t exactly leave a deep impact upon pop culture. So here’s an attraction that offers the muted thrills of a special effects show at a time when CGI has largely supplanted traditional special effects, based on an insignificant movie from almost 20 years ago that isn’t publically associated with Disney. If it wasn’t in a park that had hardly anything else to do, there’s no way anybody would ever go to this thing. And as somebody who has seen it, I couldn’t blame anybody for skipping out. This is a niche show for a very small audience of old-school effects fans and/or Armageddon lovers, and easily missable for anybody else.
Garrett Martin writes about theme parks for Paste and also edits its games, comedy and wrestling sections. He’s on Twitter at @grmartin.