Disney Geek-Out (Bastille Day Edition)



Happy Bastille Day everyone! Liberté, égalité, fraternité


Today I’m letting out my inner Disney Geek and celebrating French democracy in my own US-centric way—with a profile of Disneyland Paris. Specifically, the cool walk-through attractions at this most excellent and freedom-loving amusement empire.


There’s a cottage industry for Disney parks on YouTube, ranging in quality and informational value. There are channels with daily updates, others with occasional tours, some include history and design analysis, plus there are a number of advice and restaurant guides. A few I really enjoy are DefunctlandTPMvids, and SoCal Attractions 360.


Certainly the most extroverted of the Disney YouTubers, Justin Scarred’s Randomland Adventures are comic, fast-paced, sometimes dizzying tours (Disney parks are only a portion of his channel’s content). His lightning-fast editing, exclamatory narration (punctuated with character voices), and improv storytelling are so much fun they’re almost like a ride in themselves. 


Justin’s genuine love of Disney parks could be my inner Disney geek made manifest. He and I share an appreciation for the extreme detailing and thematic enrichment that goes into every inch of space in the best Disney places. Each of Disney’s resorts offer awe-inspiring, encyclopedic architectural flare—a signature style of Imagineering, and he’s right along there with me, showing me all the stuff I’m fascinated and thrilled by. Disney’s exceptional showcraft, technological invention and creativity is always exciting to me, and it’s great to have someone online who gets that. 


Justin’s skills with improv humor, narrative focus, and visual framing create well-made, hilarious, and surprisingly professional comic tours. He’s a genuine talent, and he really deserves his own show on the Travel Channel.



In this video, Justin and his fiancé Ally (who he often uses in reference for measurements like “That window is almost two Ally’s high”) tour the DLP version of my favorite element of Disney park design—the walk-throughs. These off-track places often create quiet spaces to get away from the noise and the crowds on your own. I especially love the caves on Tom Sawyer’s/Pirate Island, and in DLP there are a bunch of fantastic, separately-themed tunnels that are unique to that park. I love that some go UNDER the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, with vines growing down into the cave. That’s thematic storytelling at its best.


These walk-through options do more than just reinforce theming. They offer space for guests to explore these fantasy environments on their own, giving the places a more personal, intimate feel and a sense of freedom to roam freely. It’s also a clever, efficient and low-cost means of crowd dispersement, so that guests have options beyond filling up lines and traffic routes to the point of everyone’s discomfort.


In DLP, even the castle has a number of walkways at its base that none of the other parks have, not to mention a dragon’s lair.  The layout and design of Disneyland Paris are consistently the best of Disney Imagineering, and these wonderful, surprising spaces make it all the more memorable.



In this video from YouTube poster Christian Hubel, we can see the ingenious arcades in Disneyland Paris that run parallel to Main Street, USA. The crowding caused by the parades is always a problem for me, but with these arcades guests can easily take another route to access the Main Street shops during parades or inclement weather. (It looks like you could also find an insurance agent or notary too.) The Liberty Arcade windows display the progress of the Statue of Liberty’s construction. Note the difference in icons at the top of each pillar for the Discovery and Liberty themes. The real gas lanterns are a beautiful touch.




And here Christian takes us through some wonderful side passages that go from Main Street to Frontierland and Adventureland, past Adventure Isle, and into Fantasyland. These pathways also function to disperse traffic (you might notice the parade cacophony as you escape into these otherwise quiet, nearly private corridors.)


What I love about this is how many architectural styles and environments are recreated, and the way that the transitions are made from one theme to another. There’s so much architectural knowledge and history on display, thoughtfully recreated, compressed, and stylized.


Note also the ways in which the spaces expand and contract—this is where filmic narrative and storytelling comes in. It’s this vast knowledge of vernacular architecture, this detailed attention to thematic spaces, that is just one of the joys of Disney parks for me.


Such attention to architectural storytelling goes all the way back to the beginning of the studio’s output, and it blossomed during their first forays into live action. Walt's instinctive understanding of the narrative power of details is one of his most underrated achievements, and in the best of their parks this detailing is exceptionally powerful. 


Disney design is thoughtful about its purpose, its possibilities and its inspirational nature, creatively generous and intended to buoy the human spirit. Disneyland Paris really personifies this on every level.


If you're interested, there are a number of excellent YouTube channels devoted to Disney park design, attractions, and history. Especially right now, as Disneyland Resort, Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Hong Kong, and others are receiving major upgrades with Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar lands (and a new castle), it’s fun to keep up with every new detail as construction progresses. 


So, well, not so much Bastille today. Thanks to Justin and Christian for taking us where this man has never gone before.





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