Hey there hi there ho there gang,
So, who actually shed a tear whilst reading Jim's amazing description of the Toon area planned for Disney-MGM?
That whimsical Sunset Boulevard with its trolley line leading to the "Maroon Studios" area? The "Roller Coaster Rabbit" coaster? The ToonTown trolley simulator ride? All these rides (and more) left quite a few Imagineers sore, and Disney fans bitter about WDI not going forth with rendering a real for real wacky and crazy Toon studios area!
Of course we are all happy in the end all this gave way to another amazing Disney masterpiece as "the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror", and now that also Disney's California Adventure is seeing the day to day progress in the rising of their brand new version of this Florida favorite freefall ride, by 2004 Disneyland Resort guests will "drop by" this Spanish architecture Hollywood hotel and get a whole new twist of the fears and mysteries of "the twilight zone".
Also Tokyo Disney Sea's park model (which was on display in TDL up until before park opening) featured this Hollywood Tower Hotel as a prominent feature of the American water front area, a district of the park which, according to many, had been designed majorly with the goal of providing a good enough setting for this future attraction...which kind of made all Disney fans say "there we have it again; Disney is placing the Tower of Terror (TOT) as a staple ride in all its theme parks, much like the salty old Pirates or the Grimm Grinning Ghosts present in the four Disney Corners of the world".
But no sign of this amazing freefall ride was ever seen for the new Paris Studios, sure it was always a strong rumor from the day the Park project was presented (after all in Florida the TOT is in the studios theme park), but when it came to thrills the Imagineers decided to have their brand new Aerosmith Rock 'n' Roller Coaster send guests in an amazing light show...instead of having thunder strike them on an elevator.
Why for? Well, my friends, the story of the French version of the Tower of Terror could very well be featured in its very own episode of Rod Sterling's "Twilight Zone", since it features so many surprises, dark corners and 11th hour twists even folks in those Paris offices don't know exactly what happened...and what will happen by the episodes ending!
All this majorly because DLP-I /SETEMO (the WDI division situated in the Paris offices actually developing the French resort) had other plans for their brand new Studio's Park and the freefall elevator idea behind the Tower of Terror... they actually didn't want the Twilight Zone to enter into France!
Sounds weird right? Well let's start from the beginning; as most of you should know the European Imagineers actually had a limited budget for their new theme park (reportedly slightly less then 600 Million US $), therefore they voluntarily designed the "skeleton of a park", devising an elaborate plan which divided the park in four expansion phases; the opening, a major expansion with a new area and a few rides in the existing park, night time entertainment area (i.e. some lagoon and a hub for some form of Fantasmic or firework show) and finally a real working studio area.
The "circular layout" of the park would have meant that guests could have ventured on from the Backlot into the real studios; the tram tour station would have been relocated here and performed the "outside top perimeter" of the park, having therefore always on it's inner side sets and working soundstages (which would have been added in the expansion phases). This idea would have finally allowed for some sense in the backlot's story line...since this would have been the area SFX and stunts would be trained, before venturing into the actual working studio!
On the other side of the park the Animation courtyard would have served as the entrance point to that very idea Imagineering had cooked up more than 10 years before; the "Toon studios concept".
Yes, my friends, you read it right; DLP-I was seriously considering elaborating that old Toon Studios idea and crossing it with the Disneyland ToonTown in order to provide a brand new area of the park for kids of all ages to enjoy.
Walt Disney Studios guests would have seen this area divided into two districts: the downtown area featuring shopping and ride opportunities and the studios area featuring soundstages and wacky Toon rides. The actually story line for this being that Toons actually shot their movies here in the Walt Disney studios therefore they needed both soundstages and sets and a commercial area where to live and do their Toon shopping.
Walt Disney Studios guests would have found themselves much in the same situation as Eddie Valiant in the Roger Rabbit movie; the actual soundstages would have been interactive areas themed to the Maroon Studios warehouses, with crashing props, and all sorts of Toon gags performed, also in this area some sort of "Benny the Cab" dark ride would have been featured. Most discussions about this ride claim that it would have been a Wild Mouse ride through a Toon movie shooting...making it sound a lot like a cross Between Disneyland's' Car Toon Spin and that never built Roller Coaster Rabbit ride!
But the real excitement was to be found in the Downtown part of Toon Studios; here guests would have seen how Toons actually live, shop and eat visiting the area's signature "ACME gag Store", "Toon Dinner" and ventured into the "Toon Tower Hotel".
Yes, my friends, you got that last line right (though the name has changed in countless versions) The Walt Disney Studios design team hoped to use the Florida freefall ride technology and redress it to a Toon hotel setting.
Guests would have been right in the center of the Toon Studios Downtown area this completely wacky building, with no straight lines and with red bricks all different in size providing that "Toonish look" (one version proposed by a few Imagineers placed even Eyes on the building but Tom Morris- DLRP head Imagineer reportedly said "now let's not exaggerate ok").
On its facade (much like in Florida) the "Toon Tower Hotel" name emblazing the building, and all sort of sounds and gags would have been featured in the buildings cue!
Want an Idea? Well, as guests ventured through the hotel's queue even before entering the lobby, they would have wound through this Toon garden with tilted plants and even a fountain which featured water "going up" (like in that gag prop which you sometimes can find of the glass which fills the bottle). Even more interactive where the "sound gags" proposed for this cue: much like in Anaheim's Indy ride guests in the cue could have pressed and touched all sorts of Toonish gags on the level of Toon-holes (featuring Goofy's trademark scream), electric doors (like in Anaheim's ToonTown) and many other gags.
As guests finally entered the ToonTower Hotel lobby they would have been greeted by the sign "Toon Tower Hotel; the home of the stars" (an in-joke to the "Hollywood home of the stars" phrase) and a video would be shown of all Disney's (plus a few more) Toon stars relaxing and enjoying this Luxurious hotel where the Toons supposedly stayed whilst shooting their best gags.
The video would have ended with a Toon bellhop saying "now that your room is ready we invite you to step into the elevator whilst we escort you to your room". Obviously Imagineering had a whole twist to all this video (and the room in which it was shown); guests would have noticed that the windows now presented the outside view of a busy bustling ToonTown (much like in the Roger Rabbit movie) thanks to some rear projection trick, also the video would have featured al sorts of gags and strange sounds happening in the background: picture a cross between Muppet vision 3-D and the Honey I shrunk the Audience waiting room video and you get the idea...Toon madness at it's best!
As guests entered this lift supposedly to get to their rooms (and hopefully see some Toon stars as presented in the brochure) they would have had this amazing "deja-vu" since the elevator would have featured a terrible resemblance to that lift controlled by Droopy in the Roger Rabbit movie!
Using the same audio track from the movie Droopy's voice would have said (via on board speaker) once the doors closed "hold on sir" and the lift would have started its climb up.
As the doors opened guests would have seen this bustling corridor full of many Toon stars making the hotel waiters (the unmistakable Mary Poppins penguins) run from one door to the other...whilst Toon madness would have been seen in the hotel!
Droopy's voice would have then said "I'm sorry sir wrong floor" and the doors would have closed for the lift to climb up...only to open a few floors higher to reveal this amazing room with a view of the whole Toon studios.
Guests would have then had a few seconds to realize that the actual room had its walls completely absent and that therefore (thanks to a clever illusions devised by DLP-I) they where going to fall exactly like Eddie in the Hotel scene in ToonTown...
...And there you would go down whilst the inner walls of the drop shaft would have featured this amazing projection of the Toon skyline during your descent; as in Florida there was the possibility of modifying the drop sequence at the Imagineers' wish...and as in Florida the finale of the ride would have featured a movie: only this time we would have seen that the reason of our continuous drops was that (in pure Toon style) the bottom of our drop featured a bouncing carpet (tada.... incredibly clever if you ask me)...and the final effect shown would have been of stars right over the passengers heads...in pure Toon style!
Sounds like a cool ride? A sure hit with guests of all ages and a great way to update the Tower of Terror ride with a new theme, most of all it would have served as a good reason to finally have some sort of ToonTown area in the Paris resort (ToonTown was at first to be part of a Euro Disneyland Expansion but the financial problems lead to it's indefinite red lighting).
Imagineering, in order to cut costs and increase capacity even decided to place 3 shafts instead of 2 and forget that horizontal movement (AKA "5th Dimension room) in order to have a more reasonable budget, Disney studio's planners also voluntarily cut much of the kid oriented rides and theming, as well as any "really big" shop from the park's opening phase in order to have the necessary funding for this Toon Studios.
Euro Disney SCA (the company actually owning the Paris resort) management was reportedly impressed with the ride's potential; here was a ride which could be remembered as the most wacky Toon ride on the planet, and as part of the expansion it had the potential to do what Space Mountain had done to Disneyland in 1995... i.e. re-market the park and make teenagers wet there appetite to ride this "Toon Tower".
Most of all what Euro Disney SCA management realized was that with this new area, and it's trade mark ride, would heavily improve what has been the sore spot of Euro Disney from day 1: people per capita spending on in-park food and merchandise! After all who wouldn't spend tens of Euros on Toon gadgets, toys and gizmos...after all Anaheim's "ACME warehouse" was the number 2 shop after the emporium. Also this expansion area could feature amazing eating possibilities...who wouldn't love to eat in eateries filled with all sorts of Toon gags and props?
During those 1999 meetings the hopes were really high for Walt Disney Studios to succeed and have a great future ahead, this was the park that - with a small budget - could provide the necessary relief for Euro Disney; and could soon expand into a great second gate.
...then Disney's California Adventure results proved below expectations and messed up most of the WDS expansion plans!
But what has DCA to do with Paris? I hear you say! Well Once it was obvious that DCA desperately needed some sort of Thrill ride to boost it's marketing potential Disneyland management kind of went "hey, the folks in Paris have redesigned the Tower of Terror technology increasing its capacity, reducing its costs and avoiding that (which anyway never really worked as we planned) 5th Dimension room why not use that already designed project?"
And within a few minutes (and a few intercontinental phone calls) latter Barry Braverman and his design team were redesigning the exterior fagade of "Their Tower" to fit better into the California theme (David Fisher was assigned to the interior show and is reportedly doing wonders with the ride considering the limits he had been given).
Obviously all this left Euro Disney in a awkward position, as "the Accountaneers" were now pressing to cancel all Toon studio expansion plans (with it's tower) and save hundreds of Million of Dollars by simply using the same ride being constructed in DCA! Corporate directives directly from Burbank and Glendale therefore made Paris imaginers redesign the area opposite Cinemagique into "La Terrase", an outdoor food court designed in the same style used in California's TOT (and WDS's Front lot) and right up there on the area's main gate the "HTH" (Hollywood Tower Hotel) logo in guests plain view.
With this smart move management believed that guests would understand that the Tower would one day come in that area, and thanks to it's style, a duplicate of the California one would have been the obvious choice. Also to fix the "lack of kid attractions" Tokyo's Mermaid lagoon area was believed to represent a good answer to both the "indoor area problem" (providing shelter in Paris' inclement weather) and a good substitute to the Toon Studios.
More to this Disney has made quit a few hints for this obvious during the whole course of the summer when Disney fans watched a strange building, designed in the same style as "La Terrase" be erected next to Armageddon, only to prove a restroom facility (now AKA "Toilets of Terror"), and as this wasn't enough during a French program about the making of the studios an Imagineer was interviewed and right behind him was this giant map of the studios; with a huge building creating the same shadow of the TOT, in that empty area behind "La Terrase".
The only real problem is that Paris management realized that this Toon Studios idea was one of those Imagineering masterpieces which needed to be built (Jay Rassulo, Euro Disney's CEO, is reportedly a major Imagineering fan himself - one of his first goals was to refurbish the park to 1992 standards), more to this they realized that any shop or restaurant themed to this area could make millions (and Disney, whether in the USA, France or Japan, cannot resist this) and therefore couldn't give up so easily on the Toon Studios idea!
So guess what gang: This X-mas season, the area reportedly marked for the Twilight zone Tower of Terror will be dressed as "Mickey's secret Garden" a sort of "Alice's curious labyrinth" (which is a beloved attraction in the Disneyland park next door) a botanical garden only with Mickey in the leading role, making it really difficult for Disney management to construct the California and French tower simultaneously (Anaheim's version is plainly in vertical construction), probably hinting to Euro Disney management trying to "buy some time" for thinking about which moves must be taken in order to go forth with the Walt Disney Studio's expansion plans.
On my part I would at least wait until after those 4 new hotels in the "Val de France" owned and operated by outside companies but on Disney property open and allow for 1.600 new hotel rooms to be available for guests willing to spend a few days in Europe's leading tourist destination.... only then will Euro Disney management be actually able to evaluate the actual demand for a major studio expansion.
Ttfn - ta-ta for now!