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A detailed look at Disneyland Paris' Space Mountain: Mission 2

A detailed look at Disneyland Paris' Space Mountain: Mission 2

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The recent announcement that EuroDisney SCA - the group that runs Disneyland Resort Paris - has overcome the worst of its immediate financial difficulties and is to receive an injection of ?250 million was hailed as a breakthrough by many. The resort has been circling the drain in ever decreasing circles ever since the opening of its second gate, the Walt Disney Studios Park, in March 2002. In addition, the Disneyland Park has not seen any new attractions in five years, while certain rides that were considered surplus to requirements were shut down indefinitely.

So when André Lacroix, the resort's new CEO, announced that the bulk of the windfall was to be spent on "thrilling new attractions", the rumour mill went into overdrive. But what can park goers expect to see first? Indiana Jones Adventure? The long talked-about Parisian version of Splash Mountain? And what about the Studios Park? With only nine attractions to its name and catastrophically low visitor numbers, surely much of the money would go there?

Over the next few weeks I hope to analyse the likelihood of each of these rumours, drawing up a list of what is most likely to appear and in what form. As you will see, there are some very exciting possibilities. I want to start, however, with the one project that has already been confirmed - Space Mountain: Mission 2.

It may strike you as odd that the resort's first new ride is simply a re-modelling of what is already its most popular attraction. But time has not been kind to the coaster that "saved" Disney's European venture. The visual effects and integrated music system that made the ride the first of its kind when it opened in 1995 have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of no return. Europe's most ambitious ride has become nothing more than a large roller-coaster-in-the-dark.

The Mission 2 project (or Super Nova project as it was known during development) is intended to restore Space Mountain to its former glory by modernising the special effects and replacing the sound system. This is to be far more than a simple refurbishment however, as the biggest alteration will be to the ride's storyline. Guests will no longer find themselves on Jules Verne's classic voyage to the moon; instead they will be propelled into the far reaches of unexplored space in a move that Lacroix promises will "complete, rather than replace" Verne's vision. The idea behind the move is that, after ten years of regular "Lunar Excursions", the technology is tried and tested enough to begin launching the first exploratory expeditions into deep space. As a result, the Columbiad cannon and Victorian era styling will remain, but these will be practically the only elements left untouched.

The interior queue line will reflect this subtle shift in theme. The glass panelled "starway" looking into the ride will be closed in by large spot-lit photographs of comets, nebulae and galaxies. From the concept artwork I've seen, these appear to be genuine astronomical photos. (Think of the shots produced by the Hubble telescope and you'll know what I mean.) The two storey load station will house the most impressive new addition to the ride. An enormous space station will hang from the barrel ceiling. And not just any old space station - a Victorian space station! Again, I've been lucky enough to see a few concept shots and it looks magnificent. No doubt this will become one of Mission 2's defining features.

But what of the ride itself? The new journey has been divided into several distinct sections, the first of which is entitled "Chasing The Comet". The train will pursue a comet through the first few sweeping curves of the ride, culminating in a side-on collision as the train plunges through the comet's centre. This last element will presumably replace the "Mother of Meteorites" scene, in which the track leads riders through the molten centre of a giant rock. The comet will boast additional light and explosion effects, as well as a giant streaming tail, which promises to look quite stunning.

Next, guests will soar past a couple of star fields depicting slowly spinning galaxies, achieved thanks to high resolution projections onto the inside wall of the mountain. This brief respite is followed by "The Gauntlet", a section that appears to reuse the existing asteroid props, with new and improved lighting effects. The train will weave its way between the floating rocks in a high-speed slalom.

Finally we come to the heart of the new ride concept - the Super Nova. Whereas previously the ride's final destination has been the moon, guests will soon find themselves being winched up the lift hill towards a blazing sun. As they near the lift's summit, the star will explode in what appears to be another projection effect, although recent news claims that guests will actually feel the heat of the explosion. Either way, it looks as though it's going to be a huge effect.

All of this will be accompanied by a brand new musical score, written especially for the ride. Quite what the new music will be like remains anyone's guess though.

So when can you expect to see this grand re-launch? Very soon indeed as it happens. The outside of the mountain has already been repainted in dazzling, brighter hues, and low level maintenance has been taking place inside the dome after hours for several months now. The ride will close in January for a three month period, and Space Mountain: Mission 2 will officially blast off on April 9th 2005.

So there you have it; a new lease of life for Disneyland Resort Paris's signature attraction. But what about the land in which it sits? Next time I'll be looking at what the future could hold for this distinctly European take on the Tomorrowland concept. There are some big changes afoot and not all of them are going to be popular...

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