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Is a shiny new future in store for DLP's Discoveryland?

Is a shiny new future in store for DLP's Discoveryland?

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In my last article I called Discoveryland a "distinctly European take on the Tomorrowland concept." Perhaps I should apologise, as that statement is not strictly true; Discoveryland has surprisingly little in common with its American and Japanese predecessors, and is unique in its theme and concept. It was never designed as a vision of the future, or even the "future that never was" but rather as a sort of World's Fair, celebrating scientific and literary vision through the ages. (Particularly Europe's contribution to these fields.)

Admittedly, the Imagineers did borrow elements from the other parks, and the land does have its own futurist "quartier" consisting of Star Tours and Honey I Shrunk The Audience, but this is to be found at the very rear of the land in a self-contained section. Even here though, George Lucas is held up as a visionary - imagining worlds and technologies on a par with his European forerunners, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. (I assume they're not taking Episode 1 into account.)

However, "Disco", as the land is known to Parisian Cast Members, is set to undergo a subtle but significant shift in theme, bringing it more in line with its US counterparts. Earlier this year, Le Visionarium (exported as Timekeeper to the sister resorts) closed its doors for the last time after it was found that not enough guests were visiting the attraction to merit its operational costs. This in itself is not big news, but you have to remember that this attraction was a very important part of Discoveryland. One of the park's opening attractions, it was the first of the resort's rides to be exported to the sister parks. More than this, it was a quintessentially European attraction, filmed in French and reinforcing the overall theme of its land.

So who can we expect to replace the venerable Timekeeper? Well the ride building's interior has already been gutted and plans for "Project X" are already underway. It's not a particularly well-kept secret though, and I received word this week that construction permits for Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters have just been awarded. It's a decision that makes sense - after all, Tokyo Disneyland installed Buzz in their old Timekeeper building, so plans for the conversion already exist. This may explain why work on the Paris project has been advancing so quickly. Plans for the exterior refurbishment of the building have apparently been finalised, and feature a change of colour scheme and a large statue of Buzz marking the entrance, as well as an extension of the building's roof to cover sections of the new, extended queue.

European fans have been quite divided in their reactions to this news. While most of them welcome the introduction of the new ride, many feel that its position at the entrance to Discoveryland harms the overall atmosphere of this section of the park. I personally agree - Astro Blasters would be much better off in the futurist section of the park, next to Honey I Shrunk The Audience. In fact a replica of the Pizza Planet restaurant from the Toy Story films already exists on the site, so a Buzz Lightyear ride would complement the area nicely. Furthermore, the new colour scheme of vivid purple and pea-green is unlikely to sit well amidst the burnished golds and browns of the surrounding attractions.

Let's turn from that to perhaps the biggest thorn in the park's side - Autopia. Rumours that the attraction is to get the chop have been circulating for years now, and with good reason - it is hugely impractical to run. It takes up a vast amount of space (almost as much as the whole of the rest of Discoveryland), has a poor hourly rider capacity and causes more work related accidents than any other ride in the resort. Furthermore, due to the French climate, it remains closed for up to nine months of every year, during which time Disney still have to pay maintenance and upkeep costs. Lastly, there is the question of just what role the ride plays in Discoveryland as a whole. While the loading station and queue lines share the pseudo-Victorian themeing of the surrounding environment, there is nothing particularly visionary or futuristic about the sound of internal combustion engines.

Needless to say, many people behind the scenes feel that Autopia's days should be numbered, resulting in a number of tantalising rumours concerning possible successors. These include Tokyo DisneySea's version of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, which would be reached via a bridge across a new extension to the small dock that houses the "Mysteries of the Nautilus" walk-through. This would effectively create a new sub-section (no pun intended) of Discoveryland, with two attractions sharing a common theme.

Another possibility is the appearance of a hands-on science and discovery centre based on elements taken from the defunct DisneyQuest centres in the US, but with an exciting new Renaissance period theme, making it look a little like Leonardo Da Vinci's lab.

But there have also been rumours that Autopia will be staying firmly put, albeit in a slightly altered form. The details of this supposed re-themeing vary wildly, from a military overlay that would see guests driving miniature tanks around a futuristic battleground (highly unlikely, needless to say), to the construction of a large show building that would put guests under cover whilst allowing greater use of lighting and visual effects. Nothing is certain, but all the supposition indicates that any new version of Autopia would be more action-packed, more visually appealing and would follow some sort of central storyline. If you haven't already done so, I suggest you read Jim Hill's recent article on the proposed "Cars" overlay for the attraction. It's looking increasingly likely to happen.

So what is to become of Discoveryland? The introduction of new attractions can only be welcomed, but it seems inevitable that the land will lose some of its distinctive character as the influences of Verne and Wells are phased out Then again, given the resort's recent track record, perhaps an increase in visitor numbers would be justification enough. Let's hope it works.

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