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"CineMagique" is the only reel ... er ... real piece of entertainment at the Walt Disney Studios theme park

"CineMagique" is the only reel ... er ... real piece of entertainment at the Walt Disney Studios theme park

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Dear Jim:

Yesterday, I notice that Andrea Monti was really beating up on the Walt Disney Studios. Calling that theme park "...this small movie-themed theme park is arguably is the least attractive as well as the worst received park in Disney history."

That -- to me, anyway -- seems a bit harsh. After all, Walt Disney Studios does have at least one truly memorable and magical attraction: "CineMagique."

This WDS multi-media show is a truly clever mix of elements. Live actors, scenes from classic Hollywood and French films combine with in-theater effects to create what has to be seen as almost the definitive love letter to the movies.

That "CineMagique" was so beautifully directed by Jerry Rees is really not a surprise. Animation fans probably know Rees from his wonderful work on Hyperion Studios' 1988 release, "The Brave Little Toaster." But theme park fans ... they really owe Jerry a debt of gratitude for his skillful work on "Back to Neverland" (that short film that used to run at the "Magic of Disney Animation" exhibit at Disney-MGM. You know, the one that starred Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite), "Michael and Mickey" (that great movie you used to see at the end of the studio theme park's walking tour, where a live action Michael Eisner used to interact with an animated Mickey Mouse) and "Cranium Command" (not the animated film in this "Wonders of Life" pre-show, but -- rather -- all of those filmed interludes you see in the main theater featuring Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Charles Grodin et al).

But -- with "CineMagique" -- Rees has really outdone himself. This show is so sweet, so clever, it has so much heart, it ALWAYS gets a huge round of applause for WDS guests. Who always seem somewhat shocked to find something truly entertaining inside of this half-baked version of a Hollywood theme park.

So what's "CineMagique" about? Well, what follows is a description of this Walt Disney Studios attraction which is loaded with SPOILERS. So -- if you don't want this show spoiled for you prior to your next trip to Paris -- you better bail out now ...

I mean it!

Okay ...

Everybody ready? Here we go ...

"CineMagique" is set inside what appears to be a fairly standard theme park theater. At the very start of the show, a WDS cast member steps forward and does the standard Disney theme park safety spiel. No video, no flash photography and please turn off your cel phones.

Then the lights go done (sort of) and we begin watching what is supposed to a film that pays tribute to the entire history of motion picture. Which -- of course -- starts off with a black and white silent movie. So we see the lovely French actress Julie Delpy being menaced by the evil sorcerer Alan Cummings.

Except that ... after 30 seconds or so, someone's cel phone goes off in the theater. As the WDS cast member who gave us the safety spiel tries to find out just who it is who's disrupting the show, a man in a trench coat stands up in the aisle. As he speaks loudly into his cel phone, we realize that it's some boorish American tourist. Who asks: "Is this the Frankfurt Airport? Have you found my luggage?"

The in-theater cast member finds the man on the cel phone, rushes up to him and says "Please, Sir. You'll have to turn that off." In an effort to escape this WDS employee, the American starts walking down the aisle while still talking on the phone. Still with his back to the audience, the man accidentally finds his way up onto the "CineMagique" stage.

Where we members of the audience notice that even the actors in the silent movie that's showing in the theater are growing upset with this American's boorish behavior. Alan Cumming's wizard character grows so angry that -- with a wave of his hands -- he casts a spell. And POOF! The man who is talking on the cel phone actually gets sucked INTO the movie screen, suddenly becoming a member of the film's cast.

The boorish American finally turns to face the audience. We see that it is noted American comic Martin Short. Who tried to continue his cel phone conversation but finds that -- every time he tries to talk -- all he gets is a title card that reads "Hello? Hello?"

And -- with that -- "CineMagique" really kicks into gear. We have Martin Short trapped inside a motion picture. Constantly being bounced from one bizarre setting to another as the film moves through the history of the cinema. Always trying to hang onto his cel phone, forever trying to get back in touch with the Frankfurt Airport to see if they've finally located his bags.

But -- at the same time -- Short can't help but fall for the beautiful Ms. Delpy, who keeps popping up in the picture as Martin's romantic interest. Julie's there looking stunning in "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" as well as standing on the deck of James Cameron's "Titanic" looking equally radiate.

And you can see that Short is clearly smittened with this girl and would love to make some time with her. Except that ...Well, there's still that pesky luggage to find. And then there's the fact that the film seems to keep changing settings on Short every five seconds.

There are some truly memorable set pieces in "CineMagique." These include:

Short stumbling along the ledge of a high skyscraper with silent star Harold Lloyd in a clip from "Safety First."

Martin mixing it up with Laurel and Hardy in that epic pie fight from "Battle of the Century."

Short winding up in the same Chicago garage with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis at the start of Billy Wilder's classic, "Some Like It Hot."

But the sequence that really gets the audience going is when Martin -- after stepping into a puddle in Paris and suddenly disappearing from sight -- suddenly finds himself 'way out in the ocean, swimming with Pinocchio as the animated puppet and the live action actors are pursued by Monstro.

We now cut to Sean Connery as the Russian submarine commander from "The Hunt for Red October." As he peers through his periscope, Sean sees Martin Short and Pinocchio fleeing from the enormous whale. Connery -- in dialogue pulled straight out of this 1990 Paramount Pictures release -- says "I can't believe what I'm seeing."

Short eventually surfaces and sees a rescue ship steaming his way. Martin waves frantically at the approaching vessel, which turns out to be -- of course -- James Cameron's "Titanic."

Just as Short is being rescued, the ship hits the iceberg. Martin then hears someone pounding on the pipes. We quickly cut to Leonardo Dicaprio, handcuffed to the radiator below deck, hammering away -- screaming for help. Short then says: "Wait! I know this movie. Someone's got to save Jack!"

And -- with that -- Martin goes below deck and begins frantically opening doors, looking for Jack. But each time Short opens a door, there's a different film star in each room. In quick succession we see:

Sully screaming from "Monsters, Inc."

John Cleese nearly naked -- except for a framed photograph -- from "A Fish Called Wanda."

Regan the possessed pre-teen from "The Exorcist." Who -- before Short quickly closes that door -- manages to throw up on the comic's pants.

You see what I'm saying, Jim? It's all of these wonderful moments from major American and French films, seamlessly sewn together. With Martin Short as our increasingly desperate guide. Eager to escape this movie, win the girl, reclaim his cel phone and/or his lost luggage ... But not necessarily in that order.

And the in-theater effects! Those are extraordinary too. With a gentle rain falling on the audience during the "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" sequence, real bullets seeming to whiz out into the theater during the "Some Like It Hot" gangster shoot-out, smoke actually curling out from under the screen whenever an explosion occurs in the movie.

As for the rest of the film ... the clips just keep coming, faster and faster. With Short suddenly finding himself fighting alongside Mel Gibson in "Braveheart" and Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."

Not to totally spoil all of "CineMagique"'s surprises (Hey! What am I saying? This is supposed to be the spoiler-filled section of the review, isn't it), but Martin -- after finally getting tossed OUT of the movie and (because he's finally fallen for Julie Delpy) desperately trying to find a way to get back into the film -- climbs back up on screen, defeats the evil knight and wins the girl.

And then -- in the moment that makes every serious film fan fall totally in love with "CineMagique" -- Short and Delpy play out that old cinematic cliché. They run at each other in slow motion through a field of flowers. They finally reach each other and kiss. And then -- after their kiss breaks -- Martin and Julie climb a small hill as the camera pulls back.

And then we see that Short and Delpy aren't just standing in any only field of flowers. These are the poppies from MGM's 1939 classic, "The Wizard of Oz." And just below Martin and Julie is the Yellow Brick Road. And shining in the distance is -- of course -- the Emerald City.

So -- as the music swells (great score by Bruce Broughton, by the way) -- Short takes Delpy's hand. And the young lovers head down the Yellow Brick Road, "Off to See the Wizard."

Doesn't that sound like an absolutely killer attraction? One that you'd love to see cloned for Disney-MGM Studio theme park and/or for the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area of Disney's California Adventure?

Here's the sad part of my story. Based on what friends at WDI have told me, due to all the rights clearance problems that Disney had with "CineMagique" (I.E. which clip from which particular film did Disney have to pay big bucks to include in this film, how much dough did the Mouse have to dole out to include key images from "Star Wars" and "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," etc.), it's unlikely that this wonderful not-so-little film will ever play stateside. Not at least while Disney's current management team is in place, refusing to open its purse strings to allow a quality theme park show like "CineMagique" over to the United States.

Make no mistake, Jim. "CineMagique" really is a magical show. I mean, why else would the Themed Entertainment Association -- at its 10th annual Thea Awards -- have recognized Walt Disney Imagineering's Theme Park Productions division (I.E. TTP is the unit within WDI that actually produced the film portion of this project) by giving "CineMagique" its best new attraction award.

So -- if the guys in the themed entertainment industry went out of their way to recognize this WDS show -- you just KNOW that "CineMagique" has be something really special.

And -- at least 'til Eisner exits the Walt Disney Company -- this one-of-a-kind attraction is going to be a Walt Disney Studios exclusive. So, if you want to experience a truly magical trip through a 100 years of film, Hill, you'd best start packing your bags.

For you see, Walt Disney Studios isn't really the most terrible theme park that WDI has ever created. After all, how can WDS be a complete failure if it still has a wonderful attraction like "CineMagique"?

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