There’s a new trackless dark ride in the Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris based on Ratatouille, in a ‘Streets of Paris’ mini-land that has the potential to turn around that much-maligned park. But does it? We’ll take a look in this spoiler-free ride review of Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy (Ratatouille: The Adventure), and also–perhaps more importantly–offer some thoughts on the new area as a whole and what it does for the Walt Disney Studios Park.
Let’s start with a little context. The Walt Disney Studios Park is the second gate at Disneyland Paris, sitting a few hundred yards from Parc Disneyland, the most meticulously designed and costliest Disneyland-style park ever built (well, before Shanghai Disneyland).
By contrast, the Walt Disney Studios Park is the cheapest Disney park ever built, and is by most accounts, the worst Disney park in the world. In a previous article, I even questioned whether it has the defining characteristics of a Disney theme park. Despite a decent attraction lineup, the public has largely rejected this second gate, which has contributed to Disneyland Paris’ historical woes.
That’s the backdrop against which the addition of the Place de Rémy (Streets of Paris) mini-land and Ratatouille: The Adventure is set. Much like the success of Hong Kong Disneyland hinged on the success of its three mini-lands, so too, I feel, does the future of the Walt Disney Studios Park lie with Ratatouille.
So…is that future bright?
At first blush, it was a risky endeavor even if executed perfectly. After all, the concept is a land based on Paris just outside of Paris. That would be liking building a California-themed park in California. Oh, wait. The difference here is likely two-fold: first, it’s just a small mini-land, not an entire park. Second, Disneyland Paris is drawing from a pool of guests from all over Europe, not just Parisians, whereas Disney California Adventure’s key demographic was Californians. Then again, perhaps the California concept would have worked from the get-go if it were just built with a greater eye towards quality.
The adage that ‘quality will always out’ is probably the ultimate key, as neither Disney California Adventure nor the Streets of Paris mini-land are authentic recreations of the real places they represent. Rather, the Streets of Paris is like a mix of New Orleans Square and Fantasyland. Like New Orleans Square, it’s a romanticized but ostensibly authentic take on the real world. Like Fantasyland, it’s a place where a talking rat is a chef, with a cartoony visual motif replacing certain real world elements.
As a whole, this land overcomes all potential pitfalls and works. There’s just the right amount of Parisian detail and romanticized charm to make it feel inviting and immersive, but thanks to those Fantasyland-esque details, it stops short of trying to replicate actual Paris. My personal take is that this was a smart, deliberate move. Replicating Paris just outside of real Paris, regardless of demographics, would have been a fool’s errand.
Instead, the area is fleshed out with things you’ll never see in actual Paris, such as the water fountain with rat flourishes and details from the film. With this, you’re simultaneously stepping into Paris and also a near-scene from the movie Ratatouille. For those who take themed design seriously, the cartoonish touches might seem over the top or kitschy, but I think they’re absolutely necessary to making this area succeed as it does. I keep finding myself wanting to overuse the word “charm” here, but that’s the most apt term. There’s a certain charm to the land achieved through its style and relative simplicity.
The Streets of Paris mini-land, as a place, is the biggest winner here. It brings character and immersiveness to a park that otherwise felt as aesthetically thought-out as a bunch of carnival rides plopped down on the far corner of a Wal-Mart parking lot. To be sure, the mini-land is still on the simple side, and certainly isn’t going to make any jaws drop like walking into Mysterious Island and seeing Prometheus erupt for the first time, but that’s not it’s function (although I do stand by my position that any theme park land can be improved through the addition of volcanoes and dinosaurs). It’s meant to be a charming land that immerses guests in a recognizable place from a favorite movie. In this regard, it completely works.
The potentially unfortunate byproduct of this is that it sticks out like a sore thumb in the Walt Disney Studios Park, where it can’t be organically integrated into the “style” of the park as a bunch of crap thrown onto a parking lot. That’s a problem of the rest of the park, not the Streets of Paris, though.
The other big winner is the Bistrot Chez Remy restaurant, which I already covered in another post. The food there is by far the best I’ve had anywhere at Disneyland Paris, which is important, but almost beside the point. More importantly, the illusion in that restaurant just works, even if I do take minor issue with the quality of some elements of the experience.
Then, there’s the ride itself. After the opening of Mystic Manor the year before (which I consider to be near the top of the list of Disney’s 10 Best Attractions), Imagineering had set the bar high, especially on the trackless dark ride front. Conceptually, it seemed like Ratatouille: The Adventure was poised for near-certain success on this same front, as a rat scurrying through a restaurant seemed like an ideal use of the trackless dark ride technology. And it is. Conceptually.
Unfortunately, in execution, this ride falls short. The culprit is quite easy to identify: screens. Now, I’m not one of those theme park pundits that is bitter about the proliferation of screen-heavy attractions. My bias is admittedly towards physical sets, but I enjoy many screen-heavy attractions, and appreciate what screens can bring to the table that physical sets cannot.
The problem here isn’t so much with the overuse of screens as it is with the misuse of them, or the poor integration of screens into the physical sets. To wit, at only two points in the attraction was I actually able to suspend disbelief and feel like I was a rat racing through a restaurant. The rest of the time, it was painfully obvious to me that I wasn’t in the actual place being presented to me via the screen, but instead, that I was looking at the screen. This occurred because the screen was just sort of there, without much effort made to integrate it into a set, or prevent guests from easily seeing the edges of the screen. When you’re supposed to be walking along a rooftop but can easily see the flat show building floor below your ride vehicle, the experience comes to a screeching halt.
For those who haven’t experienced Ratatouille: The Adventure, the best way to explain this is probably through comparison. Although it’s not a trackless dark ride, I think Soarin’ is a good example. For me, Soarin’ is a very solid attraction that causes me to suspend disbelief most of the time and feel like I’m flying despite actually looking into a big screen. I say most of the time because there are situations where I’m at an outer edge or situation behind someone with really long legs, and find myself seeing too much feet or being fixated on the edge of the screen, which pulls me out of the experience. In the case of Soarin’, the instances of this happening are minimal. Yes, you can focus on that edge of the screen from any seat to pull yourself out of the experience, but you have to go out of your way to do it.
The difference with Ratatouille: The Adventure, I think, is that you have to almost develop tunnel vision on the center of the screen to “stay in the zone,” so to speak. If your gaze wanders even a little bit, all bets are off. This is especially troubling given the nature of the attraction, which is essentially a free-for-all dark ride that lends itself to exploration and curiosity. Whereas a normal dark ride turns and directs guest attention to certain show scenes, trackless dark rides have been more about satisfying the desire for “freely” exploring and adventuring. Given the nature of the attraction here, that’s exactly how Ratatouille: The Adventure should have been. But it’s not. Deviate your gaze from that sweet spot even a bit in several key scenes and it becomes painfully obvious that you’re not where Disney wants you to think you are.
There are a couple of places where this isn’t the case. The middle portion of the attraction takes guests through a large physical set with giant props overhead and items all around, and this area works really well. It integrates the physical environments with the screen tech, and for the duration of this scene, Ratatouille: The Adventure has flashes of Mystic Manor quality. Another scene, shortly after this, places each ride vehicle into it’s own little area with a screen that involves running through a tight area. The execution here is spot on, and this scene really demonstrates how effective the attraction could have been as a whole were the execution elsewhere better.
The attraction is still fun and even with the faults, it’s still a solid addition that is far superior to the vast majority of Fantasyland-style attractions elsewhere. If you’re judging it against those, it’s pretty easy to overlook the flaws on which I’m fixating. It doesn’t take the awful book-report approach nor does it utilize the “Something Has Gone Terribly Wrong” storytelling style. It’s a simple premise lifted from the movie that lends itself really well to an attraction. For many guests, that will be enough, and they will have plenty of fun with it. I am, admittedly, holding the attraction to a higher standard than this. This is a mega E-Ticket trackless dark ride that cost a ton of money, and one that could represent both an artistic and commercial turning point for the Walt Disney Studios Park much like Mystic Manor did for Hong Kong Disneyland.
I think this is a fair standard given the hype, cost, and need, and with this elevated standard, Ratatouille: The Adventure falls short of what it could and should be. I don’t know how simple all of this would be to fix, but I wish the team who worked on this project would have spent more time riding a mix of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Mystic Manor before putting the finishing touches on here, as I think drawing upon a mix of the elements found in those playbooks would have given a pretty clear idea of what Ratatouille: The Adventure needed. Parts of the attraction do achieve what those predecessors accomplish, but the rest of the attraction feels like it only went halfway, almost taking a “this screen and this screen alone will be ‘good enough'” approach. The problem is that screens alone here aren’t good enough, something parts of the attraction realize, and Imagineering undoubtedly knows.
Overall, there is enough in the Place de Remy/Streets of Paris mini-land to represent a turning point for the Walt Disney Studios Park. I was shocked to find that this is achieved not mostly by the tent-pole attraction, but by the area itself and the restaurant. The attraction is solid, no doubt, and most guests will enjoy it a good deal, but it is not a “destination attraction” that will get people talking or booking trips to experience. However, if Disney capitalizes on this momentum and is willing to spend money–and a lot of it–for placemaking and new, immersive experiences elsewhere in the park, it could usher in a new era for the Walt Disney Studios Park. I’m a bit surprised that this wasn’t opened as part of a project akin to Disney California Adventure 2.0, with a transformed park entrance and more. Frankly, this park needs substantially more placemaking than the original DCA, so maybe a ‘wait and see’ approach is being taken. The Ratatouille area, restaurant, and ride are all already huge successes in the minds of guests, with the attraction seeing the longest waits in the park months and crowds so large here as compared to the rest of the park that it felt like an actual oasis amongst concrete, rather than just the figurative one that it is.
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Have you ridden Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy? Are you a fan? What did you think of the Streets of Paris mini-land? Does this area interest you? Your comments are half the fun, so please share any questions or feedback that you have in the comments!