Monday, 15 December 2008

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant

The castle has always been the fixture at the heart of every one of Disney's "Magic Kingdom" parks around the world. It stood at the centre of the original Disneyland U.S.A., where it was dubbed the Sleeping Beauty Castle in honor of the feature film to be released four years later. The quaint scale of this castle has only ever been replicated at the more recent Hong Kong Disneyland... When Imagineers looked at their next feat in Walt Disney World, they opted for a far grander edifice based on the far more popular film Cinderella. This larger castle could go beyond the walk-through attraction of Anaheim's Sleeping Beauty Castle to incorporate a full service restaurant on the second floor and, now, a majestic Year of a Million Dreams suite for a lucky family to spend the night. The Cinderella Castle was replicated at Tokyo Disneyland, but with a now-defunct, effects-laden Mystery Tour attraction that pit guests against the dark forces of the Horned King and his Black Cauldron.

For Disneyland Paris, Imagineers opted to return to the theme of Sleeping Beauty: one of French fairy tale pioneer Charles Perrault's most beloved tales. This posed a unique challenge for the park's designers, however, as real castles dating from the Middle Ages to the Victorian Era are literally a short train ride away from Disneyland. Rather than try to imitate the castles that were themselves imitations of Europe's picturesque fortresses, they let their imaginations run wild in a true and surreal castle straight from fairyland.

The warped and flowing exterior may impress itself on guests as a work of art or an unsettling fever dream, but these soaring arches and dizzying spiral towers hide in their depths a wonderful array of attractions. There are the requisite shoppes - la Boutique du Château specializing in Christmas decor and Merlin l'Enchanteur featuring glasswares - but the second floor features a stunning improvement on the original walk-through. La Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant retells the story of Sleeping Beauty in stained glass, tapestry, props and effects, all to the glorious melodies of Tchaikovsky's ballet. Meanwhile, a cave beneath the drawbridge or at the darkened recesses of Merlin l'Enchanteur is the bleak and dimly-lit home of the animatronic Maleficent the dragon, La Tanière du Dragon.

To fully appreciate this modern work of art in its full audio-visual-tactile scope, one of course must go to Disneyland Paris, where they can be fully embraced by this immersive fiction-made-real. However, in lieu of that, please enjoy this photographic tour.

The castle front, welcoming you in.

The grand foyer.

The gilt and bejeweled book introduces
you to the upstairs gallery.

The king and queen look on as Flora, Fauna
and Merryweather gift the infant princess...
Until a slighted Maleficent arrives with
her gift of a curse, prompting the firey
destruction of all spinning wheels in the realm.

Spinning wheels being incinerated in the fireplace.

A rampaging Maleficent is distraught over
Princess Aurora escaping her evil grasp...

But not for long... Tapestries show
Aurora with her forest friends and
under Maleficent's thrall.

Having pricked her finger on the spinning
wheel to the right, luminescent fairy dust
descends on her, sending her into deathlike sleep.

The royal guards, and all in
the castle join her.

But equipped with the Sword of Truth and
Shield of Virtue on the wall (and with
Maleficent's familiar Diablo petrified),
Prince Philip charges through ominous and
darkened corridors to destroy the wicked
Mistress of All Evil in dragon form.

Victorious, the prince awakens the
princess with true love's first kiss.

But what is this that still
lurks beneath the castle?

Leaving the castle...


Ellie said...

Wow…. Disneyland, my kids would certainly love to come here.

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Great article, Cory.

Wonderful pictures! Thanks for the tour.

Cory Gross said...

Thank you!

It is certainly a visually dynamic castle, which can make for some nice photos. As exteriors go, I would generally prefer Disneyland's (but bigger) or Cinderella's castle (even if I hate that movie), but the dynamism of Paris' makes up for it. It's so multidimensional, full of little nooks and crannies, stairwells and tunnels, topped off with the gallery and dragon.

It's another one of those things that I wish could be imported to Anaheim. I look forward to seeing the new walkthrough, but I'd guess it's not quite the same ^_~