I just took a lovely trip to Europe and spent a whole week in Paris. I wanted to hit several tourist spots, but I knew that I absolutely had to visit Disneyland Paris. I am a California native, and had only been to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, so I was very excited to visit a different set of Disney parks.
While I will not go into detail here about that trip, I would like to take a look at the differences between Anaheim's and Paris' castles, as they share a distinctly connective feature: Sleeping Beauty.
Originally, Sleeping Beauty Castle in Anaheim was to be named Snow White Castle (in fact, Walt accidentally called it that on television). Disneyland opened in 1955, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves had garnered Disney many awards and achievements, so it seemed to just be natural that the first animated film would have a tribute to it smack dab in the center of Walt's grand park. However, since the beginning of the 1950s, the Walt Disney Animation Studio had been hard at work trying to translate the classic fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a full-length animated feature film. The movie was causing the studio a great amount of headaches, and costing quite a bit of money because it was taking so long to make (the film didn't finally open until 1959). The detail that went into this film was incredible – it took a whole week just to finish painting a single background for the film, and for the first time, it was the backgrounds and environments that were taking precedence over the design of the film instead of the characters. As they say in Hollywood, time is money, and this picture was worrying a lot of people at the studio in terms of finances. But Walt was proud of what his Studio was creating, and wanted to give the film a bit of a promotional boost…so Walt decided to name his new castle Sleeping Beauty Castle instead. Additionally, in the original model for the castle, the top half was backwards; one of the designers had been playing with the model, and as Walt was about to walk in, the top half got switched around and the Imagineers did not have enough time to turn it back the "right way" before the big boss came in. Ironically, Walt loved the castle backwards, so the design stuck. For the overall design, Imagineers took inspiration from the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.
Since Disneyland opened before Sleeping Beauty was released to theaters, this was the perfect way to advertise ahead of time. The downside to this was that not everything in the film had been finalized; still, the Imagineers worked with what they had. The Walk-Through was not there when the park first opened, but Walt hated unused space (and loved using that space to create even grander things), so the idea for guests to actually go up inside the castle was born. To create more of an attraction out of the castle, WED built the Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through, which visually told the story of Sleeping Beauty (albeit in a more dark and dramatic way with perhaps more focus on Maleficent than the full story) through flat paintings that were inspired by Eyvind Earle's artistry (the man who created the look for the film, and he was also directly involved in the creation of the attraction) – and that version opened in 1957. Twenty years later, the attraction was re-designed with three-dimensional dioramas. While this face-lift made the attraction more "hip" for the time and gave a full account of the Sleeping Beauty story, it somewhat lacked the artistic finesse that had been seen with Earle's artistic look. As the years passed, Disneyland's upkeep became rather questionable, and the Walk-Through, while still open, wasn't tremendously popular (many guests didn't even know about it, for that matter). After September 11th, 2001, Disneyland's attendance and revenue took a nasty turn for the worse, and management was looking to find any way they could to make cuts. The attraction closed in October "for refurbishment" – in reality, Disney probably had no intention to ever refurbish the attraction. Disneyland's 50th anniversary came and went, with a major resurgence of popularity and fiscal gain, but still the Walk-Through remained closed (and was rumored of being used as a storage area for the 50th fireworks). But Disney loves synergy, and that fact alone just might have been enough to greenlight an updated version of the attraction to tie-in with the release of the Sleeping Beauty Blu-Ray/DVD release for the film's 50th anniversary. The newest version now showcases the old school Eyvid Earle style, but makes it three-dimensional in dioramas with up-to-date special effects to make for some really magical displays.
When Imagineers were given the task to create a new Sleeping Beauty Castle for Paris, however, they wanted to do something different. By that point, several other Disney castles had been built and WDI had created a better system for physically setting up their parks to accommodate large crowds (and to make things look even grander than before). The park was built with complete consideration of beauty, so WDI created a Sleeping Beauty Castle (or, in French, Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant) straight out of their 1959 film, complete with a beautiful grassy hill. To make the castle even more spectacular, they created three levels: at the bottom, a dungeon-like area with Maleficent in dragon form (and perhaps the most amazing Audio-Animatronic that I have ever seen), the normal entry-level to go in from Main Street and out into Fantasyland, and at the top a set of beautiful stained-glass windows and tapestries detailing the story of Sleeping Beauty.
On the one hand, we have the original. Disneyland in Anaheim is the original Disney theme park period, and it is the only one that Walt Disney personally touched. Being the first, it is smaller, so of course, the castle is smaller than Disneyland Paris'. While some like to say that bigger is always better, I personally treasure how intimate Disneyland is, and as a result, I love that the castle is the size that it is. However, the scale is perfectly calculated in Paris…Main Street is much bigger by all accounts, so of course the castle needs to be bigger. Their castle is also film-accurate, down to the look of the base on a lovely green hill. The entrance is spectacular, with a gorgeous moat (well…when the moat is properly filled, that is)…but, Anaheim has a real-working drawbridge, while Paris does not. Both castles have fun film-detailing: in Anaheim you can find statues of Briar Rose's friends surrounding the castle, while in Paris you can find the characters designed into the architecture. At Anaheim, the castle sparkles! In Paris, it…well, could use some more paint. Paris has a dragon with smoke coming out of her nostrils, while Anaheim has a mix of dioramas and interactive elements. I was bummed when I visited Paris because the castle was under construction, so I never got to see the top floor. I'm glad that they are finally giving the castle some proper TLC at least.
And perhaps that is ultimately why I still love the castle in Anaheim a little bit more. Had the castle in Paris been kept up over the years like the one in Anaheim, I would possibly re-consider…but the fact that their management let the castle fall into the shape that it was in (to show such a dramatic extent of work that had to be done on the castle to clean it up) really hurt the way the castle (and, as I found in other parts, the whole park) looked in my eyes. In defense of the castle, though, I can see that in pristine condition it would be a glorious sight to behold…and heaven knows that I could have stared at that dragon for a whole hour (my family had to urge me to finally go on). What a shame that Walt Disney World's Animal Park did not receive even a part of the design of the dragon for that ill-fated Discovery River Ride that would have tied in with the Beastly Kingdom concept. Too bad Disney threw the money at creating an animatronic of a character from their movie Dinosaur instead. Anyhow…hopefully, when this transformation on the castle (and the park) is complete for the park's big birthday celebration next year, it will be something that Princess Aurora could be proud of. There is currently quite a bit of excitement going on, as there has been some interesting work done on the moat to make some wonder if there might be some World of Color-esque fountains being installed to make for an exciting show for the anniversary.
I don't know about you, but one of my favorite bits from Sleeping Beauty is Flora and Merryweather fighting over what color Aurora's beautiful dress should be (and I really, really wish Disney would give us a little more blue). As a bride today, women have more than just the typical white option – and in fact, blue and pink are gaining quite a bit of momentum in the bridal market. So, for the Aurora at heart, I felt it would be great to feature a little blue and a little pink. From top to bottom: Claire Pettibone, Jewel by Priscilla of Boston, Oscar de la Renta, and Judd Waddell for 2012.