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It's dèjá vu all over again



During this past weekend's grand opening of the Walt Disney Studios theme park at Disneyland Paris, one distinctly French phrase spilled from a lot of lips. No, it wasn't ooh la la! Or c'est magnifique!

It was dèjá vu.

Certainly anyone who has been to Disney/MGM Studios at Walt Disney World will recognize huge chunks of the place. Both "The Rock 'n' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith" and the "Backstage Studio Tour" featuring Catastrophe Canyon have been slavishly copied. But the Europeans also got a clone from the Magic Kingdom; if the lines for "The Magic Carpets of Aladdin" seem too long the next time you visit Adventureland, don't fret. Just hop on the Concorde and see if the line for the Paris version is any shorter.

Of course, given the ridiculously low number of rides and shows the Mouse had ready for opening day, one wonders if there's ever going to be a short line for anything at Disneyland Paris' second gate. How many attractions are we talking about? A measly nine.

It's called cost containment. The less Disney spends on the place, the quicker the new park can come into profit.

Mouse House managers were determined not to spend any more than necessary to launch the new park, which still cost $539 million. Mickey never really recovered from the financial embarrassment that followed Disneyland Paris' opening in April 1992. If it hadn't been for some creative bookkeeping, the $3.9 billion French resort would have sunk into a sea of red ink ages ago.

But Disneyland Paris did manage to survive those first few rough years. Now, with more than 12 million guests pushing through the turnstiles every year, it attracts even more visitors than that most Parisian of icons, the Eiffel Tower.

Which sounds really great on paper. But the financial reality is that -- due to the resort's crushing debt load -- those 12 million customers aren't enough to keep le wolf away from le door.

That's where the second park comes in. The Mouse hopes that its meager assortment of attractions still will be enough to entice at least another 5 million people a year to Paris. Or, better yet, get those who are already there to stay an extra night in a Disney hotel room. Either way, the property's bottom line is supposed to improve. In theory.

The problem is that millions of Europeans have been to Orlando and already ridden the rides in the new park. How can the Mouse lure them anew?

"Now, wait a minute, Jim," I hear the Disney dweebs saying. "Doesn't the first Disneyland Paris park also have cloned rides?" Technically, yes. But the elaborate re-creations from Disneyland and Walt Disney World -- particularly "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Phantom Manor" (a.k.a. "The Haunted Mansion") and "Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon" -- were so reworked that they come across as entirely original efforts.

That's the difference between Disneyland Paris' first park and Walt Disney Studios. The first time around, the dollars weren't being watched. Imagineers spent more than $1 billion creating Disneyland Paris -- and it shows.

Finally recognizing that a park made up of cloned attractions would have limited appeal, Mouse House managers agreed to three new shows for Walt Disney Studios. They are:

"Moteurs, Action ... Stunt Show Spectacular!" Staged by legendary French stunt driver Remy Julienne (best known for his outrageous sequences in the James Bond films), this arena show features lots of little foreign cars racing around a faux St. Tropez.

"Cinemagique!" Disney tried but failed to persuade France's favorite fool, Jerry Lewis, to play a prominent part in its studio park. So the Mouse opted for the next best thing: Martin Short doing his Jerry Lewis impression. Short plays an obnoxious cell-phone user who magically gets sucked up into a movie.

Speaking of things that suck, there's also the "Armageddon" special-effects extravaganza, in which visitors find themselves trapped inside a decrepit Russian space station just as a meteorite storm starts. Will they end up getting sucked out through the holes in the ship and exposed to the vacuum of space?

A better question might be: How will they react when they realize they've paid a full day's admission for a park with only a half day's worth of activities?

Calling Walt Disney Studios a "work in progress," the PR flacks stress that other attractions are in the pipeline. Site work is under way for a version of "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror." The park may also get a copy of the Magic Kingdom's "Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin." It's a depressing trend. Then again, in a park that celebrates movies and television, maybe reruns are all you should expect.

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