Over the past few years, Disney●PIXAR characters have found new homes in Disney theme parks around the world. From Toy Story Land in Hong Kong to PIXAR Place in Florida and Cars Land in California, new heavily themed environments not only bring Disney●PIXAR worlds to life, but immerse park guests into a complete themed environment, fleshed out with walkaround characters, state of the art attractions, and retail and dining experiences unique to each franchise.
When PIXAR producers and Disney Imagineers were considering their next unique attraction for The Walt Disney Studios Paris, they chose that most Parisian of Disney●PIXAR characters, Ratatouille. Designed as it’s own small land as an expansion of the park’s Toon Studios, the new addition features a trackless 3D dark ride, “Ratatouille : L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy” and a themed dining experience, “Bistrot Chez Rémy,” both of which opened July 2014.
Tom Wolber, President of Euro Disney, noted the continuing success of the attraction in the company’s Q1 2015 report: “The increase in our resort revenues this quarter is encouraging and is due in part to our strategy of investing in the quality of the guest experience. We saw growth in all our key indicators, including attendance, notably at the Walt Disney Studios Park where we recently opened the well-received Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy attraction, and guest spending.”
Industry accolades are being bestowed on both the attraction and dining experience. On February 4, 2015, Tony Apodaca, Marianne McLean, Gilles Martin, Edwin Chang, and Mark Mine were awarded the VES Award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project by the Visual Effects Society for the attraction, which combines a trackless dark ride vehicle with giant sets and 3D animation.
The dining experience, “Bistrot Chez Rémy” was chosen by the Themed Entertainment Association as 2015 Thea Award Recipient for Outstanding Achievement, Themed Restaurant. The announcement was made in November 2014 during the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando and the awards ceremony will take place March 21, 2015.
According to the Thea Awards Committee: “Bistrot Chez Remy, inspired by the scenes and recipes of the Disney●Pixar film Ratatouille, is a 370-person table-service restaurant that greets guests as they exit the ride, Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy. The family restaurant, which serves French bistro cuisine, has been built by the lovable rat Remy and his friends, so that the guests are rat-sized when they dine. It is a truly charming and thematically thorough dining experience, where oversized objects are reused in every possible way to create tables, chairs, architectural elements, and props. The backstory is conveyed through newspaper articles, old photos, and trophies displayed in the waiting area. Once guests enter the main dining room the shrinking illusion is clever, consistent, and full of wry jokes. Giant versions of miniature cocktail umbrellas, chairs based on champagne caps, a giant colander chandelier with Christmas lights overhead, huge bistro plates as dividers between seating areas, everything is very well-conceived and delivered to create an illusion that is both convincing and coyly self-aware. The exterior of the attraction looks like a typical Parisian café, but on closer inspection, one realizes that this is the world of Paris from the film, where there are no straight lines – a perfect blend of fiction and reality.
“This venue exhibits thoroughness, conceptual clarity, dedication to narrative detail, and exceptional finish.”
On June 18, 2014, InPark’s Joe Kleiman met with Roger Gould and Liz Gazzano at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA to discuss their work on Ratatouille : L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy, Bistrot Chez Rémy, and other Disney●PIXAR attractions. Ratatouille at The Walt Disney Studios was undergoing a soft opening at the time.
Roger Gould: We have a little group here called the Pixar Theme Parks Group. I’m the Creative Director and Liz is the Producer. We collaborate with the Imagineers on anywhere the Pixarcharacters or stories appear throughout as persons or in their world, we just help them bring it about to life in as true and wonderful a way as possible. That allows us to come back to the filmmakers who created the films, who then collaborate with Imagineering as well to extend those stories.
Joe Kleiman: So something like how the cartoon short Time Traveler Mator ties in with Cars Land’s Radiator Springs Racers?
Liz Gazzano: That one was funny because Cars Land was one of the few lands or attractions that happened almost simultaneously with the film that was being made. So many times, the film will be made, and then we’ll follow that film by a couple of years, so much of the art is already done. With Cars Land and with Cars 2, the art was still being created. So we were able to go back and forth with the film’s art and direction designers and lighting team to actually help create things for Cars Land and make that work. Time Travel Mater sort of came out of that.
RG: We had to expand the world we knew from the first movie. We had to figure out where our guests would have to wait, so we created the whole notion of Stanley’s Oasis as the original setting of Radiator Springs and John [Lasseter, Cars director] got so excited about that that he said, “Oh, we should make a ‘Mater’s Tall Tale’ that explains that!” So we actually designed Stanley’s Oasis for the park and then John was inspired to do the short. So all those assets that were designed to be built for real ended up becoming digital animation assets as well.
JK: One of the big things that happens with Cars in the parks is that Pixar’s Jay Ward is the one overseeing the franchise.
LG: He’s our Cars guardian.
JK: Are there guardians for the other properties as well?
LG: There are. They’re not titled necessarily as the “Cars Guardian” or the “Toy StoryGuardian.” Jay’s our only true full-time guardian. But we do have many people that we bring in on a regular basis with Toy Story, with Brave. Any movie will have its regular people.
RG: Right now, we’re on the verge of opening this brand new Ratatouille attraction in Paris and so, for example there, at the very beginning probably about five years ago, we went to Harley Jessup, who was the production designer, and the artists who created the film, and we had a seminar. We had Imagineers up here at Pixar and we spent a day with Harley and his team basically going through the design process – the learning and mistakes, as well as the answers of how they ended up designing Ratatouille. That helped inspire all those artists that were extending that world to create the new land and attraction. They could take everything they were doing and make it feel as if it were part of the world itself.
JK: Was there always an intent to place Ratatouille inside one of the Paris parks?
LG: Because Ratatouille was such a big, big hit in France – it’s a beloved character, a beloved world – and they were very, very excited about bringing an attraction to that park.
RG: Tom Fitzgerald, who’s the portfolio lead for Imagineering for the Disneyland Paris Resort, said “This would be fantastic to actually bring this to life.” So we started working with him. At the very beginning of that concept, we tried to figure out how do we do that? Because the fun of it is we want to be small. We want to be with Remi and look at him eye to eye and go through the experience where he plunged off the skylight and fell to the floor at Gasteau’s in the kitchen and ran around through the dining room. First year and a half was just figuring out how can crack this? How do we do this? Then the last three and a half, four years have been full on production.
JK: The ride features trackless vehicles, which also appeared on Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland. Was the Ratatouille ride influenced at all by Mystic Manor or were the two designed in tandem?
RG: Yes, the two attractions were designed in tandem. In fact, you have to go back to Pooh’s Honey Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland. That was Imagineering’s first trackless ride system and everybody loved it ever since, yet somehow we had not done it again. We were in early development as well as was Mystic Manor for Hong Kong and basically we decided to work together since we both wanted the same thing – which was to do the next generation of trackless ride system.
JK: What kind of film elements are in the ride?
LG: Yeah. It’s heavy with them. We’ve got five minutes of original animation and two new sets. It’s fantastic. You’re going in between real live huge practical sets and then your 3D environment, where you feel completely immersed in Ratatouille.
JK: So this is a 3D ride where you wear the glasses?
RG: You wear the glasses. It’s about a 4 ½, 5 minute experience where you’re in physical sets and it’s a blend between those physical sets and the 3D animation allowing us to essentially extend the world and bring the characters to life in a fully animated way.
JK: What about themed retail and dining? This seems to be an entire land themed around Ratatouille, not just the ride.
RG: It’s really the same spirit that generated Cars Land, which was “Let’s go into a single immersive story.” It’s that same instinct behind this Ratatouille land in Paris – let’s go into Remi’s Paris. We always knew we were doing something kind of wacky – building Paris outside of Paris, which would be like building New Orleans Square right outside of New Orleans – so we said this has to be Remi’s Paris. It’s a caricatured world of the film, so the plaza is all at human scale, but it’s in the wonderful Disneyland theme park scale, with shortened buildings. And then there are the hidden Remi’s [instead of hidden Mickey’s].
LG: Instead of exiting the ride into a gift shop, you exit into the restaurant. So after you ride, you can eat. It’s very French. It’s all about having a culinary experience and having Chef Remi create a meal for you. As Roger said, outside the restaurant, you’re normal human size, but once you enter the restaurant, you become rat size again.
RG: We’ve done immersive dining experiences before. At Cars Land, you can go eat at Flo’s V-8. But this is really very special, because the last scene of the attraction is where you arrive with Remi and all his rat friends at Bistro Chez Remi, that patio we saw in the movie where the chairs are made of corks and the tables of jar lids and ramekins. So you get off the ride and there are people actually dining there. It’s a beautiful flow right from the end of the attraction into the dining experience. If Remi and Emille show up in the restaurant, they’ll be full sized costumed characters and it works because we’re at their scale.
Tom Fitzgerald had this wonderful idea that if you looked at the buildings from a distance, they appeared like Paris, but as you got closer you began to see details that make it Remi’s Paris. When you enter the attraction building, you find yourself indoors on what appears to be the rooftops at nighttime at human scale. The Gasteau sign that came to life and spoke to Remi in the film comes to life and speaks with you as you’re waiting in the queue. As you turn the corner into the load area, you find yourself on the same rooftops at night, but now at gigantic scale. The load area is actually as large a volume as the battle scene in Anaheim’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
LG: It’s a huge undertaking and we can’t stress enough about the collaboration with Imagineering. We really, all of us, started basically at the same time and we worked on story together and went back and forth countless times. We brought in the filmmakers. [Ratatouille director] Brad Bird was very involved on checking in on the process. We had Sharon Calahan, who was the original director of photography on Ratatouille consulted on our lighting. One of the original animators, Andy Schmidt, led our animation team. Just a great collaboration with some of the original folks.
RG: All the animation for the attraction was done here at Pixar. I directed it and put together the team. What’s so fun about being here at the studio is that we were able to pull animators, many of whom had worked on the film, so for them it was like visiting old friends, and for the people who hadn’t worked on the film, it was like working with a celebrity. In Paris, there are two official languages, French and English. Normally, we split language by character. So if you go on Crush’s Coaster, you’ll hear Nemo speak in French and Squirt speak in English. We needed all the characters here to be bilingual. So we actually used both the original American and French voice talent. So we have Patton Oswald and Brad Garrett and Pete Sohn as Emile and their French counterparts. And our audio team did a masterful job of interweaving that so in a single scene, you hear the characters being bilingual.
LG: And you can’t tell. It just seems like they speak both languages. It’s really nice.
Liz Gazzano is executive producer of Theme Parks at Pixar Animation Studios, where she works closely with the creative director of Theme Parks to oversee and extend the stories of Pixar characters and environments within a Disney Theme Park setting. Her most recently completed project is “Cars Land” at Disney’s California Adventure, which opened to the public on June 15, 2012. She has also worked on “Toy Story Playland” for Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland Paris Resort, “Toy Story Midway Mania” attraction for Tokyo Disneyland and “Undersea Magic Nemo Show” for Animators Palate Restaurants aboard the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy Cruise Ships.
Roger Gould is the Creative Director of Theme Parks at Pixar Animation Studios and works in deep collaboration with Walt Disney Imagineering in the creation of theme park attractions and lands inspired by Pixar’s films. His largest and most recent accomplishment in collaboration with Walt Disney Imagineering and Pixar’s Theme Parks team is the creation and opening of “Cars Land” at Disney’s California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. “Cars Land” opened to the public on June 15, 2012.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and artwork copyright Disney.