The strong bonds that exist between France and Disney go very far back, to the origins of Walt Disney himself! The cultural wealth and the heritage of France have been a source of inspiration for a great number of movies by the Disney and Pixar Studios, of which many came to life in the Disney parks. The love story lives on today at Disneyland Paris with Ratatouille : l’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy ! A look back to more than a century of shared history.
Walt Disney was born in Chicago on 5 December 1901. But the origins of the Disney family can be found in France and more precisely in Normandy, in the small town of Isigny-sur-Mer. The name Disney actually comes from an anglicisation of the name D’Isigny, the one of two Normand soldiers Hughes d’Isigny and his son Robert who followed William the Conqueror in his drive against England. The two men stayed in the country after the victory in 1066. While a branch of the Disney family emigrated to Ireland in the XVIIth century, Walt’s great-grandfather and others sailed to the United States in 1834. Walt Disney had a deep admiration for Europe and for France and this would inspire a great number of trips and various feature animated films. If they look closely, guests at Disneyland Paris can recognize the tribute paid when they see the d’Isigny butter in the table service restaurants, as well as the sculpted coat of arms of the Disney family on a wall of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle!
Walt Disney saw France for the first time in 1918. He was one year short of the minimum age required to enlist, but he forged his passport and volunteered as an ambulance porter with the Red Cross in order to participate in the effort of World War I. He disembarked at the Havre, was first assigned near Saint-Cyr-l’École, and then transferred to Paris as an ambulance driver. He was finally sent to a Red Cross camp at Neufchâteau, the railroad hub located in the Vosges. He stayed there for nearly a year before returning home. Walt returned to the USA from his trip to Europe in 1935 with a library full of books for him to prepare with his artists the first feature animated cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Walt would return to France in 1949, when he took a transatlantic cruise with his wife and two daughters.
France at the heart of many Disney works
Walt Disney was strongly influenced by Europe throughout his career, and by various French stories in particular. During his European tour he was greatly impressed by numerous artists such as Heinrich Kley, Eugène Grasset, Grandville, Philippe Rousseau, Richard Doyle, William Blake or even Beatrix Potter. In the 50s, the stories by Perrault inspired his feature animated movies Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella which in turn inspired attractions and experiences in the Disney theme parks around the world. Following Walt’s demise France continued to be a source of inspiration for the Disney studios: The Aristocats, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and more recently Ratatouille, have each featured the city of Paris at a different era.
But the links between The Walt Disney Company and France are not only made by movies. As of 1930, Mickey Mouse’s adventures were published in a French daily newspaper. On 8 January 1936, Walt Disney received the French Légion d’Honneur in his Studios. In 1951, the first French subsidiary of the group set up in Paris, on the Champs Elysées. Television programs on the Disney universe were first presented in French homes in the 80s on channels TF1 and FR3. Disney always loved France, and it has always loved him: in 1984, when the issue came up again of setting up a Disney destination in Europe, it was only natural that the French site of Marne-la-Vallée, near Paris, was looked into.
France and Europe, permanent sources of inspiration for Disneyland Paris
When the arrival of Disneyland Paris was officially announced in 1987, it was totally excluded that the park would be an exact copy of the American parks of the Disney group. “Euro Disneyland”, as it was then called, had to take into consideration the European influences and cultures, and wanted to pay a tribute to the stories that are its founding inspiration.
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle for example is inspired by various French historical sites, such as Mont St Michel, the Hospices of Beaunes or the castle of Chambord. Fantasyland enjoys a real French district in the Castle courtyard with the Auberge de Cendrillon serving French cuisine. In Discoveryland Jules Verne’s influence can be seen in Space Mountain: Mission 2 or Les Mystères du Nautilus, and for 12 years the park celebrated Europe, its great writers and visionaries in the Visionarium. The music, colours and traditions of France are also represented regularly at Disneyland Paris, whether it is in the music played or the movies shown at Walt Disney Studios Park, or the fireworks on 14 July which are shot every year.
This year, Place de Rémy has come to reinforce this unique link between Disneyland Paris and France. The new universe inspired by the Disney-Pixar movie Ratatouille is a slightly fantasist but nevertheless credible and very documented version of a typical Parisian “quartier”. The attraction, the boutique and the restaurant it holds are countless tributes to France, whether to its architecture, gastronomy, music or simply the story told to guests.
Disneyland Paris wishes to continue writing this joint story with its adopted land, which also benefits from the positive impact of the unique public private partnership signed in 1987. Indeed, the creation of what has become Europe’s number one tourist destination has led to more than 55 000 jobs over the territory!