Satin-clad starlets striking poses, a brass band playing the James Bond theme: It's the typical glitz and glamour of Hollywood--except that it's France, not Los Angeles. Welcome to Walt Disney Studios, the new theme park next door to Disneyland Paris.
It's the latest stop in Mickey's not-so-excellent European adventure. It's been a rough 10 years for this American in Paris. Accusations of cultural insensitivity have dogged the venture, and profits have been uneven. Euro Disney Co. is counting on the $534 million new addition, which opens its doors on Mar. 16, to put that troubled history behind it. Chief Executive Jay Rasulo expects the new theme park to boost annual attendance by more than 40%, to around 17 million, and extend the average stay by one day. That should translate into more money spent on Disney hotels, restaurants, and souvenirs. "Visitors want more new attractions to leverage the cost of travel," says Rasulo.
Euro Disney already ranks as the biggest tourist destination in Europe. Revenues have been growing steadily following a costly restructuring in 1994. But royalties owed to parent Walt Disney Co. (DIS ), which owns a 39% stake, along with expansion costs, have crimped profits. The hope is that the new studio theme will improve the operation's economics. "It all depends on the number of admissions and spending per head," says Nigel Reed, an analyst at BNP Paribas in London.
This time around, Disney executives have striven to inject more local flavor. Stunt Show Spectacular was choreographed by Rémy Julienne, stunt coordinator on the French hit Taxi 2. In Animagique, an homage to animation, Pinocchio speaks Italian. Maybe this time, Mickey will pass his French test.
By Christina White in Paris