Disneyland Paris today is reflecting on Walt Disney and his ties with France and Europe as the company he founded celebrates 100 years old tomorrow. His family roots are from Normandy and you’ll see his family coat of arms – inspired by the Normandy coat of arms – on Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Disneyland Paris also shares French inspiration for Disney stories and for locations in the parks. Disneyland Paris is a special place, we spend a lot of time there.
Keep reading about how France is an endless source of inspiration for Disney and Disneyland Paris.
Major Hollywood icon Walt Disney had close ties with Europe, particularly France, where his family originated from.
100 years after the creation of The Walt Disney Company, these ties are as strong as ever, and can be seen in both the films and the Disney parks, beginning with Disneyland Paris.
WALT DISNEY AND FRANCE
As surprising as it may seem, the birthplace of the Disney family is not America but… Normandy. To be precise, Isigny-sur-Mer is where Hugues and Robert Suhard, lords of the town, set off from in 1066 to help William the Conqueror in his conquest of England. Hugues eventually settled there and took the name Isigny in memory of his homeland. Over time, the family name gradually changed to Disney, and it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that the descendants of the two lords settled permanently in the United States.
Young Walt discovered France shortly after the armistice in 1918, as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. He visited legendary sites such as Strasbourg, the Mont Saint-Michel and the Loire Valley Châteaux, and literally fell under France’s spell, so much so that he returned here on several occasions, for both business and pleasure.
In 1935, he was triumphantly welcomed to Paris by many dignitaries and artists, including the pioneering cinematographer Louis Lumière, and on his return to America, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour by the French Consul in Los Angeles. Very proud of his French roots, he had a family coat of arms made inspired by the Normandy coat of arms, which can be seen at Disneyland Paris on Sleeping Beauty Castle.
FRENCH CULTURE ON THE SILVER SCREEN
From Victor Hugo to Jules Verne, many French authors have seen their stories brought to life through the magic of Disney animation. These include Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (Beauty and the Beast), Jean de la Fontaine (The Ant and the Grasshopper, which inspired A Bug’s Life), and of course Charles Perrault (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty). In addition, Little Red Riding Hood was one of Walt’s very first cartoon adaptations, in 1921.
The Disney studios also drew inspiration from French artists, including illustrator Gustave Doré (for Fantasia), artists Fragonard (for Tangled) and Le Douanier Rousseau (for The Jungle Book), and Paul Dukas, who composed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Some were even directly involved in the creative process, such as comic strip author Jean Girault (alias Moebius), who contributed to the graphic design of Tron (1982), or Daft Punk, who came up with the music for Tron: Legacy (2010). Many Disney and Disney Pixar films also pay tribute to our architectural heritage, including Ratatouille, which is set in Paris, just like The Aristocats and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The ballroom and grand staircase in Beauty and the Beast are reminiscent of the Napoleon III style of the Palais Garnier, while the exterior of the castle is more reminiscent of Chambord. Speaking of castles, did you know that the one in Sleeping Beauty was largely inspired by the city of Carcassonne, which Walt visited in 1957, and that Corona’s castle in Tangled was inspired by the Mont Saint-Michel?
WHERE MAGIC COMES TO LIFE…
Walt Disney imagined Disneyland as a place where the stories and characters he had brought to the screen could be brought to life. Disneyland Paris is continuing this legacy with a focus on French culture.
In keeping with this, many of Disneyland Paris’ locations are inspired by French monuments, starting with Sleeping Beauty Castle, which incorporates architectural elements borrowed from the Mont Saint-Michel, the Hospices de Beaune and the Loire Valley Châteaux. During Disney Dreams! night-time show, you can even see Quasimodo swinging from tower to tower as he would on the towers of Notre-Dame. Other nods to France can be found at Walt Disney Studios Park, beginning at the Place des Frères Lumière. At Animagique Theater, Mickey and the Magician takes us back to the Paris of the Belle Époque and, further on, La Place de Rémy evokes the Parisian Place Dauphine and the typical Haussmann architecture of Paris. In addition to Ratatouille: The Adventure, you’ll also find Bistrot Chez Rémy, an incredible restaurant that celebrates French cuisine in an oversized universe which is scaled to the hero of the Pixar film that inspired it.
CRAFTSMANSHIP AND EXCELLENCE
A lesser-known aspect of Disneyland Paris is the preservation of rare trades. Master glassmakers, boilermakers, sign painters and gold leaf gilders are responsible for maintaining the fabulous Disneyland Paris decor, such as the stained-glass windows and signs, using skills that are sometimes centuries old and for which France has often excelled. The gardeners in the Horticulture department are experts in the age-old art of topiary, sculpting the shrubs in Fantasyland using techniques that have been used since the Renaissance in the gardens of the Loire Valley Châteaux, or since the Baroque era at Versailles.
These artisans also include designers, like the dressmakers, milliners and wigmakers at the Atelier Couture, some of whom have worked for major Parisian fashion houses, and whose creations, ranging from princess dresses to traditional African outfits, demonstrate a rare eclecticism and versatility.
The same excellence and exacting standards can be found among Disneyland Paris’ partners, some of whom have been working with our destination since it opened. For example, the restoration of the roof of Sleeping Beauty Castle was carried out by Le Bras frères – the company currently helping to rebuild the spire of Notre-Dame de Paris, and Jacquard for the future royal Cast Member costumes for the Disneyland Hotel was made by Dutel, a Lyon-based company which has specialised in this type of fabric for 85 years.
Disneyland Paris often plays host to big names of the culinary world, such as Thierry Marx, Christophe Michalak and Jean Imbert, who enjoy creating special dishes and menus inspired by Disney characters and worlds for special events.
At Disneyland Paris, cutting-edge innovation is always used to enhance our guests’ experience. A case in point is the recent collaboration with Bordeaux-based company Dronisos, a pioneer in the very high-tech field of drone shows. Dronisos has played a key role in the park’s latest night-time shows, including Disney D-Light, voted Best Live Entertainment 2022*, and this year’s fireworks display on 14 July, which set a new European record with no fewer than 1,495 drones in action over Sleeping Beauty Castle!
This gives us all the more reason to exclaim with pride ‘Vive la France!’ *Awarded at the Park World Excellence Awards on 14 September 2022 in London.