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The Gala Night at the Walt Disney Studios Park
Page 1 of 7

by Lee MacDonald
March 22, 2002
Part two of our coverage of the Grand Opening of the Walt Disney Studios Park features the star studded Gala Evening.

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Get your gladrags on!
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The Gala Night

Nearly ten years ago, the Walt Disney Company unveiled its latest creation, built in the midst of beetfields in a 250 hectare site at Marne-la-Vallee. The Gala Evening was broadcast live around the world to audiences eagerly anticipating the Company's first venture into the potentially lucrative European market. The evening was hosted by a galaxy of familiar Hollywood entertainers including Melanie Griffiths and Don Johnson and featured live performances by Cher, Celine Dion and Angela Lansbury with the stunning backdrop of the gothic pink spires of Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty castle.

The Company has learnt a great deal about European audiences since 1992. Often the hard way. However, the Gala Evening on April 11 1992 was a phenomenon that has never been duplicated, despite the success of the project. When other Disney theme parks were inaugurated before watchful guests, none of the Gala events were broadcast live. CEO Jay Rasulo and his marketing honchos headed by Guy Vassel were determined to recreate the magic and spectacle that had heralded the debut of Disneyland park back in 1992.

Guy and his team set about trying to recreate the glamour, excitement and spectacle that accompany a blockbuster premiere. However, the premiere was to have a decidedly European air, much like the new creation. Gone were the hordes of B-list Hollywood stars, as television, film and music celebrities from across Europe dominated the proceedings. They wanted guests to experience the sensation of a premiere, complete with red carpet and entertainment. That is precisely what invited guests received. Throughout the day, crash barriers were erected at the periphery of the Disney Village and at the security gates to the second park. By lunchtime, contractors had finished erecting the banked stadium and scaffolding that would hold the JumboTron screens in place in order to broadcast live feeds from within the park. Finally, giants rolls of red carpet were unfolded and moved into position, linking the Disney Village to Studio 1 by a continuous flood of red.

The event itself kicked off at 7:30pm sharp as the fleet of cars began to arrive outside the Gaumont theatre complex. Many guests had been invited to a pre-event cocktail party at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in the Village. However, we opted for the cocktail party at the Steakhouse, where EuroDisney executives were welcoming a host of local, Parisian and national government officials to the newly rechristened Disneyland Resort Paris. Due to my penchant for martinis and a late interview with a EuroDisney director, we did not arrive at the Gala Evening until nearly 8:30pm. By that time, most of the dignitaries and celebrities had proceeded through Studio 1 to the V.I.P. tent for the evening. Guests included Roy Disney's family, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Sir Tim Rice, David Hasselhoff and Australian singer Tina Arena, whose contribution to the event was crucial.

I had never "walked the carpet� before and I did feel particularly excited to feel the gaze of watcher-bys and the heat and glare from camera flashbulbs, as I moved into the park to Studio 1, where a series of waiters were waiting with glasses of Tattinger champagne (a special gift from the Tattinger family for the Grand Opening celebrations). On entering Studio 1, Hollywood Boulevard was lined with other invited guests and a series of fully stocked bars (more champagne!!). In addition, throughout the building were giant ice sculptures, commemorating different Hollywood genres and celebrities from John Wayne and the westerns to James Bond and 007. One ice sculpture even had a rear projection system broadcasting the live video feed onto a thin sheet of ice.

Once through Studio 1, the colour of your pass was crucial as to where you would be enjoying the festivities. The nibbles and drinks were available in two mammoth marquees. The celebrity tent, which was located between the Art of Disney Animation and the Magic Carpets (the future home to Mermaid Lagoon) was filled with Roman and Greek artefacts. It was rumoured that Ricky Martin and a backing band provided the entertainment, but unfortunately, we missed that spectacle. Other guests were shepherded to a large marquee beyond the Tram Tour that was filled with unused set pieces and adorned with posters from famous European cinematic productions and up coming Disney offerings such as Disney's Country Bears and Disney's Lilo and Stitch. Here, guests were entertained with a novel approach that saw two individuals providing sound effects, voiceovers and music to black and white Mickey Mouse shorts. The show was very entertaining! The finale of the event was the introduction of Tina Arena onto the stage to perform a series of her hits, including her smash debut, Chains.

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