In a way, Armageddon symbolises a very different time in the history of Disneyland Paris. While recent decisions and additions to the park are debated today on their quality, there is no dispute Walt Disney Studios’ 2002 debut was met with underwhelmed fans, a rushed development and creatively lacking execution that still haunts the park to this day. Disney built themselves into many corners with the Studios and while some of these have been resolved, the Amrageddon situation has prevailed; destined to disappoint guests and frustrate fans for near 15 years.
The first problem the attraction suffers from is the IP it find itself based on. There’s no denying in 1998, Armageddon was a pretty major motion picture with a large marketing campaign, big stars on the poster and even an Aerosmith hit song to tie it all together. The movie even brought in a very tidy profit for Disney. Critically though the movie was panned by reviewers and audiences alike, with the test of time not being any more forgiving to the film. Come four years later the movie has been largely forgotten by the general public, reserved for bargain bin video stores as a cheesy 90’s disaster flick. This begs the very question why it was even chosen to begin with to be an attraction within a Disney park, a brand that has always prided itself on high quality.
The decision of theme is never the deciding factor however, the vast majority of us for example love the Hyperion Airship but never seen the movie The Island at the Top of the World. A poor IP can often be excused if the execution of the experience is done right, something that is very clearly not the case with Armageddon.
Our first issue is the exterior, it’s just a building with a sign outside. That’s it really. There’s no effort in theming, no attempt to tell a story from its appearance. Just a grey, ugly building with a frankly embarrassingly large sign and what can only be described as red scaffolding to make you think the builders forgot to clean up. This is of course an issue the entirety of Backlot suffers. Management at the time may have excused this with the whole “working studio” theme, but to myself and every other fan it just screams a lack of funding and imagination. As time has passed and that working studio theme quickly diminished from the park, the ugliness and boring design of Armageddon only sticks out more.
For those who dare to step foot into the attraction (either out of curiousity, nativity or more likely, a lost bet) things only get worse from here. Not wanting to be outdone with their missteps of theme and building, the decision makers behind Armageddon hit a home run in creating a near 15 minute pre-show for pure boredom. While good attractions such as Tower of Terror and Phantom Manor use their pre-ride segment to set the scene appropriate and prepare guests for the experience, we are instead treated to a “behind the scenes” look at the making of the Armageddon movie (presumably ripped from the DVD special features) before the cheesiest, most basic excuse for guest interaction I have ever seen. The sheer fact this mind numbingly dull segment is actually longer than the main show is laughable. The best summary I’ve ever heard on the attraction came from a complete outsider to Disney parks and they experienced Armageddon for the first time, “15 minutes of ‘getting excited for the ride’ does NOT consitute as being part of the ride.”
If you managed to endure the pre-show without clawing your way out the building, your reward is to – finally – experience the main show. After even more waiting around inside the space station set and listening to cheesy acting by our ‘supporting cast’, the special effects of a meteor strike will finally kick in… some ground shake, smoke effects and a couple of fire bursts in the room’s centre. Credit where credit is due, the actual set does look pretty cool, but that’s about the only positive in this attraction misfire. After so long waiting and being hyped up for an incredible special effect experience, it’s very hard not be left entirely underwhelmed with effects and pyrotechnics you have seen already in other attractions throughout the park and done a lot better too.
For all these faults, many look towards Armageddon undoubtedly as the worst attraction in the entirety of Disneyland Paris. While it is very hard to argue this with its virtually non existent redeeming factors, the modesty of the ride is the only saving grace to keep it off last place in my eyes. Tucked away in a corner of Backlot, now hidden behind the Tower of Terror, it almost feels as if the attraction is aware of how poor it is and thus hiding from attention. Its tiny footprint also means that the attraction is wasting very little space in the park. The same can certainly not be said for the Studio Tram Tour, who’s frankly criminal track design cuts off all expansion for Walt Disney Studios beyond its entrance. The sheer fact this track has already had to be altered – twice no less – to make way for Toy Story Playland and Ratatouille is only proof the attraction must go; and until that day it takes the unwanted spot as worst attraction in DLP.
So what does the future hold for Armageddon? It’s quite clear through fan reaction its days are numbered and a replacement is only a matter of time. What will come to replace it however is something no one can really decide on, and everyone has an opinion of. While some have called for a meet & greet zone or reskin of the existing show mechanics, I believe the Armageddon building’s future relies on redevelopment of Backlot itself.
Heavily speculated by fans and armchair imagineers such as myself, there have been calls for a Backlot transformation into Marvel Land ever since Disney bought the comic book giant in 2009. After giving far too much thought into this for my own good, I have my own little master plan on what exactly I would do with a rethemed Backlot and how I would transform it into a superhero utopia. Maybe someday I will jot it all down in a blog post something, but until then I’ll share my dream plans for Armageddon.
Surprising no one, I’d completely scrap the attraction’s interior and gut it, providing Disney with an entirely blank canvas to work with. Due to the complicatedly small size of the building, a new attraction just isn’t realistic. While a meet and greet area is sorely needed in the Studios there is another element that is an absolute necessity for a Marvel Land; a store.
Given my way, I would transform Armageddon from a dull, hated and forgotten attraction into Disneyland Paris’ flagship Marvel-centric store. The one stop shop for all superhero related merchandise, this is exactly what is needed right now in the resor as Iron Man, Captain America and friends currently find themselves dotted all over the place wherever there’s shelf space. Themed as a traditional, New York based comic book store (tying in to my grander Marvel Land theme of New York City), the shop would also stock Marvel collectibles and other memorabilia you would often find in comic book related stores and convention stalls. Marvel comics would of course also be availabile for purchase too in their own comic book section towards the back of the store.
Much like reference-full movies Marvel Studios entertain the masses with, our store’s name harkens back to a famous catchphrase from the one and only Stan Lee. “Excelsior! Comics” would open along with the rest of Marvel Land once the redevelopment of the area is complete, finally providing the building with a theme, stable IP and purpose.
Extract is my thoughts on Armageddon les Effets Spéciaux from episode 15 of the MagicalDLP Podcast which you should definitely tune into for in-depth discussion, trivia and thoughts on your favourite elements of Disneyland Paris! Big thank you to Andrew for the idea putting my opinions down into an article.