When Grim Green Fences come out to socialise

As part of Disneyland Paris’ 25th Anniversary, a lot of attention was put into the refurbishment of existing and much loved attractions of the resort’s history rather than adding upon the parks’ footprints. Dubbed the “Experience Enhancement Program” this multi-year project envisioned to see alterations made to 12 attractions of DLP. While some were (much needed) spring cleaning jobs and technological updates, others have seen entire rethemes or axing altogether. The spectrum between freshing up and changing has never been wider than during the EEP.

Dodging the dirty dozen list 25th attractions, rumours of Phantom Manor receiving a lengthy refurbishment have circulated for years. Constant murmurs between the insider fansites has kept casual fans and die-hards on tender hooks with the endless asking of when; not if.

This week, official word came in. Appearing on the Disneyland Paris closure webpage, it states that the house on the hill will stop taking guests on January 2018. There’s no doubt this is the the long rumoured “big refurbishment” as it is scheduled for at least 9 months – the current schedule goes as far as September ’18 with the Manor appearing closed in each quarter.

What to expect from this refurbishment right now is anyone guess. Either through a clamp down of information leaking by management or just coincidence, DLP are keeping word on what they plan to do to Phantom Manor close to their chest. That being said we should be able to expect a good sprucing up of the dark ride when it finally reopens its doors. Animatronics should be maintained and re-synced, maybe a new cobweb here and there and all general decor brought back to the lovely decrepity we know and love.

That sort of refurbishment doesn’t last over 9 months, no. You don’t need to own a crystal ball or hold a seance to see something else – something bigger – is on the cards.

I love Phantom Manor. That should come as no surprise to my friends and those who have regularly read my pieces. I have on many occasions argued long and hard why the attraction must be maintained and with as few alterations made as possible. I shunned the idea of the Hatbox Ghost creeping his way to Thunder Mesa, and the mere thought of a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay scares me more than any real ghost or demon ever could. The Manor must be perserved.

This eventual confirmation of an extended closure has me conflicted on many fronts. My first thought is concern, what will Imagineering do to my Phantom Manor? Recent months has saw the rise of the Intellectual Property in Disney Parks. Space Mountain’s glorious steampunk theme will soon be blasted away in favour of Star Wars and Hyperspace Mountain, while the Californian faithful struggle to adapt to the StarLord and co. taking over their Tower of Terror; an attraction worryingly similar in theme and popularity to that of Ravenswood Manor.

Is Phantom the next of the chopping board of thematic alterations? Unlikely, there are very few IPs that could utilise the structure and land setting of Frontierland – even less if you want profitable examples. That doesn’t mean things won’t change. It’s been documented before that some Imagineers dislike PM’s run down and abandoned exterior, citing is a “poor show” and not what Walt would have approved of. I’m no insider, I can’t say what goes on between the walls of WDI, but if these opinions are taken seriously enough by Disney could we see Disneyland Paris discard its original pursuit of individuality for The Haunted Mansion?

On the other hand, this could be the best thing to ever happen to Phantom Manor in 25 years. The EEP has been a monumental success with every attraction reopened feeling fresh and rejuvenated like never before. When riding ‘it’s a small world’ the other week the colours of each country and scene really did bounce and was easily the most vibrant I had ever seen the attraction. If Phantom Manor can receive this same sort of treatment (in its own spooky way, bright colours are exactly the Phantom’s interior goals) then we will all be in for a ride experience and atmospheric journey unlike any before.

There’s also the selfish side of me that says, “Over 9 months without Phantom Manor?!” Yes, I know these have to happen if we want nice things, and we’ve coped with the likes of Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Tours having lengthy downtime, but Phantom Manor is my Disney bread and butter. Going to Disneyland Paris and not hitching a ride on a Doombuggy – not even once – wouldn’t feel like a Disney holiday to me. It would be as if the castle itself was covered in green tarp; something would be missing. Hopefully the extended downtime will be worth it in the end, though this adds fuel to my personal question whether I should renew my annual pass for 2017/18 or not.

Until more information appears on this refurbishment, details on what will become of Phantom Manor is a mystery. We do have one, albeit vague, lead to work on from Mr. Disneyland Paris himself. Tony Baxter.

While at the brilliant fan walkabout for the 25th Anniversary, Disney Legend Baxter briefly mentioned the existence of this scheduled refurb, promising that we are going to like what is to come.

It isn’t much to work with, but if one of the minds behind Phantom Manor’s conception and creation – who worked on so many of the reasons we love this attraction – says we are going to enjoy what comes next, I’m inclined to trust him. Granted he isn’t exactly going to say (in a Disney park to a group of bloggers with cameras in his face) that he hates the plans, but he had no obligation to even bring up the refurb to begin with. Back at the time of the event this story was still just rumour and speculation. The sheer nature of this walkabout too and how relaxed and carefree it at least appeared means it would have been very easy for him to play the ignorant card and pretend to know nothing if he wanted to. From listening and reading past interviews and knowing how passionate Tony Baxter is for his projects, especially Disneyland Paris, I can’t help but feel he said what he did because he believes it. He is just as excited as any other DLP fan and wanted to get the buzz going.

As with so many news stories from DLP, its time for this one to no doubt go dark for a while. In a few months I imagine more details may slip out (or even better, an official statement of some description) about what exactly is planned for Phantom Manor, but until then we can only wait. As a self professed mega fan of the attraction and harden campaigner for restoration over replacement, I wait with bated breath. Of course I want the attraction to be the best it possibly can, the envy of the Disney world and the ultimate Haunted Mansion-type attraction to visit, but it already is that. The quality is already present in its story, subtly, detail and dedicated to timeless effects. A Phantom Manor littered in screens and 3D glasses would be a Manor without a soul, a true ghost of its former self.


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