This month marks the 30th year anniversary of Disneyland Paris—the first Disney theme park to debut outside of the United States. To mark this auspicious milestone, Disney Paris’ iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle, which inhabits a prime place in the park’s center, has undergone a major renovation. The most visited castle in France, this fairytale building is now ready for a very impressive second act (or at least another three decades welcoming families). According to Tracy Eck, artistic director at Walt Disney Imagineering Paris, “The castle looks real with our fairy-tale touch. There are so many castles in France that people can go and see, it was important that ours had something different, a magic quality.”
Rising 141 feet over the park, the castle took 50,000 hours to renovate—suffering major setbacks during that time as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As Eck explains, “This all took two years in the planning and typically, we only work at night and never during the day. But with [Covid-19], we were able to work when the park had to close (because of lockdown).” Building a castle in France, which is home to over 40,000 chateaux, was not only an artistic and technical challenge, but also a cultural one.
Eck recalls that back in 1990, she was just starting out as a lighting designer and the Castle was originally being conceived. “This is a Sleeping Beauty Castle, it’s the story. The only other one in the world is in Anaheim, California,” she says. “Because we were entering Europe, we had to design and adapt to where we were. There are so many fantastic craftsmen here and the castle had a completely new design, and there was a lot of research that went into it.”
When it worked on its original design, Disney traveled throughout Europe for guidance. They went to look at Mont Saint Michel and various other castles in France to draw inspiration and gather ideas. They looked at the Hospices de Beaune in Eastern France for the tiled roofs and used some of the same craftsmen that originally built this celebrated landmark. They also looked at the beautiful stained glass windows at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.
“Everything received some kind of attention and every surface was touched in some way,” Eck says. “The castle is a giant set and the ground floor is one scale and the rest, like a huge movie set. The towers were built off site and brought in.”
In some ways, after 30 years of wear and tear, the castle needed to be renovated like any other property (well, almost like any other property!) Owing to decades of use, it had to be repainted and the roof fixed, water proofing, the usual and expected demands of a house. Add in fireworks every night of the year, plus water shows and flamethrowers and it’s surprising a total refurbishment was not required sooner. Additionally, it seems there is also an accumulation of detritus that just piles up from previous events and activity — and all of that needed to be cleared away as well.
“We had to upgrade the electrical system, incorporate new lighting designs, remount special effects,” Eck adds. So, on one hand, normal property upkeep plus other upgrades to keep the magic alive and functioning on a daily basis. The crews on-site were expansive – and included painters, electricians, carpenters, as well as gilders, tile makers, roofers, etc. There were nine suppliers in total, all French, some of which typically only work with French national monuments.