Early in 2013, a French employment website posted online an advert for Assistant Managers for a Lego-branded retail store to be opened at Disneyland Paris. The posting, which originally said that the store would be the biggest Lego-branded shop in Europe, was later changed to be much vaguer regarding both the brand and the location. However, this sparked much rumor and speculation throughout the European Disney community as to what this store would be like and when it would open.
In fact, and this may seem surprising to those who do not know the resort, the potential opening of a Lego Store would be one of the most highly anticipated occurrences for Disneyland Paris for years. At the start of 2014, it was number two only to the forthcoming Ratatouille ride and its surrounding area.
In August 2013, Disney issued a press release announcing that “France’s biggest Lego Store will soon be open for business at Disney Village, at Disneyland Paris… spanning across 500 square meters”. It claimed it would be open on Friday, 27th September 2013.
The store being in Disney Village (a shopping-eating-and-nightlife district within walking distance of Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park, comparable to Anaheim’s Downtown Disney) rather than the parks itself, came as no surprise to anyone.
Although the release didn’t state its exact location, it was by then well known that it would be in the area which, until the previous month, had held Hollywood Pictures, a store which had opened with the resort in 1992, themed to the glitz and glamor of the movies, and named after one of Disney’s many film production labels.
Once the Walt Disney Studios Park had opened at the resort in 2002, Hollywood Pictures as a store became rather superfluous, not to mention out of place in Disney Village. Its merchandise was generic, whereas once it sold memorabilia including genuine movie props and celebrity autographs. Closing it seemed logical, especially once the large World of Disney opened nearby in 2012.
There were already several franchises in Disney Village, and had been since it had first opened (as Festival Disney), such as Planet Hollywood and McDonald’s. However, due to Disney limiting the amount of merchandise they sold, and the variety of their menus, it made financial sense for them to increase the amount of franchises they had onsite. More were added with time, such as the Rainforest Café, the Earl of Sandwich and a Starbucks. So, the addition of the Lego Store would just be continuing this trend. In fact, the Lego Store would be the Disney Village’s first merchandise franchise, rather than a franchise for food and drink (as per the Planet Hollywood, etc.) or for entertainment, such as the rodeo bull or the hot air balloon.
However, things have not gone smoothly for the Lego Store. The first sign that it wouldn’t make its opening date was when Disney declared a shareholders’ preview of the new Disneyland Paris Lego Store would take place on 28th September 2013. This contradicted the opening date of the original press release (whilst not giving an alternate date) as well as contradicting its size, saying the store would take up 600 square meters.
This led to speculation that the Lego Store would open in October of 2013. However, due to its roof collapsing, the opening date was put off further.
The next opening date was given indirectly in a Lego press release, when they announced that the Lego Simpsons’ house would be “officially unveiled at the grand opening of the new Lego Store at Disneyland Paris on January 14th 2014”.
By this point, Lego products were being sold regularly in the stores in the parks, and had been given away outside of the location of the coming store.
However, January came and went, and the next given date for opening was February 14th. This looked obtainable when the boards outside of the building came down on February 12th to reveal the store’s exterior. This exterior was still unapproachable by barriers and the glass was covered by paper, but various images could be made out, such as pictures of Lego family visiting the park, a Lego logo, and a Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey tableau made from Lego.
Some concept artwork was released that week, showing similar images, and implying the store would have a practically identical layout to the previous Hollywood Pictures shop; nowhere near as exciting-looking as the equivalent Lego stores in the Florida and California resorts.
On February 14th, the store showed no signs of opening. People in suits were being shown around; as they entered the building I got a quick glimpse inside. The shelves were already stocked, which gave credence to the beliefs that it could and would open as soon as Health and Safety would allow it.
On this date, I spoke to some of the employees, who would be working in Sales once the store opened. They were employed by Lego, rather than Disney, and were hoping for a March opening. By this point, so many opening dates were being floated around, including @InsideDLP predicting April, but when the Store opened on February 28th—with two days’ notice—none were more surprised than I.
It is unclear as to whether the Lego Store has had a soft or a hard opening. There were no Cast Member previews, and there are still difficulties processing some of the staff promotions.
The ribbon cutting ceremony (performed by a young child) was rather minimal, although there were several people of note in attendance, including two Disney Ambassadors and Ward Van Duffel, the Vice President and General Manager of Lego Europe.
Also present was “Tom”, a walk-around character who is believed to make regular in-store appearances, rather than just being there as a one-off for the opening. Tom has a Lego face and hands, which would make autograph signing difficult if not impossible, and is dressed in similar clothing to the store employees. He is not the most exciting of characters, either by a Disney standard, or even compared to other walk-around Lego characters I have seen elsewhere.
The store itself is pretty expensive, even by Lego standards, and with its modern styling, bright lights, and yellow-and-white color scheme, doesn’t seem to fit in with the overall look of Disney Village. In fact, although the cohesiveness of the area has been disappearing with time, the constant reminders by the décor—rather than just the merchandise—that one is near a theme park, takes us further from any actual theming. Examples of such décor includes paintings in the window of a Lego family enjoying Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland Hotel (with fireworks), and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups ride.
One complaint I have heard several times is that the Store does not have any Lego recreations of the attractions found in the park. Although one could argue that the Sorcerer’s Apprentice tableau is similar to one in the Front Lot of Walt Disney Studios Park, I am pleased that there is not, for example, a Lego Space Mountain or a Lego Orbitron, because these would further ruin the original theming of the Disney Village, and make it more self-referential.
There are, however, pictures on the interior walls, made from Lego, recreating scenes from Disney movies such as Tangled, The Lion King and Beauty and The Beast. There is also an image of Prince Phillip fighting Maleficent; an image almost identical to one on a tapestry found inside Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Other images of décor include a friendly-looking dragon winding his way around the store, seemingly coming through walls at random, and lighting shaped to look like giant Lego blocks.
Features inside the store include augmented reality Lego sets, pick-and-mix bricks and build-your-own mini-figures. The store is clearly aiming to be interactive, rather than just a sales opportunity, in ways which bring to mind M&Ms World.
The merchandise covers all areas of Lego, including Duplo and Chima, and the Monsters Fighters product which looks pretty similar to Disneyland Paris’ Phantom Manor. There are several non-Disney intellectual properties for sale, including The Hobbit and The Simpsons. The latter has an interesting miniature Lego display featuring Homer and Lisa standing outside their house, with Maggie sitting in the Simpsons’ car.
There are a few images made of Lego blocks which can be found inside the store, including of R2-D2 and Toy Story characters. However, these designs exist elsewhere in the world, and can be found in the stores in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as well as in the Legoland theme parks. In fact, the Buzz Lightyear model was removed from Legoland Windsor last year, leading to several people speculating that it is this exact model being re-used.
The Toy Story tableau just consists of Buzz and Woody standing by some alphabet blocks. The scaling is wrong, and it is disappointing that the base of the image is separated from the guests, meaning that they are unable to interact with it to the extent that they might like.
The store has longer opening hours than most of the other buildings in Disney Village, currently 9 A.M. till midnight, and the staff are friendly and helpful. The majority of the public seem to like it, and it is interesting to note that guests can go between this store and the ones either side of it without having to go outside, although the purchases now have to be made in the store that the products were obtained from. This is sensible, but can lead to repeat queuing.
Personally, I find the addition of the Lego Store to be interesting and possibly good for the resort as a whole, although not carried off as well as it might have been.
With thanks to Sylvia Allison, Louis Gab, David Loyd-Hearn and some Lego employees who wish to remain anonymous.
– Hugh Allison/European Contributor
All images used in this article are courtesy of Hugh Allison for use on Theme Park Adventure. All rights reserved.