Coaster Kingdom

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Disneyland Paris
Sunday, February 25, 2007

This article contains spoilers. If you read on, please be aware that surprises or secrets may be revealed in great depth

If you think about it, it's a real sign of the times when the Disney corporation can present a celebration of rock 'n' roll. When the king of schmaltz sat in his big comfortable chair and planned his first ever theme park, rock 'n' roll was the one thing that had the establishment fearing for the world's youth, and was exactly the kind of thing that would not have been welcome at Disneyland. Amazing though it now seems, people like Bill Haley and Chuck Berry were considered wild-eyed anarchists corrupting the minds of young people. "Rock Around The Clock" was considered genuinely outrageous, and the very sight of Cliff Richard's curled lip was enough to send parents apoplectic, fearing for the safety of their daughters.

But that was more than half a century ago, and the sense of gleeful outrageousness that defined the arrival of acts like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis has long been replaced with a new breed of family-friendly rock groups who are about as wild and as anarchistic as the royal garden party, and whose output is no more likely to corrupt young minds than an episode of Sesame Street. Bands like Aerosmith, for example. Yes folks, it was good while it lasted, but true rock 'n' roll is dead and buried, and has been for long enough to allow us to don our rose tinted specs and wallow in rock nostalgia in the form of Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. Put it this way, anyone joining the queue in the hope of seeing a dwarf balancing a tray of cocaine on his head will be in for a disappointment.

As visitors step out onto the vast ocean of flat tarmac that constitutes Disney Studios, they are greeted by the ride's entrance, clearly marked by a large 2D billboard advertising the ride's full name, "Rock 'n' Roller Coaster with Aerosmith". Actually, this isn't quite what it says, as the name has been spectacularly translated for the benefit of the native audience: "Rock 'n' Roller Coaster avec Aerosmith". This is Franglais at its very best, and perfect for linguistically lazy Brits (for more Franglais fun, see "Armageddon: Les Effets Speciaux", and Disneyland's fantastically titled "Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril").

Through the entrance we go, and it soon emerges that Disney Studios isn't just about movie studios, as we follow the queue line into the foyer of a recording studio. My own musical career sadly limited itself to the stylophone and the spoons, so I've always wondered what such a foyer would be like, and the magic of Disney provided my answer. Gosh, get your camera out; it's a desk with a chair behind it. I'm sorry if that sounds disingenuous; it's certainly a first-rate desk, and from what I saw, the chair is not to be sniffed at either. As if the magic of Disneydesk weren't exhilarating enough, the other side of the room is adorned with display cases exhibiting a series of guitars, signed by some of the great exponents of this most iconic of instruments. I've no idea whether these genuinely did belong to the people claimed, but they bear suspiciously little evidence of having been smashed over speakers, or thrown out of hotel windows.

Evidentially, we have "access all areas" status, as we pass unimpeded through reception, and head around the perimeter of a "hall of fame" decorated with posters and memorabilia from five decades of rock music. It is certainly a relief to find that the ride is a genuine celebration of rock, and not the sugary homage to Aerosmith it could have been. As we move along, the names form a roll call of rock history, from Hendrix to Pink Floyd, the Kinks to Meat Loaf, and the Beatles to Metallica. Unfortunately, this does hammer home the point that rock is, with a few notable exceptions, an Anglo-American art form, and it is a shame that a few more acts from mainland Europe aren't honoured.

Into the next corridor, and we await permission to enter the studio itself. When the doors open, we shuffle into a small room for a pre-show that is technically superb, but sadly underuses the facilities available. The idea is that we're eavesdropping on an actual Aerosmith recording session. In the foreground, we see microphones and instruments; in the background, we can see into the control room, where a producer is busy fiddling with his faders and such like. The music sounds wonderful, with the walls housing more speakers than the Ministry of Sound, while the film quality is top notch, giving a very convincing illusion of snooping on a real studio.

The music fades, and into the control room come the members of Aerosmith, led by singer Steven Tyler. Tyler is living proof that you don't have to be pretty to be a rock star, resembling a terrifying amalgam of Sid Vicious, ET, and an upright vacuum cleaner. He offers a warm welcome (itself not very rock 'n' roll), and tells us that he's just been on the ride. He raves about the launch, "1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, then upside down". He then witters on a bit, in a speech seemingly engineered to crowbar in a few song lyrics (something I wouldn't dream of doing, my dear reader), before he decides he's had enough and departs, leaving us with precious little time to enjoy the power of speaker system once more.

After a short while, a door opens, and we are invited to walk this way. You may bemoan the complete lack of storyline, but as other attractions at Disney Studios demonstrate (most notably Armageddon), it can be extremely tedious and confusing to watch staff go through the palaver of establishing which languages each group requires, and then playing in anything up to half a dozen soundtracks and sets of subtitles. Unlike such attractions, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster demands nothing in terms of prior knowledge, and so the decision to completely abandon any attempt at a storyline is probably a wise one. Besides, if Tyler had to do his spiel in six languages, we'd have to see him for six times as long. Ye Gods.

From the lush surroundings of the studio, it's out into a rather post-apocalyptic looking back yard, where we get our first sight of the vaguely-limousine-themed train. In a rather splendid touch, we first encounter the ride itself from a vantage point just a few feet from the launch track, and it would take a more cynical man than I not to be impressed with the spectacle. We continue ever onward, past banks of monitors and flashing neon lights, and soon arrive on a highly efficient loading platform.

Operation of the ride is quite simply a joy to behold. We are left to our own devices to queue for whichever seat we desire, a system that works extremely well, and would be welcome addition to most coasters. Another pleasing sight is the excellent dispatch times, with limos arriving and leaving at a rate only otherwise seen at the Oscars. It's always good to see a coaster running to maximum capacity, and that's just what is on offer here, assuming you ever get chance to stop and appreciate what you're seeing.

And so your carriage awaits. Unfortunately, these are Vekoma limos, so don't expect luxury. In fact, unless you're a yoga guru or an incurable masochist, it's best to just grit your teeth and bear it as the overhead restraints and lack of legroom combine to make this about as welcoming and comfortable as an iron maiden packed with nine inch nails. The only consolation is that you are not alone in your suffering, as your train holds a total of 28 victims, and everybody hurts.

As the train rumbles into launch position, the onboard speakers subject us to Stephen Tyler's screaming. A screen flickers into life, and fortunately it is not Tyler's visage that appears, but a countdown. This all adds immeasurably to the atmosphere, and builds up tension superbly. Zero hour arrives, the music kicks in, and the train screams off like a bat out of Hell. A narrow launch tunnel and subtle lighting help to make this a truly exhilarating kick-off, and although Tyler's claims of hitting 4G prove slightly exaggerated, we're into the meat of the ride in just the blink of an eye.

Disney purists may be disappointed to find that the interior theming is little more than that of a nightclub. While this would be understandable, I don't see anything wrong with this philosophy. Let's face it, rock 'n' roll is supposed to be about exhilaration and spontaneity, and anything that felt controlled and pre-prepared would feel wrong, so why not leave the clever stuff to Space Mountain and enjoy a nice bit of OTT kitsch glamour? If anything, my main complaint about the interior theming is that is isn't quite the lavish celebration of excess that it could have been. I'd have loved to have seen the place alive with lights, lasers, strobes, noise, and great balls of fire. This is supposed to be rock 'n' roll, so it's a shame see so much restraint exercised in terms of spectacle. Don't misunderstand me, what is there is fine and does the job well, but compared to what could have been, the whole building does seem pretty vacant.

Amazingly for a Vekoma coaster, the ride manages to get the balance right in that it gives you far more of a run for your money than you might expect from a Disney ride, but doesn't leave you all shook up. The lighting effects are just enough to make you appreciate what is going on, and the scenery, though sparse, is well positioned to help maintain a sense of speed and chaos. Even the mid course brake adds to the ride, by giving an almost "Wild Mouse" type flavour, sending you charging toward a solid wall, unable to see the turn ahead.

Other than the opening butterfly inversion, and the later corkscrew, both executed with surprising grace, the layout consists largely of the type of swoops and dives that would seem pretty dull if it weren't for the scenery, lighting, and lighting. As it is, however, it works fabulously well. As the train hits the brakes, and Tyler sings his final note (I say "sings", he could well be gargling sulphuric acid, or may have caught sight of himself in a mirror), there's a feeling of true exhilaration. It's that most rare of things, a ride that combines the feeling of a good coaster with the turbo-charged atmosphere of a well run Waltzer or Break Dance. Whether that's what you want from a Disney ride, I leave that up to you, but it certainly did the job of getting the adrenalin pumping through my dilapidated old body.

I'm not sure if it has been noticeable through this review, but I'm not a huge fan of Aerosmith. Nevertheless, I have to say that if there's one thing that makes Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (avec Aerosmith, lest we forget it's full title), it is the music. This is largely because there are so few rides that offer this sort of soundtrack. Lots of rides have orchestral scores, and every fairground ride on Earth provides adrenalin-pumping techno, and while these both work extremely well, a rock soundtrack is so refreshing to hear, and works so beautifully that it's astounding to think that this type of music has been so underused. God only knows how much I'd love the ride if it were "Rock 'n' Roller Coaster avec a group I actually do like". If that were the case, I'd happily re-ride until my spine conceded defeat against the restraints, and I had to be dragged screaming from my seat (i.e. twice).

If I'm honest, I wasn't expecting a huge amount from the ride, as I had never been a fan of either Vekoma or Disney, but Rock 'n' Roller Coaster avec Aerosmith is a genuinely excellent thrill ride by any standard. It has everything you could ask for, thrills, spills, fun, exhilaration, and of course, desks. Although thrilling, it is not too extreme for the more, let's say, "refined" tastes of the average Disney visitor, and indeed the only truly scary part of the ride is having to see Stephen Tyler, who even at a distance, and supposedly separated by two thick panes of glass, scares the hell out of me.

The only downside of the whole thing is that you have to decide whether Rock 'n' Roller Coaster avec Aerosmith is really worth paying the extra to visit Disney Studios in the first place. With the exception of the Moteurs Action stunt show, there's precious little else to justify the studios' status as a separate park. Still, that's a little beyond the scope of this review, so I'll leave it at telling you that if you decide to visit the Studios, you will find an excellent ride waiting for you there. Just the one, though.

Anyway, to tie in with the sprit of the ride, I shall now proceed to give offer you Coaster Kingdom's first ever multilingual conclusion:

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster with Aerosmith is a ride with real sparkle. Thank you for reading.

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster avec Aerosmith est un ride avec real sparkle. Merci pour reading.

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster mit Aerosmith ist ein ride mit real sparkle. Danke fur reading.

Please, do not use our ratings to compare rides head-to-head. They rate only how well this ride meets its own objectives using criteria that may not necessarily be relevant with similar reviews.

Good points:

  • Original and entertaining theme and soundtrack
  • Genuinely thrilling ride, and despite being a Vekoma, is not rough in the slightest
  • Tremendously efficient operation with many trains and a fast moving queue

Bad points:

  • Dreadful seats avec hideous restraints
  • The internal theming isn't exactly OTT

Labels: , ,