This painting helped to excite the world to a new Disney park in Paris. Painting by Frank Armitage.

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Website Disney and More reported last week that Disney Legend, painter and imagineer Frank Armitage passed away. The author offers a great overview of his life and artistic contribution. But one famous painting of his stands out above others in my mind:

This painting helped to excite the world to a new Disney park in Paris. Painting by Frank Armitage.
This painting helped to excite the world to a new Disney park in Paris. Painting by Frank Armitage.

I have visited every Disney castle around the world, and I look forward to visiting the newest creation in Shanghai Disneyland when it opens. That castle may very well topple all other fortresses ever made by the hands of the mouse. But for the time being, if I chose one that stood out among all others it would be Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, or Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris.

Photos do not do this castle justice, which drips in many exquisite details, but such a discussion would be worthless without it. Let’s start as we head down Main Street, U.S.A. At some 50 meters, or 160 feet, she’s not quite as tall as Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World or Tokyo Disneyland, but she rises well above the original Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, or its parallel at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Like all Disney castles, Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant beckens guests down Main Street, U.S.A. to her gates.
Like all Disney castles, Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant beckens guests down Main Street, U.S.A. to her gates. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

As we approach the castle, you get a real appreciation for the use of scale and forced perspective as you view it from an angle. Again, the contoured landscaping and boxed shaped trees are reminiscent of design elements found in the film. One must give credit to the artistic devotion of Eyvind Earle who created this unique world in celluloid. But the landscaping also serves a functional purpose here. It hides  La Tanière du Dragon, or the Lair of the Dragon. A side entrance to this Lair can be found in this location, but it’s a lot more fun to descend from within the castle.

The trees in the foreground had been swayed by high winds just prior to my visit. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The trees in the foreground had been swayed by high winds just prior to my visit. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Because castles come a dime a dozen in Europe, Disney Imagineers had to think carefully about their approach to a theme park castle. The answer came to make it more fantasy like than what you would find anywhere else. And where else do you draw those elements of fantasy, but from the 1959 Walt Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty.

A jeweled book welcomes guests into the story of Sleeping Beauty. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
A jeweled book welcomes guests into the story of Sleeping Beauty. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Just like the storybook in the film brings you into the story of Sleeping Beauty, so here the castle brings you into that same story as well. This is somewhat similar to Disneyland, which offers the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough. Only this version is told through tapestries, stain glass, and sculpture.

As you step in, you’ll see reminders of Aurora’s forest friends. They adorn the columns of the castle, similar to how the mice grace the corridor of Cinderella Castle.

Sleeping Beauty's animal friends adorn the columns of the castle. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Sleeping Beauty’s animal friends adorn the columns of the castle. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Step upstairs in the castle and we see the story come to life. Carefully crafted stain glass depict Aurora’s christening, complete with the three fairies, King Stephan and Queen Leah, and also King Hubert and a young Prince Phillip. The stain glass was crafted by the artisan Peter Chapman, who had worked on the restoration of Notre Dame de Paris.

Stunning Stain Glass brings the story to life. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Stunning Stain Glass brings the story to life. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Some of the gifts by the 3 fairies were represented by nightingales and a rose. We see that in this stain glass, which changes magically every few seconds. One for lips that shame the red, red rose.

The Gift of Love. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The Gift of Beauty Fair. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The other speaks to the gift of song:

The nightingales bringing the sweet serenade to her door. Photo by J. Jeff Kober
The nightingales bringing the sweet serenade to her door. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Key story moments are shared throughout the corridors of the castle, until we eventually reach this spindle, and tapestry depicting its foretold result.

The fate of those who touch the spinning wheel. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The fate of those who touch the spinning wheel. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

To stall out the consequence of this tragic turn, the three fairies put a spell of sleep on all who are in the castle.

Pages from the storybook help to tell the stories shared by the tapestries. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Pages from the storybook help to tell the stories shared by the tapestries. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Even this knight has difficulty keeping awake, and his snores can be easily heard.

The effect is similar to the chatter you get when you visit the castle in the Be Our Guest restaurant. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The effect is similar to the chatter you get when you visit the castle in the Be Our Guest restaurant. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Of course, love conquers all, and those who fight it have hearts of stone. And it may not just be the heart that turns to stone!

The moral of this story is don't mess with true love--or Merryweather! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The moral of this story is don’t mess with true love–or Merryweather! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Of course, no castle would be complete without a dragon. And here, we have a dragon! Just step down to La Tanière du Dragon!

It's not quite Maleficent in reptilian form, but it is a haunting site to visit. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
It’s not quite Maleficent in reptilian form, but it is a haunting creature to visit. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

As you can see, there is an amazing amount of design and craftsmanship that went into this castle. One walks back out into the sunshine (or more likely, the gray skies in Paris) amazed by the imagination and creativity. How do they do that? Understanding to that question comes in our next blog, which looks at another artistic focus of this castle, not yet shared.

Have you visited Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant? If so, what stood out to you? Share with us!

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