Christmas is a special time to share precious moments with the ones we love, especially at Disneyland Paris. To put us in the holiday mood, we’ve asked Imagineers and Cast Members to share their most cherished Christmas memories with us.
Today we have Emanuel Lenormand, Show Director
Photo taken before 2020
What was your first Christmas like at Disneyland Paris?
I was lucky enough to be there for the very first Christmas. At the time, I was Dance Captain. As part of a training program for the opening of Euro Disneyland, I was sent to Florida for six months before the opening. That’s when I discovered the meaning of a “Disney Christmas”. I was amazed: At their Magic Kingdom alone, there were two Christmas trees, plus there was one at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and another at Epcot. I fantasized about these gigantic trees that you only see in Disney Parks and all the decorations. When I came back to France, I particularly enjoyed this first Christmas at Disneyland Paris because I found all the ingredients I loved about the United States, but this time in a European context. I was amazed by the decorations on Main Street, U.S.A., and of course the tree. At the time, “La Parade de Noël” (The Christmas Parade) was presented just after “La Parade Disney” ( The Disney Parade). There was Santa’s float, snowmen and “Wreath Ladies” wearing beautiful red or green costumes and large wreaths decorated with candles. All the Disney Characters had Christmas hats and scarves. There was also the reindeer ballet – funny with their big tongues hanging out of their mouths, and 40 toy soldiers – some of who actually played drums or trumpets… A real performance! You could hear the soldiers from a distance because they had big shoes that made a lot of noise when they all marched in unison.
Among the many Christmas celebrations at Disneyland Paris, which ones made the biggest impression on you?
Of course there are the “Lights of Winter”, those magnificent arches on Main Street, US.A., or the “Noël Blanc” (White Christmas) in 1995, which was really very elegant. The Central Plaza massifs were covered with snow, and there were also fully white decorations related to each Land installed: Giraffes to symbolize Adventureland, bears for Frontierland, a unicorn for Fantasyland, and a crescent moon for Discoveryland. Plus, in the middle there was a huge snowball with an angel in it and snow twirling around inside.
A few years later, we had a castle made entirely of fir trees. You could walk through it and inside it you could see Bambi.
That’s what I like about Disneyland Paris: The originality and European touch in terms of decor and concepts you can’t find anywhere else.
What Christmas shows have you participated in?
I’ve participated in many shows, but I particularly remember “Mickey’s Paradise” (1995), with a performance every night and weekend on the ice rink at the Disney’s Hotel New York. There were huge reels of film on the ice and Mickey would pull out different props – Aladdin’s lamp, an umbrella or even the Sorcerer’s Apprentice hat – that would let the Genie in, Mary Poppins and Bert and Hyacinth, the hippopotamus from Fantasia. It was a very successful show.
I also remember 1997’s “Mickey et la Magie de l’Hiver” (Mickey’s Winter Wonderland) that featured several standards of the season such as “Let It Snow”, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or “Winter Wonderland”. It was a complete show. When my brother came to see it, he told me he felt like it was a Sunday afternoon, him watching a TV cartoon of Donald Duck surrounded by the world of Christmas. We went from laughter to nostalgia in a very realistic setting. There was even an ice rink on stage! And at the end, we had a sleigh pulled by two horses from the Pony Farm arriving on stage before leaving for the mountains. It was really a great show!
In fact, you’ve had the chance to live this show from both sides of the mirror, as an artist/performer? and then as a director.
I also experienced it on the 1992 show, “Le Noël de Mickey” (Mickey’s Christmas) at the Fantasy Festival Stage, where today, you’ll find “Meet Mickey Mouse – Rencontre avec Mickey”. I had the pleasure to do it first as a dancer and then as a Show Director starting 2004… I had fun adding all kinds of personal touches! It was a very cute show, supposed to take place on Christmas Eve, in a charming setting. There were dancing bears, puppets, dolls… It was very amusing!
What are your best memories as Show Director at Christmas time ?
My greatest memory is to have created “Mickey et le Big Band de Noël” (Mickey’s Christmas Big Band) in 2017 for Vidéopolis. It was a real challenge because we had never done this kind of thing at Disneyland Paris. Our Vice President in charge of the shows, really wanted us to have this Carnegie Hall, Broadway, tap dancing, big band type dimension. I have great memories of it. We worked with a choreographer from New York, Matt West, who did the Broadway musical Beauty and the Beast. I loved working with the musicians and the various artisans on this project. Afterwards, it was Arnaud Feredj who transposed it to the Animagique Theater where it really belongs… it was a great first!
My other baby was “Chantons Noël!” (Let’s Sing Christmas!) again, at Vidéopolis, in 2018 and 2019. This was the first show to integrate the Disney Performing Arts Program, which allows amateur ensembles to perform on Disneyland Paris’ stages. It was a particularly complex project because it involved the participation of groups from all over Europe, and despite all the logistical difficulties, we managed to put it together! The music was great. It was produced in Florida. You could really feel the spirit of Christmas a la Dicken’s, with sublime costumes designed by Disneyland Paris’ Costume Designer, Sandrine Deschamp, who also designed the costumes for “Un Noël Fantastitch” (A Merry Stitchmas) and “La Parade de Noël” (Disney’s Christmas Parade). It was a lot of fun to work on the two versions of the show: On weekends, we had choirs up to 100 people – It had a huge impact on the audience. For this version, the staging was rather sober in order to highlight these ensembles. Then, during the week, we had a version without a choir. As a result, all was a little more elaborate for the singers and the Characters. Plus, there was the magic of the video, where the lyrics of the songs could be displayed so that the audience could sing with us. It was a wonderful show: Four singers, Disney Characters and the magic was working! Christmas is Proust’s madeleine… Tunes that remind you of your parents, grandparents, family, shared memories and, our show echoed all this in a very authentic way.
You also brought the spirit of Christmas to Walt Disney Studios Park.
For the Park’s first Christmas, I launched “Swing Along Santas”, A Cappella Singers performing on a small wooden bridge. Americans have their own way of singing Christmas, with a jazzy side, a crooner side. It’s something I really enjoyed during my first Christmas in Florida, listening to all those songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, “Winter Wonderland”, or “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree”. So, I took up the idea again with this ensemble singing standards in harmony wearing Santa Claus gear decorated with electric garlands! There were also the “Ciné Folies”, groups of actors who simulated filming scenes in Studio 1. I had written all their scripts, and I made a “Christmas” version of them. It was hilarious!
Music plays an important role in your artistic approach. Among all the titles produced for Disneyland Paris, which is your favorite?
I would say “Chante, C’est Noël”, composed by Vasile Sirli, former Music Director of Disneyland Paris. I love this song. It is both rhythmic and uniting. It’s a song that we also listened to as a family, especially with my sister, and I remember her children jumping around the Christmas tree while listening to it!
Can you tell us more about the different ways of celebrating Christmas in the Entertainment shows at Disneyland Paris?
What’s great about this time of the year at Disneyland Paris is that we can offer our guests all sorts of Christmas cheer, and there’s something for everyone. We can do big band, traditional a la Dickens, and we can also find ourselves doing something more in line with pop! It is the fun side of Disney… Like in “Un Noël Fantastitch” (A Merry Stitchmas) which I created in 2017 for the Royal Castle Stage. It was a kind of “C’est Magique!” (Feel the Magic) Christmas version, full of energy, very colorful. I even insisted that Minnie sing Mariah Carey’s song, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. We made it a cabaret-style number. I had the time of my life! The first year, I also went crazy with the props. They were everywhere! But I loved it! They really help tell the stories. I like for the choreography to make sense and props really help us with that. I remember the Toy Story set, where the dancers came on stage with these big stuffed animals … Buzz, Woody, Jessie and even Mr. Potato Head. It was all very playful. As a child, when I used to go to shows, I was always attracted to details and props. It always fascinated me.
What does creating and overseeing Disneyland Paris’ Christmas festivities mean to you to?
It’s a lot of work, but for me, it’s a unique opportunity. I’ve always been a Christmas freak. When you’re a kid, you wait a long time for it and it goes by very quickly. At Disneyland Paris, Christmas starts at the beginning of November. It’s like a huge Advent Calendar of almost 50 days! As for me, I start working on it even earlier. It’s a dream come true!