While we’ve ranked all of Disney’s Space Mountains before, such an article can only spend so much time showcasing the pure brilliance of Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain. After another recent trip to our french Disney home park across the pond, we decided to highlight this dazzling masterpiece of a roller coaster in a dedicated article.
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I’ll spare you the usual fanfare and overly-long historical details. Let’s talk about what makes this coaster unique – not just thematically, but technologically – and how Disney pushed the limits of possibility with this French iteration of Space Mountain.
Originally planned as a much larger attraction with a drop ride, walk-throughs, and roller coaster, Discovery Mountain was eventually reduced to just a roller coaster. Located in Discoveryland, Paris’ uniquely European approach to science fiction rather than the classic Tomorrowlands, the installation was themed to the famous Jules Verne novel From the Earth to the Moon. The story, in which a rocket-esque train launches from a giant cannon named “The Columbiad”, was the perfect opportunity for Disneyland Paris to do something ground-breaking. After all, this was the park’s Hail Mary pass after a rough opening and 3 years of poor performance. Disney worked closely alongside Dutch roller coaster manufacturer Vekoma to create an up-hill, electric winch launch system to simulate the trains firing out of the cannon and deep into space.
While the electric winch launch was absolutely revolutionary, Disney struggled with another crisis in Paris. Europeans wanted thrills, and the rush-job that was Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril, Disney’s first inverting coaster, could only satisfy the masses for so long. Nearby competing amusement park Parc Asterix opened a massive looper 3 years before Disneyland Paris’ opening and it became instantly clear that Disney’s classic approach of mild coasters wasn’t going to cut it for the French resort. Thus Discovery Mountain (renamed Space Mountain shortly before the ride’s official opening) had to feature aggressive G-forces and inversions.
In 1995, just three years after the resort’s opening, and two year since the small-yet-effective Indiana Jones looper opened in the park, the resort’s true E-ticket looper opened. To date still one of Disney’s most ambitious projects, Space Mountain was a success. The concept of an indoor area featuring a roller coaster was maintained and Space Mountain‘s queue had impressive views of the interior of the show building. Guests could admire scenery pieces, see rocket trains fly through space, and so on – this Space Mountain was created to be an experience far beyond the ride itself. Off-ride, guests could admire trains loading into the cannon and launching out of it. Riders got to enjoy the first-ever on-board synchronized audio as they blasted through space.
The original approach to the ride was colorful and told the story From the Earth to the Moon vividly. However, the ride had a fair share of technical issues, and it was unusual for a space-themed coaster to have a lit-up interior show building. Ten year later, in 2005, it was time for a new approach. Instead of loading the cannon, and the vehicle moving half-way up the incline before launching, the train now launched from the bottom of the cannon. In addition, the interior show building received new theming, the trains a new sound score, the queue was enclosed, and the named changed to Space Mountain – Mission 2. The ride’s exterior, minus entrance sign and story-related billboard in the queue, remained the same. Mission 2 told a story far beyond the moon. Imagine planets, super novas, and deep space shenanigans.
Mission 2 ran longer than the original Space Mountain but was retired and replaced with Star Wars: Hyperspace Mountain in 2017. Originally announced as STAR WARS Hyperspace Mountain: Rebel Mission (which would have been a great name as it honored the fact that there was a new mission, one that’s much clearer than the objective of Mission 2, but I digress), Hyperspace Mountain also came with significant changes. The exterior of the ride again remained the same, minus the new logo and mission-billboard. However, the ride’s old trains were replaced with new Vekoma MK1212 trains featuring vest restraints (Note: the super-expensive and unbreakable Vekoma chassises actually remained the same as the old trains). The new MK1212 trains sport a gorgeous Jules Verne steampunk aesthetic, which has many fans fantasizing of the return of the original theme or a fourth mission paying homage to Discoveryland’s true colors. – Those arguing that Star Wars doesn’t belong in Discoveryland need to take a seat as the land’s opening year E-Ticket was Star Tours.
One thing that Hyperspace Mountain does really well is telling a story. Love or hate the overlay, there is no denying that of all the attempts Disney has made at the Star Wars rethemes of various Space Mountains, the Paris’ installation is the only one actually launching you into Hyperspace. The ride’s unique layout allows for clear segments in the storytelling. The launch out of the cannon is a jump to hyperspace; the giant helix around the show building allows for a variety of tie fighters to be shown, a battle scene to be shown and when things get serious, the ride’s first inversion (a sidewinder) is the perfect transition to the next scene. After the sidewinder there’s a rather long turn that mimics avoidance of lasers, before the first brake run. These brakes slow down the train significantly and creates the illusion of lining up behind three X-wings to join them into the battle. You then dive down and via a wavy segment down to the center of the show building you fly through the ride’s corkscrew, loaded up with projections of explosions, tie fighters and lasers. Another turn leads into the mid-ride lift-hill, which conveniently faces an attack on a star destroyer (you know, the one that was detected near Jakku and the reason we jumped out there to begin with). The battle isn’t over yet, and as riders navigate a drop down back into the show building, several more tie fighters blast in our general direction. We manage to escape, after which a relieved-yet-joyful “Merci!!” comes from the headrest speakers, a quick and forceful horseshoe/tongue element changes our direction to face the star destroyer one last time as it’s being blasted to pieces and the ride’s final helix simulates our jump back to Earth through a genius lighting effect. – Despite it not being the original aesthetic in the show building, this Space Mountain does everything right. I mean everything. The story has clear plot moments, and for the first time in Disney history, our journey to space starts and ends on earth.
While we’re awfully fond of Shanghai Disneyland’s TRON: Lightcycle Power Run, I am going to go out on a limb and say that Hyperspace Mountain at Disneyland Paris actually is Disney’s best coaster. While 26 years old, this looper has it all: It has force, it has inversions, it has amazing trains, it has an aesthetic so iconic Disneyland Paris couldn’t exist without it. And from a coaster enthusiast perspective, the immensely unique layout, genius use of space, and classic looper character to it are simply unbeatable. This coaster is quite frankly in its own league. It’s the reason Disney created Rock ‘n Rollercoaster for both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Walt Disney Studios and in many ways Space Mountain Paris’ technological and thematic trailblazing is the reason why it remains so unique and nobody has ever built a coaster quite like it again. We love this ride.
Thanks for checking out yet another love letter to Disneyland Paris. The park that had to try so hard just to convince the locals of its worth. Nearly 30 years later, the park is still one of Disney’s very best, and the perfect example is their out-of-this-World version of Space Mountain. (Though I will always call it Discovery Mountain).