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PORTRAIT: 30 Years Parc Astérix

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Kirmes & Park Revue English Edition - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 10/2019 vom 23.09.2019
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The whole of Europe is firmly in the hands of the American comic, film and theme park industry. All of Europe? No, a small country has put up brave resistance with its own figures and themes since 1959, and even more so since 1989. But this doesn ’t necessarily make life easier for the large, global company operating in the Parisian metropolitan region.

Seriously though, doesn’t the typical entry sequence of the Astérix-comic books with always the same characterisation of the Gauls, French ancestors, and their battle against the encompassing Romans fit to the downright pitiful and seemingly hope less ...

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Seriously though, doesn’t the typical entry sequence of the Astérix-comic books with always the same characterisation of the Gauls, French ancestors, and their battle against the encompassing Romans fit to the downright pitiful and seemingly hope less fight of the French against the all-encompassing American cultural imperialism?
The “Astérix” comics have shown that it is possible to create something new, of a non-American mainstream type. Illustrator Albert Uderzo in an interview in 2008: “We wanted to make something typically French because we were living in a time that was completely dominated by the comics and sketches of the Americans. The initiator of Pilote wanted a magazine for the French and for French children”. And it was in this magazine for teenagers and young adults that was published from 1959, that the first Astérix comicstrips were published – initially as a series, and later expanded with its own comic books.
And so the construction of a typical French theme park à la Astérix had to be possible. Those were the thoughts in any case of script writer Pierre Tchernia, illustrator Marcel Gotlib, dubbing actor Roger Carl, actor Gérard Herandez, illustrator Fred, as well as Astérix-author and inventor Albert Uderzo. When the Astérix tales became a phenomenal success in France, Europe, and even in many countries overseas, surely this success could also be transferred to a theme park.

Albert Uderzo visited the construction site frequently

Opening day with (from left) Pierre Tchernia (French TV), Obelix, Eric Licoys (General Manager of Barclay’s Bank and first President of Parc Astérix), Olivier de Bosredon (first General Manager of Parc Astérix), Michel Kalt (Architekt of Parc Astérix) and Astérix himself

The enthusiasm of this “Parc Astérix clique” could not be deterred by the fact that none of them had any type of practical experience in the construction or operation of a theme park. They remained intimate with the subject matter and a very special magic potion, namely the unparalleled Astérix enthusiasm of almost all French people, regardless of being young or old – and additionally also many other Euro pean nations, who could make a great difference as target groups for the planned park. For example the German readers, because as it turned out, the Astérix comic books that had been translated to German were the most sold after the original French editions. In fact Astérix comic books are a tremendous success – being the most sold printed product in the world, follow ing the bible and Harry Potter.
And this park was to open exactly 30 years after the publication of the first adventure of both Gauls, Astérix & Oberlix – an endeavour, taking into consideration the already in-planning stage of Euro Disneyland, appeared to be far too adventurous, but was a success nevertheless: Parc Astérix opened it doors three years before its all-powerful appearing competitor.
And there was a second magic potion – the fact that Astérix and Obelix, as well as their doggie Idéfix, and some times other “buddies” travelled to many countries and continents of the world, to experience adventures there. As a result, there was no clumsy one-dimensionality to fear in the them ing of the attractions. There’s enough diversity provided, and for this reason there are seven themed lands realized at Parc Astérix – “La Gaul” (Gaul), “L’Empire Romain” (Roman Emporium), “La Grèce” (Greece), “Le Vikings” (Vinkings) as well as the shopping area “À Travers le Temps” (Journey through History) and the main street “Via Antiqua” (Old Street), and the 5,000 m² sized “Forêt d’Idéfix” for all smaller park visitors.
On the other hand, money is needed for a promising park project, actually quite a lot of money, which for a long time was a not to be underestimated problem, even though illustrator Albert Uderzo contributed large sums. For him it was a great affair of his heart to create a real place for his heroes and thus to bring his life’s work and that of his congenial partner René Goscinny to a whole new level – certain parallels to Walt Disney are therefore undeniable. Even after the successful market launch further investments were necessary in order to consolidate the product on the market. Thanks to the additional purchase of fitting experience worlds and the clever merger with stateowned corporations, it was possible to establish and preserve the existence of the park in the course of time.

Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny created Europe’s most important comic characters

Some of the park’s attractions: “L’Aerolaf” and “Goudurix”, “Tonnere de Zeus”, “DiscObelix”, “Trace du Hourra”, “OzIris”, “Pégase Express”, and “Vol D’Icare”

There have been many economic highlights and many milestones through the park’s first 30 years:
■ 1987: Founding of Parc Astérix S.A.
■ 1989: Opening of Parc Astérix in Plailly on 30th April, located around 30 km from Disneyland Park Paris, which opened three years later.
■Since 1996: Acquisition of already existing theme parks (partly to be resold).
■ 1997: Initial public offering.
■ 1999: Opening of the first hotel (2018/19 a second added). For the first time, Parc Astérix reached the phenomenal 2 million annual visitors figure.
■ 1999: Purchase of the traditional Parisian Waxworks Musée Grévin and renaming it to Grévin & Cie.
■ 2002: The French Compagnie des Alpes, S.A. (CdA), which is a state-owned company in de facto overtakes within the frames of a friendly takeover around 60% of Grévin & Cie, and then more andmore parts until reaching up to around 95% (CdA was founded in 1989 by the state-owned French financial institute Caisse de Dépots; 2004 around 60% was given to private companies among them 13% to three banks, and retains only 40%; CdA is the largest operator of winter sports areas in the Alpine region).
■ 2006: Takeover of five Walibi-Parks of the Star-Parks Group (earlier Six Flags European Divison) in France, Belgium, and Holland.
■ From 2007: Skiing areas purchased worldwide.
■ 2011: The scientific and media park Futuroscope was purchased.
■ From 2011: CdA advised and participated in the development of new skiing centres abroad (e.g. Sotchi) and leisure destinations (e.g. Casablanca).
■ Since 2016: Restaurant du Lac served the famous Obelix’ wild boar meal.

At “Forêt d’Idéfix” there are smaller rides and the possibility to meet the famous Gauls

This history is a changing corporate policy, nevertheless a very successful one. An important factor in the process is the continued and sustained success of Park Astérix. Satisfying for the French soul, and pleasing for the owner of the park company, was the fact that the Parc Astérix grew to an important economic size firstly through the acquisition of small experience worlds, then slowly through skilled diversification, and then even faster growth. In the meantime, the large rival in Marne-La-Vallée went through a number of difficult phases as is known, and was standing shortly before insolvency – due to its problematic economic construction, but particularly also due to the fact that it never quite made it into the hearts of the French, which was to be the primary target group. That was and remains the great plus factor for Parc Astérix. Consequently, the preferred theme park of the French emphasises this fact in its advertising: “Le Parc d’attractions préféré des Gaulois”.
Thanks to its success, the Gallic park could steadily strengthen its appeal, and extend its attractions. Currently there are 40 attractions in six lands, in cluding seven water attractions (among them the “Rafting Styx”, the “Menhir Express” and “Le Gran Splatch”), and seven coasters. The operator has long known that without a decent range of thrill attractions, nothing works. The first large coaster was built straight away in 1989: the seven looper “Goudurix” from Vekoma Rides. The 410 metre long family coaster “Vol d’Icare” (Ikarus ’ Flug) from Zierer was installed in 1994, and in 1997 the wooden coaster “Tonnerre de Zeus” (Thunder of Zeus) which is tremendously popular to this day from CCI, with 1,230 metres of track, fol lowed in 2001 by the bobsled “Trace Du Hourra” from Mack Rides.

Some of the water attractions and the flat ride called “L’hydre de Lerne”

A large Launch Coaster will open in 2021

Then there was an eleven-year pause until the inverted coaster “OzIris” from B&M was purchased in 2012, followed in 2017 by the greatly acclaimed family coaster “Pégase Express ” with a catapult start and reverse ride (manufacturerd by Gerstlauer Rides, theming by Jora Vision).
The careful, original and detailed theming is defi nitely to be highlighted here, and storytelling is a major plus at Park Astérix. Let’s take for example the inverted coaster “OzIris” from B&M, which is not only convincing with its five inversions, but also with its delightful wall paintings and many optical illusions, which alone cost eight million Euro out of the total investment of 20 million Euro. Also the mystic swing “Le Défi de César” from Mack Rides which opened in 2008, or the impressive Montparnassos station of “Pegasus Express”.
Additionally, the range of attractions is well mixed for all age groups and differing tastes. Both families and coaster fans are well catered for – undoubtedly another reason for the positive visitor development.
It could however be even better if a number of details were improved, for example the language barrier should be thoroughly addressed. A lot is only communicated in French, a little also in English, but nothing in German, despite the fact that the Astérixcomics are extremely popular in German speaking countries. At the very least English should be established as a second language, although 85 % of all visitors currently come from France. The prices are also not particularly clear with many special and seasonal offers. Improved however is the access ibility to the park, such as a shuttle bus service from the Louvre (underground), or also from the Charles de Gaulle airport nearby.
Future plans: In contrast to the Astérix-stories where everything stays the same as it is in the Gaul village, there’s always something new at the Astérix park: In 2020 the third hotel “Les Quais de Lutèce” will be opened. And in 2021 a gigantic coaster with quadruple launch and a very unusual layout from Intamin will be erected. And the future? That can be seen very optimistically as it’s well known that the Gauls are “irreductibles ” – invincible… with “Teutates”. ■

A third well-themed hotel will open in 2020


30 years Parc Astérix, and 60 years of Astérix are not only celebrated with a new cinema film and a new comic book, but also with an official and special French coin. This is the first valid 2-Euro coin Europe-wide that has been dedicated to a comic figure – this alone emphasises the special position of Astérix and Obelix in France and the whole of Europe. ■

Photos: Parc Astérix