The Old West Went To Paris... Again

The original Buffalo Bill
How Disney brought Buffalo Bill & his Wild West Show back to Paris.

William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody was born on February 26, 1846 in Iowa. During his lifetime he was a soldier, a bison hunter, showman, Medal of Honor winner and one of the most colorful figures of the Old American West. Still today he is known as the man who took the Old West to the rest of the world.

William Cody started by touring the United States with his show "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World," then he took his show to the rest of the world. His troupe included many authentic western personalities notably, Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler, who would put on shooting exhibitions. During the show Cody and his performers would re-enact the riding of the Pony Express, Indian attacks on wagon trains, and stagecoach robberies. The show ended with a re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand in which Cody himself portrayed General Custer.

In 1887 he took the show to Britain in celebration of the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria. She herself attended the show, the first public performance she attended after the death of her beloved Prince Albert 25 years before. The show then moved on to Birmingham and then Salford, where it stayed for five months playing to packed houses.

By April, Cody’s Wild West headed for Paris and the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition. Cody changed the show to include, among other novelties, the Cowboy Band playing the French national anthem and several performers dressed as fur trappers to represent the French influence on Canada while performing in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

Touching “Les Indians” became a popular sport among young French couples

More than 10,000 people, including French president Sadi Carnot, turned out for the opening performance. French newspapers were filled with accounts of the Wild West and its performers, especially the Native Americans, who attracted attention wherever they went. Touching “Les Indians” became a popular sport among young French couples, who, newspapers reported, thought such contact would assure fertility!

It was this ‘Spectacular’ that Disney was aiming to reproduce at their new Paris Resort. As I said in part one of this article, Disney went all out on the show, hiring the best people for the production. As well as Hollywood stunt performers and champion rodeo riders, Disney brought in professionals at the top of their games to work on the show.

The Venue: Whilst the show’s initial home was at Mario Luraschi’s ranch, the real home of the show was built as part of Frank Gehry’s Disney Village.

Gehry is perhaps best known for his designs which include the Guggenheim Museums in Bilbao and New York, Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Experience Music Project in Seattle, and Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis.

Artistic Director: Euro Disney’s Artistic Director Jean-Luc Choplin worked on the show personally. In an interview with the New York Times, he credited Cody with having a huge influence on France’s own cowboys thus showing his high opinion of Cody. "If the guardians of the Camargue are wearing cowboy hats, boots and big silver belt buckles that's Buffalo Bill's influence."

Show Director: Robert Carsen, perhaps best known for his work as an opera director, was hired to direct the show. For him it was clearly an enjoyable experience, in June 2008 he recalled working on the show stating, “I've never wanted to specialize in one style or period, because I enjoy working with a range. I've done a show for Disney, which is still on – Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which I wrote with Ian Burton. I loved doing it, with all those Cowboys and Indians – it was crazy.”

Writer: The writer, Ian Burton is the only person I have not been able to dig up any real information on, which is a shame – if you know more about him please let me know.

The Music: The exciting and rousing original music was written by Georges Fenton. He has written the music for over seventy feature films and has collaborated with some of the most influential film makers of the late 20th century. He was nominated in 1982 for the ‘Best Original Music Score’ Oscar for his work on Richard Attenborough's biopic “Gandhi”.

Effects: The lighting and special effects were created by Andrew Bridge, who has become famous in his field for his groundbreaking work on "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera.”

The Animal Trainers: As well as training the Cowboys and stuntmen for the demands of the show, the multitalented Mario Luraschi and his crew seamlessly worked the buffalo, horses and cattle into the show.

The choice of animals used in the show also follows the same rules of authenticity. The horses are Pintos and Appaloosas for the Native American performers, and quarter-horses straight from the U.S. for the cowboys. The buffalo, which remain wild even in captivity, come from Canada and require special care due to their impressive weights of up to 1 ton. The longhorn cattle, from Texas, live up to their name with the horns of an adult male measuring up to 2 meters long!

The authenticity and attention to detail at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show is unsurpassed. Every detail you see was made to be as real as it could possibly be. Every second of action is live, only the music is prerecorded. As you might expect with this line up of talent and production values, the show was big, loud and action packed. All it needed was a lot of rehearsal to polish off the rough edges.

In the weeks prior to the opening of the Paris Resort, the now almost complete show started to do full dress rehearsals in front of audiences comprised of Cast Members from the parks and resorts. These early shows were held for practice for the Food and Beverage teams that would be serving up the Diner element of the show. This was where I got my first taste of the West.

In mid March 1992, my work colleagues and I walked up to the Disney Village and into the show arena. Entering the building for the first time, it was easy to see that the Guests were going to be in for a real treat. The structure was massive. At the time, it lacked much of the exterior decoration which was to come later, but the inside of the arena was instantly immersive.

You entered into the show and passed the greeter where you were filtered into your ranch; Blue Moon, Red River, Gold Star or Green Mountain and given a seat number and color coded straw cowboy hat.

Now that you were properly attired, as you walked further into the arena the thing that hit you was the smell of horses, saddle leather and straw. As the ads say, it is not a place to be if you have asthma or respiratory problems – but that aroma will stay with me forever as the smell of the Wild West Show. As you continued, on the right hand side of the corridor there were barred windows looking into the saddling area and tack rooms. The Quarter Horses and the Appaloosas were always drawing admiring crowds. The left side had display cases of Western artifacts: tomahawks, Winchester rifles, totem poles, sheriff's stars and buffalo heads. If it came to a decision of what to look at the horses always won.

Tomahawks, Winchester rifles, totem poles, sheriff's stars and buffalo heads

Then rounding the corner by the long saloon bar you’d mount the stairs into the arena to find your seat and enjoy the show.

“With everyone in their seats and the unlimited drinks flowing, the ranch-hands appear to whip up plenty of team spirit and some good, old-fashioned rivalry between the ranches! Wave your cowboy hat in the air, shout "yeehaa!" and get ready for the grand entrance of Buffalo Bill himself...

“Roaring into the centre of the arena, a band of cowboys kick off the show. Several dramatic chases and charges, showcasing the daring life of an American pioneer. Soon enough, Buffalo Bill is hot on their heels and taking command, introducing the fearless, gun-shooting Annie Oakley and the wise, majestic Sitting Bull to the arena.

“The spectacular showcase of frontier life continues with demonstrations of Indian rituals, a rodeo with stunt riding, the arrival of the buffalo, lasso-throwing numbers and a shooting match where spectators try their hand at marksmanship. The scenes follow each other at a furious pace, keeping you on the edge of your seat for every second. It all culminates in a dramatic, tension-packed, hat-waving recreation of the famous stagecoach race, before you charge off to your own wild frontier, keeping your well-used cowboy hat as an authentic souvenir of a legendary night.”

The dinner show includes a menu of three courses of West Texan cuisine served at the table; Trailside bread, Cattleman's chili, sausage with herbs, roasted chicken, ranch house smoked ribs, Texan vegetables, old-fashioned potatoes, and warm apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Served with unlimited water, beer or Coca-Cola. Plus tea or coffee.

Between March 1992 and February 2004 I sat and watched that show 34 times. I watched it develop and subtly change over the years. The food has lost a little of its original taste and flair, but getting your server to keep your unlimited beverage topped up always was a trick. The venue’s entrance is now shared with the multiplex cinema and the Planet Hollywood restaurant has taken the prime plot for Guests entering Festival Disney but the show has always been a big draw.

Mickey's Wild West Show!

The biggest change to the show however, came in 2009 when After 11,000 shows in front of more than 11 million people, the Disney Characters joined the Wild West Show. This was the biggest change in the show’s format since its inception sixteen years before. As you might expect the decision has been controversial.

The Cast say: “Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show with Mickey and Friends” - Over the past months my opinion of the characters presence in the show has turned around 180 degrees. I was adamantly opposed at the outset of the idea, to the degree of resigning, and now I'm enthusiastically supportive of the new show. The characters, or more specifically the kids inside, are a blast to work with and in the end the characters are a great addition. Now that everyone's gotten used to them, the cowboys and Indians treat them like they do one another: high-five'ing, joking, pushing, poking, and the "characters" react as the kids inside would. The result is that the characters are more "real" than ever, and the whole show is really very fun. I think the show is much better now than it has been for 10 years. For the record my positive assessment of the characters' involvement has nothing to do with management's views or influence. I would have been very satisfied if I'd been right and the show was much worse than before, but I'm also thrilled, in a different way that it's actually much better than anyone could have expected, including management.
- Trent Vance - Buffalo Bill.

The Audience: The exact concept of the characters’ introduction still seems open to a little interpretation, but should the idea actually be that Mickey and the gang are visiting and taking part in the show with the audience, as spectators rather than stars, the transition may not be as painful as thought.

However, from a behind-the-scenes blog of the show, we can learn that “The Cattle Trail scene has become a full-blown Disney Character Ho-Down Musical” and that the characters “dance, sing, wave, and “speak” via recorded bites in various scenes.”

With word that the Disney Hotels have been offering tickets to the show discounted by 50% upon check-in in recent months, though, it may be that Buffalo Bill fans can’t be too picky about the invited Guests. Nevertheless, the Native Americans in the cast still planned to sing a traditional native song to commemorate the end of the show as we know it.

I haven’t seen the new show, and the blogs and forums are undecided on the subject. If you have seen the new show I would like to hear from you, please comment below.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Trent Vance, one of the actors portraying Buffalo Bill, for his assistance in fact checking and adding to the quality (such as it is) of these two articles.

Just remember - wherever there's a sunset, there's a West. But there was only one... BUFFALO BILL'S WILD WEST !!

One footnote to this story, whilst searching the piece I have answered one of my oldest questions. When Sitting Bull meets Buffalo Bill, his first line (the line I always remembered) was ‘Tatanka Yotanka’. I always thought it was a greeting, but he was simply introducing himself in his native tongue.


Looking Back
Original publication date