Does Mickey Mouse have a beard?
Does this mean that French men seeking work with the Disney organization must shave off their moustaches too?
A labor inspector took the Disney organization to court this week, contending that the company's dress and appearance code — which bans moustaches, beards, excess weight, short skirts and fancy stockings — offends individual liberty and violates French labor law.
The case is an illustration of some of the delicate cultural issues the company faces as it gets ready to open its theme park 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Paris in five months' time.
The Disney management, which is assembling what it calls a "cast" of 12,000 to run the theme park, argues that all employees, from bottle washers to the president, are similar to actors who have to obey rules about appearance. Anyway, a company spokesman says, no one has yet put his moustache before a job. As one new "cast member" put it: "You must believe in what you are doing, or you would have a terrible time here."
But what do people think of Euro Disney? People everywhere are wondering whether Europeans would like the American recreation.
For all its concern about foreign cultural invasion and its defense against the pollution of the French language by English words, France's Socialist government has been untroubled about putting such a huge American symbol on the doorstep of the capital and has been more concerned about its social effect. It made an extraordinary series of tax and financial concessions to attract the theme park here rather than let it go to sunny Spain.
The theme park itself will be only part of a giant complex of housing, office, and resort developments stretching far into the next century, including movie and television production facilities. As part of its deal with the Disney organization, the government is laying on and paying for new highways, an extension of Paris's regional express railway and even a direct connection for the high speed TGV railway to the Channel Tunnel. The TGV station is being built in front of the main entrance of Euro Disneyland, and is scheduled to come into service in 1994.
If Euro Disneyland succeeds — where theme parks already in France have so far failed — a second and even a third park is likely to be built by the end of the century. Financial experts say that Euro Disneyland, the first phase of which is costing an estimated $3.6 billion, is essential to Disney's overall fortunes, which have been hit by competition and declining attendance in the United States.
French intellectuals have not found many kind things to say about the project. The kids, however, will probably never notice. Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio all come from European fairy tales or stories and are as familiar to children here as they are in the United States. To a French child Mickey is French. To an Italian kid he is Italian.
The Disney management is stressing this tradition in an apparent response to suggestions that it is culturally insensitive. Although the concept of the theme park is closely based on the original Magic Kingdom in California and Walt Disney World in Florida, "Euro Disneyland will be unique in a manner appropriate to its European home," the company says. "The legends and fairy tales which come from Europe figure prominently in the creative development of the theme park." Officials point out, for example, that Sleeping Beauty's castle, the central feature of the theme park, is based not on Hollywood, as some might think, but on the illustrations in a medieval European book. Also, a 360-degree movie, based on the adventures of Jules Verne, features well-known European actors.
Asked to describe other aspects of the effort to make the park more European, a spokesman mentioned that direction signs in the theme park will be in French as well as English, and that some performers will chat in French, Spanish and English. "The challenge is telling things people already know — and at the same time making it different," the spokesman said.
On the other hand, this effort is not being taken too far. Another Disney spokesman said earlier that the aim of the theme park is to provide a basically American experience for those who seek it. In this way, he said, people who might otherwise have contemplated a vacation in the United States will be happy to stay on this side of the Atlantic.
The Disney organization does seem to focus a bit too much on hair. "Main Street, USA", the heart of Euro Disneyland, it promises, will feature an old time "Harmony Barber Shop" to deal with "messy hair and hairy chins" — and perhaps even offending mustaches. One difference from California or Florida: Parts of Main Street and waiting areas to get into the attractions will be covered over as a concession to Paris's rainy weather.
Euro Disneyland's short distance to Paris is a definite attraction. Anyone tiring of American or fake European culture can reach the Louvre art museum by express railway in less than an hour — from Minnie Mouse to Mona Lisa in a flash.
Communications figured largely in the Disney organization's decision to site its fourth theme park near Paris. The site is within a two-hour flight of 320 million Europeans. The opening of Eastern Europe is another prize for the company, which thinks that millions of people will put Disneyland at the top of a list of places to visit on their first trip to Western Europe.