What is the smallest dark ride ever made? It could take a lot of researching to find the answer to that question. What we do know, is that Le Pal’s new attraction Champi’Folies surely can be listed as one of the smallest dark rides. But don’t be fooled by its size: it has everything you would expect from a modern interactive dark ride. Team DRdb travelled to France to find out for ourselves during a special event, organised by Le Pal, BoldMove Nation and Triotech.
Le Pal is located in Dompierre Sur Besbre in the centre of France. It was opened in 1973 as a zoo, but eventually started to add attractions in the ’80s, such as rollercoaster Chenille Fantasitque and rapid river Descente du Colorado. This resulted in the hybrid of theme park and zoo that the park is today. Meanwhile it has grown to be over 50 hectares (123 acres), featuring over 30 rides and more than 1.000 animals.
While it is located in one of the least populated regions of France, with only 20.000 people living nearby, the park attracts almost 600.000 visitors each year. The park can offer overnight stays for guests in their Safari Lodges, which were added in 2013, or the Savanna Reserve hotel that opened in 2021.
You’ve got to Smash before you Reload
Dark rides are expensive attractions to build, often requiring a budget that matches those of a big rollercoaster. It is a tough decision for a park to choose between a dark ride or a coaster and often the latter gets chosen for their more striking external visuals. Dark ride manufacturers know this like no other.
BoldMove Nation’s CEO Benoit Cornet decided to try something different to see if they could make the dark ride more affordable. One of the most expensive elements of a dark ride is the building and Cornet found out that many theme parks in Europe have a building or two that is not in use anymore. A remain from an old theatre or closed simulator, for example. Cornet explained during a presentation that they looked at these various buildings, estimated their average dimensions and used those as a starting point to create something new. The result: the ultra compact Smash & Reload interactive dark ride.
Smash & Reload is available in different sizes, but the company promotes two main models: the original of 15 x 15 meters (with 5 cars) and the XXS of 12 x 12 meters (with 3 cars). These compact sizes make the dark ride fit easily into many of the existing buildings that were looked at. Both versions consist of a circular track with multiple interactive screens in the centre of the loop, and rotating cars. What sets it apart from other interactive dark rides is the ‘reload’ scenes. These are located between each shooting scene, on the opposite side of the track. This makes it so that the cars rotate from left to right and back again multiple times during the ride.
BoldMove Nation partnered up with Triotech and Gosetto for this dark ride concept. With BoldMove Nation overseeing the design of the attraction, Triotech creating the interactive systems and Gosetto the ride system.
This has got to be Too Mush
BoldMove Nation can supply multiple themes for Smash & Reload. Over the past few years, they presented themes including popular IPs such as The Daltons (from Lucky Luke) and Marsupilami. One of the themes they are offering is their very own Too Mush.
In Too Mush, we meet a strange type of mushrooms that can see, walk, and communicate with each other. They multiply when they are frightened and can only be calmed down by freezing them. In the story, some of the ‘Mushies’ get sick because of pollution. These sick Mushies scare the others, making them multiply with a raging speed. It is up to the riders to freeze and capture as many Mushies as possible, to prevent them from taking over the city.
Too Mush is an IP that was developed almost a decade ago by Polymorph, a media studio from France. It was pitched as a dark ride theme, but was not picked up until BoldMove Nation started looking for themes for their Smash & Reload.
It’s all coming together
Le Pal added a simulator to its attraction line-up in 2000, called Ciné Dynamik 3D. The attraction featured two simulator vehicles, which could carry 25 persons each, in front of a large screen. It was located in a building at the back end of the park. 22 years later, the park decided to retire the attraction and replace it with something new. The opening of this new attraction would also coincide with the parks 50th birthday, which is celebrated this year.
Le Pal’s CEO Arnaud Bennet and BoldMove’s CEO Benoit Cornet have known each other for many years. When Le Pal started to look for a replacement for the simulator, it turned out that the ‘original’ Smash & Reload (15 x 15 metre) would fit the building perfectly. The two partnered up to create an exciting new interactive dark ride: Champi’Folies, the very first Smash & Reload installation.
The attraction, that would later be named Champi’Folies, was announced in May 2022. The former simulator was removed after the 2022 season and over the course of a few months during the winter of ’22/’23, the new attraction was installed, and opened on Saturday 29 April.
A little over a week later, on 8 and 9 May, the park, BoldMove Nation and Triotech organised a special opening event for press and other relations of the three parties. Team DRdb was invited to come to Le Pal and experience the attraction for ourselves.
VIP Opening Event
The event was spread over two days. With 8 May being a national holiday in France (Victory in Europe, World War II), the park was open and pleasantly busy. The official program started in the late afternoon, which gave us time to do a quick look round the park and have a first visit of the attraction. Later that day, we were greeted in a meeting room of the Savanna Reserve for the first presentation.
The session was hosted by Christian Martin of Triotech and featured the CEOs of Triotech, BoldMove Nation and of course Le Pal. They kicked off with a presentation of each company, followed by a discussion on dark rides and by extension Champi’Folies. Details were shared on the new attraction, such as the reason why Le Pal chose a dark ride, the initial idea of Smash & Reload and how the companies managed to build this attraction on a budget of only €3 million.
After the presentation and on the next day, we were able to have a chat with Arnaud Bennet of Le Pal, Sven Popelier of BoldMove Nation and Christian Martin of Triotech for a short interview. This interview can be seen in the video below:
The program of the VIP event continued the next day. The park was closed, but opened Champi’Folies exclusively for attendees of the event. We were able to take a few rides and have some competition with each other first.
While boarding the cars in the station, we noticed that the vehicles arrive backwards. We were told that this was initially not the case, but that the interactive devices not in use (that are a bit heavy) kept falling out of their sockets and onto the floor of the vehicle, when it would accelerate. It is something that they are still working on, but it actually has a nice touch: it makes the opening scene of the attraction a bigger surprise.
The interactive devices are activated by pulling a string on the back of it, something we’ve also seen on rides such as Toy Story Midway Mania and Maus au Chocolat. The devices are ‘reloaded’ in the same way, although later down the line this will be achieved through shaking the device instead. This feature has yet to be implemented.
Champi’Folies mostly revolves around 4 interactive screens, alternated with three ‘reload’ scenes. The interactive scenes feature the Mushies. First in the forest, their natural environment, but when big bulldozers start to take over the forest, the Mushies start to make their way to the city.
From the forest, they wander into a scrapyard on the outskirts of the city. The scrapyard is full of old car wrecks, clearly not a suitable environment for the Mushies. Halfway during the scene, a barrel with toxic waste is spilled over the ground. Mushies that come into contact with it, are turned from a natural red into a green zombie-like state. Pollution does not do the Mushies well.
The Mushies multiply in the scenes that follow, which take place in factory grounds and eventually downtown in a city that resembles San Francisco. In a grand finale, a tram gets trampled by hundreds of red and green Mushies.
Watch the full onride of Champi’Folies in the video below:
While the true nature of the attraction lies with the interactive screens, Champi’Folies actually contains quite some physical theming within its 225 m² space. The scenery changes, from the beginning to the end, in the same way as the interactive scenes do: from an outdoors scene towards an urban environment.
We got the chance to walk through the attraction, at which point it becomes clear just how small Champi’Folies is. With a track of only 35 meters (!) in length, the loop of the attraction can be walked in a matter of seconds. It is amazing to see that this ride can operate with 5 cars and has a duration of nearly 4 minutes.
While Champi’Folies operates with 5 cars, Le Pal actually has 6 cars. One is always kept in the storage room, that is located next to the first scene. Two large doors of a red barn shed can open up and the track can slide into this storage. Here, the car is stored on a small piece of movable track, making it easy to move it around if needed. While the ride itself was able to fit inside the existing building, a small part had to be added onto it to fit in this room.
Whoever paid attention to the layout that is shown earlier in this report will have noticed that there is leftover space in the centre. This is used as yet another technical room, this time for the ride and show control.
The ride control is located in the station, on the opposite side of the boarding platform. This is where the operator can dispatch the cars, but is also able to monitor the riders through several cameras. Because even though the attraction is small, there is not a single place where one can oversee the complete attraction.
A smash hit
Champi’Folies is definitely one of the smallest dark rides we’ve ever seen. However, with its rotating cars, high quality interactive scenes and ride time of almost 4 minutes, the attraction can easily match with larger interactive dark rides such as Ghostbusters 5D – Die Ultimative Geisterjagd or Popcorn Revenge. Champi’Folies proves that sizes does not matter if you want to create a fun, immersive experience.
The companies are still fine tuning the attraction, which is not unusual for rides like this. However, even without this fine tuning, the quality of the attraction is already high. The alternation between the ‘regular’ interactive scenes and the reload-scenes, including the car’s rotations, create a dynamic that makes the attraction seem much larger than it really is. The originally unintended backwards start of the ride gives the attraction a great reveal that we haven’t seen before. Although this might get ‘fixed’ in the future, we wouldn’t mind if it stayed this way.
Champi’Folies proves that Smash & Reload is a great concept for regional parks. It requires a small space, but creates a large experience. We are very curious to see if BoldMove Nation and Triotech are able to create more of these attractions.
We would like to thank the crews of Le Pal, BoldMove Nation and Triotech for inviting us for this event. Particulary, we want to thank Benoit Cornet, Anja D’Hondt, Ley de Pooter and Sven Popelier of BoldMove, Ernest Yale, Christian Martin, Coralie Juillet and Yannick Gemme of Triotech and Arnaud Bennet of Le Pal.
© Dark Ride Database
Visit by Erik & Quintus
Text by Erik
Pictures by Erik & Quintus, unless indicated otherwise