Tintin in Walibi Theme Park

21 Jan 2007

Walibi Theme Park
Photograph © Cliff Laureys.

The theme park Walibi in Wavre was truly a wonderful place and that was largely because of the Tintin-based attractions. Before the Meeùs family came up with the name 'Walibi' (this being the first letters of town names Wavre, Limal and Bièrges where the park is situated), they considered calling it 'Tintin Land'. I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved the park as a kid. It was my favourite place on earth, and I visited it several times a year. Sadly, nowadays the park isn't what it once was. It lost the rights to the Tintin characters in the nineties and changed owners and names more than it should have.

Below is a complete list of Tintin attractions, with a bit of information on how they came to be and what has become of them.

'Le Temple du Soleil' (Temple of the Sun) was a dark ride based on 'Prisoners of the Sun'. It opened in 1975 and took visitors through a fluorescent forest that led to the Temple of the Sun. Due to technical difficulties and capacity problems, it had to be closed only a few years after its opening. It is the only Tintin-based attraction I haven't visited since it was torn down the year of my very first birthday! It got replaced by a parachute tower called 'Big Yoyo', which stood there until the end of the nineties. Now the place houses several small children's attractions.

'Le Secret de la Licorne' (Secret of the Unicorn) opened in 1980 elsewhere in the park to replace 'Le Temple du Soleil'. It was a clone of the Disneyland dark ride 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. Set in a massive replica of a castle, it featured multiple pirate ships and eighty-five animatronics including Haddock, Tintin, Snowy and Red Rackham (voiced by Bob De Moor). Sadly, it was closed in 1995 due the loss of rights.

In the following years, the castle building was re-opened only in the Halloween period as a walk-through haunted castle. The Tintin characters had been removed as well as the entire system for the visitor boats. The only thing that was left were the immobile pirate animatronics (and other non-Tintin animatronics from other closed-down attractions), disrespectfully splattered with fake blood, dismembered or decapitated by the current Walibi, uh hum, "imagineers" as a cheap Halloween horror show. I couldn't believe my eyes when I walked through it. Truly sad.

Then, in 2003, the old castle building was refurbished and re-decorated to house a new dark ride called 'Challenge of Tutankhamun'. Still, even with its state-of-the-art wagon system with light guns (to shoot the animatronics) and score counter, the attraction isn't nearly as breathtaking as its predecessor built some twenty years before.

'Tintin dans la jungle' or 'Kuifje in de jungle', the boat ride based on 'The Broken Ear' opened in the late seventies. Set in a section of the Walibi pond, it took the visitors in cable-pulled wooden rafts through a jungle filled with fake animals and Tintin characters. These were merely immobile or roughly moving puppets and no animatronics, since it was an outside attraction. The highlight must have been Tintin taking a shower under the trunk of an elephant. It looked a lot like 'Jungle Cruise' in Disneyland, only with smaller rafts. In 1987, the rafts were replaced with yellow boats, still pulled by the same underwater cablesystem.

In the mid-nineties, all Tintin based material was removed (again because of the loss of rights) leaving only the animal replicas and the boatride was renamed 'Gondolettas'. Since 2001 and until now, the boatride is still there under the name 'Gold River Adventure' but without even the animals. So basically, it's just a boat ride through nature now--that is through empty coca-cola can and candy wrapper littered nature.

'Pampa Ponies' was a small outdoor mechanized horsey ride based on 'Tintin In America'. It opened during the 1979 season and featured an Indian sitting on a rock, Tintin bound to a pole (taken from the comic book cover) with Snowy looking quite helpless next to him, and a lot of fake cactuses. Today, the ride is still there--without Tintin figures of course--and now features a few Lucky Luke-based figures, such as a laughing Jolly Jumper.

'Mini-Jeeps', is another outdoor attraction also opened in '79. Based on 'The Shooting Star', it was a mechanized ride in multi-colored tiny jeeps on a set track. Life-size figures and decoration included Tintin holding a flag in his hooded jacket and the giant spider on a rock, among lots of giant apples and mushrooms. Until two years ago, the ride was still functioning (once again without any Tintin figures or mushrooms, all taken out during the nineties). Only the big apples remained. (Apparently, the Moulinsart-owned rights didn't include the use of over-sized fruit.) At the end of last year, the jeeps and the entire track were removed. Only the asphalt road on which the metal track had been mounted remained, along with the over-sized apples. The attraction became a walk-through based on the comics of Spike and Suzy (another Belgian comic series whose rights the park obtained in 2004). Sadly, the entire attraction looks rather cheap, because the decorations are no longer painted statues but painted and sawn out wooden boards instead, which doesn't do credit at the source material at all.

'Tintin Show' was a cinematic experience created especially for the park. It was shown in the park's futuristic-looking 3D Theatre around 1984. The show may have required the audience to wear glasses for three-dimensional view. I know one had to put those on for all the other shows shown in the theatre in later years. The theatre is still there now, although completely changed in appearance. It currently houses the 'Spongebob Squarepants in 4D' show featuring 3D glasses, moving seats and water sprinkle/blowing air effects.

Last but not least, in the eighties and early nineties wooden boards depicting the main Tintin characters welcomed the visitors as they drove into the parking lot. The entrance of the park had two guard statues on both sides of the gate (much like on the cover of 'King Ottokar's Sceptre'). In the courtyard in front of the gate stood a little pedestal with a replica of Ottakar's sceptre behind glass. In that period, the first area the visitors walked into behind the entrance gate was dubbed 'Syldavia'. Today, nothing remains of the Tintin decorations at the entrance of course. In fact the entrance has changed looks every time the park switched owners, especially from 2001 to 2004 when the park fell into American hands and was re-dubbed 'Six Flags Belgium'.

Et voilà, that's about it! I searched through my collection of Walibi nostalgia for Tintin pictures and managed to gather quite a few personal photographs from the eighties and scans of official promotional material I own, such as calendars, stickers, folders, parkmaps and postcards.