The Complete Guide To: Cartoon Travel

OK, so it's only a strip show ÿ but cartoons offer us the opportunity to visit a parallel universe. Famous Belgians? Tintin, of course. Japan? Manga and Hello Kitty. In America, you can holiday with Mickey Mouse in his kingdom. Ben Ross sets off on the trail of the toons...
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The Independent Travel

Cartoon Travel?

Cartoon Travel?

Not as Daffy Duck as it sounds. Cartoons are, after all, a worldwide phenomenon. They have existed for centuries – Michelangelo used sketches called "cartoons" as preliminaries for his frescos, and Da Vinci is thought to have been at the forefront of the development of the political caricature – but the 20th century was when the mass market finally caught on. Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse first appeared in 1928, and from the slapstick mayhem of Tom and Jerry to the more modern, sly satire of South Park and The Simpsons, cartoons and animations have become part of our collective consciousness and – thanks largely to Disney's move into theme parks – our travel plans.

Not everybody sees this as a good thing: many view the ubiquity of Disney's menagerie of characters as being part of a more sinister quest for cultural dominance by the United States. But conspiracy theories aside, the Disney brand is certainly responsible for a hell of a lot of holidays: its theme parks are the most popular in the world, with resorts in Paris and Tokyo, as well as California and Florida (where 40 million people visit Walt Disney World each year).

But it's not just about Disney

Mickey may be the best-loved and best-travelled cartoon character on earth, but armies of animation devotees are prepared to put in the air miles in order to see a more experimental side to cartoons. The genre is big in Europe: Anima 2003 (00 32 2 218 2735; www.awn.com/folioscope), formerly known as the Brussels Cartoon and Animation Festival, begins this week (running from 26 February to 9 March) and regularly attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Short and feature-length animated films will be shown, and entrants to the various competitive categories are drawn from as far apart as Australia, Estonia, Japan and the UK. Tickets to the festival cost €70 (£47) for a pass to all the events, and €6 (£4) for individual screenings.

Has Brussels sprouted as a centre for cartoons, then?

Comics are often known as the "ninth art", and the Belgian capital has certainly embraced them as an art form – its walls are festooned with murals depicting famous Belgian cartoons. You can take a 6km walking tour of the best murals by buying a route map (€1.24/82p) from the tourist office at 63 rue du Marché aux Herbes (00 32 2 504 0390).

The most famous Belgian cartoon character is Tintin, who first appeared on 1 November 1928 in a Brussels children's newspaper called Le Petit Vingtième. Tintin, a bequiffed reporter, was created by Georges Rémi, who wrote under the name Hergé (his initials reversed and pronounced in French).

Tintin's first assignment was "in the land of the Soviets", and for the next 50 years his adventures took him to Japan, Egypt, Scotland, Tibet, Al Capone's Chicago, the Red Sea and the Moon (16 years before Neil Armstrong made it there for real). He wasn't always politically correct on his travels – racial stereotyping and Hergé's relaxed attitude towards big-game hunting have ensured that Tintin in the Congo has never been widely read in English – but the stories have sold in their millions. Tintin, then, is far better travelled than most of us. He also translates well, as do other cartoons (there's no need for costly redrawing, just a speech bubble to be filled). Hence his popularity in more than 50 languages.

Where can I follow in Tintin's footsteps?

Tintin may not have a theme park to his name, but there is a homage to him and his creator at Stockel subway station on the Brussels underground. Here you can see a 45m-high fresco of all the main characters of the books, including Captain Haddock and the Thompson Twins (who gave their name to the oddly-coiffured Eighties band). You can reach the station by riding line 1B eastwards to the end of the line.

There's also a permanent exhibition dedicated to Hergé's career at the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée (00 32 2 219 1980; www.brusselsbdtour.com/cbbd.htm; €6.20/£4.15 for adults, €2.50/£1.70 for children), a beautiful art nouveau building containing, among other paraphernalia, a life-size version of Tintin in his spacesuit. It's also packed with information and examples of comics from around the world.

Real Tintin aficionados should also head for Brussels' Royal Museums of Art and History (00 32 2 741 7211; www.kmkg-mrah.be) where an exhibition, Tintin in Peru, runs to 27 April. It includes many of the items Hergé meticulously copied for Tintin's South American adventures. Entrance is €6 (£4) for adults and €4 (£2.70) for children.

Switzerland, too, has embraced the cult of Tintin. The Hotel Cornavin (00 41 22 716 1212) in Geneva, was lovingly drawn by Hergé in The Calculus Affair; today it has a life-size Tintin mannequin in the foyer. Apparently the key to Room 122 (where Tintin stayed) is often stolen by Tintinophiles.

Where else can I celebrate the european cartoon?

"The year is 50BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely... One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders..." So begin the adventures of Asterix the Gaul. France is fiercely proud of its tradition of bande dessinée (cartoon strips), but Asterix is the only character to command enough loyalty to merit his own theme park, Parc Astérix, opened in 1989. René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo wrote the first adventure in 1959 for a French children's magazine called Pilote, and Asterix – like Tintin before him – soon built up an international following, largely based on the books' appeal to both adults and children. (Latin jokes pepper the slapstick action.)

The respectability of cartoons in France has even led to two French-language Asterix feature films being made, both starring Gérard Depardieu as Asterix's dopey friend Obelix. Asterix, like Tintin, travels the world in his books, although this is the classical world of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and the ancient Greek Olympics. He even brought tea to Britain, bless him.

Parc Astérix (00 33 3 44 62 30 30; www.parcasterix.com) is 30km north of Paris, between exits seven and eight on the A1 motorway (which runs from Lille to Paris). The park's 2003 season begins on 5 April, with a new Transdemonium ghost train as the main attraction. Although not all the rides are Asterix-themed, there are plenty of Gaulish live shows to enjoy, and the park devotes a lot of its attention to younger cartoon fans, with rides devoted to three- to six-year-olds. There's also an animal park with dolphins, sea lions and birds of prey – and plenty of chances to blow unwanted euros on stuffed Asterix toys and plastic Gaulish swords. Entry costs €31 (£20) for adults and €23 (£15.35) for children aged three to 11 (children under three are free).

Can I go on my own asterix adventure?

Our short, moustachioed hero made one grand, circular tour round his own country, in a story called Asterix and the Banquet. After a bet with a Roman officer called Overanxious, Asterix evades the Roman garrisons to travel round Gaul, collecting regional specialities: ham from Paris (or Lutetia, as it was then known), humbugs from Cambrai (Camaracum), champagne from Reims (Durocortorum), sausages from Lyons (Lugdunum), salad from Nice (Nicae), fish stew from Marseille (Massilia), prunes from Agen (Aginum) and oysters and wine from Bordeaux (Burdigala). Create your own gastro-holiday by hiring a car and following in his footsteps. Asterix managed the trip in 48 pages. It should take you about three weeks.

Alternatively, Asterix's seaside village was in Brittany, long a favourite destination for British holidaymakers. Perhaps a trip along the coast could be combined with an Asterix hunt. After all, on 1 April 1993 The Independent ran a story with the headline "Asterix's home village is uncovered in France", which revealed that an archaeological expedition had discovered the remains of an Iron Age village identical to Asterix's old home, down to the last detail.

April fool's day! are you taking the mickey?

As in Mouse? Asterix did his best, but he couldn't hold out against the US invasion for long. Disneyland Paris (08705 03 03 03, www.disneylandparis.com) opened, to much controversy and predictions of poor attendance, in 1992. It has since become the most popular tourist destination in Europe, with more than 110 million visitors since. (For even more impressive Disney statistics, see box.) No one can deny that Disney is the consummate master of combining cartoon characters and live action with roller-coasters, shows and special-effects bonanzas. Paris's Disneyland is a park so large that it even has its own station on France's railway network. The main park itself has more than 50 rides, shows and other attractions, while Walt Disney Studios, a new theme park that opened last year, devoted to special effects and stunts, has an "animation courtyard" that demonstrates some of the secrets of cartoon-making. Tickets cost £18 for adults and £16 for children (entrance to one park only), or £50 and £44 for three-day hopper tickets, with entrance to both parks.

What about travelling to mickey's home?

Of course, the best place to get under the skin of the Disney phenomenon is in the USA. Walt Disney built Disneyland in Anaheim, California in 1955; it has since been joined by a second resort: California Adventure. The themed lands inside – Paradise Pier, Hollywood Pictures Backlot and Golden State – have upped the entertainment stakes considerably. The fabled Disney "magic" these days involves an impressive amalgam of mind-boggling technology and Butlins-era nostalgia, with characters such as Snow White and her dwarfs mingling with the crowds.

Bigger, nearer (for UK travellers) and – some would say – better is Walt Disney World outside Orlando in Florida. First opened in 1971, it is the largest theme park in the world, covering 122 square kilometres (roughly the size of Greater Manchester). It has four different theme parks within it, three water parks... and Disney golf. The Disney experience is like nothing on earth – and children will have the time of their lives.

British Airways Holidays ( www.batravelshops.com; 0870 443 4439) is offering seven nights at Disney's All Star Resorts, Orlando for £1,133 per adult (£550 per child aged three to nine, or £602 per child aged 10-11) based on departures from 1 May to 30 June 2003. The price includes return scheduled flights with British Airways from Gatwick, accommodation and car hire for the duration. Included in the price is the seven-night Ultimate Park Hopper ticket. Seven nights at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel at the Disneyland resort in California with Virgin Holidays (0870 220 2782; www.virgin.com/holidays) currently starts at £959 per adult and £329 per child (aged three to nine; children aged 10-11 pay a supplement of £28). The price includes return scheduled flights, accommodation, car hire and a six-day Ultimate Park Hopper ticket.

Can I set sail with mickey?

Yes, if you take a trip on the Disney Cruise Line (08705 00 00 07; www.disneycruise.co.uk). The Disney Magic and Disney Wonder cruise ships depart from Port Canaveral in Florida and stop off at Nassau in the Bahamas and Castaway Cay, "Disney's own private island paradise". There's plenty of family-orientated entertainment on board, with nightly performances of Disney musicals and appearances by all the Disney characters. Three days at Walt Disney World and a four-day cruise costs from £1,145 per person (£649 for children aged two to 16).

I prefer superheroes

With Spider-Man wowing cinema audiences last year and Daredevil – another Marvel Comics hero – currently saving the world, cartoon crusaders have never been more in vogue. Sadly, the much-loved trip round Marvel's headquarters in New York has been discontinued, so the closest you can get is probably another theme park. If you're thinking of travelling to Orlando to visit Disney World, then you've got no excuse not to visit the Universal Studios park (00 1 888 331 9108; www.uescape.com) and its Islands of Adventure twin, which boasts Marvel Superheros Island. Here you can churn your stomachs on the Spiderman ride and the Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster. Less turbulent is the Toon Lagoon, which has a Popeye water-ride. Back at the Universal Studios park, there's also The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera and, for youngsters, Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster.

Can I travel further afield for my cartoons?

Japan should be your next destination. The Japanese love cartoon strips and animation, from heroic Manga comics to more cuddly characters such as Astro Boy and Hello Kitty. Japan Airlines (020-7462 5577; www.jaltour.co.uk) is running tailor-made Anime Tour trips to coincide with the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2003 ( www.taf.metro.tokyo.jp), which takes place on 21 and 22 March. The tour includes visits to Sanrio Puroland (the Hello Kitty theme park) and the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum.

Osamu Tezuka is most famous for the Astro Boy strip, which he began in 1951. According to the strip, Astro Boy's birthday was 7 April 2003, and various special events are planned for the big day. You can also visit the Gibli Museum, which houses the work of Hayao Miyazaki, one of the most famous animators in Japan, and spend time in Tokyo's Disneyland and Disney Sea, a water resort. Prices for a five-night package start at £950 per person (twin sharing), excluding entrance fees.

Enough of theme parks! where else can I go?

Well, Scooby Doo is said to hail from Northampton, Massachusetts, where his creator went to college. The Thirsty Mind coffee shop (00 1 413 538 9309) located in the Village Commons on College Street in South Hadley, is said to be the basis for Scooby's regular hangout, The Malt Shop. Meanwhile, if Yogi Bear, Boo Boo and their real-life cousins are more to your taste, then head straight for their home: Yellowstone National Park (00 1 307 344 7381; www.nps.gov/yell/) in Wyoming, the oldest national park in the world and home to grizzly bears, wolves, elk and bison, not to mention 10,000 hot springs and the Old Faithful geyser.

Finally, the attention of Simpsons fans should be drawn (geddit?) to the fact that according to The Times Atlas of the World there are 13 Springfields in the US (although the location of the Simpsons' home town has always remained shrouded in secrecy).

Anything closer to home?

Once you've taken your fill of Beanoland at Chessington World of Adventures (0870 444 7777; www.chessington.com), which reopens on 10 April, it'll be time to head for the fifth annual UK Comic Festival (0117 924 4655, www.sitsvac.org), which is held in Bristol on 24 and 25 May. Big names from the comic world, including the Batman artist Jim Lee and representatives from The Dandy and The Beano, Marvel Comics, The Simpsons and Disney will all be in attendance, and there will be various signings, auctions and talks. The UK Comic Festival is also home to the National Comic Awards, which are announced over the weekend. Tickets start at £4 per person per day.

British comic fans are used to putting in the effort when it comes to journeys of the mind. Take, for example, those hardy devotees of 2000AD, the British science fiction "megazine" that brought us Judge Dredd. Until fairly recently, when the comic was bought by a new publisher, these fans had to accept the fantasy that the grubby finger of King's Reach Tower (the home of IPC magazines in rather less-than-sci-fi Waterloo in London) was in fact a spaceship belonging to someone called Tharg the Mighty. Never let it be said that comics don't fuel our imaginations.

Park Life

10 things you never knew about Disney

* Walt Disney World in Florida has a population of 200,000 people each day.

* More than 2,600 couples get married every year at Walt Disney World.

* About 4 per cent of all the amateur photographs taken in the US are snapped at Walt Disney World or Disneyland California.

* Rubbish is collected every 15 minutes at Walt Disney World via pneumatic tubes that send it to a central compacter.

* There are more than 27,000 hotel rooms at Walt Disney World.

* Every year, Walt Disney World visitors consume more than 50 million colas, 10 million hamburgers, 6 million hot dogs, 6 million pounds of French fries, and 300,000 pounds of popcorn.

* The Disneyland Paris property covers an area one-fifth the size of Paris; only a third has been developed.

* One visitor in 10 buys a Disneyland Paris baseball cap.

* Sixty tons of beef fillet are eaten in Disneyland Paris each year – three times the weight of the Eiffel Tower.

* Thirty million people will buy a meal or drink in Disneyland Paris each year.

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