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Saint-Cannat, France

Le Village des Automates

An often-shuddersome journey into a low-tech, robotic themepark.  

American kids are lucky that they only have to deal with Chuck E. Cheese. After visiting Les Village des Automates near Aix-en-Provence, French kids will no longer understand plots in classic literature (there is no Doc-constructed airplane in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, right?) nor will they be able to sleep with thoughts of electronic smiles dancing through their heads.

The automaton park, which looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1980s, automates Gulliver’s Travels, Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty, amongst 500 other spooky motorized creatures. The slowly-mechanized, bulky-plastered, spray-painted robots are guaranteed to give the whole family nightmares for weeks!

The park itself is made up of many different themed lands. The Gulliver section consists of a gigantic, plaster Gulliver reclining in a Lilliputian world populated by creatures that look an awful lot like Happy and Dopey. Pinocchio’s story is told within the belly of a huge whale structure that houses robotic pirates and a terrifying clown-faced Pinnochio. A strange Snow White world features the dwarfs surrounded by smiling honeybees with one of the dwarfs blasting off in what appears to be a homemade airplane.

The park gets stranger still as it veers away from Disney-told tales into the random. Children are welcomed into the Court Circus by a leering blonde clown in a green top hat. There’s a exhibition simply called “Mexico” to which visitors are greeted by a grinning cactus in a sombrero. You’ll come across Santa, as well as a bigger-than-life-size tree with a tepid smile and a purple hat. There’s also a live petting zoo so you can further confuse your kids’ perceptions of reality.

Know Before You Go

10.5 miles northwest of Aix-en-Provence