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Mickey Mouse to set up house in France. But some worry about effect on French culture

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Mickey Mouse eating a croissant? The once fantastical idea will become a reality within five years following the signing Wednesday of a tentative agreement between Walt Disney Productions and the French government to build the first European Disneyland 20 miles east of here in Marne-la-Vall'ee.

France won out over stiff competition from Spain and the victory left the French brimming with pride -- despite some fear that Mickey could harm its culture.

Disney's decision has highlighted the growing gap here between a public eager for American culture and an intellectual elite which continues to fear it.

France has become one of the biggest markets for Disney films and a weekly Disney television series draws a large audience. Headlines announcing Wednesday's accord reflected this general acceptance, describing the imminent arrival of the Disney park as ``a wonderful Christmas gift.''

But individual editorialists reflected a different, disdainful tone. A few years ago, Culture Minister Jack Lang expressed the sentiment that French culture was being submerged by a wave of exports from the United States and called for a ``crusade'' against American ``cultural and financial imperialism.''

In that vein, Gerard Deupuy of the daily Lib'eration wrote that Disney would bring to France something ``as emphemeral as a page of comic strips.'' Richard Liscia of the daily Le Matin went further, arguing that Disney will ``deform generations of French children.''

The French government doesn't listen to such arguments. It badly wants the huge economic advantages of the park.

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