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Elseworlds – EPCOT Center’s French Circlevision?

Have you ever looked at a picture that you’ve seen a million times before, only to note something random that you have to have seen before but had never noticed? Check out this picture from 1980 of Imagineer John Hench, and see if you notice anything:

John Hench with an Imagineering model of EPCOT Center’s France Pavilion, 1980

By the time this picture was taken, EPCOT was already under construction but far from completion. And, as the model behind Hench shows, some elements had yet to take their final shape. As I said, I’ve seen this picture many times, but for the first time it actually occurred to me that the shape of the theater for Impressions de France in this picture is, well, round. Round in a way that the actual show building isn’t. In fact, one might say that the building as pictures is a circle.

The France pavilion today, as seen in Google Earth

As you can see, the actual Impressions de France theater is not round. So this raises the question – was the film attraction in the French pavilion originally supposed to be in CircleVision 360, like the films in China and Canada? At this time, China wasn’t locked in as part of the opening-day pavilion lineup. Perhaps Disney wanted to bank on having two CircleVision films; perhaps this is just one of a million random iterations of the always-changing EPCOT model. But it does seem that the circular theater indicated that in 1980 Imagineers were planning something different for this pavilion.

If you look closely at the model, you might notice another way in which it differs from the actual building:

Around the top of the circular theater, there’s a small facade that seems to create an extra skyline for the French pavilion. This could be the same extra layer of detail that can be seen in this picture, from Richard Beard’s 1982 book, Walt Disney’s EPCOT: Creating the New World of Tomorrow:

Imagineering model of EPCOT Center’s France pavilion

Above the entrance to Impressions de France, but before the forced-perspective Eiffel Tower, you’ll note an extra layer of detail that doesn’t exist in the final pavilion. Most notable is the spinning windmill of Paris’s Moulin Rouge, which would eventually appear as a lighting effect in the original Illuminations show. As Beard’s text states:

With the best will in the world, there was still not complete agreement among the EPCOT team during the planning of the France pavilion. One of the first concept sketches was of the Place du Tertre, the artists’ colony up near the catherdral of Sacré-Coeur. Then the Moulin Rouge and the Place Pigalle were considered, but the French advisers thought that was “tacky.” (It is; but tourists still love it.)

Sacré-Coeur itself, when they tried to build it to scale, looked rather Muscovite to a lot of people, with its onion-type domes. But the Eiffel Tower is unmistakable; it is one of a kind.

Detail of the Imagineering model, with the Moulin Rouge clearly showing above the theater entrance

So, out went the Moulin Rouge. So, also, did “a cancan show typical of the Folies Bergère or the Lido.” And somewhere along the line the building went from its mysterious circular form, to the final rectangular design that would open in 1982. But aside from the differing abandoned concepts for the pavilion, there was one small element that was promised but left out. Again, from Beard, a discussion of was intended for the Les Halles area of the pavilion:

Envisioned for a future time is an animated map of France: by pushing a button, you will be able to learn what’s going on in various regions – the coasts of Normandy and Brittany, the skiing areas, the Riviera, the wine country.

So, what do you say France – time to plus the pavilion?


From the great Martin Smith comes this better view of the pavilion model which, quite clearly, shows the circular show building.

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13 comments to Elseworlds – EPCOT Center’s French Circlevision?

  • This makes perfect sense. I’ve always said that Impressions de France was a “Halfcircle Vision” movie, which it is, in style and appearance. I’ve furthermore also always suspected that it may have been planned as a full Circlevision film and that plan was changed at some point either for budget reasons or just to make it different from the other World Showcase movies.

    No matter. I’ve always said that the act of framing a shot is nothing but artful exclusion, a definition which by its’ nature excludes Circlevision as being a truly satisfactory medium for filmic expression. The use of five cameras rather than ten allows for a greatly improved artistic experience than O Canada or Wonders of China provided, which is why Impressions de France has lasted for a quarter century without dating while the other two have needed and received makeovers.

  • RO93461

    Great article. Interesting stuff. France has such potential. I’m fine with the film as it’s format stands. It’s dated for sure. I’d like to visit the Castles in 3D. It’s my favorite film in EPCOT.

  • Thanks guys – I hadn’t really thought about it before, so it was an interesting find. I’d love to know what the reason for the change was – I’m assuming it was to have something different and to not overload on Circlevision. I can’t imagine that it was cheaper to devise a totally different camera rig and filming system instead of just using the same old CV360 equipment.

    As to the film itself, I think its format and setting are perfect as is. It’s my favorite film in the park, too, and it has a wonderful timeless quality despite the dated elements. Most of those dated parts are confined to scenes of populated areas – mostly Paris and the Riviera (ha) – and could be easily swapped out.

    I’m usually a promoter of updating the films, but Impressions gets so much right… the movie and narration are so much of the experience I’d hate for them to change at all.

  • Now Norway, on the other hand… :)

    (which I enjoy but is VERY outdated…)

  • Celeste C.

    Don’t touch the boat kid…….nooooo….DON’T TOUCH IT!!! NOOOO!!!! I told you not to touch it!!!!

  • Celeste C.

    I love Norway’s film, so amazing and terrifying.

  • DAH!!!

    DAH DAH!!!


    Norway’s film is awesome. There’s an awful lot of pastels and big hair in those city scenes, though!

  • Michael…

    Maybe we could host our own CircleVision Sweatbox…

    The litany of failed or misappropriated projects could fill the OED. I have to agree with Foxxfur (even thought I do not have a film degree). I enjoy the seated aspect of France where the images are laid out before me. It is humorous and can be awe-inspiring to see a Circle-Vision film, but it doesn’t paint the same vistas.

  • Celeste C.

    Ahhh Norway…sponsor of my lifelong fear of oil rigs *lol* Did you ever consider it only seems outdated -to us-….have you ever actually been to Norway? I’m pretty sure it’s just like that.

    George – Yes! So many sweatbox options!

  • I think it’s amazing how *expensive* the Norway film is… every shot is this gorgeously lit Steadycam shot but the movie is totally unimpressive and cut at the approximate rhythm of the Potemkin Steps. It’s total camp.

    There’s also an amazing moment where an extra shows up with a light meter and gets a reading, which *causes a burst of light*. That isn’t what that does!!!!! XD

  • I think the success of Impressions lies in the superior soundtrack and how it has been applied to the images. Whatever the image calls for, the French composers have delivered. Impressions is the perfect marriage of music and film.


  • yvonne

    Still love ‘Impressions’, soundtrack is beautiful but I agree that an inside 3D tour of some of the castles would be a nice addition. Also would like to know if present space could be utilized for a ‘moving car tour’ of some of the outstanding vineyards showing type of grapes, methods and chateaus . . .

  • Donn

    Unanimous: IMPRESSIONS IS THE BEST. I am greatful for the pavilions which HAVE shows and I feel a bit resentful that JAPAN, with all its ingenuity and wealth, has a big piece of real estate but only a department store… and occasionall a few drummers out front. And maybe a restaurant? I pass that pavilion by. And Great Britain? Not so much. I presume that originally countries “signed on” and assumed some of the cost of the buildings, but I suppose those arrangements have no run out and Disney has full control and responsibility?

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