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:
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.
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:
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.
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.