In addition to kicking off the 2020 International Festival of the Arts, January 17 also saw the debut of three brand-new films around Epcot at Walt Disney World. We were there on opening day to bring you a first look at these fresh new attractions.
Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360
Replacing the former O Canada film with Martin Short, Canada Far and Wide continues the tradition of Circle-Vision 360 travelogues highlighting America’s northern neighbor that began with World Showcase’s opening. The new film incorporates classic footage with newly shot scenes and is narrated by award-winning comedic actors Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy from Schitt’s Creek. The film also features a new musical score by Canadian composer Andrew Lockington and a returning rendition of the original theme “Canada (You’re a Lifetime Journey)” sung by Canadian Idol winner Eva Avilla.
Given the hilarious history of its new narrators (who, unlike Short, never appear onscreen), Canada Far and Wide plays it far more straight-faced than expected, providing a respectful if somewhat subdued overview of the vast country’s five regions. The film touches on the art and culture of Canada, with an emphasis on the nation’s diversity. But the real focus here is on the awe-inspiring beauty of Canada’s natural wonders, as well as its striking urban skylines. While some fan-favorite highlights of the former versions (like hockey and the Calgary Stampede) are now given short shrift, we were happy to see the new finale kick off with the classic parade of horseback-riding Mounties.
As a Circle-Vision 360 film, Canada Far and Wide requires viewers to stand throughout the 12-minute presentation. The “front” of the circular screen is behind the podium on your right as you enter the theater. Stand towards the center of the rear half of the room (to your left as you enter) in order to get the best view of the wrap-around projections.
Enjoy this video of highlights from Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360:
Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along
This summer’s upcoming Ratatouille ride isn’t the only addition in store for Epcot’s petite Paris this year. The France Pavilion is now playing host to a shortened sing-along edition of the animated classic Beauty and the Beast. The new version has been directed and produced by Don Hahn, who was the producer of both the animated and live-action films, and features new narration by Angela Lansbury, the original voice of Mrs. Potts.
The “twist” in this retelling is that Gaston’s henchman LeFou has been recast as the hero of the fable, with new animations inserting him Forrest Gump-style into familiar scenes, where we see him implausibly masterminding the leads’ love affair. While this tongue-in-cheek rewrite is worth a few laughs, it unfortunately robs Belle of her agency, turning one of Disney’s smartest and most self-reliant heroines into an unwitting pawn. She isn’t even allowed to sing past the intro of her big “I want” song, while Gaston’s anthem gets multiple verses.
In addition, although the projected image is razor-sharp, and the subtitled song lyrics easy to follow, only the center screen is used, so the presentation doesn’t take full advantage of the theater’s capabilities. Finally, your enjoyment of this attraction may directly correlate to the tone-deafness of your singing seatmates. Even with an audience full of opera stars, this film would feel like filler added to absorb crowds expected for the upcoming Ratatouille ride, but at least for now it’s drawing fuller houses than Impressions de France has in years.
The new Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along will alternate with the France pavilion’s original attraction, Impressions de France, which has receive a 4K upgrade to its picture quality. However, in a somewhat controversial move, Beauty and the Beast is scheduled to monopolize the theater from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, with Impressions de France—the final opening-day Epcot offering that’s still intact—only screening from 7:30 p.m. until 9 p.m.
While you wait for your chosen film, be sure to check out the new “Tales as Old as Time: French Storytelling on Stage and Screen” exhibit inside the lobby of the Palais du Cinéma. Covering various adaptations of French literature like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, the display includes costumes and props provided by the Orlando Ballet.
Despite the popularity of Soarin’ just downstairs, The Land pavilion’s Circle of Life film was lightly attended before its retirement in 2018. Disney is hoping to inject some fresh life into that theater, which originally hosted a documentary called Symbiosis, with a 10-minute film created in collaboration with the Disney Wildlife Fund that highlights the beauty and diversity of Planet Earth. The movie, which is narrated by Modern Family star Ty Burrell, features a stirring original musical score by Academy Award-winning composer Steven Price, plus dramatic digital animations of Earth’s evolution from the CGI savants at ILM.
Playing a variation of his realtor character, Burrell frames the film as a real estate pitch, enticing us to invest in Planet Earth like we would a piece of pricey real estate; whether you find this schtick endearing or grating depends on how big a fan you are of his television persona. Burrell guides us on a grand-circle tour of the globe’s most photogenic ecosystems, extolling the virtues of the planet’s various biomes as if they were luxury appliances (the arctic poles are described as having built-in ice-makers) while the eye-popping ultra-high-def nature footage is occasionally enhanced by the sparing use of in-theater effects such as wind and water.
Awesome Earth’s widescreen presentation packs an impressive visual impact, especially if seen from the front of the theater, and it follows in Disney’s long heritage of expertly shot nature documentaries. However, be warned that although the film’s first 6 minutes are all sunshine and butterflies, it takes an abrupt turn towards the apocalypse during the final 4 minutes, as Burrell ominously warns that “things in the market are changing.” Footage of devastating floods, wildfires, and droughts fill the screen for an appropriately dire message about the oncoming ecological catastrophe, but there is curiously no mention of its cause. And while the presentation ends with an optimistic exhortation for everyone to “choose to make a difference,” there’s no practical suggestions provided on how to accomplish that call to action, aside from visiting Disney’s website.
Enjoy this video of highlights from Awesome Planet:
All three attractions are now open daily at Epcot and are included with regular park admission.
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