14 September 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Faraway Places Yet Unseen

Impressions de France has a special place in the hearts of many Epcot enthusiasts. For starters, it is the sole surviving opening day film from 1982. It has had its upgrades over the years, and now shares in venerated hall with a singalong feature, there is still magic in that music and panoramas offered by the film. Speaking for myself, personally, as someone who’s grandmother came to this country from France after World War II, this attraction holds special meaning for me. So much so, that when she passed away several years ago and I returned to Florida, I made a special trip to Epcot just to see this film. Impressions de France, and Taco Bell bean burritos, are two of the cornerstone memories of my Nanie that I carry with me to this day.
Forgive the emotional interlude, let’s get back to the film, and the theater that houses it.
Impressions de France is shown in the Palais de Cinéma, a theater which can accommodate three-hundred and fifty guests. Once throught the preshow gallery, guests view the 18-minute film one five screens that are revealed during the film’s opening scene. Each of the five screens are 27 and a half feet wide by 21 feet tall that, when used together to form a single image, treat audience members to a 200-degree view. The film itself features 45 individual scenes and locales, including, but not limited to, Loire Valley, Vezelay Church and village, Monbazillac Vineyard, Versailles, Chaumont Castle, Charmonix, La Rochelle Harbor, Normandy, Mt. Blanc, and various landmarks and vistas of Paris. Meanwhile, the score from Impressions de France is composed of music from Camille Saint-Saëns, Claude Debussy, Jacques Offenbach, by François-Adrien Boieldieu, Maurice Ravel, Éric Satie, and Paul Dukas. Additonally, original scoring was done by Buddy Baker.
This score is something that created a mental agitation for me in my preteen and early teen years. Having been captivated by the music in the opening scene, but living in a pre-Google/iTunes/Shazam world, I was at a loss as to what the music was. Even relatives who were still living in France were unable to assist me in my plight to find this singular piece of music.
Finally, after so many years of needing to know what this piece of music was so badly that I was about to burst at the seams, this shy middle school boy wandered up to a Cast Member at the entrance to the film and asked if he knew the music that opened the movie. In my memory of this moment, I definitely tried to hum him a few bars, but it is also just as likely that I’ve created my own figment of imagination there. The young Frenchmen smiled, asked me to wait for a moment, and reached around the door before producing a piece of paper.
This single information sheet contained everything I could ever want to know about Impressions de France’s score was now mine. He pointed out the singular piece of music that I had been pining after for years: Aquarium, composed by Camille Saint-Saëns. He continued to smile as I thank him and sprinted away. At that time, finding a particular CD of classical music was just as difficult as finding out what the music was you were looking for in the first place. I searched every music store in the area, but could not find a single recording of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Aquarium performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. In the end, I opted for single compact disc I was able to find with a recording by the Philadelphia Symphony, and fell in love with everything on it.
Impressions de France remains, to this day, my favorite attraction in Epcot, followed closely by Living With the Land. I’ve long been a firm believer in the fact that every attraction is someone’s favorite, solidified by my own predilection to this film (and the curious man I heard speaking about his love for Sounds Dangerous, but that’s a story for another time), and love to hear the stories of why someone loves a given attraction. I hope you do as well, and I appreciate you letting me share one of my stories with you.

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