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This Classic Disney World Attraction Is Now Open for Just 135 Minutes a Day

You probably assume the attractions at Disney parks are always available to visit whenever the parks are open.

That is not always the case. Some rides run on a schedule that’s significantly shorter than the parks’ daily hours of operation.

At Disneyland, the blockbuster Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which is probably the most elaborate and most unmissable theme park ride currently in existence, closes several hours before the rest of the park does. And since the arrival of Covid-19, only one of the two water parks at Walt Disney World in Florida operates at any given time.

Another popular Disney attraction is open to the general public for a mere 135 minutes a day.

The attraction is Impressions de France, one of the opening-day draws at EPCOT on October 1, 1982. Back then, it was the sole attraction beneath the Eiffel Tower replica at the France pavilion of World Showcase, the section of the park that once served as a miniature world’s fair.

Impressions de France is a shining example of a genre that theme parks used to dabble in but no longer do: the travel film. For example, during Disneyland’s first year, 1955, one of the park’s draws, inspired in part by the offerings at world’s fairs, was the 12-minute A Tour of the West. 

For the next generation, theme parks around the world added short travelogue movies to their rosters. In the 1970s, even Six Flags parks, which are not known for their aesthetics or film production, had their own version in the form of The Chevy Show.

EPCOT’s 18-minute Impressions de France, screened in a cinema with seating and a 200-degree screen that wraps around audiences, was directed by Rick Harper, who also worked on Disney’s proprietary Circle-Vision 360 environmental films. 

At the popular film database IMDb, Impressions de France has an impressive viewer score of 8.1 out of 10, the same score as Best Picture Oscar winners Rocky (1976) and Ben-Hur (1959) as well as certifiable classics such as The Terminator (1984), To Be or Not to Be (1942), and Network (1976).

In 2008, long-respected amusement journalist Robert Niles of Theme Park Insider called Impressions de France “the best movie ever made for a theme park.”

It’s also an important piece of the history of filmcraft. Impressions de France‘s massive contiguous screens and unconventional format required it to be shot with a cumbersome 550-pound camera setup that could only shoot 4 minutes of film at a time, then required a half-hour to reload. Long before drones and digital storage, aerial shots could only be accomplished with weeks of advance planning and strapping the system to hot air balloons or helicopters. Executing a seamless, seductively smooth travelogue under such onerous technical circumstances remains a creative milestone. 

Success at such inventive bravado was one of Disney’s specialties in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Then, the company was just as renowned for its problem-solving abilities as for its characters.

But despite those accomplishments, Impressions de France is now open only for two short bursts during EPCOT’s standard opening hours—first from 9am to 9:30am, and then again just before closing, from 7pm to 8:45pm, by which time most guests have moved to another section of the park.

That’s a grand total of just 135 minutes in which to screen the 18-minute film a scant number of times.

Guests who are staying at Disney-run hotels may also have the chance to glimpse it during the half-hour before the official park opening, although very few people do. Most stampede directly to the multimillion-dollar Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in a separate area of the France pavilion, bypassing the movie entirely.

In early 2020, Impressions de France was bumped from the regular screening schedule by Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along, an animated project that, while also good (and Angela Lansbury’s final voice performance in animation), is more attractive to children. It’s also more representative of modern Disney’s insistence on making sure new attractions tie in to movies or TV shows the studio can sell you. Theme park fans call them IP attractions, or ones based on intellectual property.

Faced with the pressures of corporate marketing synergy and a general reluctance for parkgoers to simply sit still and watch a movie, the travel film has all but died out at theme parks, or has been gimmicked up with ride mechanisms as on the Soarin’ attraction.

The fact that Impressions de France is still screened at all, even if on the fringes of the schedule, indicates the esteem with which the film must be held in the halls of Disney management. Retaining this landmark film is a rare and notable kindness that management has extended to guests in recent years, and a sign that at least somebody there continues to value the achievements that the Disney empire was built upon.

Catch the movie if you can, and appreciate the ingenuity and expense required to make it. Travelers will instantly recognize classic Disney—and classic France—at their best.