Walt Disney World has debuted three new films during the Epcot Festival of the Arts: Awesome Planet, Canada Far & Wide, and the Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along. Here we’ll review each new movie and recommend whether you should incorporate them into your park itinerary.
Let’s start with Awesome Planet, which is located in the Land pavilion upstairs from Soarin’ Around the World, right next door to Garden Grill. Awesome Planet showcases Earth’s beauty and diverse natural landscapes in a 10-minute film featuring some in-theater lighting effects and an original musical score. It’s breathtakingly shot and the score is relaxing.
Awesome Planet highlights the majesty of Earth and its varied environments, before pivoting into how these are under threat thanks to rising sea levels, temperatures, and more intense weather. In typical Epcot fashion, Awesome Planet presents a relatively upbeat perspective on climate change and does so in a widely-palatable way that could make it better received by guests who need to hear this message the most (it’s presented without delving into causes or ascribing blame). However, it’s the narration that truly elevates Awesome Planet…
Actor Ty Burrell offers his sales pitch for planet Earth as a place to live, drawing a clear but unstated parallel to his role as realtor Phil Dunphy on Modern Family. Awesome Planet‘s conceitis that you’re looking at various biomes to call home, and Burrell is offering the benefits and drawbacks of Earth.
It’s a clever nod for those who are fans of Modern Family, but it doesn’t distract or detract from the movie for those who are unfamiliar with the character. There are no direct call-outs to Modern Family or the Dunphys. It’s like a throwback to 90s era Epcot with celebrity tie-ins, but done in a more subtle way that shouldn’t age poorly.
Awesome Planet‘s amusing narrative premise coupled with the film’s overall sense of optimism while educating guests about something grim is impressive. It’s also quintessentially EPCOT in that regard, following a rich history of other attractions tasked with doing the same. (Often, while dancing around the corporate interests of sponsors.) It’s a winner.
Due to its short duration and location in a place you’ll definitely walk past (probably more than once), Awesome Planet is probably the easiest to slot into an Epcot itinerary. Do it before or after Living with the Land, following lunch at Sunshine Seasons, or literally whenever it’s convenient.
Next, there’s Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360 in World Showcase’s Canada pavilion. This is an update to the previous O Canada! film–with Martin Short removed, additional scenes & footage added, a new musical score by Canadian composer Andrew Lockington, and new narration by award-winning actors Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy.
We absolutely love Martin Short, but his performance in O Canada! wasn’t the best. It had some light chuckles, but leaned too heavily on his celebrity at the expense of the experience. Canada Far & Wide remedies this, with the whirlwind tour of Canada’s natural beauty, cosmopolitan cities, and multiculturalism on full display.
Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy provide narration with a bit of personality, but never once make it about themselves. (In fact, I forgot they were the narrators and kept trying to recall who was narrating throughout the movie.) Unlike O Canada!, which sometimes played a bit too much into outmoded cliches about Canada, the new film subverts them.
For some, Canada Far & Wide will be an eye-opening look at our neighbor to the north. I’ve always felt that the best World Showcase attractions make you want to visit their host countries, and that’s absolutely the case here. It’s well worth checking out, and can be added to your itinerary for a midday break from the World Showcase sun and heat.
My only quibble with both Awesome Planet and Canada Far & Wide is that the footage isn’t exactly memorable or unique. It’s beautiful, but it could be stock scenery. One of the things we love about Impressions de France is the little details, like the various quirky people and creatures that inhabit the film.
Neither of these new films really have that. This is probably at least partly by design–what I’d like to see is also the type of thing that can date film footage. (No worse than including the NBA Champion Toronto Raptors, though.) However, more unique and some quirky footage helps to endear a movie to its audience, giving it a passionate fanbase that’ll return to repeat viewings.
This is a minor quibble about two films that are each marked improvements over their predecessors. They still have engaging narration, scores, and music to give these films distinct personalities. They’re also wonderful additions in the spirit of EPCOT Center. Both are quintessential edutainment, and Canada Far & Wide is the kind of travelogue that, like Impressions de France, will inspire guests to visit Canada.
In other words, two very good to great additions to Epcot that deserve far more praise than we’ve seen for them thus far. With that said, if you’re looking for a positive and optimistic article about Epcot, just pretend the post ended here and close this browser tab now…
Finally, there’s the Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along, which makes Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration look like a Walt Disney World masterpiece by comparison. We hadn’t heard much about this new film prior to seeing it, and I’m honestly a bit surprised. Walt Disney World hasn’t debuted anything that rises to this level of atrociousness in a while–maybe ever. In a way, it’s impressive.
Before we wade into that, there’s a new exhibit in the lobby here: “Tales as Old as Time: French Storytelling on Stage and Screen,” which replaces the old window displays of Notre Dame Cathedral’s architecture. To Disney’s credit, the new exhibit features ornate costumes, music, and artwork dedicated to the adaptation of French literature in cinema, theater, ballet, and opera. This is beautiful and interesting–another exemplar of edutainment at Epcot.
As for the show itself, rather than simply remixing clips from Beauty and the Beast with sing-along lyrics, this is actually much more ambitious. It’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Come to find out, LeFou is actually the unsung hero of the story, having worked behind the scenes as the puppet-master who brought Belle and Beast together. That’s right–LeFou.
As you’ll find out in the sing-along, LeFou worked his magic to lure Maurice into the forest and towards Beast’s Castle. It was LeFou who got Belle to follow him there. Wonder how Belle got her iconic ballgown? Turns out LeFou made (and wore) it! LeFou did a bunch of other great things, apparently. In this ultimate yarn of revisionist storytelling, LeFou also did not actively lead, instigate, or even know about the more “questionable antics” of Gaston and his angry mob.
This plot might sound like some trolling fanfic, but that’s offensive to trolls. It would’ve been one thing to offer a lazy direct-to-video caliber sequel or prequel, but to retcon elements of the classic story with this is truly perplexing. It’s not plausible or clever, and only offers 2-3 laughs as the ultimate payoff. It’s like the team behind this saw the trailer for Cats and said, “hold my beer.”
The sad thing here is that actual effort was put into this by a crew of talented people. It required new animation, narration by Angela Lansbury, voiceover by Jesse Corti, and was directed and produced by Don Hahn. I almost feel bad being so harsh, but it’s not like they didn’t know what they were making.
For our first and last viewing of Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along, the theater was about one-third full. To my surprise, the audience reaction was fairly tepid and unenthusiastic. I don’t present this as “evidence” that my opinion is right. Kids love all sorts of stuff, and I don’t doubt that includes this for some.
Rather, that the source material here isn’t ideal for a sing-along. I had never thought about this, but several of the songs in Beauty and the Beast are quick and lyrically complex. “Tale As Old As Time” is the major exception, and most of the audience was singing along to that. It also doesn’t help that whatever momentum or flow the musical numbers might otherwise have is clumsily broken up by the narrative gymnastics done to explain how LeFou was the matchmaker behind Belle and Beast.
Now, you might be thinking that I’m a poor judge of this because, as a middle-aged man without kids, I’m far from the target audience. Perhaps your kids loved this. Fair enough. Even the Emoji Movie has a 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that–against all odds–9 critics enjoyed it. There’s no accounting for taste.
I’ve positively reviewed numerous Walt Disney World attractions aimed at children in the past. Most recently, I gave a glowing review to Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, which is very good for what it is. Same goes for Dumbo, Turtle Talk, and even the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.
Perhaps most notably, I’ve repeatedly called Enchanted Tales with Belle underrated and not given enough credit, even though it’s definitely not for me. I strive to review attractions as objectively as possible, taking into account how kids and their parents might feel about a particular attraction. In my view, Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along is objectively awful.
Nevertheless, Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along will probably be reasonably satisfying filler for kids who are often bored while traversing World Showcase. So mission accomplished in that regard, I guess. However, I’m unconvinced that kids wouldn’t be just as satisfied sitting on a random park bench watching ~15 minutes of literally any Disney+ content on your phone. By contrast, Awesome Planet and Canada Far & Wide are movies worth seeking out. Both are beautifully shot, amusingly narrated, and will nicely break up your day at Epcot with bit of time relaxing in a dark, air-conditioned environment.
If you’ve seen the new Epcot films, what did you think of them? Have a favorite? What about a least favorite? Do you agree or disagree with our reviews? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!