Letting others colonize the imaginary you is not a good idea…

by Yule Heibel on July 29, 2007

This is pretty hilarious, but somehow pathetic, too… Those of you who’ve been to Epcot Center in Florida know the set-up: tourists visit “national” pavilions where they are bombarded by various cliches or story-book ideas about the country. Some pavilions are more high-brow than others, stocked with political information, and others are …less “serious,” if that’s the right word. If I recall correctly, some (all?) have restaurants attached that serve up the “typical” cuisine of that country (Norway: smoked fish, for example).

Now, read this (emphases added) and tell me what you think “O Canada,” the film shown in the Canadian pavilion, is telling the hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the globe who trot through there every year. I can’t believe this wasn’t retired years ago…

Outdated Canadian film due for Epcot makeover

Tony Atherton
CanWest News Service

Sunday, July 29, 2007

OTTAWA — The year was 1982. Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, the Jays played at Exhibition Stadium, Vancouver’s False Creek was an industrial wasteland and a film called O Canada! was the star attraction of the Canada Pavilion at the brand-new Epcot Center at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

A quarter of a century later, the 18-minute, 360-degree film is still packing ’em in at Epcot, but its dated and often hokey portrayal of the country has become a painful embarrassment for Canadian tourism officials and for many of the tens of thousands of Canadians who visit the theme park each year.

Ancient footage of the RCMP Musical Ride, flannel-wearing fishermen, fleeting and outdated aerial shots of Canadian cities and voice-overs by actors affecting bad Newfoundland and Quebec accents are all cited in the steady stream of complaints about the film fielded each year by the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Soon, however, Canadian visitors to Epcot may no longer be blushing as bright as Mickey Mouse’s red lederhosen. Seven years after former Canadian Tourism Commission president Jim Watson launched a campaign to have the Disney-made film updated, it seems a new version of O Canada! will debut Aug. 25 — with help from some high-profile Canadians: Gatineau’s Canadian Idol winner Eva Avila and, Disney buffs say, comedian Martin Short.

The folks at Disney won’t confirm or deny rumours that the film is being relaunched next month. Walt Disney Canada spokeswoman Angela Saclamacis will only say “we are expecting some good things over at Epcot … but we’re not prepared to announce anything officially at this time.”

However, an official Disney website notes that the O Canada! film exhibit at the Canada Pavilion — a circular room with nine large screens surrounding an audience pit — will be shut down from Aug. 20-24 for “refurbishment.”

Avila’s manager Jim Campbell, and a spokeswoman for her record company Sony BMG Canada, say the singer has recorded a theme song for the pavilion to be launched next month.

Short, rumoured to be the new film’s onscreen narrator, could not be reached for comment.

The original film, apparently inspired by an enormously popular circular movie created by Canadian director Robert Barclay for the Bell Canada Pavilion at Expo ’67, was largely shot in 1979. The Disney film has been described by Barclay as “a superficial, glib look at the country.”

“It could have been a Wal-Mart commercial,” Barclay told a reporter in 2000. Watson, now Ontario’s minister of health promotion, has said the film represents an American’s stereotypical view of Canada.

O Canada! features snippets of Canadian folk music (including Stan Rogers’ Bluenose) and an overweening 1980s-style pop song called Canada, You’re a Lifetime Journey. Footage shows cars and clothes a generation out of date, and cityscapes that have changed tremendously since 1982. The Toronto footage, for instance, features the CN Tower but not the Rogers Centre (former Sky Dome) which has stood prominently beside the tower for 18 years.

About half of the footage is new in the restyled movie, according to contributors to Disney fan websites and to an unofficial online Disney tour guide. It is not clear who paid for the changes, which Watson once estimated would cost several million dollars.

Over the years, there have been several attempts to bring Disney together with private Canadian investors with an interest in tourism to fund an update. The federal government has previously declined to become involved.

Epcot Center is one of four theme parks at Walt Disney World, and the Canada exhibit, which includes the Victoria Gardens (inspired by Victoria’s Butchart Gardens), the Hotel du Canada (based on the Chateau Laurier), some totem poles and an ersatz canyon as well as the O Canada! film, is one of 11 countries showcased at the park.

By showing outdated aerial shots of Canadian cities, the film perpetuates the convenient myth that Canadians live rurally and in wildernesses, but not in cities… The cynic in me wonders whether that wasn’t a convenience not just for Disney’s view of Canada, but also for parochial Canadian government views. And if the movie represents such a stereotypical cliche of Canada, why did Canadians (tourism industry and government) let it rest for so long? Is there not enough imagination in the country to come up with a national image of our own?


maria July 29, 2007 at 11:45 am

Good question you ask. After all, Disney is not exactly a provincial bureaucracy, meaning that if there is a will, there is a way to move forward.

And, by the way, I found the same surprise with WordPress templates that went live the moment I clicked on what thought would give me a preview!

yulelog July 29, 2007 at 5:46 pm

It’s inertia & complacency, all learned behaviours. As for bureaucracies, don’t get me started. I’m considering a lengthy post about passive voice by staff in the planning department. You should read the junk they put out — your ears would bleed.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: