In a previous post, I shared the first part in my Epcot-inspired Movie Marathon List showcasing a collection of films that celebrate the themes of Future World. Today we travel the globe around World Showcase through the perspective of Disney movies. All which celebrate stories and cultures from around the world. We will start our tour in Mexico and travel clockwise hitting Norway, China, France and so on until we get to Canada. Of course in some pavilions there is a huge list of films that are set in one specific country; the United Kingdom and France come to mind the most. In these scenarios, I've trimmed the movies down a bit, focusing less on fairytales and instead on films that celebrate real-life landmarks in their respective countries. But don't worry, titles that seem omitted in this list will be featured elsewhere. Once again, if watching 50 movies is simply too much for you, I've highlighted in red my TOP FILMS that best body Epcot. So grab your passport and let's travel around World Showcase
There's an age-old question asked by Epcot fans since the park opened in 1982; do we start World Showcase in Mexico or Canada? Well today we are definitively starting in Mexico mainly because this pavilion showcases a film from deep inside the vault that perfectly embodies Disney's love for world travel. Saludos Amigos not only beautiful captures the romance of travel but also had an interesting backstory in terms of production that dealt with bigger global events. Before the United States entered WWII, Nelson Rockefeller facilitated a trip to Latin America to counteract the continents ties to Nazi Germany. Rockefeller invited Disney and a small troop of artists to explore countries such as Chile, Argentina and Brazil and their trip inspired the first of many package films celebrating Latin America.
The current version of the attraction at the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot draws inspiration from The Three Caballeros, the second package film that came out of this research trip. But to appreciate the full scope of this attraction, Disney fans should watch both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Saludos Amigos marked the first appearance of the Brazilian papagaio named José Carioca. While The Three Caballeros introduced Panchito Pistoles to the world for the first time. A viewing of both films allows you to meet these two characters individually and both showcase an incredible amount of animation produced by Mary Blair. Many of the aesthetics of her characters and visual style is replicated within the boat ride at Epcot in the Día de los Muertos scene mid-ride. The Three Caballeros also features a scene depicting the backstory of Las Posadas; a Christmas tradition in Mexico that is also featured during the park's Festival of the Holidays event.
But no movie list celebrating World Showcase is complete without Pixar's 2017 film Coco. Considered to be one of the animation studio's best and most heart-felt films, Coco tells the story of how Miguel pursues his passion for music despite the objections of his family. It's a beautiful tale that also celebrates Mexico's most iconic holiday of the year. It's a very imaginative concept and if you haven't seen it, you will be brought to tears by the end. Coco will also be featured in Epcot's upcoming nighttime spectacular HarmonioUS which celebrates the music of Disney from around the globe.
I couldn't leave it out. The 2013 smash-hit Frozen is front and center at Epcot's Norway Pavilion. When this pavilion was added to World Showcase in 1988 it focused on the historic tales of Norwegian vikings, trolls and other furry creatures found in this Scandinavian country. In 2016, Norway was completely revitalized and the iconic Maelstrom attraction was replaced by Frozen Ever After; a charming boat ride to Arendelle where you'll see Olaf, Sven, Anna, Kristoff and of course Elsa. The attraction relives the iconic songs from the first film but Anna & Elsa's meet and greet celebrates the new sequel.
Inside the Royal Sommerhus, guests can meet the Norwegian sisters now in their brand-new outfits from Frozen II. So if you call yourself a real Frozen fan, you must watch both to relive the full glory of the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. Kids, don't forget to sing the songs at the top of your lungs. Your parents will love it!
The highly anticipated live-action remake of Mulan may be delayed, but you can still follow the tale of this female warrior in honor of the China Pavilion at Epcot. The Ballad of Mulan goes back centuries and has been adapted to the screen several times in the 1920s, 30s and 60s before Disney got its hands on it in the 1990s. This animated classic was not only part of the Disney Reniassance but also broke some major ground. Mulan marked the second Disney princess to represent a cultural minority, the first being Pocahontas just a few years earlier. She was the first Asian Disney princess and also broke the mold of the 'damsel-in-distress' stereotype. But the film also showcases a kaleidoscopic burst of colorful animation that often goes overlooked. Not to mention the fact the several iconic landmarks from ancient China inspired architecture seen in the film. You may not be able to watch a Circle-Vision film at home, but you can enjoy the historic beauty of this country in this Disney classic.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
I did say I was going to steer away from the fairytale stories in this movie list, and I've already broken that rule twice, but a viewing of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is must to pay homage to the Germany Pavilion. Disney's first full-length animated classic was inspired by German tale written by the Brothers Grimm. If you watched my 27 Hidden Details in World Showcase video on YouTube, you know that Imagineers steered away from recognizable landmarks found in the capital, due to the political climate of Germany while the park was being developed. To avoid referencing anything related to the Berlin Wall and controversial events, Disney mainly focused on Bavaria when designing the pavilion for World Showcase. The fairytale-esque German village looks like something directly pulled out of a Disney cartoon and there's even a Wishing Well at Epcot where you can meet Snow White.
But a second German fairytale also written by the Brothers Grimm, also served as inspiration for another Disney animated classic. Nearly 75 years after Snow White, Tangled debuted in 2010 and pulls from the story of Rapunzel. The timber-framed architecture seen in the film certainly feels like an Alpine village in Southern Germany, but animators have stated that the silhouette of the main castle depicted in the film was inspired by Mont-Saint-Michel; an iconic French landmark. Disney loosely based the film off the German fairytale and can be classified in either Germany or France, but given the Brothers Grimm roots, I've placed it here.
Another Disney animated film that was drawn with inspiration from Bavaria but really tied to another country is Pinocchio. Many have claimed that the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber inspired the village seen in Disney's 1940 adaptation of the Italian fairytale. Iroincally, a famous clock tower seen in the village is recreated at the very center of the Germany Pavilion at Epcot. But again, I'm using the literary roots of this story to tie it to a specific country in World Showcase. The Adventures of Pinocchio was published in 1883 by Italian writer Carlo Collodi. It is a cultural icon and if you get the chance to visit Italy, you'll see little knick knacks and souvenirs inspired by the wooden boy, everywhere.
While artistically, Disney's interpretation draws inspiration from countries like Germany, the original names of characters used in the film firmly place this in Italy. In fact, the name Pinocchio or 'little pino' translates to little pine. In the original version, the puppet is made of pine wood, hence the name. I also love that Disney renamed the evil puppet master Mangiafuoco to Stromboli. Which is also the name of one of Italy's most notorious volcanos located just off the coast of Sicily. So for the sake of todays' list, Pinocchio pays homage the Italy Pavilion.
The American Adventure
The American Adventure serves has the host pavilion for World Showcase. Inside the enormous colonial strucuture is one of Disney's most elaborte and expansive animatronic shows ever created. The show attempts to tell the story of America's 200+ year history in under thiry minutes. Admittedly it glosses over some key points, so when trying to pick a film to celebrate the pavilion I struggled. I was tempted to include the 1953 animated short Ben and Me. If you've never heard of it, don't worry, it's a very obscure Disney film that tells the story of one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin and his friend Amos Mouse. I thought about this character when I saw a small painting of him on the side wall of the pavilion during Epcots' Festival of the Arts this year. So instead, I wanted to highlight the Broadway hit, Hamilton.
The original production began its off-Broadway run in 2015 at The Public Theater before transferring to Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre six months later. The ground-breaking show tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and several other American Founding Fathers. The show was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and showcases an array of hip hop, R&B, pop and soul along with some more 'traditional' show tunes. A major twist to this retelling of America's foundation is that the Founding Fathers are all played by non-white actors. Miranda has said that Hamilton is about, "America then, as told by America now." Often highlighting the topic of race from its inception to today. Disney purchased the rights to the live stage filming of the show in February of 2020 and released it on Disney+ on July 3rd of the same year. While Hamilton focuses mainly on the first three decades of American history, even more specifically on one Founding Father, it is a great way to revisit America's early history through a new perspective.
Spirited Away (2002)
This is the final stretch outside of the Disney library, I promise. When I realized that there is no Disney film set in the land of the rising sun, I was surprised. But the 2002 acclaimed film Spirited Away is considered to be the best animation achievement out of Japan. Upon some further research, I discovered that Pixar's John Lasseter had a strong professional relationship with the film's director and convinced Disney to purchase the North American distribution rights to Spirited Away. Lasseter served as executive producer for the English-dubbed version of the film which later went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Featured beating Disney's Lilo & Stitch.
Spirited Away follows 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino who has just moved to a new neighborhood and enters the Spirit World of Kamai, which is associated with Japanese Shintoism. Her parents are turned into pigs by an evil witch who runs an Onsen and Chichiro works for her to later figure out a way to set her parents free and return them to the human world. Some claim that the town and bathhouse depicted in the film was inspired by the town of Jiufen in Taiwan. But the film's director did confirm that the bathhouse in the film was inspired by the Dōgo Onsen located in Matsuyama, home to one of the oldest hot springs in Japan.
The original folk tale of Aladdin was never part of One Thousand and One Nights, sometimes referred to as The Arabian Nights. The original collection of stories drew inspiration from various folk tales told all over the Middle East, but the story of Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp was later associated to the collection thanks to Frenchmen Antoine Galland. He translated the original collection of stories and added the story of Aladdin along with a few other tales to add his own touch. Galland's original tale is actually set in China, but as the story was adapted centuries later, the setting kept shifting closer to the Middle East. Given the roots of the other tales in the collection. Agrabah is of course a fictional city and Disney's animated version drew inspiration from the Taj Mahal in India to design the Sultan's castle.
So why is this film associated with Morocco? Well for no reason really other than the simple fact that the original folktales were told in Arabic and Jasmine meets guests at Epcot in the Morocco Pavilion. Guy Ritchie's 2019 adaptation of Disney's film was mainly shot in England and the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan served as the backdrop for a few scenes; not even close to Morocco. But some of the market scenes in Agrabah in this live-action remake are very reminiscent to what you would find in the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot. While it is not geographically correct, it is a great Disney movie worth adding to the list and inspired world travel.
France serves as the setting for many Disney films. Fairytales such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were conjured up by some French authors, but for the sake of trimming the list down I've narrowed things down to four films; all which celebrate real-life landmarks more than the animated classics do. My favorite French story adapted by Disney is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It features a killer soundtrack that rivals Beauty and the Beast in my opinion and celebrates the beauty and history of Paris's most iconic landmark, no not the Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame is one of the oldest structures in the City of Lights and was once considered the beating heart of Paris. Saldy the gothic cathedral is not depicted in the architecture of the France Pavilion at Epcot, but you will see it in the park's classic Impressions de France film.
For those looking for more old-school animated classics, The Aristocats is another movie set in Paris and sometimes overlooked. The 1970 film features a fantastic soundtrack of jazz tunes and a cast of legendary actors like Eva Gabor. Marie has been known to roam the streets of Paris at Epcot, but she is often eclipsed by Aurora and Belle. While I am trying to steer away from the princess films, I did include Disney's 2017 live-action film Beauty and the Beauty simply to marvel at the set design of the film. The castle depicted in this version strongly resembles Château de Chambord, the largest château in the Loire Valley and also depicted in the Epcot film.
But if there is only enough time for one French tale in this Epcot movie marathon, you must watch Ratatouille. The Pixar film is yet another Disney movie set in Paris, but this one celebrates the art of French cuisine like no other. Who can resist the thought of delicious food when considering Epcot? Remy has recently served as the unofficial mascot of Epcot's Food & Wine Festival and will soon have his own attraction on the backside of this pavilion. If you ask me, no Disney movie perfectly sums up World Showcase better than Ratatouille, it's one of my absolute favorites.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Like France, the United Kingdom serves as the backdrop for many Disney films ranging from Winnie the Pooh to Alice in Wonderland. Which I have included in my Magic Kingdom Movie List. So again, in an effort to trim things down, I've included films that focus on real-life landmarks in the UK bypassing tales such as Peter Pan that are mainly set in a fictional land. Like The Aristocats, another animated film from the 1970s is Robin Hood. In this version, Disney replaces Robin, Maid Marion and Little John as animals but the English tale set in Nottingham Forest is iconic and must be included in this list. As does Pixar's Brave which thankfully incorporates the often overlooked country of Scotland.
The next time you visit the United Kingdom at Epcot, you'll notice that the high street tells an architectural story that starts in Elizabethan times and ends in turn of the century London with it's regal Edwardian townhouses at the end, somewhat inspired by Cherry Tree Lane in Mary Poppins. While I would jump at any opportunity to watch the 1964 film starring Julie Andrews, one could argue that the recent remake with Emily Blunt is better suited for an Epcot movie marathon. Simply because Disney has teased that a new Mary Poppins themed attraction will one day come Epcot but firmly inspired by the sequel. Exact details are unclear, but for for the hardcore fan that wants to dive deep in some classic British literature, take a look at these six titles below.
Brother Bear (2003)
Finally we arrive to the Canada Pavilion, I thought we would never make it. Like some of the other countries in World Showcase, there are a scarce number of Disney stories and films set in Canada. But you may have forgotten about a 1963 live-action Disney film called The Incredible Journey written by Scottish-born author Sheila Burnford in 1960. Burnford immigrating to Canada in 1951 and wrote several stories set in the majestic country of Canada, but The Incredible Journey is what she is most remembered for. The story is about three pets, a Labrador Retriever, a Bull Terrier and Siamese Cat, who travel the wilderness of Canada in search of their masters. The film was mainly shot in Ontario but also included scenes in the state of Washington and Oregon. In 1993, Disney produced a remake of the film using actors Michael J. Fox, Don Ameche and Sally Field to voice the pet characters and relocated the film to the American northwest. While this version is firmly set in America, it showcases the beaitful landscape of this corner of North America better than the original. So it's up to you on which version to watch.
Another tale set in the cold regions of North America is Brother Bear. The 2003 animated film uses the talents of Joaquin Phoenix to voice the lead character and is set in a post-ice age Alaska. So technically, this story is set in the US before America and Canada were colonized by the Europeans. I've included it in this list because it does depict the story of a First Nations character, which is celebrated at Epcot's Canada Pavilion with the towering totem poles, and again showcases the beauty of North America's vast wilderness.
Want even more films to watch inspired by Epcot? Check out Part 1 of this article, listing 24 more movie titles that will take you around Future World; from the depths of the oceans to the far reaches of space. I've also got a fun movie marathon list celebrating Disney's Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and of course, the Magic Kingdom. But don't forget to watch my recent YouTube video 27 Hidden Details inside World Showcase which reveals some hidden landmarks and hidden Mickeys around World Showcase.