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Some know the dialogue of "Casablanca" by heart. Disneyland Paris enthusiasts have another movie as their reference. Its name: "De Temps en Temps," the 360º movie shown in the attraction "Le Visionarium." I am certain that if you quote in French to me any bit of the dialogue, I will be able to tell you where and when it was pronounced in the movie. I have to admit, "Le Visionarium" was the attraction that fascinated me most when Disneyland Paris opened. Why? Because I was, quite frankly, expecting a beautiful but boring 360º film and that I was struck by the cleverness of what I discovered: the excellent story, the great script and the hilariously clever French dialogues.
Which is why I started talking to all of the artists who worked on the attraction and discovered quite a few stories about its genesis. I will focus only on the ones that Alain Littaye and Didier Ghez did not mention in their book, "Disneyland Paris - From Sketch to Reality."
What made "Le Visionarium" special at the time it opened at Disneyland Paris is the fact that for the first time in a 360º film, WDI wanted to tell a comprehensive story and attempt a comedy without merely juxtaposing spectacular scenes, as had been done in all of the previous 360º films. The original concept for the movie already included Jules Verne, inventions, and past and present European culture. It also had something to do with the idea of time travel: the concept centered around a child that explored the story of the great scientists of the past on a computer. Since what makes a Circle-Vision film interesting is to show views of places that the public cannot easily visit, the number of scenes from the past and scenes depicting extreme situations kept increasing all the time for this project.
But there had to be a reason for the existence of the movie itself. Which led to the creation of Nine-Eye (voiced in French by Miryam Boyer) who is assumed to capture the images that we see on the screen. The idea for the shape of his robot creator, Timekeeper (voiced in French by Michel Leeb), came from an AA of the new generation that sang songs of Joe Cooker and that Imagineers kept showing to their visitors. The particularity of that AA is that it had extremely fluid movements and that his inside cables were visible. This always fascinated guests. Hence the idea of including a similar figure at Disneyland Paris.
Of course, in the final concept of the attraction both the kid and computer idea had disappeared and the central heroes are the fascinating Nine-Eye and Timekeeper, joined, around the middle of the show, by Jules Verne.
Let's follow them on a scene by scene analysis of the movie.
The dinosaur encountered in the first scene is not, as many have thought, a CGI creation. It is, in fact, an Audio-Animatronics figure that quite a few Hollywood movies had already used in the past. The scene of the Ice Age, which comes next was selected by WDI in their image library. It had been originally created for the film "Magic Carpet 'Round the World," a Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland attraction. The only trick consisted in digitally removing the shadows of the helicopter from which the images had been captured.
The battle scene that takes place in Scotland was the first one actually filmed specifically for Disneyland Paris. The filming took place at Alnwick Castle, in the English province of Northumberland, under the rain, in the mud. The show producer managed to hide all the anachronistic elements that existed in the background by using the battering rams that the combatants are holding. However, the show director of the movie, Tom Fitzgerald, needed to supervise the shooting of that scene. He did so by climbing atop of the tower that is located in the foreground... and realized after the shooting was over that his boots are actually visible, although very briefly, in the final movie.
To give realism to the battle scene, WDI also hired all the members of a local club whose members were devoted to recreating period battles. They were ecstatic. They never thought they would one day live their dream of recreating a battle in period costumes created by professional Hollywood talents. They were so excited at the prospect in fact that the Imagineers actually had trouble getting them to stop fighting after the scene was over!
From a scene under the rain, let's jump to the underwater scene that was filmed in the Bahamas, just a few miles away from the spot at which Walt had filmed "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." The Imagineers worried about sending their stars so deep below the surface, but they did, eventually. As for Jeff Blyth, the director of the movie, he didn't hesitate to don a frogman suit in order to swim around the submarine giving them instructions with the use of gestures, just as he had not hesitated for another scene to climb up over the camera, many yards above the ground!
The sojourn in Moscow for the production of the scene in the Red Square was yet another experience that left its mark on the film crew. The cameramen were the first Westerners authorized to film on location, and the Red Army ensured that the evacuated surroundings were secure, which caused some surprise among Moscow's citizens. As soon as the latter saw the Mickey ears on the "Ear Force One" airship and figured out what was going on, they burst out with a deafening applause at this surprising symbol of Perestroika.
And it is with applauses that I wish to end this short tour of the hidden views of "Le Visionarium," applauses for that attraction that reflects so well for me the Disney spirit : great story, family experience, exploration of new worlds, excitement, emotion, adventure and unequaled care for detail.
By the way, here are a few more details you may not have noticed. Did you know that :
One of the first concepts that WDI had envisioned was to have the film translated by a chorus, as it progressed. This called to mind the chorus one finds in Greek theater, the function of which is to comment on the action throughout the play. Unfortunately, this idea was not quite feasible.
Bob Ringwood who designed the costumes of the Scotland battle scene had been the costume designer of the movies "Batman," "Empire of the Sun" & "AI."
Sid Mead the great futurist who had worked with Disney previously on the film "TRON" helped develop the look of the third and last part of the film, which takes place in the future aboard the Reinastella.
If you'd like to learn even more about "Le Visionarium," then Jean de Lutèce suggests that you get in touch with Didier Ghez and order a copy of Ghez & Alain Littaye's excellent book, "Disneyland Paris - From Sketch to Reality." Didier reportedly still has Regular Editions of "From Sketch to Reality" available at a reduced price, along with the Collector's Editions. You can contact Ghez at email@example.com for more detailed information.