Back in the early 1960s, author Ray Bradbury was concerned that the quality of life in the Los Angeles region was being threatened by urban sprawl and the lack of investment public transportation. He felt that the current leadership had no vision. He also felt that he knew one man who knew how to get things done, his good friend Walt Disney.
Bradbury tried to convince Walt Disney to run for the office of Mayor of Los Angeles. Walt felt the same way about Los Angeles but his reply to Bradbury was, “Why would I want to be Mayor when I am already King?” Walt had the power to pick and choose which attractions, which shows, which landscapes that he wanted to keep and which to change. Imagine possessing that kind of power?
That is the point of this game. If you were king or queen of EPCOT and you could do anything you wanted what would that be? Keep in mind that I am not restricted to reality, budgets, or Disney company politics. However, as they say (and Disney owns) with power comes great responsibility. The good thing is that I am a pragmatic and benevolent dictator or so I have been told by my “yes” men.
This installment will focus on EPCOT. No, not the Experimental Community of Tomorrow that I write about in my book Walt and the Promise of Progress City (got to get in a plug). I am talking about the permanent World’s Fair that millions visit each year.
EPCOT was the first time the Disney organization tried something different than another Disneyland. The concept struggled for many years until a decision was made to combine two different concepts on one property. The front half is supposed to be a showcase for technology and the sciences. It is organized around the traditional Disneyland hub and spoke layout. The back half was an idea from Imagineer Harper Goff and was supposed to be a cul-de-sac of nations around a scenic retention pond. Sadly, the developer left before he sold all of the lots.
When I visit Florida, I tend to spend more time at EPCOT than any of the other parks. EPCOT was designed differently and was always intended to be more “adult” than the other parks. Over the years they have tried to make it kid friendly but with little success. Something about the park’s core mission that makes this very difficult. I find that this is a park best savored at a much slower pace. As you let your trip unfold, the Park will usually deliver.
Now for the good, the bad, and the whatever else there is.
Whenever I can, I try to arrive via the Monorail. EPCOT was designed by people with movie backgrounds and they knew that a proper preview can build build excitement and reduce people’s apprehension. The way the monorail gently glides around Spaceship Earth, allowing you to peek at the Future World pavilions and the World Showcase off in the distance, is just brilliant. I try to position myself on the left hand side so that I can get the best possible view.
Weaving my way down the ramp I am spurred on by the glorious, optimistic, and dramatic entry area background music. Gets me every time. I view the arrival experience to EPCOT as the same as passing through a time machine. This is very similar to the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland where you go back in time. In the case of EPCOT, it should be projecting yourself into the future. There is something simply uplifting about this soundtrack.
All is good until you get to the Leave a Legacy “mausoleum” in front of Spaceship Earth. I recognize that the monument was designed by the legendary Imagineer John Hench himself but it just sits there, weighing down the ground, obstacles to be avoided.
I sometimes think was the aliens will think when they visit Earth after the Zombie Apocalypse and they see these burial mounds. Who were these people? The only other thing likely to survive are the supports for Spaceship Earth merely because they are buried so deep into the Florida soil. EPCOT demands a proper Modernist entry statement that speaks of grandeur and one that enhances and embellishes the glorious Spaceship Earth building. Be gone tombstones.
Speaking of Spaceship Earth, like many of you I prefer the original story of communication versus the current celebration of communication technology. My disappointment goes beyond the somewhat lame ending with the TV screens showing you your future as envisioned by the artist SHAG. Spaceship Earth is the the theme building for the entire park, yet it only represents the Future World side of the park in this version. One more thing. I am truly offended that Jewish and Islamic scholars have been reduced to the “first back up system” to Western thought. The newest version is a swing and a miss at a truly remarkable attraction.
I would also like to rethink the flying sails behind Spaceship Earth? It is time for them to go. We are at the cusp of that moment when Mid-Century Modern is going to come back in a major way. I say update the dancing fountain. EPCOT’s fountain was one of the first of its kind and there is a chance to integrate the latest technologies and create a show that stops people in their tracks and changes touring plans to include getting there early. What an opening statement after passing under Spaceship Earth.
As many know, Future World is divided in two halves. To the left are the hard sciences and technology. To the right are the natural sciences. This is reflected in the choice of pavilions and the landscaping.
Let’s begin with The Universe of Energy, one of the original attractions. I have a confession. I kind of like this attraction. Maybe that is because I like Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Nye, and Jamie Lee Curtis. I like the length of the attraction and the air-conditioning on a hot Orlando day. I like the fact you can even have an entire bench to yourself on a slow day. You can slide from side to side or take a nap. In many respects, this thing should feel more dated but it doesn’t. And who doesn’t love dinosaurs?
But what we have is a missed opportunity. Our relationship to energy is one of the most important issues of the day and this attraction could be so much more. The basic theme is important and needs to be retained but it is time to take a fresh look.
The Wonders of Life pavilion seems to have been successfully repurposed as an exhibition space. I can’t help but wonder that in an age where health care is one of the most discussed issues you would think that somebody would step up and take advantage of all of these guests.
Mission Space can stay. It may lack a sense of humor (other than how many warning messages you hear on the more intense version) and it begs the question; what is going on with Gary Sinise’s forehead but the sustained G-forces and the momentary weightless bits are a unique experience not to be found elsewhere. Did I mention that playing with the switches and hearing the reactions is just the coolest way to kill a couple of minutes before a ride starts.
I have always enjoyed test track and I am glad that we now have the supersized version here on the West Coast with Radiator Springs Racers. I understand that the team working on the remodel is first rate and I am looking forward to the update.
And I would be remiss if I don’t highlight my favorite bathroom in all of Walt Disney World. It is inside of the Odyssey. It is sad to see such a prominent building languish. I would retain the architecture but install a world market dining experience, sort of like a continuous Food and Wine festival. Just don’t mess with that bathroom.
There is no imagination (or visitors) in the Imagination pavilion and this is a shame. Walt Disney Imagineering uses a technology they call Computer Assisted Virtual Environment (CAVE) that creates a virtual-three dimensional environment that changes with the viewers point of view. It allows the engineering teams to “walk thru” an environment much like Walt tried to do with three-dimensional models. Imagine entering into a real version of the famed Star Trek Holodeck.
But here is my command. Celebrate Imagineering by recreating virtual versions of favorite past attractions like Mr. Toad or Adventure Thru Inner Space. In the future you could bring back Snow White. Think of the t-shirt sales!
Many of my people have suggested updating the Soarin‘ film and I agree. Although the attraction remains a huge hit and the sharp pencil boys would suggest leave it alone, sometimes it pays to exceed expectations. I would make one change to pavilion itself. Just for my own enjoyment, I would revamp the internal circulation system into a giant helix by removing the escalators and building a big ramp. Just think of the crowd spinning down toward Soarin’. We royalty have to entertain ourselves somehow.
I never got to visit The Living Seas when it was Seabase Alpha. I like that idea. Now we have The Living Seas with Nemo and Friends and the use of a Huge Intellectual Property to Cover up the Fact it is Not Much More than your Local Regional Aquarium. Did I get the name right?
The ride’s queue is a successful example of a transition between the outside and inside environments that helps guests suspend their disbelief. I think it is great and rather simple. The ride itself is interesting and will always be compared to the Subs at Disneyland in my mind. The EAC sequence, the integration of real fish and the characters, and the starfish at the end are all highlights. They all stay. After that, maybe it is time for a major rethink for the rest of the pavilion. Take me someplace not just an overlay. The parts do not add up to something greater.
A lap around the World Showcase is still one of the great theme park experiences anywhere.Most of the pavilions would remain the same including Japan, China, the UK, Italy, Canada, and Morocco. What else?
A quick survey tells me that all is well in Mexico. I enjoy the silly song on the boat ride and it stays even though it doesn’t have much to do with Mexico. As a guy who lives in LA, the price of street tacos is shocking but I am glad they are an option.
The removal of the Viking boat playlot in Norway reminds me that such a facility is still needed someplace. Kids can burn off a little steam with some unrestricted play while the parents can sit and eat lefse. Maybe one day I will watch the film. I am sorry.
It is time to put an attraction in that giant building behind Germany. A boat ride through miniatures was the original idea and I still think there is merit. Another family friendly attraction is needed.
Do whatever it takes to maintain and upgrade the American Adventure. And, as a proud Californian, where is the wine bar?
Keep the French film. It is so old it is almost timely again. However, clean up the print, digital projectors, and a revamped sound system. One of my favorites.
All of this is fine. What is missing are more countries. There are large gaps between some of the pavilions and this ultimately saps some of the potential energy from the park. It is like being in a dynamic downtown and passing by a parking lot.
Where is India, Brazil, and Australia? The possibilities are endless.
EPCOT is so close and it can be so much more. What would you do if it were you that was King of EPCOT and not me?
As a post note, I’d like to let you all know that I’ll be discussing Epcot and my book, Walt and the Promise of Progress City, at the Disneyana convention in Anaheim later this month on Saturday, July, 21st at 1pm. To purchase tickets, please visit this link: http://disneyanamania2012.eventbrite.com/
MiceChat Celebrates EPCOT’s 30th Anniversary this September, Join Us!
Join us on the evening of Saturday, September 29th 2912 in the Norway Pavilion Special Events Lounge in EPCOT’s World Showcase for this one of a kind event!
Your ticket includes:
- Admission into the live taping of CW in the Norway Pavilion of EPCOT (note: admission into the park is NOT included)!
- Meet special guest, Ron Schneider, the original Dreamfinder!
- Decadent dessert reception!
- Short scavenger hunt hosted by Kevin Yee before the show will be available to those who would like to participate (prizes will be awarded)!
- Prizes, giveaways and more!
- The chance to be a part of EPCOT and Communicore Weekly history!
- Endless Five Legged Goats and perhaps even a real life Bathroom Break!
- Exclusive late night ride after park closing on a selected EPCOT attraction to cap off the evening!
For more tickets and more information, be sure to visit MiceChat.com/store!
Sam Gennawey is an urban planner, historian, and author.
If you enjoy reading SAMLAND, you’ll love Sam’s book. Walt and the Promise of Progress City is a detailed look into how Walt Disney envisioned the future of communities. Along the way, we explore many facets of a fascinating man.