Wednesday, March 08, 2006
It's tough to be unique.
The computer nerd in high school will tell you that. So will the tuba player in the band and the editor of the newspaper. No doubt the goth girl with heavy pancake makeup would agree. What sets them apart, though, is ultimately what makes them successful. The world has many suntanned, blonde cheerleaders and handsome homecoming kings. There are few who are brave enough to stand apart and remain resolutely themselves.
What does that little diatribe have to do with Epcot?
Well, consider that there are many theme parks in the world. Some of them have rides with heavy theming and intricate stories, just as Disney does. Others focus on thrill rides and exciting a teen crowd. Still others are old-fashioned and offer simple midway rides that are pleasant diversions.
Many theme parks today try to emulate what's found in classic Magic Kingdom-style parks, and in so doing, the best of them truly do rival Disney parks.
But there's only one Epcot.
No one has been brave (or daft) enough to attempt to build a park that entertains and educates, that explores the world and our place in it, that as its mission seeks to inspire visitors.
Epcot is wholly unique. It is like no place else in the world. Problem is, even Disney doesn't understand what Epcot is. When it was EPCOT Center, the park seemed almost proud to be so nerdy: When everyone else was building taller, faster thrill rides, EPCOT Center was unveiling The Living Seas or Horizons. When others were catering to teenagers and locals, EPCOT Center was trying to draw in the whole family, trying to get them to learn and explore together.
It was a tough concept, and still is. It runs contrary to every accepted notion of what mass entertainment should be. But instead of continuing to embrace it, Disney ultimately became scared of it.
Today's Epcot still retains traces of what once made it unlike anything else anyone could experience anywhere -- but has increasingly become Disneyfied and thrillified. It works from the "lowest common denominator" concept, trying to please everyone. And, as so many high schoolers can tell you, the minute you do that, you lose your identity. You lose sight of your goals. You become like everyone else, and, frankly, others are better at being "that way" than you are.
Epcot's new crop of designers should really examine whether they want to embrace the truly wondrous and inspiring concepts behind the park and revel in the fact that it is wholly unique. If they're not willing to do that, in 10 years, Epcot will just be another mish-mash of thrill rides and restaurants. Expensive, highly themed and impressive, to be sure -- but, in the end, just like everyone else.
For something that started with such ambition, that's a very sad place to be at 25.