Saturday, March 25, 2006
It's a (very) small world
The world has grown in unimaginable ways since 1982. We live in a very different world than we did 24 years ago.
Except at Epcot.
There, the world has barely grown at all – World Showcase, that is.
With only two countries (Norway and Morocco) added between 1982 and 2006, Epcot’s World Showcase is at once the most charming and the most stagnant place at Walt Disney World.
When Epcot opened, the plan was to include a number of pavilions that were never built: equatorial Africa, Israel and Spain were announced as “coming” additions to World Showcase. Two of the concepts – Israel and Spain – were abandoned, although during EPCOT Center’s early operations there were actually signs announcing the future development of these pavilions.
Development of the Africa pavilion continued, despite some quiet criticisms that it was reducing an entire continent of more than 50 countries to a caricature of mysterious jungles and safari animals. Ultimately, many of the concepts behind the African pavilion were incorporated into the more expansive and representative Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
In ensuing years, Imagineers flirted with a Switzerland pavilion, a Venezuela pavilion and a USSR pavilion – whose completed plans came tantalizingly close to being realized, but were abandoned once communism fell in 1989.
Epcot’s history is likewise filled with never-realized World Showcase attractions within individual pavilions. “Meet the World,” a combination of film and Audio-Animatronic effects that played for years at Tokyo Disneyland was supposed to come to Epcot, but never did. A “Mt. Fuji” roller-coaster-style attraction was designed for the Japan pavilion but never built. The “Rhine River Cruise” originally announced for the Germany pavilion never came to fruition (though one can assume it got far down the path to reality given that the entrance to Germany’s Biergarten restaurant looks more than a little like a ride queue area).
While World Showcase has been all but ignored, Disney built the Disney-MGM Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Port Orleans and Dixie Landings Resorts, the Wilderness Lodge, the Yacht Club and the Beach Club, the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Coronado Springs Resort, the All-Star Movies and All-Star Sports Resorts – and that’s just at Walt Disney World. While Imagineers built Disneyland Paris and its resorts, California Adventure, Hong Kong Disneyland and too many other places to name here, guess what happened to World Showcase?
As you can easily see from satellite images, World Showcase has room for at least five more additions.
The debates about what countries should be added could easily be endless. (My personal vote would be to develop pavilions for Egypt, Australia, Brazil, Russia and Malaysia – a good cross-section of cultures from different continents, avoiding the over-represented Europe.) Hopefully new management at Disney means that someone, somewhere, will think it might be a good idea to spend $100 million or so on a new pavilion for Epcot’s World Showcase.
It would be a good idea. It would prove that Disney is ready to move on from 1982, ready to put some thought and effort into its grand and amazing Epcot experiment. It would give Imagineers a chance to design something truly amazing, a new addition to Epcot that utilizes both “old” and “new” technologies.
Disney’s proven time and again it’s willing to invest money in just about anything except Epcot. If the company wants to change this impression, World Showcase would be a very good place to start.