Monday, August 07, 2006
Everything Pixar, Cartoons Or Television?
**Travel, a busy work schedule and some personal matters have prevented me from updating this blog recently, but hopefully such a long time won't elapse until the next posting! Thanks to all who have written asking me when the next post is coming.**
You’ve heard the alternate meanings for EPCOT for years: “Every Person Comes Out Tired,” “Everyone’s Paycheck Comes On Thursday,” “Employees’ Polyester Costumes of Terror” … but here’s a new one, and it’s not all that funny.
The announcement that Kim Possible is going to be taking up residence at Epcot makes it clear that Disney’s “brand managers” are either sleeping on the job or have a very bizarre sense of what makes up an individual brand.
As more and more companies are trying hard to establish distinct brand identities for distinctly different products (think Coca-Cola and its trademark drink, its Dasani water and its Tab energy drink – each of which has a very different look, feel and consumer proposition), Disney is blending its brands more and more to the point that its “brand recipe” is becoming a tasteless, bland, overcooked stew with too many ingredients.
Epcot is a perfect example. I wouldn’t be surprised to soon see it renamed “Disney’s Epcot,” ostensibly making the concept “more” Disney but completely and permanently distancing itself from its roots. Back in the late 1990s when it lost the name “EPCOT Center” in favor of the less meaningful, more confusing, “non-acronymed” Epcot, it began losing any sense of identity. The very things that made it so unique – its lack of connection to any of the other theme parks, its focus on the real world instead of the fantastic, its efforts to blend education with entertainment – seemed to become liabilities. More than anything, the fact that it never really was hospitable to Disney characters became something that brand managers seemed to feel had to be fixed.
So, we got an influx of Mickey, Minnie and the gang and a bizarre daily character “bus ride” through World Showcase, which has morphed into the “Character Connection” in Future World. (As one reader pointed out, Disney even stoops to calling these characters “characters,” something it never would have done a few years ago when it insisted on making sure they always appeared in a story context.)
Then, we got character dining, both in Future World and World Showcase. Then, we got Nemo swimming into The Living Seas.
Now, it’s rumored, the oh-so hip and trendy Kim Possible is going to make a new home in the Imagination pavilion.
Never mind that Kim Possible has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the pavilion, or that guests (both hardcore Disney fans and those who visit only occasionally) have long complained that Imagination needs Figment and Dreamfinder – its original animated inhabitants.
What matters most to Disney is that it can cross-promote and “synergize” itself to within an inch of its life.
But, creatively, is this the best Disney can do? Just drop a character into a theme park, whether or not it belongs? Frankly, this latest announcement about Kim Possible in particular strikes me as a Six Flags-style move – you know, like when you’d see Looney Tunes cartoons in line for a roller coaster just because both happened to be owned by Time-Warner?
Not only does Kim Possible have absolutely no connection to Epcot and its themes, the character is usurping what was once one of EPCOT Center’s most celebrated areas, the ImageWorks. Rather than upgrade the area and put some genuinely new and exciting thought and imagination into it, Disney’s marketers took over and figured it would be a good place for a standard character meet-and-greet; it’s almost certain that you’ll see signs and brochures for the Disney Channel throughout the pavilion once Kim Possible arrives, bringing more crass commercialism into the parks.
On top of this creative brain fart that it’s hard to redeem or excuse in any way, Disney announced just this weekend that it’s raising prices at its Florida theme parks; it’ll now cost $67 for a one-day ticket to Epcot.
Think about that for a minute: A family of four spends a few days in Florida as mom or dad attends a convention and decides to pop over to Epcot for the afternoon. For their nearly $300 investment, they now get not the best creativity and inspiration that Disney’s Imagineers have to offer, but come ons for the Disney Channel, for the Disney Vacation Club and for Pixar movies.
Epcot – like much of Walt Disney World – is evolving into an unimaginative dumping ground for quick marketing projects for cartoon characters, Pixar movies and television shows.
What used to be a park with a bold vision of informing, exciting and educating people about the world in which they live has become another place to shill Disney entertainment. It’s like serving a TV dinner on your best china – even if it looks good, it’s still lousy to eat and a really insulting way to utilize such beautiful craftsmanship. The plate deserves better, and you deserve better.
Epcot deserves better and its guests deserve a heck of a lot more respect than this.