Thursday, August 31, 2006
World of Emotion
I bought a cool World of Motion t-shirt recently that elicits comments whenever I wear it. No doubt, most people don't know what it means, but those that do ... well, they fawn all over it and start talking about how cool EPCOT Center used to be.
They often use those words: used to be.
But the t-shirt attracts attention, I think, despite the reputation the "early" EPCOT had for being too aloof, too antiseptic. For many people who grew into the artists, engineers and writers of today, EPCOT made an enormous impact.
Far from being a place that failed to engage, it hooked many of us at a most impressionable age and left us very different people.
I really do wonder whether today's incarnation of E-lower-case-p-c-o-t has the same effect.
You already know I hated Mission: Space beyond all measure, but I do understand that there are many who get a thrill out of it. Test Track was fun for about 15 minutes, but now is garish, overloaded exterior clutter and been-there-done-that ride system feel less than exhilirating.
So, why do I still get a rush from Spaceship Earth? Why do the dinosaurs and the spectacular films (not to mention the still-very-cool vehicles) in Universe of Energy still give me a boost? Why does Living With the Land still make me curious? Why am I still absolutely captivated by The American Adventure?
I promise you that it's not just because I like to live in the past and relish the "relics" of my youth.
Rather, I think, it's because attractions like these -- despite the fact that many of them haven't been updated in, quite literally, decades -- encapsulate what makes Disney theme parks so successful: They blend story and emotion, they stir the brain cells, they provide an experience you can't find anywhere else. Like The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Great Movie Ride, they rely not on visceral thrills but on engaging the senses.
That's what they have, in spades. Now, some will laugh and scoff and say that Spaceship Earth, for instance, is utterly devoid of emotion and has been from Day 1. The old Universe of Energy, they'll argue, needed that Ellen injection because people found it dull and boring. It's why World of Motion absolutely had to give way to Test Track.
And yet ... 20 years from now, I find it hard to believe anyone will wear or even want to buy a Test Track t-shirt. World of Motion may have been cheesy and somewhat pointless, but just like the kid whose short film lacks any flair but is still charming, it tried.
The old school EPCOT Center attractions tried to be ambitious, to be daring, to be steadfastly unlike anything else in the entire world. Universal Studios, Six Flags, Busch Gardens, Cedar Point -- they never even tried to match Disney's blend of storytelling and characters in their attractions because they knew they'd never come close. They gave up and went the all-thrills-all-the-time route, and they achieved a certain success with that.
Disney, on the other hand, remained true to itself through the 1980s and 1990s. Even when it stooped to selling "thrills," it couched them in a remarkable setting, giving way to Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom, Tower of Terror at Disney-MGM Studios and Maelstrom (poor Maelstrom) at EPCOT Center.
And then, finally, inevitably, Disney gave up. Screw emotion, let's go for the jugular. If an outdoor steel track is good enough for them, we'll "plus it up" just a tiny bit, put some static figures along the track and they'll never know the difference.
But they do. I can tell every time I wear my World of Motion shirt.
People smile, they think back to those vacations, they remember what got them motivated to learn about technology and art and their world: Disney did. And EPCOT Center was a big part of that.
It's a shame when an individual or company doesn't believe in its own legacy.
I've spent many years in L.A., and I've seen what happens when people think a little cosmetic change will "correct" the effects of time. Some people realize that time allows us to learn, to grow, to improve and to highlight and be proud of what makes us unique. It gives us a chance to underscore what is best about our unique selves and make small adjustments to downplay the things that don't work so well.
To others, time simply makes you look old. It replaces the shiny new feel of youth with a broken-down body that needs a wholesale rebuilding. It's simply too much effort to examine and explore what is best about ourselves when money can buy a new appearance altogether.
EPCOT Center was a bit like a daring young adult, sometimes unsure of itself but also willing to take chances, to revel in its shiny difference, to believe in an optimistic future.
Lower-case Epcot is that young adult grown up and grown cynical. Forgetting the emotion and excitement of youth, its middle-age examination led it to believe that it had to change itself completely. It looks today almost as ridiculous as a plastic-surgery patient. The quirks, the wrinkles, the oddities that made it fascinating have been "smoothed over" ... and now, those expressive eyes, those lovely lips, that alluring smile are all gone.
On the surface, it might look better to some (certainly to itself, meaning Disney execs). To many of us, though, it looks odd and slightly silly ... and the emotion that used to run through it, that once inspired and influenced so many millions of people, is all gone.
Instead of substance, flash. Instead of inspiration, a shiny "new" face. Instead of emotion, emptiness.
The upside is that the emotion is still there, buried deep down in the core of what it means. Now that the plastic surgery has been botched, maybe its time for some serious therapy, some legitimate self-examination to get to the heart of "who" it was ... and "who," with time and effort, it can be again.