As we head out of 2007 and into 2008, EPCOT Center’s 25th anniversary is only a memory ... but not the feelings it stirred. Although I wasn’t there, I’ve seen photos and obtained some of the merchandise. For one fine day, Disney was willing to acknowledge that the fast-paced, frenetic, identity-challenged theme park that has become Epcot had a past. And a great one, at that.
But it’s not time for looking back, it’s time for looking ahead. In that spirit, here are eight suggestions for EPCOT in the New Year, four for Future World, four for World Showcase:
There are few places in the world (both capitalized and not) that are quite as lovely as World Showcase on a warm evening just before Illuminations. If, that is, you’re facing the water. Look behind you, and you’re likely to see cast members acting like carnival barkers, hawking needless, and needlessly expensive, doo-dads like glo-sticks, light-up necklaces and your basic sideshow junk. This is exactly the sort of experience that is not supposed to happen at a Disney theme park. Clean up those walkways and let your guests bask in the spirit and atmosphere of World Showcase at night.
7) Cut it Short
Let’s be honest: Martin Short’s appearance in the revised O Canada film is pathetically unfunny and out of place. Even assuming 40 percent of the audience knows who the actor is, having Short “host” this experience is completely out of keeping with the concept of the pavilion’s feature attraction. It’s OK to admit mistakes. In fact, it’s a good thing. A couple of weeks in the cutting room would do wonders to this movie, updating the CircleVision/travelogue experience, while eliminating the superfluous appearances of a “Canadian celebrity.” Many people have said they “don’t mind” the new O Canada, but I’ve yet to hear from anyone who loves it. Canada deserves better than this, and has much spectacle to offer ... as anyone who saw the previous version can tell you.
6) Show us OUR world
No one likes looking at pictures of themselves 25 years ago; fewer still like seeing pictures of other people as they were “back then.” So why do Impressions de France and the wonderful (and sadly neglected) film in the Norway pavilion look so dated? I’d like to believe Norwegians have advanced beyond monochrome computer display terminals and big 1980s hair. Or that the Monaco Grand Prix has developed a little beyond what we see in Impressions. These are lovely movies, but they don’t showcase the world as we know it today. If you can spend millions to develop a Kim Possible interactive “adventure,” can’t you spend a little bit of money to properly present the home countries of tens of millions of people?
5) Put princesses in proper perspective
I know, I know, I know ... I don’t have kids, so I can’t possibly know what it is like to have a screaming six-year-old girl tell me over and over how bored she is. More than anything, that makes me wonder why a six-year-old who clearly isn’t ready to appreciate a place like EPCOT is doing there in the first place. OK, there, I’ve said it. But more than that, what about the rest of us? What about those millions of visitors a year who come without kids, who are actually excited by the prospect of visiting different pavilions in EPCOT and, particularly, dining on meals they couldn’t get at home? To put a fine point on it: Please bring back the former incarnation of Akershus. If you absolutely need to do a princess meal there, do it once a day, but there are many people who don’t really like what Akershus has become and who miss their old favorite restaurant. With its authentic Norwegian food (which really is quite a unique cuisine), Akershus offered something few people can ever find outside of Norway itself. It was a grand place. Now (even for some parents I know – admit it, you’re out there) it has become virtually insufferable. There are plenty of other princess opportunities; you can’t say that about Norwegian restaurants.
The Walt Disney Company has revenues on the order of $30 billion a year. It’s worth $65 billion. It’s impossible for me to believe, even with a basic understanding of the economics of the situation, that The Walt Disney Company cannot re-open and maintain the Wonders of Life pavilion at EPCOT without a sponsor. Around the world, people have never been as curious, concerned and intrigued about their bodies, and the science that is helping to improve and maintain them, than they are now. The Wonders of Life needed a massive overhaul, there’s no doubt about it. But closure wasn’t quite the overhaul anyone had in mind. Now, there’s a “Closed for Business” sign in a window at EPCOT, and it is unattractive, embarrassing and completely unnecessary. With the imagination and money Disney has at its disposal, something can surely be done here in 2008.
Is that even a verb? If “Innoventions” is a noun, then I guess it is. But something needs to be done about Innoventions. Maybe it should be turned back into CommuniCore? Maybe it needs to be gutted? Maybe Disney needs to assign a staff of two or three people to focus only, and completely, on Innoventions, and the rest of the massive structures that form “Innoventions plaza”? From Day 1, these have been admittedly overlooked. But architecturally, they serve an important purpose, of separating the two sides of Future World, of not overwhelming visitors by giving them vistas of massive pavilions, of visually linking the two halves of EPCOT with a straight shot down to the American Adventure pavilion. They work as architecture ... it’s what’s inside of them that’s the problem. I’ve probably got more “new” technology in my home than is represented in much of Innoventions. It needs some help. Badly. (Oh, and please don’t just throw Pixar or Disney cartoon characters into it!)
Yeah, you need to do it here, too. First up, those Ballzac stations. Please, please get rid of them. Like those glow-y things over at World Showcase, no one needs them, they add nothing to the EPCOT experience and, in this particular case, they’re borderline dangerous. Ever had to duck to avoid a mis-thrown or un-caught Ballzac? Ugh. Second, and more to the point, make good on the rumor to tear down the purple circus-tent poles that prevent a good view of Spaceship Earth from anywhere in Innoventions Plaza. They’re unsightly, they don’t actually create much shade (or cool things down) and they ruin a marvelous landmark. Let’s hope those rumors are true!
The Universe of Energy pavilion is in desperate need of work. What we’re talking about, essentially, are a few really creative, exciting, vibrant films (and maybe the return of the Radok blocks, while you’re at it?). I don’t know a lot about theme-park production, but I know a bit about the entertainment industry, and I’d find it hard to believe that between Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar and Imagineering, you couldn’t create something incredible for the Universe of Energy. I like Ellen. Really. I watch her show whenever I can. But she never really fit into this pavilion, and now that she’s still paired with Bill Nye and a 15-year-old version of Jeopardy!, it all feels so terribly outdated. Perhaps no single topic is as valid, as necessary, as exciting and as potentially fascinating as the future of our world’s energy needs. There’s a minor miracle of an attraction waiting to happen here, one that could very well define a new style of Disney theme-park attraction – combining the ride vehicle, Audio-Animatronics, 3-D, computer-generated imagery, live performers, music, interactivity and education. It could be mind-blowing.
Hey, it could happen!
Whatever the case, here’s hoping that the positive steps that have been taken at EPCOT will continue into the future ... and that this becomes the year Disney understands that EPCOT is a brand unto itself, it has a meaning, it is a place that matters. It doesn’t need a lot of cartoon overlays and meaningless thrill rides. EPCOT is something special.
Happy New Year, EPCOT ... and EPCOT lovers!