Monday, February 26, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust


The atmospheric charm of El Rio del Tiempo will be sorely missed once the zany antics of the Three Caballeros finally come to the Mexico Pavilion. And based on the report I read over at Miceage.com, there could hardly be a ride concept that’s further from EPCOT Center’s origins than this one.

Quoting from Miceage:

“More details are emerging regarding the changes at Epcot’s Mexico pavilion, as
news has emerged that the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros will
cruise along the former rout of El Rio del Tiempo when the attraction reopens on
April 2.

“It seems that the trio are scheduled to stage a reunion
concert in Mexico City when Donald Duck disappears to tour the country. That
leaves Jose Carioca (the parrot) and Panchito (the Mexican charro rooster) to
try to track him down.”

Granted, we've known about this for a while, but these latest details show just how little Disney cares to create something great, when it could create something "Disney." The history, culture, art and people of Mexico apparently aren’t good enough on their own, it takes funny Disney characters to make Mexico interesting and fun for a five-year-old.

If you watched the Oscars on Sunday night, you saw brilliant Mexican filmmakers and artists whose films and talents were honored as among the best of the year. Mexico has an astonishingly vibrant creative community – but in Disney’s mind, the best way to create something people will “like” in Mexico is to put colorful Disney characters into it.

Perhaps I should stop making suggestions, offering critiques and presenting observations about what could be done to return the theme of Epcot to its former glory. As I pointed out to a reader in an e-mail today, “Disney Parks” are now what they’re called, not “Disney theme parks,” and that distinction makes all the difference. There’s no need for a theme to draw people in when they’re already spending thousands of dollars to stay on property. Gone are the days when the Disney parks each needed something unique and utterly different to make people feel it was worth their time and money to visit. Nowadays, they’re all just “Disney parks,” lower-case-Epcot included.

Yes, indeed, based on this news about El Rio del Tiempo, I may very well stop commenting and wishing and dreaming for some changes at Epcot ... I should, I think, just start finally mourning the complete loss of EPCOT Center instead.

I miss it already.

50 comments:

Phil -- Massachusetts said...

It really is a shame. Unfortunatly, I didn't make my first trip to Epcot until early 2002...but over the past 6 years, I have made trips to WDW multiple times per year and I really grew on Epcot and the feel of the park. But to do what they did to El Rio del Tiempo truly is a disgrace.

But as most of us know, that feeling seems to be fading. I don't know what it was like back in '82, but I bet it was amazing. That is what seperates Epcot and MK from MGM & AK.

Disney said...

Hey, don't put the ride down yet without even trying it. El Rio del Tiempo really needed a refurbishment. And at least Disney is trying to get younger ones involved in understanding a country's culture. When I was younger, I was bored to death with World Showcase because there weren't many rides and characters. As I got older, I learned to appreciate each culture. Hopefully by incorperating characters, kids will become more interested and learn something (the whole original goal of Epcot) rather than stay bored to death.

Chris said...

Hey, don't put the ride down yet without even trying it. El Rio del Tiempo really needed a refurbishment. And at least Disney is trying to get younger ones involved in understanding a country's culture. When I was younger, I was bored to death with World Showcase because there weren't many rides and characters. As I got older, I learned to appreciate each culture. Hopefully by incorperating characters, kids will become more interested and learn something (the whole original goal of Epcot) rather than stay bored to death.

That's fine if all Disney ever wants to do is cater to 5 year olds, as Epcot82 mentioned. That seems to be all that Epcot is divided into these days, either 5 year olds or thrill seekers (Soarin' being the exception). It seems to be one of the big problems, Disney is too focused on making sure the little kids are happy at every park, and leaving out the rest of the Disney enthusiasts unless we're only after thrill rides.

The best part about EPCOT Center was that even if you couldn't understand it all when you were young, rides like El Rio Del Tiempo made things interesting, sure it had a Its a Small World-ish section but the rest of it was a bit mysterious and cool to me when I was young.

Epcot82 said...

I've yet to see the streets of World Showcase littered with the bodies of dead children who succumbed to boredom.

Your point is taken, but not well-taken, since it's undermined by this comment: "As I got older, I learned to appreciate each culture."

Disney, as I tried to point out in a previous post, does not have to pander to children. Kids are their "low-hanging fruit," easy to pick and easy to harvest -- but doing things the easy way isn't always the best way.

It would be difficult and time-consuming to expend the sort of energy and thought required to create something novel and unique, that captures Mexico's flavor and spirit while engaging everyone. I agree "El Rio del Tiempo" needed an update ... but, hey, it worked well enough for 25 years that it wasn't changed. Turning it into a happy cartoon simply underscores that Disney's Imagineers have lost their imagination (or, perhaps, aren't allowed to use it). Adding cartoon characters to "El Rio del Tiempo" cheapens it.

I don't need to try it to know that painting my house pink and purple wouldn't be a good idea. The concept stinks. It belittles the efforts I've made to make my house into something thoughtful, that reflects me and my taste. Likewise, Disney built an EPCOT Center that was daring, impressive and most decidedly not for little kids. Taking all of the work and thinking put into EPCOT Center and making the place "fun" by adding cartoon characters belittles the efforts and the billion dollars put into EPCOT so many years ago. It also underscores that Disney is not really interested in continuing this bold experiment -- the company simply wants to make more and more and more money. No matter what the long-term consequences.

captain schnemo said...

I wonder how much involvement the Mexican government (or whomever) had in the decision-making progress. It seems so insulting in every way ("When Americans think of Mexico, they think of Donald Duck!"), I wonder how this idea even made it out of the brainstorming room.

I can understand how the idea came about ("So, do we have any Mexican properties we can exploit?"), but it just seems so obviously flawed, it blows my mind that no one at any stage had the brains to veto it.

So it goes.

captain schnemo said...

Sorry to double-post, but...

"... the company simply wants to make more and more and more money. No matter what the long-term consequences."

The sad thing is that theming things properly wouldn't cost them a thing. They'd spend the same amount of money fleshing out a good idea as they would these bad ones, and if they did it right, it would be equally popular.

It's not really laziness, because to say that they are lazy would imply that they know what the right thing is. It doesn't seem like these people know or care anything about Disney at all. And, based on the stock prices, it seems unlikely that that's going to change.

So much for Lasseter the Savior, eh?

twirlnhurl said...

I guess I'm the minority when I say that the description has made me look forward to the new version. It sounds like a great framework to introduce the beauty of Mexico with characters people not only know, but were created for that sole purpose. The movie which invented these characters was made specifically to introduce US audiences to South American countries geography and culture. According to the description, the characters will create a gateway by showing something familiar and using them to introduce something unfamiliar. It always bothered me how the travelogue portions of the ride seemed unimaginative and arbitrary. Now, these scenes will have a context and a purpose. The only thing that Disney can do to make me dislike the changes is to change the pyramid scene or execute the ride at a Tiki Room Under New Management level of quality instead of a The Seas With Nemo and Friends level of quality. I am excited and hope the new ride can accomplish what the old one never came close to doing.

Anonymous said...

Your point is taken, but not well-taken, since it's undermined by this comment: "As I got older, I learned to appreciate each culture."

Disney, as I tried to point out in a previous post, does not have to pander to children. Kids are their "low-hanging fruit," easy to pick and easy to harvest -- but doing things the easy way isn't always the best way.


I agree.

My first impression of the ride in Mexico was that it was horrible, just awful! It never was one of my favorites, but I did get to like it better as time went on. It does need help.

But the Tres Caballeros?

Part of me says, "It's how they do it, not what they do." After all, though I don't recall ever seeing it even as a kid, the Tres Caballeros have been around for a long time.


But then I think, "Aw crap ... not that again?" which is a familiar feeling when I see some character from a recent kids' animated feature plugging something. I don't know the character because I don't have kids. How many visitors have even seen the movies with these characters, especially visitors from other countries? Nemo??? At the Seas pavilion? I don't care how well-executed ... it just doesn't sit right. Not for what the beautifully designed Living Seas pavilion could be in terms of presenting a great peek at the future potential of undersea technology.

Isn't Epcot a fun park for grown-ups where kids are privileged to go? If I was a kid and my mom said: "You're not really old enough for Epcot, dear, it's for grown-ups," it would put me on my best behavior.

Epcot82 said...

"Isn't Epcot a fun park for grown-ups where kids are privileged to go?"

That's exactly it! GREAT observation.

Or, that is, great observation about what Epcot used to be.

dean said...

Another interesting aspect of this makeover reflects a fascinating observation made over at Re-Imagineering. Several of the new attractions are being developed that place the audience in a passive role. Instead of being the focus of the scenes, guests are now being relegated to watching a story unfold around them -- a story that they are no longer participants in. Audience participation doesn't mean that everyone needs to have a toy laser in their hand. It means that the attraction is designed to place the guest at the center of the action. It is this form of storytelling that gives you that chill as your boat drifts into the temple and a disembodied voice beckons you onward into ancient Mexico.

Spencer said...

"it takes funny Disney characters to make Mexico interesting and fun for a five-year-old."

I just don't understand why Disney thinks it needs to put the characters everywhere. El Rio del Tiempo is (was) my 22-month old son's favorite attraction in all of WDW. Hands down. No contest.

Disney seems to be taking the "theme" out of its theme parks at an alarming pace, replacing its diverse roster of unique lands and attractions with cynical, bland, marketing-driven, character-centric rides designed to sell more DVDs and plush toys.

I said this back in the 1990s when Magic Journeys was replaced with the Lion King show in Fantasyland: Why should people spend a fortune to go to a theme park when they can get the same basic experience by watching DVDs at home?

Disney characters should-- and do-- have a home in Fantasyland, but in places like Tomorrowland and Epcot they're just so incredibly out of place that it hurts. Has anyone at Disney pondered what all this over-exposure is doing to the long-term viability of the brand?

Message to the Mouse: I really *do* hope that we're not in for "El Rio del Tiempo: Under New Management." I really *do* want to enjoy the new ride. But I can't help but fear the worst.

I also can't help but wonder what kind of merchandise we'll be seeing at the Mexican pavilion when the ride reopens.

Sigh.

Greg said...

El Rio del Tiempo has always been one of my favorite parts of the park, but like most of EPCOT, it needs to be revamped. Desperately. The last time I was there, in 2003, the film bits of the ride were looking really shoddy. Of course, that goes for a lot of places in the park.

That said, doesn't the Three Caballeros seems a bit, I don't know, culturally insensitive? I mean, aren't we supposed to be exploring the culture of our southern neighbors here in a grand World Showcase?

Anonymous said...

I have never been to EPCOT. Did they ever build the Switzerlad pavilion with a Matterhorn rollercoaster like at Disneyland?

St. Chris said...

The temple entry in El Rio del Tiempo remains one of my favorite places in all of Disney, but the rest of the ride was always a progressive disappointment for me. The ritual dancers are cool but a bit on the trippy side; the street vendors make me cringe...

...And the last scene juuust might be bearable if it weren't the usual pileup spot for the boats, but it is, and I sit there and realize that the city skyline mural is embarrasingly flat and too close to the boat -- and the carousel, which I guess is supposed to represent people dancing, looks like a festive display of marionette corpses. Can't shake that impression. It's like the end of a slasher movie.

I disagree that the ride worked well enough for 25 years. The opening sure did, but I always thought the rest needed improvement.

That having been said, I'm hugely wary of cartoonifying a cultural exposition. If the message turns from "see how beautiful Mexico is" to "see how Disney Mexico is," it'll just be one more nail in the coffin of Walt's vision.

Anonymous said...

If they really wanted to make the Mexico pavilion up to date they should place it next to the American pavilion and the only way you could exit the Mexico pavilion to get to the American pavilion is by a cross the Rio Grande boat ride, a ride in the trunk of the Autopia ride or a tunnel underneath the pavilion!

E83 said...

I’ve changed my mind. You are right E82. Epcot’s decision makers may occasionally make correct decisions of adding some quality and money into the park (see Nemo) creatively though, they screw it up. Your “one lost owners manual” might describe their decision making process best. They just don’t know what they have, or how to use it. If I may make a metaphor, they would take a “back to the future” DeLorian and turn it into a clown car or ice cream truck.

Making an all age’s inspirational attraction requires a lot of work. Epcot used to be up to the task. El Rio de Tempo had a boat ride and “small world” portion for the children, while at the same time using this attraction to show some themes “ancient culture, day of dead festival, vacation spot, and modern city’s”. A family could enjoy the same attraction for different reasons. Adults could get a chuckle out of the aggressive gift store people as a little different then our shopping culture. Kids could watch the fireworks on the ceiling.

I wonder if they will try to create a balanced attraction. Or will they turn it into something more akin to “Playhouse Disney Live”. If they do, they are cutting their own throats. As kids age they can fondly remember the parts directed at them while wondering at the art and information they now can enjoy and grasp. If the ride is nothing but Donald Duck silliness, the older children will label it babyish and go to Universal to ride the Hulk coaster. The adults will also get the message; if you don’t have a kid then this ride is a waste of your time.

If they keep up this behavior part attendance will plummet. Roller coasters will keep a certain demographic, but anyone else over age 10 will consider it a waste of time.

Perhaps Siemens will save them from themselves and improve Spaceship Earth, while proudly keeping its message and soul. Maybe Lasseter and Co. are too busy with the studios now and will focus on parks once they feel they have righted the movie process. For now we have to hope Goofy doesn’t narrate the Land “Gooosh that’s a big pumpkin”, and pray someone better suited to run Epcot comes along.

Epcot82 said...

There's no doubt at all that El Rio del Tiempo needed to be completely overhauled -- I can't imagine that anyone would argue that point. After 25 years, it seemed tired, stale, technologically backward and more than a little silly.

(Though, honestly, not a single person I ever took on it came away with anything less than, "That was fun." It still had its charms.)

But with all the choices in front of them, with all of the opportunities ... Disney chose this? Three singing cartoon birds to guide guests through the elaborate, expansive history, culture and people of Mexico?

Imagine what director Guillermo del Toro could have done if Disney had paid him a few million dollars to act as a "creative supervisor"? If two-time Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla (who, granted, is from Argentina) had been asked to write the music? If the set designers for the awesomely mysterious and evocative Pan's Labyrinth had designed the new interior of the attraction?

Mexico has a thriving, wonderful film industry (http://www.academiamexicana.com/) with incredibly imaginative creators of cinema. Were any of them -- or anyone from the Mexican arts-and-culture movement -- tapped for ideas and input?

Or did Disney just think, "Hey! We have a movie that's vaguely Mexican, let's use that, even if no one who visits EPCOT has heard of it!"

There were so many possibilities for greatness here, it's all the more painful to see such a mediocre concept. Maybe the ride will be a lot of fun -- but it certainly won't recall the spirit of EPCOT Center in any way.

Chris said...

Making an all age’s inspirational attraction requires a lot of work. Epcot used to be up to the task. El Rio de Tempo had a boat ride and “small world” portion for the children, while at the same time using this attraction to show some themes “ancient culture, day of dead festival, vacation spot, and modern city’s”. A family could enjoy the same attraction for different reasons. Adults could get a chuckle out of the aggressive gift store people as a little different then our shopping culture. Kids could watch the fireworks on the ceiling.

Watching the fireworks like I used to do as a kid. I loved them because they weren't incredibly loud like the real EPCOT fireworks.

I agree, and it's human nature that everyone is going to enjoy certain parts of rides more than others. So why can't Disney make a new version that is good for the young and old (and in- between)? Maybe this once we're speaking too soon. I DO actually like the Nemo ride but I wish they didn't lose the conservation message along the way.


As for the Tres Caballeros being the representatives of South America, at least the Taco Bell dog isn't there too! I remember when some Mexicans were outraged that the dog was supposed to somehow represent Mexican people...I seriously doubt rational people would think that way.

Anonymous said...

Well, Chris, it is difficult to understand what offends someone of another nationality or race if you do not share those traits. The Taco Bell chihuahua was considered offensive by many Mexican people because the voice was such a gross caricature of a "typical" Mexican accent.

Likewise, German people often get offended when they see "Valkyrie" types, and Japanese get offended when they are mocked for saying the letter "r" as "l," etc. It is really tough to empathize if you're "typically American," but it is also very easy to not really "get" how someone could be offended or outraged.

So, likewise, seeing that the "best" Disney could do to represent an entire country filled with different ethnicities, cultures, dialects, histories, etc., is to use cartoon birds is pretty offensive, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Hey, please don't think for a second World Showcase has ever been particularly authentic or respectful to cultural traditions. I love it, but it's just about as storybook as MK. The representation of countries in WS has always been through a western gaze and played to the stereotypes and concepts (white) America has about the exotic "other." As I said, it's fun, harmless, and may cause someone to want to learn about the countries represented, but as Walt himself admitted when describing "The Painted Desert" film "it's entertainment, not a documentary," ditto for World Showcase. If the 3 Caballeros are fun, I just don't see what has been lost.

Charles said...

You're absolutely right, Anonymous. The key difference is that World Showcase has always made a sincere attempt to give a basic representation of the countries. We've become much more culturally sensitive in 25 years, so those films/attractions that haven't been updated in that time (Canada, France, Mexico, Norway) don't represent that.

That's why the Three Caballeros seem an enormous step backward, considering what could have been done with Mexico.

Anonymous said...

If you're talking about the boat ride in the Mexico pavillion...has anybody been on that ride sober? It seemed to me to be a half-assed It's a Small World and leftovers from If you had Wings!

If they change it to The Three Caballeros hopefully they'll put in a hot Carmen Molina dancing animatronic. Yow!

kcnole said...

On this situation, I think you're overreacting. The Mexican ride has always been a joke and the original ride that opened with the park was far more of a disgrace to the country of Mexico than this will ever be.

Is it the best it could be? No. Does it destroy the original spirit of Epcot? No, since it's a much better upgrade than what was already there I don't see how it could be destroying it. It may not be the best possible thing they could have put there, but it's miles better than what was there from the original opening.

Epcot82 said...

KC, as you can probably imagine, I disagree -- entirely. El Rio del Tiempo actually did work well for the first decade or so of EPCOT Center's existence. It did represent some of the better technology available at the time and was absolutely in keeping with the "sophistication" (or lack thereof) of such C-ticket attractions as If You Had Wings and the Fantasyland dark rides. (Let's face it, despite its existence at Disneyland since the beginning, Snow White, for instance, isn't exactly a masterpiece.)

A disgrace to Mexico? Hardly. It was entertaining, showed off some fun aspects of Mexican culture, and certainly existed nicely in concert with the entire pavilion. It was never meant to be the centerpiece attraction of the Mexico pavilion, unlike, say, Maelstrom or The American Adventure.

I don't think El Rio del Tiempo "has always been a joke," but I think it was sorely neglected and in the past 10 years has looked old-fashioned, out-dated and silly (though many of us feel it has always remained relaxing and enjoyable).

The Gran Fiesta concept doesn't "destroy" the spirit of EPCOT, it just continues to eat away at it. We don't know yet (I fully acknowledge) if it's "much better" or not ... but even your own admission that "it may not be the best possible thing they could have put there" indicates to me you're not entirely sold on this concept.

I'll say it again: When I stop to think about what might have been with an update to El Rio Del Tiempo, all the creative ways Disney could have approached this, my heart sinks. It'll get people through the doors and sell more plush toys and T-shirts, and if that's the only goal, then Disney has succeeded. It's just sad that Disney's goals are so middling.

Mr Banks said...

I'm going to wait and see on this. Even the shows orignal creators complained of skimped budgets and skitzophrenic tones.

And I also know that the current animators on this project are very excited about it and put their hearts and souls into it.

And as for me, I'll be first to cast my vote on the original boat ride, easily the WORST of the original Epcot Center attractions; creepy, cheap, bizarre and playing like 'If You Had Wings' lite.

We'll wait and see on this one.

Jeff Pepper said...

As anyone who is familiar with my blog already knows, I certainly do not endorse Disney management’s current vision of Epcot. I continue to be frustrated by the park’s apparent identity crisis and straying from the forward thinking idealism it used to represent.

But I have to say that the premise that everything from 1982-1989 is somehow ideal and beyond reproach is really losing its strength of argument. When passionate defenses are mounted for attractions that certainly represent early EPCOT Center mediocrity (which I personally and strongly feel El Rio del Tiempo does), just in an effort to tear down a refurb that has yet to even open, the credibility of our cause is ultimately undermined.

The characters of the Three Caballeros were genuinely embraced by much of Latin America when they first appeared in the 1940s, and are still extremely popular to this day. To somehow characterize their presence in the attraction as demeaning and insulting to the people and culture of Mexico reflects a true ignorance of how and why their films were made and the popular culture they came to represent. The two shop vendors that appeared in El Rio were far more offensive than anything the Three Caballeros could represent. Even the representations of Aztec culture early in the ride are more akin to overblown Hollywood interpretations than authentic Mexican history. The suggestion that Donald, Jose and Panchito would harm the supposed “integrity” of what was essentially a “fluffy” little boat ride is a bit melodramatic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always enjoyed El Rio for what it was--a fluffy little boat ride. But it never lived up to either the quality or vision of its other EPCOT 82 contemporaries.

Geoffrey said...

You know I'm going to hold up my vote on this one...while i know that Mexican Culture/heritage is beginning to permeate ours more and more with the influx of Hispanic immigrants, and it was time to update the ride...

I just don't know in one sense the addition of the Three Cabellero's (I can't spell) is just another way that Disney is destroying EPCOT maybe this will make the ride more interesting, because i agree with Mr.Banks the ride WAS in serious need of sprucing up, I went on the ride on my last trip to WDW and let me tell you it left much to be desired and well to me at least it didn't peak my interest of Mexican Culture like it should have, maybe the addition of a story will add some level of interest to the ride..

only time will tell

Anonymous said...

They should change it into a Zorro ride! Now that would be cool!

Anonymous said...

Zorro = Di$ney TV series
Zorro = Mexico
Zorro = Coolness

ZORRO RIDE!!!

Epcot82 said...

Mr. Banks and Jeff, I just want to point out I'm all for a complete and utter rethinking and enhancement of El Rio del Tiempo, but when you have a ride whose name is as cool-sounding as El Rio del Tiempo, why not use that as the jumping off point rather than saying, "Hey, how can we make this appeal to the little kids?"

The task was necessary and welcome; the creative decision is what I question. It's not as much the wrongness of The Three Caballeros (which I do believe is pretty egregious) as much as how much more Disney could have done with this!

As to whether the Caballeros are appropriate because of their popularity, the fact is that Ze Carioca is the most popular of the three, and he's beloved in Brazil. And Brazil, despite what many Americans think, is not Mexico!

captain schnemo said...

jeff pepper: When passionate defenses are mounted for attractions that certainly represent early EPCOT Center mediocrity (which I personally and strongly feel El Rio del Tiempo does), just in an effort to tear down a refurb that has yet to even open, the credibility of our cause is ultimately undermined.

I don't think you've actually read the comments here. No one is saying El Rio was anything more than a nice little fluffy ride, with some issues. Everyone agrees that it's time for a change.

What undermines our credibility is the clouding of the message and the idea that this blog represents a call for stagnation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The issue at hand is the quality of the new idea, which even the Disney apologists are not wild about.

The problem is that people are willing to make excuses (or even praise Disney) for attractions that are "not that bad" or "not as bad as they could be".

We didn't need to see the finished product to know that singing fish don't belong in Future World and we don't need to see the finished product to know that American characters created for an American film that is not primarily about Mexico in a park that was specifically designed to avoid the use of such cartoon characters is a bad idea on just about every level.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute! Since Donald is a sailor, do you think they'll find him in a brothel in Tiajuana? I see where the story of this ride is goig!

Epcot82 said...

we don't need to see the finished product to know that American characters created for an American film that is not primarily about Mexico in a park that was specifically designed to avoid the use of such cartoon characters is a bad idea on just about every level

I love the way you said that, Capt. Schnemo. Thank you!

Brian Place said...

I think we should wait and see...

Honestly, I think The Seas with Nemo and Friends is a much-needed update for that pavilion - the place was nearly empty last time I was there. And I've never seen a line at El Rio del Tiempo - the ride really is pretty crappy. It's cute and nostalgic and may make you feel warm and fuzzy, but it doesn't mean it's good or worth even continuing to pay maintenance & operation costs on when no one rides it. It does ultimately come down to money--if no one is riding it what's the point?

This is not exactly like the loss of Horizons or Journey Into Imagination...

Jeff Pepper said...

Captain Schemo:

I am in no way characterizing what epcot 82 articulates here as a call for stagnation. I have enormous respect for the arguments made here and the debates they inspire. I have said as much as couple of times on my own blog.

You said:

“The issue at hand is the quality of the new idea, which even the Disney apologists are not wild about.”

First of all, you’re judging an idea that isn’t hasn’t even been executed yet. Second, opinions of quality in these matters are subjective at best. And if Mr Banks says there’s been some good buzz, I take that as a pretty positive sign.

My point was that we (myself included) sometimes give some of the early EPCOT attractions a little more credit than they deserve when expressing our frustrations over the current state of affairs. The early stewards of EPCOT made a number of pretty dramatic missteps in my opinion, and I feel that it does undermine our current arguments if, in the interest of making our cases, we consistently put positive spins on what were some clear flaws, of which El Rio del Tiempo is a prime example. I feel that El Rio was problematic to begin with.It would appear that there are apologists on both sides of this argument.

To then compare this against an attraction that has not even opened seems just a bit stilted and premature.

To characterize the use of the Caballeros as merely a way to make things kid-friendly, again demonstrates a real lack of respect for Disney history and its legacy in animation. The Caballeros were born in an era when cartoons were predominantly an adult medium. Much of the content in Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros bears this observation out. I think you are severely underestimating these characters’ potential appeal to a broader, adult audience. Much like the Goofy Over Health attraction in WOL, history and context can justify compatibility.

Epcot82 said...

I would love to believe and buy in to your argument, Jeff, but sadly I can guarantee, without even thinking twice about it, that there are far too many Disney managers and executives who, even if they're aware of the ride, have never even seen Saludos Amigos or The Three Caballeros, and that a whopping majority of park guests will see nothing except Donald Duck and some other funny birds in the Mexico pavilion.

I didn't need to see The Walt Disney Studios Paris (which, unfortunately, I did) to know it was crap. I didn't need to see (which, unfortunately, I did) The Santa Clause 3 to know it was crap. I didn't need to see (which unfortunately I did) Hester & Chester's Dinorama to know it was crap. There are some things that seem so wrong-headed, so clearly guided by misjudgment and greed, that the don't need to be seen to be judged. You know that, I know that, everyone here knows that. Sorry to be blunt, but there are too many (to my tastes) who are saying, "Hey, give it a break, maybe it'll be good." That's exactly the sort of non-critical judgment that results in these kinds of attractions in the first place!

Forgive me for disliking Nemo and the Rio "overlay" without seeing them, but it's a little like hearing that the Statue of Liberty is going to be painted red, white and blue to better identify it with America to the millions of foreign tourists who see her every year. It's a horrible idea, sight unseen, even if it would sell 10 million t-shirts. Sorry, some creative decision making should be driven by more than guest surveys and merchandising needs.

captain schnemo said...

jp: First of all, you’re judging an idea that isn’t hasn’t even been executed yet.

Again, we don't need to see the idea to know that it does not jibe with the Epcot "Bible", which is not something we made up, but is on a plaque in the park itself, as well as all the familiar quotes and background material that originated from Disney. It's might be a wildly entertaining technological tour de force, but it's still a bad idea.

...if Mr Banks says there’s been some good buzz, I take that as a pretty positive sign.

It's not a matter of execution. The Nemo thing seems like a fine little dark ride, and would be a nice addition to Fantasyland, but it is a terrible fit for Future World. This blog is about larger ideals than simply good entertainment vs. bad. It's about what made Epcot so captivating (and something worth blogging about) in the first place.

My point was that we (myself included) sometimes give some of the early EPCOT attractions a little more credit than they deserve...

While that is sometimes true, that's not what we're talking about in this particular instance. This is not a defense of El Rio, this is an explanation of why the new idea sucks.

I agree that there were problems with old attraction, but we need to remain clearly focussed on the problem here. A while ago (on the Re-Imagineering blog), there was an article on the current parking situation at Disneyland, which was not a nostalgiac call to return to a more magical slab of asphault, but an analysis of what's wrong with the current system.

We're not trying to compare new attractions to old ones, we simply want new attractions to adhere to principles laid out that made Epcot a "theme" park and not simply an amalgamation of amusing entertainment pieces.

To claim that Nemo is a success because it's a fun little ride is asking far too little of Disney and letting them off the hook in an era when they really do not deserve much slack.

The Caballeros were born in an era when cartoons were predominantly an adult medium.

This is neither here nor there, in terms of World Showcase, which specifically excluded Disney characters by design. Where whimsical elements were desired, they were at least representative of the culture on display (eg, Norway's trolls). Just like Nemo, once you get as far as explaining that the primary draw is an existing Disney character, it doesn't really matter what follows.

Jeff Pepper said...

Captain Schnemo (apologies for the earlier misspelling):

You said:

"While that is sometimes true, that's not what we're talking about in this particular instance"

. . . but the post began with this very statement--

"The atmospheric charm of El Rio del Tiempo will be sorely missed once the zany antics of the Three Caballeros finally come to the Mexico Pavilion."

You said:

"Again, we don't need to see the idea to know that it does not jibe with the Epcot "Bible","

Like the regular Bible, interpretations vary widely . . .

I completely agree that Nemo was a bad idea for Living Seas--I even said so on my own blog a couple weeks ago. But hey, I felt the same way about Captain EO some 20 years ago.

However, I just personally feel that the Caballeros have a very strong historical context that doesn't make their presence there necessarily inappropriate.

And my opinions are very likely not all you might think them to be.

There's a little logo floating around these days--

"Acknowledge the Legacy--Restore the Dream"

Epcot82 said...

Well, I definitely hold to that opening sentence. It did desperately need to be updated, but despite its substantial and very real shortcomings, I always found El Rio del Tiempo to be both atmospheric and charming. And outside of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean there was hardly a better scene-setting opening to any attraction at a Disney theme park. Climbing into the boat in the evocatively lit loading area, gently gliding past the pyramid and the restaurant, under the "night sky" ... it just won't be the same knowing that for the next four minutes I'm going to hear and see a hyperactive sailor duck and his rather, um, energetic little animated friends.

captain schnemo said...

jp: Like the regular Bible, interpretations vary widely...

There have been enough explicit statements on this topic that I think you have to be pretty intellectually disingenuous to find anything that supports the Cabellero plan.

Anyway, I just wanted to make sure we're keeping our eye on the ball here, since I saw all the old straw men starting to appear. Us Disney nerds are often accused of blindly hanging on to the past, but I think epcot82 does an excellent job of avoiding that cliche. We don't need another tired "Disney is not a museum" discussion.

All that said, the El Rio intro is pretty great. Even my friends who typically don't care for Disney have mentioned that the inside of the Mexico pavilion (and the volcano scene in particular) was truly memorable and appealing. And, personally, the ride was one of my favorites, excepting the marketplace scene, which was pretty embarrassing. It was a nice nod to If You Had Wings..., but not terribly appropriate.

Getting back to the topic at hand, I know we can't expect every pavilion to have its own American Adventure, but that certainly shows the possibilities of a cultural examination and history lesson that successfully entertains and touches the audience. Imagineers should be looking in that direction instead of towards cartoon birds and apparently a rehash of the Nemo plotline. (Will "Oh no, someone is lost!" be the new "Oh no, there's been a mechanical malfunction!"?)

When we talk about limited resources being used appropriately, I don't think we can honestly consider this to be a positive sign. When we consider how this fits in with other changes in the past dozen or so years, it most definitely does not give me hope for the future, particularly when we've been sold the fantasy that Lasseter was going to bring the parks back from the brink.

We've been punk'd.

Brian Place said...

It's a f*cking goddamned boat ride! It'll still be a boat ride, and it'll still have Mexico in it, and it'll still be fun. And maybe people will actually start to _ride_ it again...


Seriously, if you guys spent the energy you spend on splitting hairs on mounting a massive letter-writing campaign to tear down that wand, maybe we'd get somewhere... :)

I still appreciate this blog, yes, but I'm just frustrated. There continue to be these same themes that pop up over and over again:
- All change at EPCOT is bad.
- Everything is equally bad - "Wand" = "Nemo" = "3 Caballeros" = "Destruction of Horizons."
- You can't disagree or even attempt to reason with the anti-change faction; they will overblow any shred of information and use it against you as they "word you to death" with it.

So much energy, so little real action...

Anonymous said...

link to the DisneyTim (on micechat) interview with artist/Imagineer Dave Bossert who is working on the Rio Del Tiemp refurb/overlay:
http://www.micechat.com/forums/showthread.php?t=53526

"B: Basically, they’re refurbishing the Mexico pavilion and they asked us to do a new film. You ride on a boat through the Mexico pavilion and there’s a series of, I think, 16 screens. So we’re now telling a little story with Donald, Jose and Panchito. As you go through the ride, Jose and Panchito are looking for Donald. It’s really really fun with some really beautiful animation and it’s nice to be working with some of the classic characters. I think it’s going to open in April or May down in Epcot."

kcnole said...

Personally, I don't even mind some of the ideas behind Epcot changing. I want the focus to stay on discovery and education about the future, technologies, and the world around us, but it doesn't have to be character free to do it.

I agree with you when you say this refurb could have gone a much better direction, but truth be told I've been able to find something to complain about in every attraction Disney has done, including the recent Everest. So while it doesn't fit perfectly with the idea many of us old Epcot fans have about World Showcase, it still may work very well.

No, it's not a character free attraction anymore which focuses solely on the country (even though as pointed out so often before, it never really did it right the first time). However I still retain hope that this can fit into the theme of education of Mexico which is ultimately what Epcot is about, at least to me.

I have a feeling that the three birds are going to be taking us on a tour of sorts through Mexico as they search for Donald. Now that said, I do hope that the ride doesn't talk down to us and reach only for the children. If that is the case, then I will be disapointed, but there's not enough info out there yet to make that determination.

There is a quote along those lines by Walt, which I unfortunately, don't have in front of me right now, but he says something of the effect that he doesn't ever talk down to the children. He believed that children were always reaching and always desiring to know more and didn't have to have the story simplified for them to get it, and I agree. Unfortunately most of America doesn't seem to realize that lately.

So if all we get is something that we'd find on any Saturday morning cartoon aimed at pre-schoolers then I'll be very disapointed, but if this ride can use these characters to educate all of us, adults included, then I don't mind so much.

Do I agree with you that Epcot would be better if it innovated while staying within its original plan? Yes, but do I think this hurts Epcot? I truly can't say until I see the attraction first hand. Personally, I don't think it can hurt Epcot any more than the original attraction did.

I know you keep harking back to "If You Had Wings" but that comparison doesn't work to me. I loved IYHW. That attraction had a heart and soul about it that the Mexican attraction never did. They both utilized movie screens, but while one grabbed you and made you dream (at least in the time frame that it was created), the Mexican never did that for me, even as a kid during the original Epcot.

Jahosifatz said...

Hi. I added you as a link to my blog allthingswdw.blogspot.com I hope you don't mind. I absolutely love your blog and am glad that someone can remember what the original Epcot Center stood for. Keep fighting the good fight!

Jeff Pepper said...

Captain Schnemo--

I'm not sure why you are trying to paint my comments into something they are not. There was nothing in any of my statements that accused epcot82 of blindly clinging to the past.

I essentially made two points in my comments--I thought is was a weak argument to criticise a new refurbishment by holding it up against its very weak and flawed predesessor; and that I don't necessarily feel the Caballeros are a bad idea.

You think that under any circumstances that the Caballeros are are terrible idea. I get it. But that is your very subjective opinion, and regardless of whether you can back it up with rhetoric and the agreement of others, it's still your opinion.

It seems that if opinions are voiced here that go against certain etablished notions (i.e. no characters in EPCOT), we are immediately accused of creating smokescreens and straw men.

Frankly there are many of us who feel very strongly about EPCOT's decline, but do not hold to every single supposition put forth here and by other "Disney nerds" (your words). Our lack of aggreement in these areas does not make us
"intellectually disingenuous."

Epcot82 said...

Let's put a fork in this one and call it done, from the standpoint of arguing about who cares more or whose ideas are right.

I invite discourse, which means ALL ideas are essentially right (except mine, of course, which are, um, "righter" -- heheh), and that everyone's opinion is important.

At the core, we all agree that EPCOT needs more care, more thought, more effort put into it, that's for sure!

(This is not to prohibit future discussion on the topic of El Rio del Tiempo, by the way! Just about who "cares more" or whose ideas are better. So, please do continue chatting and arguing and debating about El Rio to your heart's content!)

captain schnemo said...

Just to clarify my position, before we move on...

Although my initial response was to more than just Jeff (even though he was the only person I quoted directly), one of the straw men I was referring to was this: ...the premise that everything from 1982-1989 is somehow ideal and beyond reproach is really losing its strength of argument.

I think we all agree on that point, so it seemed out of place to assign those thoughts to anyone taking part in the discussion.

My other point is that it is in no way subjective to say that Epcot was specifically designed to exclude existing Disney characters (although obviously the door was left open for new, Epcot-specific creations). Whether or not these particular cartoon characters are well-suited to the pavilion doesn't enter into the equation. I happen to like the Caballeros and Finding Nemo is a fantastic movie, but, again, that's neither here nor there when you discuss things in terms of the basic planks of "Epcotness", as defined by Disney, not us.

It's not that the early attractions should be regarded as perfect gems, but Epcot's "Constitution" (to use a better word). Certainly some of the original attractions did not achieve their goals, but it was not for not tryin'.

The primary thing I find dismaying is the lack of any sort of attempt to create attractions that appropriately fit into Epcot (with "appropriateness" defined as the explicit founding principles of Epcot, as presented by Disney itself) -- in short, the things that make Epcot "different", if not "special". If you take issue with one those principles or think it's time to "amend the constitution", that's one thing, but it's not fair to say that certain obviously "unconstitutional" items are not so.

Individual attractions may succeed or fail for a number of reasons, but when the basic premise is indefensible (eg, attractions that have not even a tangential link to the future in Future World), there is no chance of complete success and, even worse, it is an obvious admission that Disney is not even interested in such success.

This represents a fundamental shift in the Epcot philosophy, the defense of which is the purpose of this blog. Some may feel that such a shift is a good idea, but we shouldn't ignore the fact that it's taking place.

As for the "Disney nerds" comment (a term which obviously applies to myself as well), I am always amazed when people do not have a sense of humor about that. If you were offended, I apologize, but it seems pretty evident to me that anyone who spends their spare time debating the moves of a multi-billion dollar corporation on the Internet in the hope that they can effect change is a pretty hardcore nerd.

Not that there's anything at all wrong with that, but I think we all need a little perspective about what we're up to here. We are absolutely viewed as freaks by the Disney suits and even casual Disney fans, but by embracing our nerdliness, at least we let others know that while our thoughts are serious and sincere, we aren't total loons either.

Jeff Pepper said...

Captain Schnemo--

I will conceed that I probably did over generalize with that statement and for that I apologize.

And believe me, I took no serious offense, to the "nerds" term nor any of the aspects of the debate we were engaged in. We clearly disagree about a number of points, but I truly respect you points-of-view. They are intelligent, well spoken and well-articulated.

Thanks for the very engaging discussion.

captain schnemo said...

Thanks to you, as well. I know I'm not always as diplomatic as I should be.

Also there's a lot of history on this topic and these ideas have been kicked around for years, so I make a lot of assumptions I probably shouldn't, in the interest preventing the 7 zillionth reinvention of the wheel.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the EPCOT Field Guides. I haven't seen mine since I put them in a shoe box and stored them in that room they put the Ark of the Covenant in.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE THIS RIDE SO SHUT UP!!