Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Fresh Start


Many apologies for the long time that has passed since my last significant post; work and personal issues have just been a little overwhelming lately (in a good way). But I couldn’t let more time go by without thanking you for all of the e-mails and comments, and also for the information that several readers have passed on to me.

Brad Rex, who has been the head of EPCOT for a number of years, apparently is stepping down to take a job at a hotel chain. We wish him success. Leading EPCOT into the future is Jim MacPhee, who by all accounts has shown he’s, to quote three individual readers who sent me the news, “a good guy.”

Let’s hope so. EPCOT could use a good guy, ideally one who will no longer try to make EPCOT into something it’s not, who will recognize that there are some really impressive attributes to the theme park. In the spirit of moving ahead with a fresh start, I wanted to offer some random thoughts and suggestions to Jim as he prepares for his new role, ideas that he might want to think about when contemplating what is to become of Disney’s most unique theme park.

Let’s start with what I consider to be the most pressing:

* Don’t succumb to the relentless Pixar-ization of EPCOT. Just because Ratatouille takes place in the culinary world of Paris, for instance, does not mean Bistro de Paris should suddenly become “Ratatouille CafĂ©,” or that the little rat should host a new version of Impressions de France. The beauty of EPCOT is how it is so obviously, clearly, unequivocally Disney … without being Disney-ized. Or, at least, it used to be.

* Explore your playground. EPCOT has an abundance of possibility, sitting there waiting to be discovered. But you won’t do it from the confines of an office. Get out and about in the park, recognize that some of your peers and predecessors throughout the Disney organization have failed or succeeded based on the simple action of walking the park with regularity (or, sadly, not doing that). EPCOT is a place filled with opportunities to discover new things – both for guests and for executives. You’ll never see them if you don’t know every nook and cranny of this massive park.

* Be proud of EPCOT’s different-ness. Conversely, don’t be ashamed of it. EPCOT is unlike any other theme park anywhere in the world. For many years, what gave EPCOT its truly unique personality was that it didn’t rely on characters and cartoons for its appeal. But lately, no one seems willing to give EPCOT its due, and the endless “integration” (though almost always with a slapped-on feel) of cartoon characters has taken over. Insist that EPCOT be excellent of its own accord and revel in the fact that it is most assuredly not The Magic Kingdom or the Disney-MGM Studios. It requires thought and a little effort – both on behalf of guests and the executives and Imagineers who develop it. Don’t let that scare you off; it’s a great challenge!

* Become an EPCOT evangelist. From Burbank to Orlando, from Bob Iger on down, a great many Disney executives simply don’t “get” EPCOT. It defies easy categorization. That’s where you come in. You’ve got to work hard to make “them” see and understand why EPCOT is so unique and therefore so valuable to Disney. This is your chance to proselytize to them, to educate them, to bring them around to the idea that EPCOT can influence Disney – not just vice-versa.

* Study the past. Steep yourself in the remarkable history of the park, understand why it was created; spend time looking over the extraordinary collection of EPCOT literature, concept designs and materials that are in the Walt Disney Archives and at Imagineering. You will be amazed at how EPCOT’s latest changes haven’t even come close to the daring and excitement that infused the park 20 years ago. Odd how we’ve regressed in many ways, isn’t it? EPCOT’s past can inform its future.

* Respond to criticism. That’s not a sly reference to this website, but to the many “fan-critics” of EPCOT. There’s a reason we don’t like what EPCOT has become: Because it should be much more! The readers of this blog have made excellent observations; I hope you will use their insight and feedback in positive ways. Please know we only want to see what’s best for EPCOT. It’s not true that we don’t want EPCOT to change – that’s exactly what we want. But we don’t want it to conform. Like watchful parents over a teenager who is learning how to be independent, we’re seeing EPCOT try to be like everyone else when it needs to spread its wings and grow and become its own unique entity that can flourish and thrive within the broader world of Disney.

* Make the little improvements, not just the big ones. It’s all well and good to create some big new attraction or to renovate a pavilion; though we may not always agree with the changes, we do at least try to appreciate them. But all that money spent is meaningless if the little things don’t keep up. What about those horribly beaten-up signs throughout the park? What about the fact that the post-show area of Universe of Energy is pretty empty? Or that the planters out in front of the “old” Wonders of Life pavilion make it look like a theme-park version of Chernobyl? (Thanks to Kevin Yee of Miceage for writing about many of these small problems, at EPCOT and elsewhere, that increasingly make Disney look cheap and embarrassing.)

* Appreciate the classics. While far too many people at Disney don’t consider them as such, EPCOT has some truly classic attractions. Just as you wouldn’t (I hope, I hope, I hope) mess with Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion too badly, EPCOT’s classics should be regarded as exactly that. Take what happened to Journey Into (Your) Imagination as a warning; view the Nemo-ized version of the Seas dubiously. Just because they respond to the trendy notion of making EPCOT more kid-friendly does not mean that they will stand the test of time.

* Listen to your instinct and to your EPCOT experts within Disney – not just to the guests. A guest will gladly tell you that the Teletubbies should be at EPCOT or that the Madagascar cast should be at Animal Kingdom. A guest will tell you that EPCOT needs more kiddie or thrill rides or more Disney characters. In full vacation mode, a guest will give you just about any observation you want … except, maybe, a thoughtful or well-reasoned one. And why should s/he? This is vacation time, not time for serious contemplation. That’s what you’re paid for! Take that responsibility seriously and really put some thought into what EPCOT should be, not just how it can be shaped to make the marketing and finance folks happy.

* Believe that good enough isn’t good enough. Being “good enough” may work for your competition, but both at EPCOT and at Walt Disney World, that’s not even the bare minimum you need to get by. You need to thrill and excite and move your guests, and that means you’ve got to put thought and effort into every single thing in your parks, from the attractions themselves down to the planters and trash cans. The best thing you could possibly be is highly critical. Do more than please the least-demanding guest – please the most-discerning ones; when you try for that, you’re bound to please everyone, not just some folks.

* Think about that wand. Why do so many of us care so much about that stupid thing? Because it represents everything that’s been wrong about the past 10 years of thinking at EPCOT: It’s tacky, over-the-top and unnecessary. A great many people (not just the “crazy” fans) think Spaceship Earth is one of the most iconic and evocative pieces of architecture ever created – not just at a Disney theme park, but anywhere. Personally, I believe it rivals the astonishing simplicity of the Egyptian pyramids or the sleek elegance of the Eiffel Tower. It is a masterpiece. And it has been topped off with an eyesore. If a guest doesn’t know s/he’s at EPCOT, if the fact that s/he’s in the heart of Walt Disney World isn’t patently obvious, there’s a problem with the guest … not the extraordinary visual symbol at the heart of what was once one of the most wonderful places on earth.

I believe EPCOT can be that again. I hope you do, too.

52 comments:

Greg said...

Well said. Keep at 'em!

Welcome back.

Thierry said...

I'm afraid that economy took over the dream.
And even Disney's now doing it :(

George said...

Another eloquently written post.
I agree with the notion that the sphere is truly a beautiful icon, and that the wand overtly cheapens its simplicity. And by the way, the pics you load with each post are amazing! Are they personal photos, publicity pics, from books, or a combination of all?

Anonymous said...

Really good post. These simple yet important points are what everyone over at House of mouse should abide by.

Especially "Being “good enough” may work for your competition, but both at EPCOT and at Walt Disney World, that’s not even the bare minimum you need to get by."

Your right, good enough is not good enough for Disney. Epcot and the rest of WDW need the very best. That's what Walt would want!

Epcot82 said...

Generally speaking, the photos are my own. However, sometimes when I'm looking for something that's a little less familiar (to me, at least), I go to Yahoo! Photos and find an image that has been publicly uploaded.

Thanks for your posts!

e83 said...

I can’t argue with any point, but I can add a few.

You can please everyone: The universe of Energy has Dinosaurs for the kids, but by the time you leave you think about the past and future of energy. Don’t be afraid to educate. Just keep it light and optimistic.

On characters: Ever notice how engrossing POTC and the Haunted Mansion were when we didn’t know a single characters name? The carousel of progress has spun for decades without adding characters from the movie bomb “Atlantis”. Ever notice how popular Figment is without one movie or TV show? My point is the Parks can create their own characters, or if the attraction is done well enough we become the main character, like when we ride spaceship earth. Besides shouldn’t we see something in WDW that we don’t have at home on DVD.

Bring more future to Future World. We understand the importance of Thrill rides as park anchors, but the pavilions must spend some effort in the original purpose of addressing the future. Hundreds of US theme parks have roller coasters, only one has Spaceship Earth. Only one asks what role communication will have in the future of mankind.

Different is good. A week trip in WDW is an assault on the senses. The parks should be different. Go back to the future and clean up the architectural clutter. Blow up the Wand and get rid of the purple streamers. Still Epcot is the most relaxing park.

Glen said...

Do you know of a way to communicate more directly with higher ups like Jim McPhee? Sending an email to customer service, while necessary, feels a lot like sending email into a black hole.

Thanks, Glen

Epcot82 said...

Outside of figuring out how to get their direct e-mail addresses, my best suggestion is to write direclty to their offices c/o Walt Disney World Resort, P.O. Box 10,000, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000. Mark the envelope "PERSONAL" or "CONFIDENTIAL" on the outside left corner. Type or print your envelope. And good luck!

SirNim said...

Darn right, "Good enough is the enemy of anything great."

sdav10495 said...

Bingo...a concise and good-natured list of the best thoughts laid out on this blog. I really hope this gets to Jim McPhee.

Welcome back!

Captain Schnemo said...

I'm not part of the "wand as abomination" crowd...I think it's ugly and annoying, but I never really understood the hatred, especially given all the (what I consider to be) more important problems with Epcot.

I think it was a cute thing to do for the millenium and I figure it will come down eventually, so it doesn't make me scream, but it's obvious that it has overstayed its welcome.

All that said, your comments did nudge me a little in your direction. Picturing the wand (or something similarly tacky) over a pyramid or the Eiffel Tower does drive the point home. There is only one Spaceship Earth and it's as iconic as any other man-made structure.

I am still wary of placing too much emphasis on it, since eventually it will be removed no matter what, and I don't think they deserve the good will freebie they'll get when it comes down.

But, still, point taken.

Anonymous said...

Wow. After reading the notion of "A fresh start" I thought some small portion of that would be a fresh start on your part as well. First off, I love EPCOT just as much as everyone else here, and it burns in my soul everyday that Horizons, WOM, and Dreamfinder are gone. It just baffles me that guests (even my own family) love Soarin' or mission space, which while novel, do not even attempt to ignite your imagination by hiding their methods and mechanisms (let alone Soarin' being about flying in a pavillion about "the Land"... Well, we are loking down mostly...) So, we're all together on why we love EPCOT, and what's been wrong. Also, let's agree the wand is inexcuseable.
Here's the deal though... a little more positive attitude would be helpful. Telling the new guy his job in the manner of this post isn't a fresh start at all, it just getting off on the wrong foot again. There's always going to be a lot of things you don't like because Disney is like a hydra... a mythical creature with a lot of heads, and they are all going in different directions. Even the head of EPCOT can't control all of them, so instead, I suggest pointing to the positive. I suppose you havn't had time yet to review the new post show at Spaceship Earth... I went with my family last weekend, and it is awesome, and very retro classic EPCOT. I was amazed. Not a word here though. It even has somewhat retro logos. A big tip of the hat to fans, I thought. And Mexico... it's clear that a lot of people worked very hard to freshen up that ride, which was very tired. Sure Donald and Nemo are hard to take for us, but there are LINES TO GET IN NOW. I'll never forget walking onto WOM (my favorite ride) and Horizons just before they were closed. No queue... They were not relevant to guests anymore. The world has changed a lot since EPCOT was built, and we visitors have changed a lot too. There is very little nostalga anymore, and very little optimism. I know there is a lot of the former here at Epcot Central, and very little of the latter. How about a fresh start?

Virtual Toad said...

anonymous: "And Mexico... it's clear that a lot of people worked very hard to freshen up that ride, which was very tired. Sure Donald and Nemo are hard to take for us, but there are LINES TO GET IN NOW."

Of course there are lines! It's "new." People will always line up for "new."

There were lines for "Journey into YOUR Imagination" when it first opened. (I was there. The line stretched outside the building.) There were lines for "Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management" when it reopened.

Sadly, lots of people would line up if they put a professional wrestling arena in the middle of World Showcase. Does that mean it belongs in Epcot?!

Show me what the lines are like at the Mexico pavilion 18 months from now and then we'll talk.

Schnemo, as for the wand, you're absolutely right. Given a choice between no wand and Horizons reborn, I'd take Horizons back in a heartbeat.

I think a lot of us are so bent out of shape over the wand because it's become a symbol for everything else that's wrong with Epcot. The decision makers at Disney have convinced themselves they're going to do disney with a "small d." Epcot is a prime example. They've taken the "Future" out of Future World and now they're starting to take the "World" out of World Showcase.

Things won't change for the better until Disney starts taking its own product seriously. And I guess the wand is a symptom of that illness.

Anonymous, as for optimism, yeah, I'd like to be optimistic. I think a lot of us, in spite of our criticism, still are. We still hold on to the hope that one day Disney will once again "get it." Otherwise, what's the point of talking about it?

Epcot82 said...

Anonymous, I'd love to be able to get to EPCOT whenever it struck my fancy, but I don't live in Central Florida -- so, no, I have not seen the new post-show at Spaceship Earth or the revamped Mexico ride.

I'm going off of what's reported to me. Most feedback on the post-show at Spaceship Earth has been positive. Great. A step in the right direction. A tiny little baby step. Thanks to Siemens, Disney installed a good display area ... a hundred yards or so from a pavilion Disney won't even operate because it's too cheap to refresh it and re-open it on its own (but not too cheap, say, to spend $200 million to market "Pirates 3" -- even if they'll barely make back their costs).

As for Caballeros ... so far, my mail has been running about 3-to-1 against the changes.

As Virtual Toad nicely points out, people line up for new. Remember Alien Encounter, as well? For the first two yeas, I waited an hour or more every time I visited. Did popularity equal quality? Does it ever?

I'm afraid you fall into the category of equating "criticism" with "complaining." That's what's wrong with Disney overall -- its employees (particulary its executives) are afraid of making critical assessments lest they be seen as whiners. And yet, being critical of even its BEST work is what brought Disney the early success it regards so blithely today.

Frankly, I could be more critical, but you would just hate that. In my mind, the more critical I am of something, the more it's an indication of how deeply I care for it, whether person, place or thing.

Anonymous said...

Epcot82, you have once again, with your same old tired arguments, proven that you're a cynic who needs to get a life and stop insisting that he's always right!

Geno said...

Excellent post. Your points are right on. Jim McPhee should be the biggest evangelist for EPCOT. I work with many consumer brands, and the success often ties back to the internal advocate. EPCOT is a magical place it has held a special place in my dreams since childhood. Let's hope with new leadership comes internal commitment to get back to telling the EPCOT story. And the best place to start is with employees and in the board rooms.

Epcot82 said...

Anonymous, you are, of course, entitled to your opinion -- and to share it here with others. Likewise, I'm entitled to mine, which is why I began this blog 16 months ago. If it seems I'm hitting the same points over and over, perhaps it's because I think they're relevant points to address, and it seems thousands of others agree with me. That's not to undermine or dismiss your opinion!

It's just that we seem, societally, to have reached a point where there is either consensus or conflict; observational criticism seems to have become the source of derision.

I do urge you to read Neal Gabler's biography of Walt Disney. I think you'll be rather surprised to learn how critical Walt Disney was of his own projects, how he abhorred imperfections, how he always wondered how he could do better.

Keep in mind, if he hadn't been so sharply critical (and not focused on financial results), there would be no Walt Disney Company today. At the very least, I'd hope, that mindset is worth considering.

Epcot82 said...

Oh, by the way -- I think I have a pretty good life, actually!

Anonymous said...

I understand, but I think that you're being way too critical for your own good...and you also need to realize that even the people who do agree with you are in the minority.

Most folks would disagree with people like you. However, just because they don't agree doesn't make them stupid or dumbed-down in any way.

They just have their opinions and things have to change. But that's no excuse to diss Nemo, Gran Fiesta Tour or any of the other new attractions or enhancements at Epcot. To mock them is like making fun of the new kid at school or picking on the new guy at work, just to give a bit of a perspective on things.

I miss a lot of Epcot's classic attractions just as much as the next person, but the new stuff is pretty good, too (and, yes, that DOES include the character-based attractions). The new attractions at Epcot DO maintain the entertain, inform and inspire goal of the park, just in a different way.

I'm trying to not be too mean here and I am FAR from an apologist, but they have their reasons for making the changes that they've made and maybe someday you'll understand that.

met19 said...

that is an absolutely beautiful image and so much nicer than all the "extras" coming out of spaceship earth

Captain Schnemo said...

Anonymous, to quote Stephen Colbert, "Thank you for supporting our president!"

Seriously, though, it's not as if epcot82 has not presented rational, legitimate, and well-documented arguments to explain his every position. Your school kid analogy is nonsensical and doesn't apply. You've admitted the new things are "different" (and given that you're reading this blog, I assume you hold the original Epcot in high regard) and the best you have to say about them is that they are "pretty good".

If you're happy with a mediocre Epcot that is unlike the old one in nearly every important way, that's fine, but we all have people with more integrity than that to thank for creating Epcot.

Anonymous said...

Your response is so false, Schemo, that it hurts...A LOT!

You're blowing what I say WAAAAAAAAY out of proportion, so please do not put words in my mouth.


I do not have a "school kid analogy that's nonsensical and doesn't apply". Responses like that make the Disney online community come off as a dictatorship where anyway who represents an opinion different from what the majority thinks gets bashed no matter what, which is a crying shame.

I sure hope that someone like Jeff Pepper will come along soon to stand by me.

You purists are so intolerable...

Jeff Pepper said...

Since my name was invoked . . .

Despite engaging in debates here a few times, I must say that I share more common ground with Epcot82 than I share disagreements. In fact, I feel this particular post was very well articulated and made excellent points.

My concerns have often been about the tone and communication of these thoughts and opinions.

While some no doubt may label me an apologist, I see myself more as a realist about the current state of Epcot and the Disney company at large. I fear that taking a very narrow and dogmatic approach when discussing how to fix Epcot only serves to alienate the very people we need to reach the most.

Anonymous said...

"I'm trying to not be too mean here and I am FAR from an apologist, but they have their reasons for making the changes that they've made and maybe someday you'll understand that."

As someone who worked at WDI for over 5 years and the Walt Disney Company for over 10, I can tell you that the "reasons" individuals at WDI had for making many of the changes they made had a lot to do with kissing up to executives in order to receive promotions. Many of the "reasons" for cost cutting efforts made by Parks & Resorts executives were so they could receive promotions and bonuses and then jump ship for another company before the damage they did was evident.

So, yes they did have their reasons.

I love this blog. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Please do not turn my words around. That's VERY disrespectful.

The reasons for making the changes was NOT to cut costs! It was because attendance was declining at certain attractions and guests wanted change, so they had to listen to the general public.

I don't care if you worked for the company for 5 or 10 years. You are wrong and you know it!

This is not about cost-cuts. This is about change and that it needs to be embraced.

dean said...

It's awesome to see another post here again, and one written so thoughtfully. It would be a remarkable thing if Jim McPhee was able to do with Epcot what Matt Ouimet got rolling with Disneyland. And amazingly, all it would seem to take is a re commitment to the ideals put down by the original designers of the park and the founder of the company. I personally don't think that is an extraordinary request to make and one I believe would be beneficial to everyone. There is certainly a lot of creative energy going into Epcot. It simply needs better guidance.

Anonymous said...

To the "anonymous" above who is clearly picking a fight:

It's great that you are expressing your opinion. But honestly, the only disrespectful one here is you. Healthy debate is a beautiful thing, but please come to the table more prepared. Not articulating your thoughts properly almost instantly deflates any credibility your viewpoint has. I'm not saying your opinion is at all wrong or lacks merit, I'm just saying it's a bit hard to digest since you seem to be express it more as a taunt to the other contributers here.

That being said, I haven't posted in awhile but I've certainly been lurking. Couldn't agree with this post more and would love to see some positive new leadership at my favorite Disney park. Keep up the good work, Epcot82!

- Mike

Epcot82 said...

Thanks, everyone. Appreciate the thoughtful words and feedback!

e83 said...

I’ve written about this before, maybe this time it will come out right. Give me a time machine and I can’t think of a better way to spend one day than enjoying the original Future World attractions.

However, the seeds of Epcot’s refurbs were planted in those attractions. I don’t have attendance statistics, and more importantly I don’t know the frequency of those attending. Of the ~10 million visitors how many are first timers, how many are yearly visitors, how many are annual pass Floridians?

My point is there were too many of the same “dark rides”, and they have a law of diminishing returns for returning guests. It was inevitable attendance would slide, and changes would be made. The challenge is to understand and keep what was special about the park (I believe it was optimistic futurism with edutainment) while adding more thrill rides and kid oriented attractions.

Captain Schnemo said...

This would all be a lot easier if the anonymice would choose names when they post.

I do not have a "school kid analogy that's nonsensical and doesn't apply".

Assuming you are the same anonymous, you said this: To mock [new Epcot attractions] is like making fun of the new kid at school or picking on the new guy at work...

People typically make fun of the new kid to maintain or advance their status within a group by picking on a person because of a characteristic they cannot control. Whether this is done out of simple fear or mean-spiritedness or for political reasons, none of these things apply to epcot82, who has a philosophical agenda, but nothing to gain from criticizing things unworthy of criticism. That would actually be counterproductive, since his goal is to encourage positive change.

Responses like that make the Disney online community come off as a dictatorship...

I am happy to entertain any opinion, but there must be have an explicable rationale behind it. You (or at least one anonymous guy) chose to be condescending ("maybe someday you'll understand that") without presenting an actual argument.

When you boil down the post, the points made were:
1. Some people disagree with epcot82.
2. One shouldn't make fun of new things.
3. Things are done for reasons.

#1 and #3 are self-evident and the only explanation for #2 is an inapplicable analogy.

If you aren't going to share with us the reasons for your opinions, they are hardly worth sharing. "I disagree" doesn't add anything to the conversation.

I'm not sure what you expect epcot82 to do. For example, one of the basic (and not unreasonably demanding) principles of this blog is that things in Future World should be futuristic, or at least in some way related to the progress of civilization. Singing fish don't fit the bill, so obviously he is going to voice his disapproval.

Is your argument against this really that he shouldn't do so because the fish are new?

sdav10495 said...

I don't care if you worked for the company for 5 or 10 years. You are wrong and you know it!

...just because it's worth pointing out that mind-bending kernel of wisdom again.

Epcot82 said...

Wow, Schnemo ... I don't know what to say! So, just, thanks!

E83, you mention "they have a law of diminishing returns" for dark rides. Actually, it's THRILL rides that have the diminishing returns; visit any Six Flags and go on a four-year-old roller coaster and you'll see what I mean. Switchbacks are rarely as exasperating as when no one is queuing in them!

Dark rides, on the other hand, hold their appeal like nothing else. Look at Peter Pan's Flight or the Haunted Mansion, look at Journey Into Imagination or Spaceship Earth. It may be true that they rarely have visible queues -- but, then, EPCOT Center was designed to swallow huge groups of guests in one gulp, so the lack of queues should not indicate a lack of popularity.

Jeff Pepper said...

Epcot82--

While I agree with you that a Six Flags coaster is quick to lose its appeal, I think the same can't be said for certain Disney thrill rides. Attractions such as Big Thunder and Space Mountain certainly are not diminishing in their appeal and Tower of Terror will likely remain a perennial favorite for years to come.

I think a balance can be met at Epcot between thrill and dark rides. Body Wars and Maelstrom worked well back in 1989 and neither came at the expense of an established dark ride.

Likewise, Soarin' is an attraction that will likely remain undiminished for quite some time; it's just unfortunate that its placement/theme was so poorly thought out and eexecuted.

Captain Schnemo said...

e82: Wow, Schnemo ... I don't know what to say! So, just, thanks!

No problem. I don't want Mr. Anonymous to feel like we're trying to shut him up or blow him off because he disagrees, I just want to him to clearly express his argument. It feels good (to me anyway) to be swayed by a previously unconsidered argument. It gives the brain some exercise, which is always a good thing. But there needs to be some meat on the bones.

As for the other issue, I agree that a little bit of thrill can perk up a good dark ride (even Pirates has a fun little waterfall). And it is true that Horizons, Spaceship Earth and World of Motion all took a similar take on different topics. Most original Future World pavilions followed the same basic pattern (start with the past, move on to the present, then offer a glimpse of the future), but those three presented a perhaps too-similar experience.

Test Track and Mission: Space are certainly different, but they go too far in the other direction and diminish the impact of Future World as a whole, by not providing much food for thought.

It will be interesting to see what they do with Spaceship Earth. I think that Epcot should have been "plussing" attractions all along, punching them up with new gimmicks and technology. If Horizons had been given periodic makeovers, it could have still been great attraction today.

Of course, there'd need to be some decent thought put into the changes, or we'd just get more singing birds and fish and whatnot.

Epcot82 said...

Very good point, Jeff, and I guess I'd say that it seems that if a ride has a great story hook (i.e., journey into deep space, sail with pirates, visit ghosts), it has a good chance to withstand the test of time.

Maelstrom, while incredibly creaky and in need of a good overhaul, does that. I don't think Body Wars ever really did, and found it didn't have nearly the repeatability (for me, at least) as Star Tours. I still haven't made up my mind about Soarin'. It's great for a rush, but it's the same scenes every time you ride, basically the exact same experience with very little new to discover, very few new sensations to have other than the rush. In that regard, I'm not 100% sure it will live on in 25 years.

We all seem to love Horizons (I don't know anyone who has said anything bad about it!), and that seems to be the perfect example of a "Disney experience" -- an attraction with great things to see, new things to discover every time, some real "heft" to it (in terms of scope and length) and the Disney storytelling expertise. To me, that actually IS sort of a "thrill" ride -- maybe not a white-knuckler, but nonetheless ...

Anyway, I'm rambling. Thanks for the thoughts.

Rough and Tumble Boy said...

To me, [Horizons] IS sort of a "thrill" ride

I never thought of it that way before, but you are absolutely right, epcot82! It was thrilling in it's own way, like the Grand Canyon. It took my breath away because of its scope and execution. It's the same thrill I feel in Spaceship Earth or when the Universe of Energy theater cars separate or Journey Into Imagination's original turntable/opening scene. Those things were/are thrilling to me (even back when I was a hormonal teenager). AND the whole family could enjoy them. I don't think my grandma is getting on Mission: Space any time soon...

E83 said...

Hey I love dark rides. Spaceship Earth is freaking classic, and I mourn the loss of Horizons.

You are right that Haunted Mansion and Peter pan are classics, but that is part of my point. The most attended park in the whole planet has many dark rides. It also has characters and roller coasters.

Why do I drop thousands on an annual WDW trip? To deepen family memories of the past, and to continue to add more of them now and for the future. Those memories include things I enjoy though the eyes of my kids (figment, peter pan ride) and things they have varying levels of appreciation for (like I once did) such as Spaceship Earth and Wheel of Progress.

All the WDW parks are supposed to enable that continuum. A good attraction like Soaring can be experienced by a 7 and 70 year old.

The challenge of Epcot is as they rebalance the park is not to turn it into a place with only extreme mission space for teens and mission space slides and ball pit for 5 year olds. That path leads to the dark side. Of course the other challenge is in creating attractions like that they loose the soul of Epcot (optimistic futurism edutainment).

Epcot82 said...

Rough & Tumble -- Isn't the Grand Canyon SO BORING? All you do is LOOK AT IT! Man, that's prime real estate for a roller coaster. ;-)

E83 ... please, please, please don't even SAY the words "ball pit." That's just going to give someone an idea. "Hey! You know what the kids would REALLY love ... ?!" Heh.

bluesky said...

I love the dialog on this site. I have a question for EPCOT82 and anyone else who is interested. Could you name 15 things that you would do to bring EPCOT back to its glory or even beyond? If so what would they be? I just bet that if you were to poll most of us geeks, we would all have very similar answers. I also bet that most of the changes would be low cost, high reward solutions. Making Horizons 2.0 and bringing Dreamfinder back won't be cheap, but Disney could please the majority of die hards without breaking the bank. Just a thought, perhaps for a future topic. P.S. Thanks for the link and keep up the good work!

Brian Place said...

bluesky: I started a pet project called 'Fixepcot.com' that is more focused on corrective measures for the current state of Epcot - you might take a quick look at it.

all: I keep coming back to this blog for the passionate arguments. I would like to point out that just because you have what look to be well-reasoned arguments on the surface does not make them correct; reading through Captain Schnemo's arguments in particular yields a lot of assumptions about "what people like." I don't know that we have that information here in any form of metric that is useful; I'd venture to say that Epcot is far more crowded in 2007 than it was in 1996 because of many of the "backwards" changes that were implemented. Just because we like & miss those attractions doesn't mean it even registers with the public. And at the root of this all is how well Epcot makes money.

Yes, you can talk about long-term good will and attractions that stand the test of time - but most executives don't stick around long enough for things to be proven true one way or another. How much money can we make NOW?

This is the unfortunate reality of the situation. Even so, we can attempt to put our ideas up there (as Epcot82 has done) and see if anyone bites. I put a list of "easy" things to fix and a list of "harder" things to fix on my website that'll help repair some of the "damage."

twirlnhurl said...

Leave A Legacy is scheduled for demolition!
http://officialrecords.occompt.com/wb_or1/details.asp?doc_id=28928473&file_num=20070305165&doc_status=S

Brian Place said...

Just the sales kiosks (the one under SSE around the mirrored column and the one off to the right of the entrance as you walk in.) It's a start though.

Captain Schnemo said...

bp: ...reading through Captain Schnemo's arguments in particular yields a lot of assumptions about "what people like."

I'm only tangentially discussing "what people like". I try to keep my arguments objective by basing them on the founding principles of Epcot, not what you might get from exit poll.

(Although it certainly seems like the vision thing has been replaced by exit polls. "Hulk want go fast!")

It is the default assumption of this site that the original Epcot was "better", so all discussion takes place within that context. From my point of view, this blog is more about identifying what went wrong as opposed to making the case that something has gone wrong.

It's easy to make the subjective statement that Epcot is now "worse", but explaining exactly what that means is the task at hand. Sure, singing fish don't feel right in Future World, but what's really wrong with them? How are they different from a singing Figment? What does the change from futuristic sea base to haven for cartoon fish say about the decisions being made?

It's more about analysis than anything else. You have to come to terms with what you believe went wrong before you can intelligently discuss the situation and make suggestions for improvements.

In my opinion, anyway.

The reality of the situation, of course, is that if profits are up, Disney couldn't give a damn about anything said here. They aren't really interested in "what people like" either, they simply want to maximize profit.

The great hurdle is translating our suggestions into a language the corporation will listen to, and I don't think we've gotten any closer to that. Still, if you don't identify the problem, you won't have anything to say in the extremely unlikely event that you ever get the ear of someone willing to listen.

I'm only slightly interested in "little fixes". Nothing little can fix singing fish. The problems, as I see them, with Epcot are too fundamental to be fixed by changing names, fonts, and icons, or removing the wand. Although all those things would certainly be nice.

Anonymous said...

This was posted on Mr. Jeff Pepper's site 2719 Hyperion:

The Original EPCOT Character Connections

Ah, characters in Epcot; the debate rages on . . .

Despite being initially and intentionally void of traditional Disney personalities when it opened in 1982, EPCOT Center was in fact never without characters. While most folks are quick to associate Figment (pictured above with pal Dreamfinder in an early postcard illustration) with Disney World’s second gate, there have certainly been a number of other animated characters, both traditional and animatronic (and sometimes even both) who over the years have called Epcot home.

Just for fun, a quick roll call of some of Epcot’s other animated denizens, both past and present:

The cast of Kitchen Kaberet, the Land pavilion’s audio-animatronic floor show that debuted with the park in 1982. It evolved into Food Rocks in 1994, but was then removed completely to make room for Soarin’ in 2005. It’s stars included host Bonnie Appetit who was joined by fellow performers Mr. Dairy Good and the Stars of the Milky Way, the Boogie Woogie Bak’ry Boy, the Cereal Sisters (Mairzy Oats, Rennie Rice, and Connie Corn), the Fiesta Fruit, and Mr. Hamm and Mr. Eggz. Among the Food Rocks incarnations were Fud Rapper, the Peach Boys, Neil Moussaka, Chubby Cheddar and the Get-the-Point Sisters.

Not quite gone and certainly not forgotten are the characters featured in Cranium Command. The Wonders of Life pavilion currently sits sadly without activity behind a row of potted plants, denying access to the broad and colorful characters of General Knowledge and Buzzy. Like Figment, Buzzy was also brought to life in both cartoon and animatronic representations.

While not as readily apparent as other early Future World characters, there were a few animated characters that resided in the Seas pavilion long before Nemo and friends swam in and took up residence. The talking submersible Jason existed in animatronic form, while mythological character Atlas starred in the 7 ½ minute cartoon The Animated Atlas of the World. In another cartoon film, Suited for the Sea, two unnamed fish explained the history of the diving suit.

Scattered across other Future World post-shows and exhibits were the likes of Bird and Robot at World of Motion’s Transcenter, SMRT-1 at Communicore, I/O from Backstage Magic and mini-robot Tom Morrow at Innoventions.

There have ALWAYS been characters at EPCOT. The ones we have now are just different characters trying to do the same thing: entertain and educate.

-Mickey

Brian Place said...

capt. schnemo: I listed the big fixes at fixepcot.com, too. :)

I think the analysis & commentary is very useful - what exactly are we trying to fix anyhow? But my gut feeling is that a passing Disney Exec would be more interested in short, sweet, executive-level summaries of things that need to be fixed - Epcot82 has done that a few times; I'm trying to carry that theme over to the fixepcot site.

Captain Schnemo said...

It's a real shame that it's come down to the customers coming up with their own lists of fixes, especially when some of them shouldn't even have to be mentioned (eg, clean this, repair that). It all comes back to the same problem of Disney refusing to take themselves seriously or pay any respect to the founding principles of their parks.

Also, anonymous, no one said Epcot never had characters, but the obvious point the original author of that article missed is that the characters were not previously existing movie tie-ins, but original creations that helped make Epcot a truly unique park.

For example, in what way is the Nemo ride different from something you'd expect to see in Fantasyland? When there's no difference between Fantasyland and Future World, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Jeff Pepper said...

With all do respect Captain, I didn't "miss" anything. When reprinting my words, anonymous failed to include the final paragraph of the article:

"And please folks, this post was not meant to re-engage the Epcot character debate. My intention was solely to revisit some earlier EPCOT nostalgia and continue our celebration of EPCOT's 25th."

While I did open the article with a reference to the character debate, it was meant purely as tongue-in-cheek introduction to the subject.

Captain Schnemo said...

Ah, OK...sorry about that. Score another one for the anonymice rabblerousers. My buttons were quite successfully pushed.

E83 said...

Just thought I’d throw a theory out.

I reasoned in my last post that Epcot has changed to vary the experiences from mostly dark rides. The fact that most of these changes strayed from optimistic futurism and the spirit of Epcot, is unfortunate and a poor implementation on WDI’s part.

I also thought the changes were a nod to demographics (coasters and characters), but I did not explain this fully: I BELIVE THE AVERAGE VISITOR IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT THAN IN 1982.

Here are a few anecdotes:

1. The “credit card generation” I know a family that took out a 401K loan to take their 4 year old to WDW. My parent’s generation would not take that trip, period. Back then you saved multiple years for WDW. Maybe you would only go one time, so why waste thousands for a toddler that won’t remember the trip.

2.”The new Grandparent vacation”. Travel Chanel interviewed a VP from Royal Caribbean who said their demographics have changed dramatically. Cruising was a “no kids” experience that was dominated by older couples. Now those couples are bringing the whole family. Check out the DVC video and you’ll see this phenomenon applies to WDW.

3. “The young shall inherit the earth”. And they will get it younger these days it seems. I’m not going to make a right or wrong editorial about this. I’m just saying that parents seem to spend more and more on their kids. In a world were 7 year olds travel the State for baseball games, is taking a 3 year old to the Princess breakfast indulgent anymore?

4. “Don’t Miss out on the Year of a Million Dreams”, and the other celebrations they have been running for about 7 years now. The message is clear in the land of the Jones, “everyone is going, aren’t you?” An equally important message is that each of these celebrations is a limited time event. WDW used to be a park that was there and would be there 5 years later. Now you only have one year (actually it’s an 18 month celebration) to experience all the special events with Epcot’s 25…..what?…that’s not a celebration? Son of a ……….

So my theory is that WDW is catering to a younger family, which is no longer waiting for their youngest to hit a certain age. When mostly ages 8-16 roamed WDW, Epcot version 82 was fine. Now, the kids need Nemo.

dean said...

Although Jeff's posting at his website was more a nostalgic appreciation of the early EPCOT Center characters, it's goes a long way to illustrate that original characters can be created for Disney parks that can be just as fun and engaging as the all-time popular ones. Although some characters such as Figment were meant to be the stars of their attractions, there were many who provided a good supporting cast in the park -- a cast that was intended to compliment the offerings of the park and provide a softer, friendlier approach to the technical themes presented. In other words, there was a sensible approach to their use and it's a shame that many are now gone.

I'm personally not against the use of such characters in Epcot, but what does bother me is the way that some are currently being introduced. With regards to the Nemo characters being introduced into the Seas pavilion, I realize that they provide a friendlier and more engaging presentation on a daunting vast subject such as the seas. I really felt that a wonderful ride-thru attraction could have been built that took us on an amazing journey through our planet's oceans, all under the comforting guidance of Mr. Ray and accompanied by the incredible musical score of Finding Nemo. Instead we have been given a Fantasyland-style rehash of the story only worthy of a child's peak-a-boo book. Other offerings such as Princess Breakfast's in Norway and a Mickey Mouse theme to the central store in the park are just outright bad decisions placed there purely for market-driven reasons.

Geoffrey said...

It is about time that EPCOT got a new start. Hopefully this new leader will finally lead EPCOT into a future worthy of EPCOT's original inseption, and vision.

I have been away for quite awhile, I am mainly tied up in work, hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to travel down to EPCOT and enjoy it once again, as well as experience some of the new changes that have been made to EPCOT.

Epcot82 said...

Great comments, everyone, and thanks for all of them. I was out of the country unexpectedly for about 12 days and had no chance to write. Thanks for continuing to read.

E83 -- great observations on the changing demographic at WDW. I think you hit it spot on, though I'd personally argue that makes a more thoughtful, more compelling EPCOT all the more necessary. Perhaps Disney should consider adding a Personal Finance pavilion, too? ;-) If someone takes out a 401(k) loan to take a 4-year-old to Disney World, they get what's coming to 'em.