Wednesday, January 30, 2008
A Smell of Orange
For reasons not entirely clear to me, traffic to EPCOT Central has increased by about 65% in the last three days, compared with average daily traffic. To those of you who are new to EPCOT Central, welcome. To those who are simply reading with more frequency, thank you!
Also increasing is the amount of mail, both positive and negative. The negative responses generally follow the same outline: They come from "ghost" addresses that can't be replied to, they take issue with the tone of EPCOT Central; they feel The Walt Disney Company's management, particularly Jay Rasulo and his team, are doing a phenomenal job; they believe EPCOT Center was a disaster and that only by turning it into "Epcot" has Disney been able to save a monumental blunder.
Likewise, they believe that EPCOT Central wants to turn Disney theme parks "into a museum." Well, anyone who has read more than one or two EPCOT Central posts knows that's not this blog's intention; no one would be more disappointed to find that a Disney theme park hadn't changed in 20 years than me. But the "change is good" mantra isn't always true. Not all change is good. Don't tell me you like being 20 pounds heavier than you were in high school, that you like losing a job or learning of the death of a loved one, that you enjoy the nation's economic recession. No, not all change is good. Just ask anyone who's been watching the downard trajectory of DIS lately.
But some changes are, and those should be celebrated. And EPCOT Central does celebrate them when they are genuinely for the better.
If you don't see a lot of celebration in these changes, maybe that tells you something of the way EPCOT Central regards the changes made in the past 10 or so years. Then again, for instance, changes to The Land have mostly been for the better. And even though it ain't no Horizon, my stance on Mission: Space has softened. A lot.
But it always comes back to oranges.
Watching the Horizons videos (which you can find by scrolling down a bit) reminds me of what Disney used to do so right, what used to work so well before the financial mindset crept in that each and every attraction was somehow a "mini-profit center" in and of itself.
From the 1960s to the mid-1990s, Disney wanted first and foremost to get the experience right, to have a guest emerge from a Disney attraction with a possibly unspoken, but monumentally important, feeling that no one except Disney could do it like this.
Horizons certainly gave us that feeling, and at no place in the expansive ride was it more evident than the orange-grove scene. For that one moment, we were completely transported to another place, where something unusual and beyond our limited scope of imagining was taking place ... and we could smell it, too. The illusion was complete.
Horizons took us in a three-dimensional way to a place we could never go ourselves, and then took the time, took the care, took the effort to wait until we were in exactly the right position, in just the right place, to give us that orange scent.
Sure, it was a cheap effect. It probably wasn't all that complex to do (though it did take some thinking to figure out how to make that scent also go away). But it worked.
It worked in a way that it doesn't quite work on Soarin', where the film-based component doesn't quite make you feel as engaged. (Yes, I know, this is totally subjective, and while I love Soarin', it never quite connects with me the way a ride-through does.) It worked in a way that is sorely lacking in Mission: Space or Test Track, where the thrills are from adrenaline, not from the excitement of seeing something unexpected.
More than that, every time a smell an orange, I'm transported back to that moment, even though the ride has been closed for years. I remember that scene, I remember the feel of being next to my family or friends in that car, in that building, on that ride, at that park. That smell brings a little thrill to my heart every time I encounter it.
I smelled oranges millions of times before "Horizons," and I've smelled oranges millions of times since. Yet that one moment made a memory that lasts a lifetime.
That's the business Disney and EPCOT Center used to be in: lifetime-long memories.
Not 10-second thrills.