To all who come to this place of thought, expression, ideas and dreams, welcome. EPCOT Central is yours. I hope you will continue to speak your mind here, and to share in the dream that Disney will someday regain its appreciation of this most unique, daring theme park.
As daring as EPCOT Center was when it opened, 25 years ago, it dared even further with the opening of Horizons. The massive, single-ride pavilion, originally sponsored by GE, made a declaration that, sadly, The Walt Disney Company would prove itself unable or unwilling to realize: “If we can dream it, then we can do it.”
It’s unlikely that, in January 1999, executives at Disney realized just how wrong they would be in assuming that Horizons was antiquated and needed to be replaced. Certainly, they could never have anticipated the outpouring of emotion and nostalgia that so many feel for the attraction.
In many ways, Horizons represented the pinnacle of Walt Disney Imagineering. It boasted a large number of Audio-Animatronics figures, a theme-park innovation that no other company (sadly, including today’s Disney) was ever able to replicated. It offered guests an immersive experience that transported them out of their worlds and, briefly, into another. It improved on an existing ride system and increased capacity, so that while by today’s standards its hourly intake was relatively low (I’ve read about 700 an hour), there was rarely a wait, and the experience felt seamless to most guests. It blended humor, music, nostalgia, optimism, futurism, hope and even smells into a ride unlike any other, before or since.
Its unique “immersion” into “the promise of brighter days” may have left some guests cold, no doubt, but for many others, it offered the glimpse of a world in which, true, we might not all actually wear jumpsuits, but in which we had a chance to know and understand more about our life. It told us we had choices, and each was rife with possibility.
Horizons was markedly un-ironic, and it could not exist in a company that seems to believe post-modern irony is what makes its guests chuckle. No, it wasn’t markedly un-ironic – it was gloriously un-ironic.
Allegedly, Horizons fell victim to a sinkhole that mysteriously appeared a few years after GE failed to renew its sponsorship. How GE, or any other company, was supposed to re-invest in a concept that Disney itself appeared to have lost faith in is something I can’t explain. The “official version” aside (sinkhole, no sponsorship, guest surveys), it’s hard to accept any reason for Horizon’s fate than this: Disney didn’t believe in its basic message. No one understood it, and as Horizons lost its lease on life, so did EPCOT Center’s original theme.
I like to believe that the (Disney) world will be a better place someday. Soon, I hope. Because instead of new horizons, it’s increasingly showing us very limited horizons that look awfully like the world we live in now, filled with glitz and flash, but little substance, and, frankly, very little hope or optimism.