Tuesday, April 28, 2009

D23 Explores EPCOT

EPCOT Central has admittedly been tough on the D23 concept. But it seems that the managers of the Disney fan club are trying to listen to feedback -- undoubtedly, not an easy thing to do given Disney's "brand management" inclination to appeal to the masses, even at the expense of passionate fans.

Today, the Disney D23 website features a look back at the opening of EPCOT Center. While not timed to any specific anniversary or event, and seemingly a bit random in its appearance, the D23 article provides some terrific images from early EPCOT.

No, it's not in-depth and it covers ground virtually ever Disney fan already knows. But it's a start, and digging up David Brinkley's quote about EPCOT's achievement is a nice touch. The more EPCOT Central sees of D23, the more it seems it's worth at least giving the benefit of the doubt. Disney's trying, and that says something.

Check out the article and the D23 website (open to all, not just members) by clicking here. It's nice, certainly, to see Disney officially refer to "EPCOT Center." Fingers crossed, perhaps D23 will give us more insight into the future of EPCOT and rare imagery from its glory days in the coming months.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

More Disney Than Disney

MiceAge today features a terrific article that looks at some of the plans Disneyland in Anaheim has in store for the summer season. Featured in this article is a look back at a decades-old advertisement for Disneyland's summer season (the ad is shown here, and you can find more at Miehana's photostream on Flickr).

What's rather disarming about this ad is its absolute lack of any Disney characters or reference to "Disney-style" entertainment. There's no mention of Disneyland being "magical." Check out the stylized caricatures of park guests. Notice anything? No children.

The ad is 50 years old, but represents perhaps more canny, sophisticated marketing than is evident today. Disneyland didn't need "Disney" to sell it. The concept was enough. Disneyland was a special place, filled with wonder and excitement. Dixieland music, pop bands, riverboats, Tahitian fire dancers, a speeding Monorail ... there's something for everyone at Disneyland. And despite the fact that 1959 was the year of Sleeping Beauty and The Shaggy Dog, there's no effort to sell Disneyland based on these entertainments (or any other Disney movie). "Disneyland" was all you needed to know.

What does any of this have to do with EPCOT?

Well, consider how little faith Disney has in the very concept of EPCOT or, it's seeming these days, in the concept of a theme park in general. More than half a century has passed since Disneyland opened, yet today Disney is unable to market its parks on anything other than its "synergized" entertainment creations or the increasingly tired concept of "Disney magic." Yes, we all know it's "magical" for little girls to dress up as a princess and romp around a Disney theme park (less magical, perhaps, for the parent, whose wallet is suddenly hundreds of dollars lighter), but is this really the only way to sell Disney's theme parks?

EPCOT has the distinct advantage -- or, depending on how you look at it, disadvantage -- of being unlike any other Disney park. There never have been any easy, built-in opportunities for Mickey and his animated gang to invade the park, which is why even thematically driven efforts like The Seas With Nemo and Friends still feel, at best, uncomfortable. They're not rooted in storytelling, they're rooted in a marketing mindset that fails to understand one basic concept:

"Disney" doesn't just mean "magic."

As Disney's more-sophisticated-than-they-might-have-seemed marketers from the 1950s knew, Disneyland was about a lot more than flying elephants and seven dwarfs and tuxedo-clad mice. It could be many things to many different people.

It's probably one of the very reasons you (yes, you, whoever you may be) are reading this. At whatever impressionable age you were first exposed to Disney marketing, it didn't pander to you and make you feel that the only way to show your love for Disney was to dress up and have character breakfasts. It appealed to your imagination. It promised you wonders you had never before seen.

That was the simple beauty of EPCOT Center. Many longtime EPCOT enthusiasts were hooked from the moment we were promised a glimpse into our future. It had nothing to do with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck or wishing upon a star. It had to do with tapping in to our not-so-hidden desire to live outside of ourselves, to imagine a world filled with opportunities and untold ambition. In its inherent promise of something extraordinary and wonderful, it became more Disney than Disney.

In its own way, 50 years ago, Disneyland's simple little newspaper advertisement did the same. By not leaning on "Disney," but rather focusing on the wonderful things the park offered, it was more effective at setting a tone than the entire, multi-million-dollar "What Will You Celebrate" campaign that's underway now around the world. Disneyland could take you to distant places, on exotic adventures ... but was as close as the Santa Ana Freeway at Harbor Boulevard.

Disneyland was unlike any other place imaginable. More than any movie or character or other creation of Uncle Walt or his artists, the park defined "Disney" simply by the enormity of its promise.
The same holds true for EPCOT. As Disney continues to struggle with how to bring more "Disney" to the park, its marketing managers would do well to take a look through the company's own history. The late 1950s and early 1960s were when Disneyland made its indelible mark on America and the entertainment industry. Ads as simple as these little guys were more effective in cementing the concept of Disneyland as "special" than all the pixie dust in the world.

So, why continue to shoehorn Kim Possible and the Three Caballeros and Finding Nemo and (no doubt, in the future) other Pixar and Disney "brands" into EPCOT? Why not focus instead on what sets EPCOT apart, makes it unlike any other place on the planet?

EPCOT once promised the dawn of a new Disney era, not just another place to meet "magical" characters. It's that promise and allure of something impossible to find anywhere else that once set Disneyland apart. Imagine what that mindset could accomplish today.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

On the Horizon

When spring comes around, the sun stays out longer, the weather gets warmer and some of us start longing for the simple joys of life -- like EPCOT Center's unforgettable Horizons. If you're one of those unabashed nostalgia nuts, check out this cool site from EPCOT Central reader Shane. It's a great little trip back through time!