Engaging younger visitors has always been a perceived problem with Epcot. Based on the number of strollers, toddlers and harried parents that can be seen wandering through Future World and World Showcase on any given day, it's questionable whether it's really an issue -- but, for, oh, the last 27 years or so, Disney has been more or less convinced that Epcot simply doesn't hold appeal to guests who are younger than the legal drinking age.
Mickey & Co. in futuristic and culture-appropriate garb, "The Seas With Nemo and Friends," "Gran Fiesta" at Mexico, Epcot Character Spot, constant re-jiggering of Imagination, the addition of Test Track and Mission: Space -- all of these projects have been undertaken, to at least some degree, because Disney decided that Epcot and kids don't mix.
It's almost an urban legend, Disney's version of the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world: It doesn't matter if it's true, Disney management believes it to be the case, and they'd doubtlessly pull out piles of polling data to "prove" it.
One of the latest attempts to fix this alleged problem is the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, which mixes rudimentary smart-phone technology with a scavenger hunt. And here's the huge surprise:
It's not bad.
It's actually Kimpossibly close to being good enough to suck in adult players.
The premise is simple -- using "Kimmunicator" devices (aka Motorola cell phones), guests will receive clues to help them solve a mystery taking place throughout World Showcase. Clues pop up on the phone, and when each clue/puzzle is successfully solved, the device sends participants racing off to the next location.
Getting guests to engage with World Showcase is a brilliant idea, and it's great to encourage youngsters to learn a little bit about what they're seeing rather than just pull on mom or dad's hand and say, "Come oooonnn, let's gooooo." Epcot as a whole is filled with fascinating details just waiting to be discovered, but this is particularly true in World Showcase.
There's a lot that's right about the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. So here's a question: How come every single "recruitment" center stood virtually empty all day? Why do guests either not know about this entertainment option or seem resistant to it? In short, why (at least from the perspective of an observer) does it not seem to be working?
A thought: "Kim Possible" the series certainly had a fan base for a while, but the show barely airs anymore, and new episodes haven't been produced since 2007. "Kim Possible" was no doubt a success, but not one that had major brand recognition outside of Disney Channel-aged guests. In short, she's a minor "Disney character" at best, with dwindling appeal. And since she's "girl-focused," younger boys are less likely to want to engage with the "Kim Possible" brand. (It shouldn't be this way, but, sadly, this gender bias is impossible to deny.)
So, here's another thought:
Keep the World Showcase Adventure, and dump "Kim Possible."
Like "Nemo," "Gran Fiesta" and Eric Idle in Imagination, it's just unnecessary. Kids are not stupid, and they don't enjoy pandering. Adults think it's what kids want ... but most really, desperately, just want to be treated like little adults. They want to see and experience and discover things for themselves. Are there a large number of pre-teen girls who suffer terrible ennui and spend their Epcot touring time texting friends back home? Yup, and they're still going to do that, no matter what. Making sure they're engaged isn't the purpose of Epcot -- it's to reward those millions of young visitors who come to the park with a spirit of adventure, open to experiencing and learning new things. They really, really do exist, but as long as the long-suffering, pre-adolescent teenage girl is held up as the model of Epcot's biggest "audience problem," it's easy to ignore the guests who really want to be there.
"Kim Possible," with all due respect to its talented creators, has seen its day. Its popularity has crested and waned, and even while it has, Epcot remains. It still receives tens of millions of visitors. It remains successful and popular. So, stick with the brand that has the longer staying power.
A revised, Kim-less World Showcase Adventure, properly marketed as an enhancement to an Epcot visit, could be a fantastic way to make Epcot feel new again, even to longtime visitors. As any fan of CBS's "The Amazing Race" knows, traveling around the globe is a not-so-secret desire of a great many people. Epcot has always offered a manufactured, safe version of this fantasy wish-fulfillment, and adding a new element of excitement through a revised World Showcase Adventure could be just the shot in the arm Epcot needs.
Disney's theme-park management just has to trust that Epcot is a strong enough, exciting enough brand on its own. It doesn't need -- never has -- cartoons and Disney characters and animated teenage spies to make it interesting. It offers the world and the future, and there aren't many more exciting themes than that.
So, keep the technology-driven World Showcase Adventure. Offer a "youth" version, an "adult" version and a "family" version. Keep the guest engaged. Keep them guessing. Enrich their visits with a new sense of discovery, fun and revelation. Get them to talk to cast members, find new corners of World Showcase, and learn about the cultures they are seeing represented. Encourage them to explore.
But dump the kid spy. By doing so, you may see lines at the "Recruitment Centers," not cast members who look like they're desperate to get someone, anyone to try it out.