Longtime readers know that there's a difference of opinion among some EPCOT Central followers -- while some believe the views expressed here are constructive thoughts reflecting on how EPCOT could be even better than it is, others take the perspective that EPCOT Central complains too much and wishes EPCOT had never evolved. You can guess which camp I fall into. But with a nod to those on the other side, they'll have plenty to carp about with this one -- because it's EPCOT Central's view that the attraction that is most ineffective is also the one that recently got the biggest makeover:
The Seas With Nemo and Friends.
Even before experiencing the "new" Seas pavilion, this makeover seemed wrong-headed ... and now, having been through the attraction several times since its reincarnation, EPCOT Central believes it to be one of the absolute worst things that's ever happened to EPCOT.
The key lies in that word "attraction," because when they re-thought the Seas pavilion, EPCOT Imagineers took a multi-layered, though unfortunately never fully evolved, experience and turned it into ... a ride.
They went so far as to change the name of the pavilion from the evocative and far-reaching "The Living Seas" to "The Seas With Nemo and Friends," emphasizing that there's a ride, and there's a show with Crush, and the rest ... well, the rest doesn't much matter.
Contrast that with the classic, stirring, thought-provoking pre-show film that used to dramatically introduce guests to The Living Seas, and the problem is apparent.
The wonders that fill the depths of three-fourths of our planet aren't of any concern anymore; the only thing that matters it that 6-year-old kids get to shout out, "There's Dory!" The world around us is meaningless compared with a Pixar character.
The biggest shame is that there's so much to explore. As the pre-show used to remind us, we've spent less time at the bottom of the sea than we have on the surface of the moon. Getting five miles down is infinitely more complex than going 238,000 miles up. There are mysteries we can barely fathom, and one word from that pre-show film evokes more memories of how much more stirring EPCOT Center was than Epcot: "chemosynthesis." Huh? What? What does that mean? How do living creatures do that? And were the oceans really formed by "the deluge"? (Most scientists agree: Yes. How extraordinary!)
After hearing an absolutely stunning narrator encourage us to open our minds to the possibility of life under the surface of the water, we had a chance to "descend" below the waves ourselves in a "hydrolator," then ride through the incredible sights of undersea life, before using our own sense of discovery to learn from real, live people about the animals, plants and creatures that share our world.
There can be absolutely no doubt: The seacab "ride" was a failure from the start. It didn't go much of anywhere, held no excitement other than seeing a man-made coral reef. And because there was no context to what we were seeing (no signs, no narration, telling us about the engineering, creative or technological achievement of what we were looking at), there was little to engage guests. And holding that disappointing sense of, "Is that all this is?" they were dumped into a massive museum-like display area that many guests had trouble navigating.
Obviously, there were problems with The Living Seas -- no matter how compelling, exciting and wonderful many (but not enough) guests thought it may have been.
But the cure proved to be worse than the disease.
Today's audiences ride silly, clam-shaped vehicles past a series of screens onto which cartoons are projected. There's as much science and connection to the wonders of the oceans as Space Mountain has to the history and science of actual space travel. (Space Mountain actually offers some pictures of real nebulae in the queue area.) Disney has literally stripped the pavilion of any attempt to inspire, educate or inform -- and now more than ever, guests simply breeze past the old "Seabase Alpha" and either leave altogether or head to Turtle Talk to see more digital animation that distracts from the reality of ocean life. Yes, there are still some displays in the old Seabase Alpha, but fewer than before, with fewer cast members to answer questions and less depth to the overall experience.
Basically, it's just a cartoon, one that would be more at home in the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland than EPCOT.
Frankly, it's not a particularly well-done ride, either. Instead of Disney's classic Audio-Animatronic figures, guests see projections of cartoons. During a couple of portions, to add insult to injury, cartoons are projected onto the glass tank to make it appear the cute, computerized fish are "in" the water. Once again, the message is clear: Don't wonder about the amazing things in the world around you, just enjoy the cute Disney characters.
The change from The Living Seas to The Seas With Nemo and Friends has been disastrous.
And it speaks volumes about the frustrating, troubling message that Disney increasingly sends to youngsters: If some element of your life can't be commercialized and branded with the "Disney" name, it doesn't matter.
The Living Seas was a disappointment. The Seas With Nemo and Friends is a failure, pure and simple.