Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Being Unique

It's tough to be unique.

The computer nerd in high school will tell you that. So will the tuba player in the band and the editor of the newspaper. No doubt the goth girl with heavy pancake makeup would agree. What sets them apart, though, is ultimately what makes them successful. The world has many suntanned, blonde cheerleaders and handsome homecoming kings. There are few who are brave enough to stand apart and remain resolutely themselves.

What does that little diatribe have to do with Epcot?

Well, consider that there are many theme parks in the world. Some of them have rides with heavy theming and intricate stories, just as Disney does. Others focus on thrill rides and exciting a teen crowd. Still others are old-fashioned and offer simple midway rides that are pleasant diversions.

Many theme parks today try to emulate what's found in classic Magic Kingdom-style parks, and in so doing, the best of them truly do rival Disney parks.

But there's only one Epcot.

No one has been brave (or daft) enough to attempt to build a park that entertains and educates, that explores the world and our place in it, that as its mission seeks to inspire visitors.

Epcot is wholly unique. It is like no place else in the world. Problem is, even Disney doesn't understand what Epcot is. When it was EPCOT Center, the park seemed almost proud to be so nerdy: When everyone else was building taller, faster thrill rides, EPCOT Center was unveiling The Living Seas or Horizons. When others were catering to teenagers and locals, EPCOT Center was trying to draw in the whole family, trying to get them to learn and explore together.

It was a tough concept, and still is. It runs contrary to every accepted notion of what mass entertainment should be. But instead of continuing to embrace it, Disney ultimately became scared of it.

Today's Epcot still retains traces of what once made it unlike anything else anyone could experience anywhere -- but has increasingly become Disneyfied and thrillified. It works from the "lowest common denominator" concept, trying to please everyone. And, as so many high schoolers can tell you, the minute you do that, you lose your identity. You lose sight of your goals. You become like everyone else, and, frankly, others are better at being "that way" than you are.

Epcot's new crop of designers should really examine whether they want to embrace the truly wondrous and inspiring concepts behind the park and revel in the fact that it is wholly unique. If they're not willing to do that, in 10 years, Epcot will just be another mish-mash of thrill rides and restaurants. Expensive, highly themed and impressive, to be sure -- but, in the end, just like everyone else.

For something that started with such ambition, that's a very sad place to be at 25.


Matt Arnold said...

Epcot Center is unique among world fairs in that it's intended to remain open permanently. But its spirit is certainly recognizable in most modern world fairs such as EXP 2005 Aichi Japan. This similarity exists at least to the same degree that competing parks are similar to the other Disney Parks.

Scott M. Curran said...

First, I'd like to start by saying that I was thrilled to see this blog. As a long time Disney fan and amateur Disney historian who is very much interested in Walt's vision for his company, parks, etc., I am glad to see blogs like this and Re-Imagineering that seek to prompt a discussion about returning to the days of uparalleled Disney creativity and quality.

That having been said, I agree that Epcot is one of the new Imagineering crew's biggest challenges. As somoeone who has visited all of the Florida parks multiple times over the years, I can say that I have always enjoyed Epcot but agree that it needs to define its identity for the 21st century. This will require the decision makers to make some difficult calls and endure the growing pains that go with them.

My humble opinion is that it should remain true to its roots and focus on showcasing the future of technology and the modern-day research that seeks to make our world a better place. Such a mission will keep Epcot relevant as American society is increasingly seeking to find alternatives to fossil fuels, to address global climate change and to find ways to become more technologically advanced while maintaining a commitment to social responsibility.

Thrill rides are fun and good to hook the kids into the park, but the backbone has been and should remain educating visitors in an interactive, fun and dynamic way. Otherwise, Epcot risks losing its identity and becoming just another park full of rides.

I'm looking forward to the future of this blog. Thanks for putting it out there!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Ooo, what was the deleted comment? Intriguing! (Spam, I'll bet.)