Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Energy boost

What is to become of the Universe of Energy?

A rumor circulating on Miceage.com says the pavilion – one of Epcot’s original opening attractions – may soon go the way of Horizons and the World of Motion, leaving Epcot’s east side as thrill-ride central.

How disheartening.

Rumors among Disney cast members have an impressive rate of veracity, and if this one is indeed true, it’s another sad day for those of us who love what Epcot used to be.

The dedication plaque at Epcot sets forth the park’s vision clearly:

“EPCOT is inspired by Walt Disney's creative vision. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.

May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.”

Now, I love roller coasters – I really, honestly do. Even though it’s an ugly ride with no imagination or thought put into it, I think Mulholland Madness at Disney’s California Adventure is a heck of a lot of fun. Every so often, I get the urge to go to Magic Mountain in Southern California and have the bejabbers scared out of me on one of their steel contraptions of torture and fear.

Put a pretty ribbon on a roller coaster, though, and it’s still a roller coaster. No one would argue that Space Mountain is the height of storytelling-based attraction design. Put expensive wrapping paper on a centrifuge, and whether you call it Spin-Out or Gravitron or Mission: Space, it’s still a centrifuge. Put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.

Have you ever heard anyone speak in happy, nostalgic tones about a Tilt-a-Whirl? The same kind of tone they use when talking about experiencing Spaceship Earth or the Universe of Energy or even It’s a Small World? You don’t hear people saying, “Oh, I remember the shine of those tin cars and the smell of the vomit as we whirled around.”

Not the way they say, “Remember the dinosaurs? Remember looking at the Earth like you were on the moon?”

Replacing the Universe of Energy with a thrill-based attraction, no matter how elaborate, is further admitting defeat, acknowledging that Imagineers no longer can be visionary or bold with their ideas, accepting that MBAs and marketing analysts run Disney and from hereon out always will.

A challenge to Imagineering: If you must replace the Universe of Energy – and I admit Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy have long overstayed their welcome – do it in a way that pays tribute to what Epcot should be, not what it has become. Remind yourselves of that plaque that greets every visitor to the park: entertain, inform and inspire.

In the early 21st century, there are few topics as urgent, as compelling, as meaningful as the future of energy. It’s a topic that encompasses nuclear energy, solar energy, hybrid engines and hydrogen power. Encourage Disney’s “corporate alliances” department to approach companies exploring alternative energy concepts rather than asking Big Oil to re-up their sponsorship.

Move confidently in the direction of the dreams of the Imagineers who designed Epcot. Apply the technology of today to the storytelling expertise they perfected and thrill our minds and hearts … not just our nervous systems.


Anonymous said...

I am in love with your blog. As a geeky kid of about the same vintage as EPCOT (b. 1983), I will always remember the extraordinary impression it made on me. It's indelible... myself at age 5 or so, standing under the original (unmolested) geosphere with a Figment hat on... the Florida sun having shrunk away into darkness, leaving only a dark, sticky Southern breeze... looking up at the kaleidoscopic play of light on those triangular forms... feeling that the world was a beautiful place, bursting with possibilities.

This was perhaps not the characteristic mood of the eighties for most people. But that's how I'll remember it, thanks to the reverberating genius of Walt, channeled by the talented and ambitious Imagineering team of the 1970's. Disney fans (at least the theme-park fans...) really ought to reevaluate the accomplishments of the Card Walker era.

Sure, it was never Walt's EPCOT, but at least it tried to stay true to his spirit. Just imagine for a moment if the project had been undertaken in the late Eisner period, with all the ambition and taste of DCA or Disney Studios Paris.

All that bombast said... I was never a fan of Universe of Energy, for a number of reasons. Dinosaurs are played-out in theme parks, Ellen and Nye did a good job but are ultimately pop-culture driftwood, and the corporate propaganda is more problematic than that of maybe any other attraction... so you're right, now's a better time than ever for a proper redo. Not holding my breath.

It will be hard to muster much outrage on its behalf, relative to the detruction of Horizons, Imagination, and World of Motion. Those rides were f**king great. It kills me that Future World opened with, what, 8 dark rides and now has like 2?

The best thing Iger and Lasseter could do to restore my faith overall would be to revitalize the tradition of high-throughput, AA-heavy attractions that made Disney parks what they are. Do they ever wonder why people still flock to Haunted Mansion and Pirates? Because I sure wonder why they haven't followed up with anything comparable in the 35-40 years since those opened.

OK, I'm really done now. Keep fighting the good fight!

Anonymous said...

"Replacing the Universe of Energy with a thrill-based attraction, no matter how elaborate, is further admitting defeat, acknowledging that Imagineers no longer can be visionary or bold with their ideas, accepting that MBAs and marketing analysts run Disney and from hereon out always will."

Perhaps some of the greatest words written about today's Epcot to be posted on the Internet.

You "get it," and I am absolutely thrilled.

Future World has two thrill rides on that side of the park. The energy crisis is one of the greatest, and it cannot be ignored by a thrill ride or a Monsters Inc. presentation.

We need something that will actually inspire children - unlike Mission Space or Test Track - to solve this energy problem we've gotten ourselves into. . .

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