Friday, June 09, 2006

Bold. Exciting. Fun. Forgotten.

When I was 11 years old, this was the image that hooked me.

It wasn't the conceptual drawing of Spaceship Earth or of a space pavilion or a ride through the human body -- it was this strangely moody rendering of a "Rhine River Cruise" ride that appeared in the Walt Disney Productions Annual Report circa 1976 that got me hooked on EPCOT Center.

It seemed so strangely exotic, it seemed so adventurous, it seemed so perfectly in keeping with the Disney theme-park attractions I had come to love like The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Adventures Thru Inner Space: a ride that would take you somewhere you had never been, and that would show you sights that your little 12-year-old mind could hardly comprehend:

Boats wait to be boarded across the river from a darkened German village at twilight. Large mountains loom in the backround -- the Alps, perhaps? A child implores her mother to hurry to the ride, and the mind reels -- what exotic adventures await? Please let us see!

EPCOT Center was going to be more than words could possibly describe. It was going to be the most wonderful place that ever existed.

For a while, it came pretty close.

Whatever happened to bold Imagineering concepts like this one, or the Japanese bullet train, or the immense Space pavilion? Jim Hill Media has a wonderful article about the Epcot that could have been -- well worth checking out and exploring at great length.

As for the Epcot that is ...

I just read a reader comment that El Rio del Tiempo is going to become El Rio de los Cartoons thanks to a renovation that will incorporate The Three Caballeros.

Now, many of you are right, it is a specious argument to say Epcot needs more exciting, innovative attractions on one hand, but on the other to complain when Imagineers actually deliver something new.

So, I'll give 'em credit for updating a 24-year-old ride. But, come on, do we really need more Disney cartoon characters in Epcot? Is that the best that Imagineering can do these days?

What happened to the bold, exciting ideas that didn't rely on Disney cartoons but instead relied on a sense of excitement, fun and adventure? Whatever happened to attractions that take you places you've never been but always dreamed of experiencing (whether real or imagined)? What, I guess I'm asking, ever happened to the minds that brought us the Rhine River Cruise?


Anonymous said...

Don't attractions like Test Track and Mission Space provide excitement, fun, and adventure? What about rides that provide all of that plus showcase past, present, and future technologies? EPCOT is the world of tomorrow, today. I remember as a kid in the Communicore Disney showcased video conferencing and let you speak with a "person in space" via video. World of motion took you from the past to future exploring new modes of transportation. Horizons is another, that had to be the best ride in the park. Shame on anyone that removed The Wonders of Life Pavillion. Anyways, all I wanted to say was that EPCOT should provide all the things that you have talked plus technology

Matt Arnold said...

El Rio del Tiempo was boring and not very creative. I'm glad they're changing it. Granted, neither is it very creative to borrow characters from a 1944/45 film. Why couldn't they invent new characters?

It's possible that this is because the Three Caballeros have proven to be safe and inoffensive to Mexicans. Any new characters could be criticized in one of two ways:

#1 It would be accused of stereotyping.
#2 If it's not a stereotype, it would be accused of having nothing to do with Mexico.

I think World Showcase is so bland and generic because communicating something like nationality through character design can only take place through stereotype. That's how visual communication works. The Three Caballeros have tradition on their side. If someone criticizes the Three Caballeros as a stereotype, the response could be "why haven't we heard this complaint for the last sixty years?"

One exception to the bland generic World Showcase is Japan. We're fortunate Japan gave us Manga and Anime so that the stores in the Japan pavilion are full of Totoro and other fun characters. I believe that because Disney has purchased rights to Studio Ghibli properties, they should incorporate them into the Japan pavilion a little bit more-- not too much, but tastefully and in certain places. It would be nice to put an Anime-themed ride in there.

Anonymous said...

Interesting thing about the Japan pavillion. That bullet train ride at one point was going to have Japan's biggest movie star, Godzilla. So if you're so concerned about characters invading Epcot, count your blessings, because World Showcase would have really been in trouble with the Monster King around by your standards. Though I think he'd have been a nifty addition to Epcot, giving World Showcase a really fun ride, which it really needs more of.

Epcot82 said...

Let me clarify: Are animated characters in Epcot wrong? Nope. Look at Figment. Look at Cranium Command.

I don't object to that at all.

What I object to, what seems to me sadly lacking in the imagination realm, is the continued use of Disney characters as a fallback. Think a pavilion needs updating? Don't put some real thought and effort into it, just find characters that would be appropriate, like Nemo for the Seas or the Three Caballeros for Mexico. I'm shocked there isn't a Mulan exhibit/ride/show in China or a dancing Mrs. Potts introducing "Impressions de France."

The characters fit in well at The Magic Kingdom; heck, even "Lion King" characters don't seem terribly out of place at Animal Kingdom.

But Epcot?

Certainly it deserves more thought than just looking in the Disney Encyclopedia and seeing what characters would fit in a pavilion. There's so much possibility ... it's a shame to see it go to waste.

Cynthie Thomas said...

Now that's a rumor I've heard for a long time. In fact, here is an old comedy skit from Feb 1999 that mentions it. The ride was supposed to shut down in July and open before Christmas that year. Read the whole thing - it really is funny. It also it has the Three Caballeros Theme song lyrics at the end.

Iago & Zazu's Attraction of the Week:

This other site also discusses the addition of Donald ala Caballero, but states that they just did a rehab in 1999. No cartoon additions.

I wonder if they ever really are going to do make this update!

Anonymous said...

First off I'll give my opinion of the ride. A little treasure. Seriously. In the off season there is usually no line, young kids enjoy it. It gives a flavor of Mexico. No 10 minute water ride or movie can explain a country thoroughly. You get a few themes: Old/Ancient culture.....worshiped/respected the sun and nature, celebrates day of dead, tradition such as dress music and art exist with the modern skyscrapers, vacation spot, aggressive vendors, finally a map.

My one complaint is that the videos of vacationers clearly have hairstyles and swimsuits that are so clearly 1979 that it pulls you out of the moment. You see it and either say, "they wanted you to know Mexico was a major vacation spot in the 70's" or "they haven't spent a dime on this ride since 82".

Hey every ride doesn't have to be a $100,000,000 centrifuge.

I will say however that the Parks are in the "experience business", and they need to be cognizant of the mixture. The problem with the Epcot 86ish (that I just loved) was it had far too much of the same dark ride experience. Honestly Epcot needed Test Track, Mission Space and Soaring. First off each of these attractions have no equivalent anywhere else. Correct me if I'm wrong but does any theme park have an equivalent of one of these rides. I bet the US has about 40 parks with a "Kali River Rapids" style ride.

Quick aside. I live near Cleveland and we have a park an hour or so away called Cedar Point. If you watch travel channel you've probably seen that they have had multiple world record breaking coasters. Unfortunately there is no balance in that park anymore. It is for a healthy teenager that wants to spend a day with 20 minutes of screaming in one or two minute increments interspersed between waits of 1-3 hours.

My point is I wouldn't spend a day on 12 boat attractions, or with 12 roller coasters, or 12 movies about Countries, Okay I'd do 12 dark rides but I bet the park would go out of business. Would you pay to do a park that had 15 different themeings of the Body Wars/Star Tours ride mechanism?

With a DVC family member I've done WDW parks about 6 times in the last 5 years, and I believe the real magic of the parks is it's realm of uncopyable experiences. In closing I just hope that they don't change this attraction in a way that makes me think, it's just like something else.

Anonymous said...

‘El Rio Del Tiempo’ has been my most guilty pleasure at Epcot for some time now. I understand everyone's criticisms of the ride: sure it's hopelessly out of date, corny, cliché, cheesy, non-creative, etc. However, all of these criticisms (in my opinion) really add to the boat ride's charm. For years it has seemed that El Rio Del Tiempo has truly been forgotten by the Disney theme park execs; it remains one of the untouched original attractions at Epcot. The River of Time is more like The River That Time Forgot, but I continue to love it anyway. The ride is extremely relaxing, almost tunnel-of-love-esque, with a very pleasant ambience throughout. Plus, the footage of those ceremonial dancers near the beginning and the sequence at the marketplace always cracks me up – they’re so completely dated that it adds a certain level of campiness that always puts a smile on my face. Sort of like watching late 70s Kung Fu movies with that terrible English dubbing throughout. Cheesy in a good way.

Implement ‘The Three Caballeros’ theme, and it’s become cheesy in a bad way. Part of the ride’s current charm is that you have escaped, albeit briefly, Disney’s incessant barrage of characters, merchandising and blatant marketing tactics. Instead, you calmly float past a beautiful volcano & temple “outdoors” through Mexico in the late 1970s. The boats are almost a form of time-machine, not only in Mexico’s past but in Disney’s attractions as well. ERDT is It’s a Small World on a poor man’s budget, complete with music that has you humming for hours afterwards. And it’s a great way to get off your feet and out of the heat for awhile.

Long story short, I may be one of the only advocates of this amusingly dated and terrifically campy boat ride. But does it really need to be turned into yet another cartoon-foddered toddler pleaser? If something absolutely has to be changed because everyone hates it so much, why not just add new footage, a new soundtrack, some theming updates and maybe some special effects? We don’t need cartoons and thrills in every single ride. This is World Showcase, not Magic Kingdom – it is, and always was, intended more for adults.

- Mike, Tampa,FL.

Matt Arnold said...

If they have to use pre-existing characters in Epcot, they could do better than anthropomorphized animals. That genre of cartoon character is overused.

The most creative use of Mexican culture and mythology I've ever seen was the computer game Grim Fandango (a LucasArts property). A new ride or animatronic show accompanying Manuel Calavera through the Mexican Land Of The Dead would be colorful, edgy, funny, and energetic, while preserving the intent to present something about the culture of Mexico.

It's simultaneously more fun and more relevant than anthropomorphized birds.

Epcot82 said...

I love that there are many fans of "El Rio del Tiempo." These attractions are precisely what make Epcot so special ... let's hope they don't continue to drop off one by one!

Anonymous said...

I've also heard this rumor for ages. I do hope it isn't true.

I only have a couple things to add...

1. There's nothing ironic about the beauty of the beginning of the ride. The volcano scene is one of the greats in Imagineering history. It's very effective.
2. The Three Caballeros are an American vision of Mexican culture. If they were all characters native to Mexican culture, they'd give us a little insight (although they'd have to be careful about the choice!), but I don't think "all there is to being Mexican is wearing a sombrero and picking up some maracas" is a particularly good message.

Epcot82 said...

You're right, the volcano and pyramid are beautifully done. In 25 years, I never noticed the church on the hill (to the left of the pyramid as you're looking at it), or the evening star. It's all really lovely.

Not surprisingly (as Disney doesn't seem to actually care about its heritage lately), the Three Caballeros aren't even Mexican. They were inspired by a trip to South America in the 1940s ... and Mexico, last time I looked, was part of North America. "South of the Border" and "South America" are most decidedly not the same thing. Were Disney to build a Brazilian pavilion, Ze Carioca, Patito Donald and Panchito Pisoles would fit in nicely -- you'd have little argument from anyone, I think, that they truly do belong there. It's an all-too-rare example of a character inspired by and popular with non-U.S. audiences who is little-known here but is Disney through and through.

Anonymous said...

Recently visited Epcot's World village My thoughts are that it is very dated in concept...created for a more simplistic time when America's ideas about the rest of the world could be so formulaic in concept; content with being force-fed sterotypes instead of real culture... simplistic rather than sophisticated. It panders by mixing entertainment with so-called culture. I hope we will evolve to see this.

Martin Smith said...

Just an FYI... the full show building wasn`t built. Just the facade and structure for the load/unload area. The main (much larger) show building was to be added later.

Japan however does have the full building.

New York Hotel said...

Nice post! I have only positive associations on Disney. When I was young I liked their movies. Last year I was with my kids in Disneyland thorough ECT and I felt like I come back to my childhood.

Anonymous said...

I own the original artwork of KIG the Kentucky international gardens theme park which is what Disney calls epcot. Bruce bushman was paid by my grandfather to illustrate his idea and plan for KIG. Bushman was disney's top artist at the time! I am going to sell them! In fact it's already in process. Disney's CEO will receive a copy of the art renderings and a chance to purchase this beautiful extraordinary artwork. It's from this artwork

and the mind of my genius grandfather that's made epcot what it is! It's just to bad he didn't get the recognisation that he truly in god's eyes deserved. I will allow sometime for response. I know that it's the truth because my grandfather would never lie to me and I myself acquired the proof needed to sell this publicly at my descretion. It's the history and the acclaimed artist that sets the tone for a reality check. It's in god's hands and the truth will prevail.