Thursday, July 06, 2006

Could Epcot Rock?

Sing it with me:

In 1787, I'm told,
Our founding fathers did agree
To write a list of principles
For keepin' people free.

If you immediately launched into a tune from your childhood, you grew up in the age of Schoolhouse Rock on ABC, and probably used that little ditty to get you through at least one or two tests in high school and college.

Schoolhouse Rock remains one of the finest examples ever produced (at least in the U.S.) of combining education and entertainment. Its catchy songs taught kids about important concepts and subjects in ways that were memorable and didn’t pander. I imagine that it instructed more than a few adults, too.

Imagine if Epcot’s designers took a cue from Schoolhouse Rock and created new storylines and – importantly – new songs for key Epcot attractions. If a concept as difficult as what started the American Revolution (you know, that “shot heard ‘round the world”) or the forces of electricity could be conveyed in less than two minutes of interstitial television programming, think of what could be done with 15 minutes of immersive ride or show time.

Think, for instance, of a new song for The American Adventure (though I do love “Golden Dreams,” does it really say anything?) that imparts some of the key concepts of democracy. Or a memorable tune for Spaceship Earth that conveys the importance of communication in our life.

Perhaps what’s needed at Epcot isn’t so much a wholesale rethinking of the central attractions as much as a re-jiggering that really takes into consideration how to combine education and entertainment. The Imagineers are some of the best creative minds in the world, but they aren’t educators or instructors, and could do well to look to Disney-owned ABC’s own past to draw some inspiration.

Epcot could indeed rock if the lessons of Schoolhouse – which I rediscovered on iTunes – were applied. It’s not about “forcing” education down the throats of guests, it’s about making educational concepts fun and appealing, treating them as entertainment and recognizing that, at its finest, “entertainment” is really a tool that can be used to communicate difficult concepts in a fun and engaging way.

There’s still a lot that can be done at Epcot to retain its central concept, of informing and inspiring while entertaining and delighting, without resorting to thrill rides and “E-ticket” attractions. Taking a hard look at what’s already there and how to make it even better, and learning from what has worked in the past, could be a great start to making Epcot truly remarkable.


Anonymous said...

That's a great idea. I still sing "a meter's just a little bit more than a yard" in my head every time I need to know, well, just how long a meter is. (That song does not come from any of the original School House Rock songs, but I certainly have a lot of examples of things I learned and still sing from those original songs.)

When I first went to EPCOT Center as I kid, I came home with two things: a "perpetual motion" top from the gift shop--an amazing place, considering this is before such novelty toys were available in Discovery Stores across the country--and the official EPCOT Center album.

On a cursory trip through my mind (I'm too tired to make it a detailed one), the original songs from EPCOT don't really educate. But I remember every single one of them to this day. While I have an incomplete recreation of that album in my iTunes library, the lost tunes unable to be found anywhere I have so far looked, I'll often launch into singing the original songs in my head. For no particular reason. "America, sprread your golden wings..." Etc.

Imagine if those songs had, in fact, been more School House Rockish? There's no reason this can't be done now. When I think of any new songs created for the Disney parks within the last decade, they all suck. No, really. They all have the exact same "wispy frisky tinkle sparkle synth" sound, and if I hear one more lyric about "dreams are the imagination of happiness and the future of dreams!", I will choke someone.

The sad thing is I can only imagine what "cool" songs Disney would come up with. Probably something that sounds like any of their "Disney Circle of Stars" teeny-bopper faux-pop nerve-graters, the ind sung by hydroponically-grown pop children. Truly cool, fun, and lasting songs would use true song-writing skills and honest-to-goodness quality music. Granted, when you think back to some of those School House Rock songs, they are super, super cheesy examples of the musical sounds of the day. I think the reason Disney uses the fairy twinkle fake orchestra soungwriting technique now is to avoid such dating. People still love the Electrical Parade, but you can tell exactly when it was written: when synthisizers were still new and exciting but limited in ther sound choice. The newer Disney soungs, I imagine, could be lost in a tomb and unearthed a thousand years from now, and no one would be able to distinguish much about them at all, much less when they were written.

Imagine truly creative and original songs. With educational themes. It's a good idea, and it'd be fun to walk around Epcot again WANTING to buy an album of its songs.

Anonymous said...

My friends are routinely amazed that I can recite the preamble to the Constitution with nary a pause (although I have to admit that it's harder to recite than sing!)... but then, they were watching the same schoolhouse rock that I was, so why can't they? I'm not sure, but that stuff "stuck" with me moreso than my contemporaries.

So I think the song idea is a valid one (really valid for all of WDW but certainly most appropriate for Epcot), but it has to be able to appeal to a broad audience. I am hoping that doesn't mean that it has to be sung by Outcast.

Excuse me, I'm off to iTunes for a little nostalgia trip...

Ivonne R. said...

I agree with what Steve said about the original Epcot music. Most of it was great, but it didn't really educate the way that school house rock does. I always think about "I'm a bill sitting on capital hill..." or something like that. It's been too long! :)

I find myself singing random Epcot songs at various times during the day. Especially the songs from Universe of Energy...

"Feel the flow, here we go, through the Universe of Energy!"

Anonymous said...

yeah, ivonne, I also have a fond place for the old UOE music too. Nice to have it on CD, eh?

Anonymous said...

I still sing the original Journey Into Imagination theme song once a week.

I can't believe sometimes how much I miss that attraction. It was one of my favorites growing up. *cries*