Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Not to Be Missed? Not to Be Seen.

Around my house, buying the latest edition of Bob Sehlinger’s Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World is something of a tradition. Even during years in which we do not travel to Florida, we like to read comments by Sehlinger and his reader-contributors about the latest attractions and changes in the World.

When it comes to Epcot, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend of late: Terrible things are happening to the attractions that Sehlinger considers “not to be missed.” In many cases, missing is your only option.

Spaceship Earth: Sehlinger says it’s “one of Epcot’s best; not to be missed.” Attraction status: Essentially unchanged since a redesign in 1994; its “future vision” of communications technology, such as instant video exchange and global sharing of news, is now commonplace.

The Living Seas: Sehlinger calls it “an excellent marine exhibit … the strength in of the attraction lies in the dozen or so exhibits afterward. Status: The attraction is being redesigned and rechristened as “The Seas” with a cartoon-ified vision of the oceans courtesy of “Nemo and Friends.” The original incarnation is, essentially, closed.

Living With the Land: A Sehlinger reader writes, “I really wished I had not had a preconceived idea about an exhibit. Living With the Land was truly wonderful,” and Sehlinger calls it “inspiring and educational … not to be missed.” Status: The attraction’s “personal touch” of a real, live cast member guiding guests through the greenhouses – something that’s been done for 24 years – is being abandoned, and the attraction is being “automated.” The version Sehlinger writes about? Soon to be gone.

Honey, I Shrunk the Audience: “An absolute hoot!” Sehlinger raves. “Not to be missed.” Lots of people are doing just that, as the 3-D movie – based on a film that’s nearly 20 years old and unknown to most Epcot visitors – reportedly is suffering from low attendance. What was once innovative and cutting edge is outdone by other 3-D shows throughout Walt Disney World and at other theme parks.

Body Wars: Sehlinger says it’s “not to be missed” but you’ll have to do just that – it’s permanently closed.

Cranium Command: The Unofficial Guide says this one is “Epcot’s great sleeper attraction.” It sleeps forever. Despite the Guide’s rating of “not to be missed” … it’s closed.

The Making of Me: It’s “excellent and should be moved from its tiny space to a larger theater,” Sehlinger writes. “Of course, we’ve been saying that for years.” They don’t have to complain anymore. It’s closed.

Universe of Energy: Though Sehlinger calls it “the most unique theater in Walt Disney World,” that kind of praise isn’t enough to get it any attention; it hasn’t been updated or substantially renovated in a decade, despite the advent of hybrid cars, hydrogen fuel cells and calls for cleaner energy. It also features a “Jeopardy!” set that was updated more than half a decade ago, and co-stars an actor whose last TV show aired three years ago.

The American Adventure: “Disney’s best historic/patriotic attraction,” Sehlinger writes. “Not to be missed.” And you shouldn’t, despite the fact that – even though the U.S. has seen extraordinary changes in the past 20 years – only the final film has been revised since Epcot opened … and that last happened 13 years ago.

Impressions de France: An “exceedingly beautiful film,” according to the Guide … and also one that shows France as it existed more than two decades in the past.

As I peruse the book from year to year, I wonder why Disney executives don’t do the same. They could learn a lot from Sehlinger’s more-or-less impartial (and hefty!) guidebooks – such as which attractions it’s thinking of closing, altering beyond recognition or neglecting for another year might actually be worth a second look.


Anonymous said...

Epcot82, you may find this post usefull in the sense it comes from not somehow who is in their 30s or 40s but from a 19 year old.

I like many children "grew up" with Disney. I didn't tach the "Disney Bug" until 2003, but I now am grateful to remember programs like "Vault Disney" and the "Disneyland sing-a-long" VHS's!!!

I my first trip to WDW was in 1996. Ten years ago. Some would say that 1996 was a special if not THE year for WDW and it's grand 25th anniversary.

I was suprised that at the age of 9 I could "understand" Epcot. It was so fresh. It still had many 1982 elements within it, but attractions such as the newly reopened UoE, somewhat new SSE, and an Innoventions very much in the theme of Communicore all were bold and exciting.

Having gone back to WDW in 2004, 2005, and 2006...I am actually somewhat embarassed to go to Epcot, not for myself, but for the park.

Epcot really died in 1999. Horizons closed, the entrance was raped by commercialism,and World Showcase received barely anything of a milestone for the year 2000.

Innoventions Plaza became cluttered, and what disturbs me more is that the entire plaza and Earth Station were comepletely painted tan, blue, and purple....further dating the look of Epcot!

It is too obvious that Epcot has lost itself. Change is not a problem, but some change is uneccesary. Achievements in show design and quality so unique and proud to the Disney company that either become so outdated or unessicarily overhauled is rediculous.

Sure I love seeing O'Canda and Impressions De France, but to see it that outdated is embarassing. Yes an original 1982 feature exists, but why can't new films in the spirit of the originals be created.

Epcot now is more or less a joke. A true joke. I see three controlling sides. One side has a soft spot for EPCOT Center and would love to create or refurbish items in it's favor.

Another side incorrectly sees EPCOT Center and makes a parody or incorrect nature of it IE playing a rappy version of "it's a small world" in innoventions and mixing lowered case Epcot with caplocked EPCOT throughout the park with wand and wandless Spaceship Earth promos. The other side are the progressives that are using 1998/1999 Disney commercialism and pushing the theme of EPCOT Center out the door. Destroying for both the old and the young who could only cherish the meaning of EPCOT for one year and not more.

Epcot82 said...

Wow. Anonymous, I sure wish I knew how to get in touch with you, because your perspectives are amazing. Now more than ever, I hope SOMEONE at Disney is reading this, because they're hearing it directly from someone in the (sorry) "younger generation" -- who, according to marketers, *should* be digging the "new" Epcot, but isn't.

I am so impressed with your comments. Saddened, disturbed, disappointed, but impressed. I hope, hope, hope someone is listening! Thanks so very much for reading and for sharing your thoughts, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous Teen!

Anonymous said...

Thank you too!!!

I'm majoring in communications, and Epcot is like woodstock for artists.

I have found more and more as I grew up that "it's ok" to learn something on ones vacation. Actually why not? Going to major cities and seeing not only the main sites but the small galeries the quaint shops,etc gives one the true feeling of the place.

This makes me think of many unfortunate tourists who go to Hawaii and experience tourist traps instead of authentic entertainment....and its right around the corner.

Learning and respecting and seeing where the NY World's Fair(s) took place somehow made me realize how much my generation doesn't get about Walt Disney. I was way too young to even fathom what the Unisphere was when it was on Vault Disney's Disneyland goes to the world's fair.

Also learning about Bucky Fullers achievement in architecture with Expo67 and the phrase "Spaceship Earth" makes it even more fun riding spaceship earth now more than ever, and to see that damn wand there since 1999 is very frustrating.

It's the little things at EPCOT/Epcot that make it far more important than the Magic Kingdom.

You have to DISCOVER Epcot, and I'm so glad 10 years ago I did.

For example Spaceship Earth and its Emporer Palm trees represent man's cosmetic ability to craft nature and technology. Since they were planted in sweeping rows leading up to SSE.

It's extremely difficult to get all of SSE on the wandless side with the palm trees.

I like test track and mission space too, and soarin is EXCELLENT in the way they molded the florida version in the true spirit of EPCOT Center.

But too much is being compromised. World Showcase just needs some help, I think when many of us think of Epcot post 1999 we think of future world, because it is detaching itself in theme.

Because rides such as test track and mission space are present...the most serious of the omnimovers SSE appears more "effed up" than say Universe of Energy because my generation doesn't for the most part give a damn!

I feel very cheated as both an artist and as a youth that I couldn't see the Radok Screens or the shimmering finale to UoE which could have easily stayed had they used the original concept for what was then Ellen's Energy Crisis.

I mean the list keeps on going. And yet it's the little things. Retro is very big to baby boomers and my generation. I am sure there will be RETROCOT merchandise out the kazoo, but again it will be the one side that wants to make the RETROCOT merchandise, the other side that incorrectly markets it, and the final side that merely sells it to put smiles on our concerned faces.

Anonymous said...

In defense of one point: An untalented or poorly-trained guide to "Living with the Land" is a dire problem, and automating the narration does prevent that problem.

But, countering that defense: It also prevents really great guides from enhancing the ride and tailoring it to the guests. Heck, it just plain removes the human interaction from the experience. It becomes just another passive ride, not a journey with a storyteller. Imagine the Jungle Cruise without a guide. They do audition and train the Jungle Cruise guides, right? Why not apply some standard to the "Living with the Land" guides?

Okay! I'm glad I solved that problem.

Epcot82 said...

So am I. And you kind of proved a point while doing it: "Bad show" cast members are a problem caused by poor training. Train the cast members and really make them understand the idea that they are giving a performance and only hire those who show an affinity for the work. There are tens of thousands of people working at Walt Disney World; surely there must be a few dozen who would give their right arm to deliver the Living With the Land spiel multiple times a day and enjoy it?

Anonymous said...

I have only been on the Living with the Land attraction twice. Both times, the guides seemed to know little or have problems delivering an audible spiel. A narration--if updated semi-often--will give consistancy and good show to every ride. The big problem is that the boats would be easy for pranksters and idiots to jump out of.
More importantly, from my 17 year old perspective, Epcot is not a failure. Sure, there are bad ideas in the park (the new Imagination is terrible), but I think some of them need to be considered more before declared bad.
Test Track is not a bad ride. It's not a great ride, or even a impressive ride, but it is informative. Maybe not as informitive as it's predicessor, or as good (My memory of it is very sketchy and blends into the old Imagination ride), but it is a solid D ticket. With an E ticket's line.
Mission Space (as I discussed with you a few months ago) is not a great ride, or very re-rideable, but it is fun for a certain audience on the Orange side, and for everyone on the Green side. The problem with it is it's lack of scale. It seems like it was built for a park with rides as small as Magic Kingdom and the crowd of the MGM Studios.
Soarin' is a fantastic ride, perfect for Epcot.
The wand is evil.

All of these points can be disputed, but the fact remains that judgement needs to wait untill Finding Nemo opens to declare it a loss. I thought the exhibits in the aquarium-with the Nemo overlay-were far better then 90% of the Georgia Aquarium (The brand new one in Atlanta which is the largest in the world...). Even with the Nemo overlay, it is still more informative then that aquarium. Plus, the kids are now interested in the fish because Crush is telling them about it. Wait untill Thanksgiving before passing judgement on Nemo... It might not be bad at all.
Finally, the World Showcase, yes it is old, but has Canada really changed much for O Canada to be outdated? I feel it is less dated then the Norway film (More then 5 years younger). O Canada is a bueatiful film with good music showcaseing a bueatiful country. Sure, it could be updated, but many other things in the park need it more.
The Wonders of Life pavilion closing is not that dissapointing to me. Body Wars was very much in the vein of Mission Space in terms of scope. The other parts of the pavilion seem dated as well. It is sad that it closed, but if something replaces it, I will be happy.

Sorry about this long rant with no point, but I guess (in an effort to ad a point after the fact) I leave with this: Epcot changes, in some ways for the worse, but just because it changes, it doesn't necessarily become worse.

Epcot82 said...

"The wand is evil." That's your real point. ;-)

My own feeling is that if they would finally just take the darn thing down, they could earn back a great deal of the goodwill they've lost from Epcot's most ardent fans. It's a pretty simple move, and it could probably earn Disney a ton of positive publicity, too!

Anonymous said...

Why did they put up the wand?

Anonymous said...

I think the wand started out as a thing to commerate the future... misguided as it was, the heart was in the right place. Where it soured is when they failed to take it down in 2001.

Scott said...

The wand was originally put up for WDW's Millenium Celebration. At that time, it was a temporary welcome to the new millenium and said "2000" instead of "Epcot". Most expected the wand to come down once the Millenium Celebration was over. Rumor has it that it was very expensive to take down the wand and instead of doing so, they took down the "2000" and replaced it with "Epcot".

Anonymous said...

If The Walt Disney Company can afford $19 BILLION to buy Capital Cities/ABC, $5.5 BILLION to buy the Fox Family Channel (a truly disastrous decision), and $8 BILLION to buy Pixar -- for the math-impaired, that's MORE THAN THIRTY BILLION DOLLARS -- I think it can afford a few million to take down the horrific eyesore that is the wand.

(Likewise, you'd think they could pay the millions that the owners of the copyrighted Chinese Theater image wanted, but apparently they had to save their money to give Jay Rasulo a handsome bonus.)

Anonymous said...

Going back to the Living with the Land problem, even being enthused about your role in the show isn't enough to keep cast members doing that spiel over and over. It's a long ride, the hours are awful (a.m. shifts starts around 5), and doing it over and over is enough to make the most ardent fan lose their will to live. The fact is they can't keep cast members on the attraction.

I think that could be fixed by making Attractions roles that rotate throughout the park, so you're not trapped in one location for more than a few weeks or even months at a time, but that's a crisis for another blog to fix.