Thursday, September 13, 2007

Almost Right and Getting Closer

I've been gone for a while. Months, which in Internet time might as well be eons.

Is anyone still with me?

Regardless, there have obviously been some major developments at Epcot lately, ones worth noting.

While it's still lower-case Epcot, there's almost a temptation to rename it again, at least temporarily, recalling terminology used decades ago -- for a while, at least, it's fitting to view Epcot as "Progressland."

Look, I'm not a marketing "whiz" at Disney. But, in one of those noteworthy changes, a key "genius" has departed: Michael Mendenhall is gone, and if you're one of those who follow the inner workings and machinations of the strange place called The Walt Disney Company, you know what a major leap forward this may be. True, no one has been named to replace him, but there's every indication that John Lasseter helped force this change to happen, and it's a fantastic thing. All good wishes to Mr. Mendenhall, but his "profits-over-everything" mentality and lack of any true creative vision has damaged Disney's theme parks immensely, most of all Epcot.

In Mendenhall's view, theme parks were simply another asset to be monetized and commoditized. (A view, unfortunately, shared by Jay Rasulo; it will be fascinating to see if he lasts a lot longer under Lasseter's leadership.) They lost their position as the public face of Disney, as the arbiter of Disney's creative vision and the showcase for all the wild imaginings and possibilities that could be dreamed up by Disney's artists and engineers.

If EPCOT Center never became what "Walt wanted," it became something close to what Walt might have loved. In its slow transition to "just Epcot," this extraordinary place of hope, vision and community became nothing more than another place to build mundane attractions, then populate them with the latest Disney cartoon creations. EPCOT Center lost more than some capitalization and a word, it lost its soul and became an MBA-bearing marketer's dream. Its size and scope meant more retail space for the latest all-alike Disney products, its complex attractions became nothing more than acreage on which new, cheaper rides and shows could be built, further improving OI and revenue.

Epcot, more than any other park, became a mish-mash of Disney billboards and marketing messages -- never more garishly depicted than the quest for a "better" icon, in the form of a Disney-ized, bedazzled Spaceship Earth.

Now, that era is over.

There's no better symbol of that than the simple, unadorned, majestic, specatcularly silver sphere that once again is the simple beacon that lets visitors know they've arrived at a most unusual and specatcular place.

There's still visual clutter beneath it, still eye pollution that prevents it from standing quite as tall, quite as proudly, quite as gracefully as it could and should, but I am not about to bemoan progress -- well, not too loudly. This one-two punch of the "simple" Spaceship and the "loss" of Mendenhall couldn't be better hallmarks for a new age of growth, exploration and discovery ... both for Epcot itself and for Disney guests.

There's still a huge amount of work to be done. But this is true progress.

For now, I won't address the painfully unfunny new Canada movie, the ghost town of the Wonders of Life, the duck-filled Rio del Tiempo, the kid-filled Akershus.

I'll just say thank you.

I don't know who I'm saying it to, exactly. If it's John Lasseter, then you've shown that you get it -- clearly and pointedly. If it's an operating executive who thought the wand was just too expensive to maintain, then you've paid a backhanded compliment to the namesake of your company. If it's someone else, then, simply ... thank you.

What a change. What a difference. What a beautiful sight.

There's a long road ahead, and while the "Center" may still be missing, EPCOT just got a little of that capitalization back ... at least in principle.

This relatively simple act has made a lot of passionate people very happy ... and no doubt made a lot of guests say, "Now that is cool."

Yes, folks ... EPCOT is cool.

Welcome back, E-P-C-O-T. We missed you.


P.S. For those of you who have communicated with me directly in the past, please note that my e-mail address is slightly different. You'll find it in my profile or by looking up my information; please change your e-mail address books accordingly if you'd like to keep in touch. I do read every single e-mail, I can't always respond as quickly as I'd like, unfortunately!


Anonymous said...

Haven't read through the whole post yet, but I feel compelled to drop my jaw and say...


I compulsively click on this bookmark every day (usually to use your handy links on the right side) and I nearly wet myself when I just saw an SSE other than the pink one that's greeted me all summer.

OK, time to read. :)

Anonymous said...

So now I've read. Right on. After following these and other Epcot/EPCOT developments in painfully slow real-time over the summer, this post is a nice succinct recap of the things that have been going right recently.

Welcome back! And that is a stunning shot of Earth Station and SSE.

Disneyana World said...

Welcome back.

Will you be attending the 25th fan celebration?

Hope to see you there.

Brian said...

I knew you'd be back. :)

Klark Kent 007 said...

Glad to see you back!

Will you be attending on October 1st?

Epcot82 said...

Unfortunately I will not be at EPCOT on Oct. 1 as I have long-held prior obligations to be out of the country -- but I look forward to your comments and thoughts about it!

Anonymous said...

Glad you're back.

Anonymous said...

I was just about to delete the bookmark for this place but decided to take one final look to see if there were any other updates since the "when to say when" post-- cause good things have happened since then.

Hope to see you back in the future. You may have had more impact than you think.

Matt Steninger said...

Bookmarks? You guys are funny. RSS feeds! C'mon, this is the 21st century!

Anyway, good to have you back man. I knew we could count on you for insight when that damn wand finally came down.

Joel said...

Welcome back! I hope that you do still occasionally chime in every now and then -- it's always good to read what's on your mind!

Socrates said...

I found your website just when you stopped posting. I wanted to read all of your posts and I did. Every day I look here for a new post. Welcome back EPCOT82 we missed you.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! Great that you are still the voice for our passions. You really get it in a logical and professional way. Your rational perspectives make up for some of the "foamers" out there who rant about this and that. Keep up the great work. Somebody is listening!

Unknown said...

First of all, glad to see that you are alright! I thought maybe the Disney Mafia had gotten you!

Keep the pressure on, I want to see that despicable princess buffet at Akershus gone. This post was particularly well said, the right amount of recognition for the positive changes, without letting Disney off the hook for the rest.

Glad to have you back!

Anonymous said...

Allow me to hop on the "Welcome Back" bandwagon.

I am one of those people whose life was truly touched upon my first (and subsequent) visit to EPCOT Center, and I have hoped beyond hope that the powers that be at Disney have religiously read your posts since February 2006.

If Jim Macphee can at least get the name changed back to EPCOT Center, it will be a symbolic start to returning this park to its rightful place as the most unique theme park in all the world.

It's SO good to have you back, Epcot82. Maybe you can soon become EPCOT Center 82.

Unknown said...

I'm glad some of the positive changes at EPCOT have led you to blog some more.

Thanks for sharing so much great material as we celebrate EPCOT's legacy. I encourage everyone to check out The Meandering Mouse Podcast #66. It's a glorious celebration of EPCOT that includes shared personal thoughts and feelings over the parks by former cast members, some facts about the park, historical audio footage, and a complete history and backstage tour of sorts of EPCOT's icon: Spaceship Earth. Lou Mongello from WDW Radio makes a guest appearance on this show as well as he shares his personal thoughts on the park.

Show can be downloaded here:

Thanks again for all the wonderful EPCOT coverage. I hope you keep it up.

-Jeff from Houston
Host of The Meandering Mouse Podcast
Founder and Host: The Disney Podcast Network

Anonymous said...

Excellent to see you back...told you Epcot was changing.


Unknown said...

Keep at it; nice to see you back.

Rita said...

What a nice surprise. I check out the blog hoping......and well, there you were again. Hope you keep posting. Enjoy the read and insight.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for coming back.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful to see you back, Epcot82.

That's an old photo of Spaceship Earth, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Glad you finally made it back, I knew it would happen.

Things are changing, it just takes patience

Anonymous said...

You know, I just realized that Epcot82's revival of this blog, in itself, feels like another good thing happening to EPCOT.

Anonymous said...

Still here and I still check for new posts. Good to have you back. Anyway, completely agree with your assessment of the changes taking place. It is good to see the EPCOT that I love coming back...

Josh said...

Great to hear from you again! Like most of the other commenters here, I check the blog every few days, hoping that you've seen the changes taking place in EPCOT and that you'd feel like giving your perspective on them. Glad to have you back!

Oh, and I've been hearing lately that old EPCOT Center merchandise, replete with logos, is being sold in Mouse Gears. I hope so - I'd love to get my hands on some of that swag!

Epcot82 said...

Yes, that's an older photo of Spaceship Earth -- without all of the garish circus tents underneath!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for coming back..and take some congrats for giving voice to many EPCOT center fans out there.

I'm going to be there on Oct 1st and I will raise a glass for you when the re-dedication begins!

Let hope it's the beginning of a new golden era!


Digital Jedi said...

I'm glad I checked this blog tonight on the off chance you'd returned. I'm glad to see you back. We'll discuss the Burrito Pato Grande next time, but for now, just welcome back Epcot82! And welcome back EPCOT.

Anonymous said...

Great to have you back. I missed the updates.

Anonymous said...

EPCOT is coming back... even if it is called Epcot. The wand's out of there and the SSE pavilion is hosting the permanent Project: Tommorrow and if that's not based on Walt's dream of the future, idk what else is. :D