Monday, January 07, 2008

Now THERE'S a Future!

While Disney's marketing whizzes wring their hands over how to wring more money out of your wallet by "synergizing" Epcot to within an inch of its life (Kim Possible here! Nemo there! Singing ducks over there! Princesses right here!), the rest of the world moves on.

Sometimes in astounding ways. Sometimes in ways that make you truly sorry for the EPCOT Center that should have been, the one that Walt Disney World could have developed.

I read this terrific article about self-driving cars today. To quote a bit of it: "And Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner will devote part of his speech to the driverless vehicles. 'This is not science fiction,' Larry Burns, GM's vice president for research and development, said in a recent interview." (It's no small irony that news of these cars come from GM, the sponsor of Test Track at EPCOT, formerly World of Motion.)

No, it's just a fascinating glimpse at a possible future. What's even more fascinating to me is that the article as it appears on AOL includes an up-to-the-minute reader poll. As of this writing (just before midnight on Jan. 7), 42 percent of poll-takers say they would buy a driverless car, while, strangely, 44 percent say they would feel "not at all" safe in such a vehicle. About 13,000 people took the poll asking if they'd buy; some 22,000 had taken the poll inquiring about safety.

A glimpse of a possible future. Instant poll results. The ability to express your views.

Doesn't that seem a lot like the way EPCOT Center used to be? Now, it's up to the Internet to bring us this kind of fascinating vision and interactive system, while EPCOT figures out how to incorporate Wall*E into its attractions.

That tantalizing Future World is out there. It's just not at EPCOT anymore.

It continues to make me sad.

Doesn't anyone at The Walt Disney Company see the amazing potential here?

Ever visit an old high-school friend, the one who was so good-looking and popular back in school, only to find that he's bored, unfulfilled and kind of lazy? It's depressing to see that sort of potential go to waste. And you're wrong not to point it out.

Come on, EPCOT, get off your lazy butt. That same world you found so exciting 25 years ago is still out there waiting for you to explore ... and you're still young.

Driverless cars! Who woulda thunk such a thing?!


Captain Schnemo said...

There is so much in the way of fascinating cutting edge tech out there, that it really is mindblowing that Future World makes so little reference to it.

And never mind what's just around the corner, the complete lack of any sort of projection into the slightly more distant future is heartbreaking. How sad that our kids, instead of having their imaginations fired by visions of what they might make of our world, find themselves chatting with an (albeit cool) talking turtle.

No doubt part of the problem is that attractions are now created by those who have specialized in entertainment and attraction design, and the futurists and serious thinkers who helped design the park in the first place are no longer consulted.

Anonymous said...

Your so right Epcot82. We can go on an on about the technology that was shown at Epcot years ago that is now a reality. Like the Hydrogen Powered car. It has been in Test Track for years, and not they are producing it.

Whats funny is when they do not update innoventions exhibits with new technology and the tech in the real world surpasses the tech in innoventions.

And Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Disney gave up on innovation as entertainment a while ago. Its the reason they're turning animated movies into musicals and having sweepstakes in the theme parks.

Ten years ago, when Disney decided to re-brand their TV networks and merchandise towards specific demographics (preschool, kids 5-12, and tweens) they also made decision to market products and services to help support their entertainment options. Disney uses celebrities on contract to appear in TV shows, movies, do vocal work, and release records. Late they have only interested in working on evergreen properties (Pirates, Zorro, Hannah Montana, Faries, Princesses, etc.). All of those properties can be marketed across many forms of media and licensed. This stifles innovation and leaves artist that want to experiment with new ideas to the wayside.

Epoct does not fit well into the company's overall goals anymore. Obviously Epcot was Walt's attempt to leave a purely fictional narrative and inspire people with reality. All Disney parks that precede Epcot do not use technology, science, or anything "real" as a means to entertain. Disney is the mecca of escapism.

If you're asking why Epcot is failing to inspire, take a look at what Disney is throwing their money into. Their corporate goals are well beyond just entertaining guests, but also selling them a lifestyle or product. Attractions that are inspired by the real world are rare because you cannot copyright, sell, or put a stamp on innovation that is not your own.

Epcot82 said...

Anonymous, your points are very well-stated. And totally correct. Though the question, both as a fan and a shareholder of Disney, is whether that makes them RIGHT.

The idea that EPCOT isn't an "evergreen" entertainment property is completely and totally off-base. (I'm not saying, by the way, that YOU are, just that the idea, which is clearly believed by Disney managment, is.)

EPCOT, as I've pointed out before, could become an extraordinary Disney brand, that both reaches the company's (misinterpreted) "target audience" as well as a broader audience.

Why do I say the company misinterprets its target audience? Just go to Walt Disney World or Disneyland and you'll see. Yes, there are lots and lots of kids. But there are, generally speaking, even more adults without kids. Disney decided some years ago that it was a "kid" company without honestly thinking that concept through; from "Snow White" through to "The Lion King," Disney's animated films could never have achieved what they did had they been intended just for kids. Witness the marketing misfires of recent animated films and you'll see what I mean. They're targeted to kids, and kids is what they get.

But I digress. EPCOT's core ideals (if Disney managers even know what they are anymore) lend themselves wonderfully to everything from TV programming to websites to apparel to publishing. EPCOT could have been developed into a powerhouse brand over the last 25 years. For Disney to have squandered it is a shame.

Anonymous said...

epcot82 I just want to express my excitement over the flurry of posts in recent weeks. Thank you for devoting so much of your time to this blog, it is greatly appreciated!

Epcot82 said...

Thank you for reading, Coltsfan!

TechnosWorld said...

Epoct does not fit well into the company's overall goals anymore. Obviously Epcot was Walt's attempt to leave a purely fictional narrative and inspire people with reality. All Disney parks that precede Epcot do not use technology, science, or anything "real" as a means to entertain. Disney is the mecca of escapism.

Well, they DID use technology but it was designed NOT to be seen or understood. Walt used technology to further make things look real without seeing how the technology worked. EPCOT Center (which is 99% nothing to do with Walt himself) when it opened actually displayed a lot of the "behind the scenes" technology of how it all worked.

Klark Kent 007 said...

I would love a national Peoplemover / Monorail system.

Anonymous said...

That's a great point, Techno -- considering that Audio-Animatronic figures, the Monorail, the People Mover, Flight to the Moon, CircleVision, all were technological leaps forward. In the last decade of his life, Walt Disney became fascinated by the practical application of technology. And Disneyland, let's not forget, is dedicated in part to "the hard facts" that made us who we are. Walt Disney may have envisioned Disneyland as a place to forget reality, but the park always acknowledged that you couldn't escape it. Tomorrowland was a great nod to that fact, and for many years, "reality" was there in the form of how we would apply technology to our future living. It was, in many ways, a precursor to Future World at EPCOT, and though there really is no reason the two can't exist together, Disney has further removed that aspect of "real life" from its parks....not just at EPCOT, but also in Tomorrowland.

Anonymous said...

It's the crazy obsessive fanboy sites like this that convince the Disney number cruncher types that they can comfortably mock all of thier internet fan base. I've seen the discussions and it's pretty painful. When a creative type brings up a fan point of view (which frequently matches their own as well), the first sneering question is a variation on "Did you read that from some nutty fansite?" Do we hate those executives? Usually. Are they and their crappy attitude going anywhere? Dream on.

And even the biggest Disney geek imagineer grows weary of sites that traffic in virtually nothing but constant condemnation fueled by nostalgia. I know you think you're presenting passionate, reasoned criticism, but let me clue you in: They wrote you off as a nutjob around the time you were ranting about consumer products utilitarian office building having an employee cafeteria.

You are doing more harm than good here. If you are comfortable being part of the problem, keep doing what you are doing.

If you want to be a real voice in the conversation, a spoon full of sugar and all that...

Epcot82 said...

At least you've kept up reading, Anonymous, and based on the tracking, it's clear that others at Disney are, too.

That says something.

Let 'em write me off as a nutjob. I wrote them off as a nutjob a while back, too, so I like to use this to air my thoughts. That's all. Others seem to enjoy it, too.

Based on the feedback I've gotten personally, I'd like to suggest this: The MARKETING types at Disney have written this off as the work of a "nutjob," while the Imagineers (or at least a fair number of them, anyway) have been incredibly supportive. I don't have a lot of respect for the marketing types, either. They're the ones who got Disney into this mess. Seen the stock price lately? Sure, if you bought a couple of years back at, say, $13, you're happy as a clam. Bought it at $50 back in '00? Not so much.

Disney was a creative company that offered new ideas. Now it's a company that markets old ones. And builds new campuses for foundering divisions. Yeah, I have a problem with that -- remember, despite what Tom Staggs wants us to think, little guys like us with a couple thousand (or hundred -- or just a couple) shares have ownership in the company, too. We have a voice in this. Your marketing teams may laugh at us, but let 'em -- the gadflys are the ones who often force change.

Some companies respect their "fanboys," court their opinions, involve them in the process. Others mock them. Guess which companies have the best creative track record?

If you work at Disney, it's sad that you call your own employees "geeks." Everyone is a "geek" if they don't share your opinion. If you don't work at Disney, maybe you should. You'd be in good company.

This isn't a war of words. It's my blog, remember -- and I'm not selling shares. I want your post to stay up here. I want your voice heard. It's an important one to have.

It makes us all remember what kind of a company Disney has become.

If Disney employees are "sneering" because of a viewpoint that matches those of a fan, it makes you wonder when the sneering's going to stop ... and the listening is going to start.

Until Disney reverts to private ownership, it's not just my desire to have a voice and give a tiny place on the Internet where everyone can let their own voices be heard ... it's my privilege, my right and, well, I guess my responsibility as a tiny minority owner of The Walt Disney Company.

Thank you, again, for reminding us of just the sort of mentality that exists at Disney. Interestingly, when I worked there back in the 1990s, your mentality was the one that was "sneered" at. Now it's the one that's held up as the model example. I'll let you decide whether Disney's creative downfall just HAPPENS to mirror that timeframe, or whether there's a correlation.

Epcot82 said...

One point of clarification: I never made a comment about the decor or design of the offending cafeteria. Back in August 2006, I simply pointed out that while Disney was lavishing tons of money on a new campus for its poorly performing Consumer Products division, a highly visible symbol of Disney's creativity was languishing. I wondered about those Strange Priorities.

Eighteen months ago.

Glad it stuck with you.

bluesky said...

I am glad to see your posts again. It may inspire me to continue my blog. I agree with you let them sneer at our "fanboy nutjob blogs." Five years from now those same people may be looking for work and Disney may open its eyes to what made it such a magical place to begin with. I do want to take you to task on a few points though, from one nutjob to another. I think that epcot has distanced itself from presenting futuristic ideas because it is too expensive to keep up with. Case in point, the retro version of the future as seen in Tomorrowland. I do agree with you though, epcot would be far more fascinating if it could take us to the place that we imagined and saw as 12 year old boys. Keep up the good work my friend 