Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Smell of Orange

For reasons not entirely clear to me, traffic to EPCOT Central has increased by about 65% in the last three days, compared with average daily traffic. To those of you who are new to EPCOT Central, welcome. To those who are simply reading with more frequency, thank you!

Also increasing is the amount of mail, both positive and negative. The negative responses generally follow the same outline: They come from "ghost" addresses that can't be replied to, they take issue with the tone of EPCOT Central; they feel The Walt Disney Company's management, particularly Jay Rasulo and his team, are doing a phenomenal job; they believe EPCOT Center was a disaster and that only by turning it into "Epcot" has Disney been able to save a monumental blunder.

Likewise, they believe that EPCOT Central wants to turn Disney theme parks "into a museum." Well, anyone who has read more than one or two EPCOT Central posts knows that's not this blog's intention; no one would be more disappointed to find that a Disney theme park hadn't changed in 20 years than me. But the "change is good" mantra isn't always true. Not all change is good. Don't tell me you like being 20 pounds heavier than you were in high school, that you like losing a job or learning of the death of a loved one, that you enjoy the nation's economic recession. No, not all change is good. Just ask anyone who's been watching the downard trajectory of DIS lately.

But some changes are, and those should be celebrated. And EPCOT Central does celebrate them when they are genuinely for the better.

If you don't see a lot of celebration in these changes, maybe that tells you something of the way EPCOT Central regards the changes made in the past 10 or so years. Then again, for instance, changes to The Land have mostly been for the better. And even though it ain't no Horizon, my stance on Mission: Space has softened. A lot.

But it always comes back to oranges.

Watching the Horizons videos (which you can find by scrolling down a bit) reminds me of what Disney used to do so right, what used to work so well before the financial mindset crept in that each and every attraction was somehow a "mini-profit center" in and of itself.

From the 1960s to the mid-1990s, Disney wanted first and foremost to get the experience right, to have a guest emerge from a Disney attraction with a possibly unspoken, but monumentally important, feeling that no one except Disney could do it like this.

Horizons certainly gave us that feeling, and at no place in the expansive ride was it more evident than the orange-grove scene. For that one moment, we were completely transported to another place, where something unusual and beyond our limited scope of imagining was taking place ... and we could smell it, too. The illusion was complete.

Horizons took us in a three-dimensional way to a place we could never go ourselves, and then took the time, took the care, took the effort to wait until we were in exactly the right position, in just the right place, to give us that orange scent.

Sure, it was a cheap effect. It probably wasn't all that complex to do (though it did take some thinking to figure out how to make that scent also go away). But it worked.

It worked in a way that it doesn't quite work on Soarin', where the film-based component doesn't quite make you feel as engaged. (Yes, I know, this is totally subjective, and while I love Soarin', it never quite connects with me the way a ride-through does.) It worked in a way that is sorely lacking in Mission: Space or Test Track, where the thrills are from adrenaline, not from the excitement of seeing something unexpected.

More than that, every time a smell an orange, I'm transported back to that moment, even though the ride has been closed for years. I remember that scene, I remember the feel of being next to my family or friends in that car, in that building, on that ride, at that park. That smell brings a little thrill to my heart every time I encounter it.

I smelled oranges millions of times before "Horizons," and I've smelled oranges millions of times since. Yet that one moment made a memory that lasts a lifetime.

That's the business Disney and EPCOT Center used to be in: lifetime-long memories.

Not 10-second thrills.


Unknown said...

I'm one of the silent many who checked my RSS each day for months hoping for a new entry, and I'm glad you've found the time again to share your insights more frequently (two in one day this past weekend, wow!). The increase in site visits may be due to your being the featured site/blog of the day on the yahoo group DizNewsPlus recently.

Apologists abound and much like some of the "concerned citizens" I have met who wish to remove literature selections from my colleagues' classrooms without ever having read the "offending" pieces themselves, there is very little that can be said to alter their point-of-view. I guess my issue is that I try to respect them for having their point-of-view while they have no respect for or understanding of others that might not agree with them.

The orange scent remains one of my mother's favorite memories of WDW and Epcot Center. Horizons was always my favorite attraction, but my favorite scene in an attraction remains the Dreamport.

Innovation is good, and can be great. Change for the sake of change or the perceived need for change is not.

Thanks again for the recent frequent posts!

Ryan Lovelett said...

I too am someone who has always been a fan of the blog. I too never deleted the blog from my RSS reader even when you said you wouldn't be back, I still had hope.

I don't always agree with every word written on the site. However, I can say the general sentiment is shared.

Today, I'm an Electrical Engineer (about to graduate) because of the things I saw at EPCOT Center in the 80's all those years ago. Furthermore, Tuesday I had my first of what hopes to be many more job interviews for an Engineering position with the Walt Disney Ride and Show department. It really is a dream coming true.

I say all of this to say this. There is a generation, graduating from trade schools, engineering schools and other technical fields who I believe owe a lot to this EPCOT Center. I believe that there will be a change, a change for the better, when there are enough people who remember the meaning and know the difference. Those are the people who have the opportunity to affect change. I will try and be one of those.

Epcot82 said...

Great thoughts! Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Unspoken? I believed that Disney had a kind of special directives book written by Walt himself for all his empire to get every experience right. Or maybe everyone who works at Disney are just immersed by "the dream" so that everything made from that easy-accessible spirit feels right. And hey, "Future by Design"'s documentary by William Gazecki is really interesting:

Anonymous said...

I, too, have been influenced by the essense of EPCOT Center. So, amazed and intrigued about the future and its possibilities that I became an architect. As an architect/designer, I realise that at Disney you can't go away whistling the structure. You want to escape and be immersed in the experience. I am very happy to see that you haven't left us. In fact, I wish more people showed your (and our for many of us) passion for something as unique as EPCOT. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I almost wish you could share with us excerpts from those letters you get. It's fascinating how a company can build something as ambitious as EPCOT Center, allow it to languish for 10 or so years with no significant updates to the shows or exhibits, and then declare the place a "monumental blunder" that needs "saving" by taking a completely different course of action. If EPCOT Center would have kept relevant with incremental updates sympathetic to it's original mission, I don't think we would be have Epcot as we see it today.

Anonymous said...

Today I learned Jay Rasulo's mom sends you e-mail.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that over the past decade or more, "Epcot" has turned into a disaster. However, I am starting to feel hopeful for the future of it. The signs put in with the revamping of Spaceship Earth have returned to the original park logo, and I believe the original ride logo as well. It doesn't seem too large an assumption to think that EPCOT might be right around the corner. With the ideals and concepts of the past and the technology of today, EPCOT could really be something.

Anonymous said...

I love that BBQ smell in Spaceship Earth as you pass by buildings in ancient Rome burning. It's little things like that that make Epcot so great. More of these small touches needed. I hope this stays the same in the refurbished Spaceship Earth!

Matt said...

Thanks for your insight. I'm an occasional reader, and enjoy the site. Although I know good blogging is time consuming, I think all of your readers would enjoy more frequent postings.

Anyway, I agree with your recent posts. Being born in 1974, I was able to witness EPCOTs "growth" (albeit, these are kind of hazy, immature reflections), and I too think the 'changes' that you're referring to are overall bad. Unfortunately, these observations could be applied to American society as a whole - one that is obsessed/overwhelmed with consumerism and branding. Although Disney is in for the ride, let's face it, their branding is good...

To quote Naomi Klein: "The problem with branded vacation destinations is that they only provide temporary opportunities for brand convergence, an oasis from which families, at the end of the trip, are abruptly yanked and dumped back into their old lives, no doubt a poorly managed mishmash of competing logos and brand identities."

... but Disney doesn't want this mish-mash - they want you to go home, buy the movie that inspired the ride that reflects the shirt and stuffed animal that you bought at the new Epcot. Though, Disney's brand is an identity representing the imagination and history that we all love, it's an identity of competing generations.

Unfortunately, this constant rise of marketing and consumerism INSIDE the parks (especially a place within DW like EPCOT that seemed to be more philosophical, optimistic, and idyllic - shelled from the commercialism that surrouned it) is the problem. Though overall, its still a park operating under the assumption of profit, and the bottom line determines the faith of its investors/stockholders, but again, visiting there when I was younger seemed to be more about the concept than the dollar. It's obvious that's what Walt had in mind for this park at its conception as well - pushing ideas, bringing industry and societies together to create solutions for the future, all while limiting overt marketing exposure.

Hopefully with Lasseter in charge of the Parks now (a guy dedicated to what I might call "tactile history" - basing decisions on original, historically sound models/methods), things will turn around (still - I may be in the minority - but I'm worried about Spaceship Earth). I'm tempted to say that the competing arguments that the creators of the park may have been foreshadowing with the successors of Disney's name today, but I think the real problem is money. You're right, every ride was not based around a Disney movie in the attempt to increase profit - it was about education and futurism and the "promise of tomorrow". Well, I think they could still grasp that with projects today, but as we know, technology changes so fast today that it would be hard to keep things current, which is what kids today want.

It is a little depressing seeing the purity of the messages and environments they were creating of the past being diluted - to see it evolving into a cartooned, Universal Studios model is scary. Still, I hold hope that EPCOT could be the heart and voice of the optimistic futurism it once maintained.

Samantha said...

woot. i agree. our sense of smell is most tied to memory... so it's understandable.

i was walking through my college's music school and i heard a familiar part-- and only after some research i realized they were playing a song used in the Impressions des France move in Epcot... when they're ascending the Eiffel tower-- and i was transported there. Amazing memories of Epcot :)

Anonymous said...

I just now found this blog, and I love it. I hope there will be more coming soon.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that this was a brilliant post and totally captured my own sentiments. I just posted a story about Horizons on my blog and linked to your post.

Angie said...

I visited Epcot today with my husband, for the first time in years. My husband had never been to Disney before and when I was filling him in on what we would see today, the "ride with the orange smell" was one of the things on which I focused the most information. I was almost heartbroken as we left the park today without finding this ride of my memories and quickly searched in the internet in search of information. I am sad that this very vivid, memory inducing ride was removed from the park and appreciate your thoughts and opinions. I have other fond childhood memories of Disney World, but will always remember the amazing "flight" above the orange groves in Horizons.