Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ten Steps to a Better EPCOT: Step No. 1

Over the next few weeks, EPCOT Central will explore 10 relatively easy ways Disney could significantly improve EPCOT.

Of course, these are just opinions, and your voice is welcome!

Also, a note to Disney's legal eagles: This blog is written anyonymously. Therefore, all suggestions and "creative" ideas are yours for the taking. There's no ownership here; if Imagineers or theme-park management likes what's written, by all means -- take the ideas as if they were your own!

These suggestions are written in absolutely no particular order. Step 10 is no more or less important than step 1; they're just ideas, observations and suggestions made in the spirit of optimism and global community that EPCOT Center used to embody.

With that ...

Step No. 1: Clean Up the Clutter
It's springtime, time for a thorough cleaning ... and EPCOT could use one the same way everyone else could!

Most notably are the open spaces throughout Future World. These spaces were designed to be open, to be large, to be easily navigable. The intention wasn't to line them with outdoor-vending carts, particularly those that serve no purpose than to sell random junk. So, we're not talking about getting rid of ice-cream and refreshment carts, though, frankly, those could be better themed and better located.

The most glaring offender here is that stupid Ballzac stand in the Future World East breezeway. In dozens upon dozens of trips to EPCOT, I've never seen anyone purchase one of these silly things. But lest any guest not understand exactly what a "Ballzac" is (am I the only one who finds the name vaguely sexual and a tad offensive?), the poor cast member staffing this location spends his or her shift bouncing the thing around. That can't be very fun, particularly when no one's buying your wares, so the cast member throws the ball around, tossing it to and fro, often losing control and hitting some unwitting guest in the head. Of course, it's not as if these are exactly lethal weapons, but this particular piece of clutter isn't just thematically irrelevant ... it's downright obnoxious. Pay off the Ballzac vendor and let this walkway just be. If you gotta sell Ballzacs, do it at a water park or a location like the Boardwalk or Pleasure Island, where at least the "zany fun" of the Ballzac can be appreciated.

There's also the issue of those early 1990s-era purple "carnival tent" structures. True, from some distance away, they frame the bottom of Spaceship Earth nicely. But even as that sort of visual framing device, the look can only be appreciated from a particular vantage point, and isn't necessary. Spaceship Earth doesn't need that sort of visual "enhancement."

Worse, from anywhere in Innoventions Plaza, it becomes impossible to actually see Spaceship Earth. And isn't that sort of the point?

One of the many visual splendors of EPCOT is to be able to see Spaceship Earth from virtually anywhere in the park. Whether in Future World or World Showcase, it's always there, visually linking the two halves of the park thematically -- depending on where you are, either symbolizing our future opportunities with its giant, silver sphere, or reminding you that we're all passengers together aboard Spaceship Earth.

So, it's ironic that the only place you can't actually make out Spaceship Earth anymore is right there in Innoventions Plaza, when it should be looming over you like a majestic reminder of everything EPCOT is about.

Lastly, there are the twin travesties of Test Track and Imagination. The latter is less offensive, but, still, are those banners and "temporary" signs really necessary to instill a sense of "fun"? Guests don't need all manner of signs outside an attraction to serve as a reminder to check out what's inside ... and if they're the kind of guests who do need those visual aids, well, maybe they just need to be a little more curious. The beauty of EPCOT has always been that inside each pavilion there are many different sorts of things to see and do. Imagination doesn't need garishly colored signs reminding us to check out the various attractions; it's too lovely and unique a place on its own.

But poor, poor Test Track. The World of Motion building used to be one of the most visually impressive structures at EPCOT, outside of Spaceship Earth. It gleamed in the Florida sun, it seemed massive; its sleek lines were simple and pure, and even for those who think "futurism" was overrated, it was impressive. From certain angles it still is -- when you're far away from it, looking at it from the side, crossing the promenade between Future World and World Showcase. But as you near Test Track, it becomes a horrendous visual clutter, looking for all the world like a construction site for a project that has never been finished, with scaffolding and temporary signs. (It always seems to me like those banners should say, "Open during construction!")

The best visual "sales tool" for Test Track are the cars zooming past the front of the building. Why is the rest of the "visual noise" necessary?

A cleaned-up EPCOT could return the park to some of its former glory, while still retaining all that is new (relatively speaking), different and exciting about its attractions.

Sometimes, simple is the best way to go.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with #10.

A good use of themeing for a refreshment stand is the Car Wash Coke Stand right outside of Test Track. It goes well with the ride and is visually appealing. At Least I think.

Gil said...

You know, when I was a little boy back in the early days of epcot, I used to use my wooden blocks and brio trainsets to re-create various parts of Disney World. One of my favorite things to do was to re-create EPCOT... Future World was especially fun to re-create as each pavilion had its own distinct and unique structure and shape. I'd use the circular blocks for World of Motion, creating hexagons for Horizons, domes for Wonders of Life...

Each one had its own distinct and unique shape, instantly recognize-able. I think it's kind of a shame that the shapes of so many of the pavilions are no longer...

VB said...

Yes, you're the only one who thinks "ballzac" sounds sexual.

Balzac is a famous French author.

Be offended by the cart in the middle of the breezeway if you like, but you don't really think that Disney is going to stoop to a dick joke to sell some inflatable toys, do you?

I think that's kind of a stretch, don't you?

Matt said...

While critiques are a huge part of my livelihood, I'm not a huge fan of repetitive pessimism, which is why I sometimes dislike this site... though, I am extremely supportive of constructive criticism, which is why these recent posts are great - you're offering a solution without being heavy-handed. I appreciate it, because I am a loyal reader.

That being said, I usually agree with your sentiments of the old EPCOT, including this post.

It seems that most of the concerns that you have raised (with previous posts as well) are representative of most current theme parks, which are usually reflective of the current culture at hand. Unfortunately, our current (American) society is bombarded with technology, interactivity, clutter, consumerism, short attention spans, and loosening morals, which I think answers most of your questions here. But I also think that this is why simplicity is often so attractive now - it's very common for me to be caught and held by something clean, broad, somewhat general and simple in its presentation, not only for the reasons above, but because in simplicity there's usually great depth.

Sometimes people use clutter as a facade for their inadequacies of knowing how to create a strong, simple statement. Relying on the basics in presentation allows the mind (which is a hell of a lot more creative) to fill in the gaps, thus, building stronger memories, which in Disney's case, would mean more repeat visits. I don't think people come back to EPCOT because of their fond memories being pick-pocketed by vendors on the way to a ride.

On the other hand, if there weren't fifty million carts trying to sell things in the promenade, I can envision people saying, "It's really empty here" or "Why the hell isn't Disney trying to keep me amused right now" and "Why do I have to walk so far to get to another exhibit before I see something with a logo on it". It's a soulless form of entertainment that fills the gaps until we reach point B, and it makes Disney more money (similar to television).

By the way, anyone who doesn't recognize the childishness in that brand name 'Ballzac', either isn't a kid, or a parent, or an American (if I'm wrong, I'm astonished and thankful that somewhere naivety still exists in this country). I'm sorry, but the owner of this brand did not name his "balls" after the French author Balzac (one L), they're just trying to get attention. And you're right, it's not appropriate for a place trying to orient themselves to children (but neither is a lot of crap in today's society).

I especially enjoyed your appreciation of the architecture in EPCOT, and the cognizance of their once majestic and symbolic nature, yet I'm sure that by erecting things like the tent canopies, Disney is either trying to (once again) keep visitors' eyes moving with a carnival type atmosphere, or, trying to 'hide' the entrance to the park. By 'hiding' it, people stay in the park longer and buy more stuff. A little outlandish, but just a thought.

And lastly, the scaffolding in front of Test Track. Yes - I've seen this a million times in other parks as well. Not very inventive, or attractive. In fact, it looks dated. Again, I agree - keep it simple.

And keep up the good (positive) work. Great post.

Dan said...

You're right on with this post about the clutter. I've noticed this in all the Disney theme parks, as they just seem more cramped now, even since my last visit in 2005. Epcot is still the most wide-open in this regard, but it's also starting to cave to the clutter. Just making this change and nothing else would make a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

It's no doubt that the intent of this "clutter" is twofold. One is an attempt to create a more vibrant atmosphere for the park. Apparently the misconception that EPCOT was boring led to the notion that adding a lot of "visually stimulating" stuff would make the park more exciting. Of course this contradicts the original intention for the outdoor spaces of EPCOT to be more restful places where one could enjoy the carefully crafted and dramatic vistas. Restful areas means that guests won't tire out as fast and go running back to the hotel at midday for a break from the clutter.

The second reason for clutter is strictly from a marketing standpoint -- the more you can put products in people's way, the more likely they are to get people's attention. It's the reason why stores now place their displays in a jumbled maze that make it impossible to move smoothly through the store. They want to slow people down and get them to look at the wares ...and buy.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there is both potential positives and negatives with all of the extra "things" around Epcot these days.

I do think a few things need to be cut back, especially the area behind SSE, it just needs to be simplified, maybe a retractible thing that's futuristic and if it rains it can be brought out to help cover, that would serve 2 purposes, it would be futuristic and useful!!

It's also what is lacking by the fake 'motion' seen by some of the objects around Epcot...not really that interesting to look at, just moving artwork that gets dull very quickly... they could make it so much more interesting, like the artwork originally outside of IASW at the 1964 World's fair.

Oh, sometimes I really, really wish I was in charge of Epcot and had the ability to make changes...there are so many cool things I could do to improve the place...(and I'm sure a lot of us could)

Epcot82 said...

Thanks for some great, interesting comments. (Sadly, yes, I do think that Disney, or the outside vendor in this case, would stoop to that level.)

Guess Americans really are bringing to life those song lyrics: "Here we are. Now, entertain us."

Mark W said...

Dude, your site is great and you make some fantastic points, but you do yourself a disservice by becoming a little TOO mired in your pessimism and cynicism. I totally agree with you that EPCOT Center has become a travesty, but maybe you should focus your posts to one or two main issues and skip some your peripheral rants, which just make you seem a little petty. (Saying that Disney would use a dick joke to sell novelties is a little much.)

If you really want your message to be heard, I'd rein it in just a little. There's plenty of issues with EPCOT Center that can be raised and argued flawlessly. Adding a lot of subjective things like whether the name "Ballzac" is offensive just muddies your argument and provides a hand-hold for naysayers.

That said, I think that ALL of the street vendors should be gone from all the theme parks, with maybe the exception of concession stands. They just clutter the place up and add no value.

Anonymous said...

Saying that Disney would use a dick joke to sell novelties is a little much.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what they do.

Rein in passion? Rein in justifiable criticism just to be "understood" better by ardent pessimists? Methinks you should sit through the American Adventure again and recall that a fire in the belly, a willingness to call a spade a spade, a lack of concern about being critical of those things that deserve criticism ... well, aren't those exactly what's missing in our country today?

Sure, it's just some blog about a guy's love of EPCOT. But I love that willingness to just lay it all out there.

If naysayers "won't listen" because the criticsm is too on-the-mark and therefore perceived as too aggressive, well, that's their problem. I love reading sharp criticism that hits the mark. Sometimes, at EPCOT Central, it doesn't, there's no doubt about that. But most of the time? Well, it's accurate, give it that at least!

Mark W said...

Oh I don't disagree with almost any of it, but I think that if the writing were pared down to just the strongest arguments, this blog would be an effective tool to actually provoke some CHANGE.

Otherwise, it's just a rant space where the "choir" can gather together and commiserate.

Either is fine for what it is, but it seems to me like the author wants to change things. He's not serving that end by offering up weaker arguments along with the good ones, which only serve as convenient "handles" for people who want to rebut him (they can rebut the low hanging fruit (the Ballzac argument, which is subjective) and ignore the compelling ones (the systematic destruction of EPCOT's original mission through atrocities like Test Track and Mission: Space).

In a debate, you go with your strongest guns, and leave the weaker ones out because you know they can be countered and become a distraction.

If it's not the point of this blog to stir things up and cause some change, then I'm wrong. Right now it's a commiseration station, which is fine, if that's what you want.

Anonymous said...

You aren't the only one who thinks the name ballzac is something other than a reference to a famous poet.

Anonymous said...

"Saying that Disney would use a dick joke to sell novelties is a little much"

For the record: Disney pulled the ultimate dick joke back in the early 90s. Remember when The Little Mermaid first came out on VHS? No? Those wacky Disney artists (hilariously) hid an actual erect penis in the water castle on the FRONT COVER of MILLIONS of videotapes, in plain view for everyone of all ages to discover.

No, Disney certainly wouldn't stoop to that level...they were probably giggling like a pack of hyenas at that stunt.

- Mike

Anonymous said...

If you don't believe my post above, check for yourself:

Mark W said...

Mike -

That's about as valid as finding a penis in the clouds. It's your own mind that puts it there.

Rita said...

They were gone on my last trip.

Anonymous said...

what were gone? the ballzac place?

I agree with almost all of the points in this article, however, as i am only 15, maybe i'm not old enough to remember it any other way, but i really like the purple tent-like things in the innovations plaza. When visualizing EPCOT in my head, those are some of the first details i think of.
However you are definitly right about all of the clutter and vendors. EPCOT is my favorite park of the whole WDW area, however it has dropped its standards quite a bit...