Monday, March 31, 2008

Ten Steps to a Better Epcot: Step No. 2

Step No. 2: Update the Movies

Movies can be expensive, there's no doubt about it. These days, the "negative," or production, budget on a feature film can easily run into the nine-figure range, with many blockbuster movies costing as much as $160 million to produce. So, Step No. 2 toward improving EPCOT isn't made without that knowledge. Movies cost a lot of money.

Similarly, theme-park attractions aren't cheap. The new Cars attraction at Disneyland in California is rumored to cost as much as $300 million -- that's nearly 1/3 of the entire cost of EPCOT Center when it was built in 1982.

But it would seem, then, that Disney would want to make sure that it realizes long-term investments on those attractions, to ensure that, year after year, guests are walking through the doors of an attraction and always finding something to entertain and delight them.

So, why can't Disney consistently and regularly revitalize and freshen up the movie-based attractions at EPCOT?

No doubt, it's not a simple process to re-shoot a movie that requires multiple 70mm-sized movie screens, the CircleVision process or 3-D technology. It can't be a logistical and creative walk in the park to design and produce films that can't be shown anywhere else, that utilize production techniques that aren't exactly off-the-shelf methods.

Still ... it's been 26 years since the view EPCOT audiences have of France has been changed. France, on the other hand, has changed a lot. While certain scenes and images may be timeless, France is an exciting, vibrant, thriving country -- and fashion-conscious, too! They even have some modern cars. But you'd never know that from the impressions of France you get at Impressions de France.

If Disney can find hundreds of millions of dollars in its coffers to market Prince Caspian certainly it could find, say, $15 million to update Impressions de France for another, oh, maybe 10 to 12 years?

Then there's poor, poor Norway. If you watch the lovely Spirit of Norway movie, you'd think the Norwegian fashion sense is still rooted in the mid-1980s and that the country is still running off of 25-year-old computers. There are moments in Spirit of Norway that are downright painful to watch. Since Disney is now operating the Norway pavilion without a governmental sponsor, it seems Disney could at least throw that little country up north a bone and move the view of its people and places into the 21st century.

The Universe of Energy is remarkably dated, as well, populated with U.S. TV pop-culture references that don't even make sense to non-Americans, much less to many teenagers visiting the park today, who weren't born when Bill Nye the Science Guy had his little dose of fame.

It's been nice to see Disney update Wonders of China and, even despite Martin Short, O Canada ... but it took them 25 years to get to that point with two movies. Two.

Will EPCOT turn 50 before the other film-based attractions are updated?

The whole point of these relatively inexpensive film-based attractions was that they were easy to maintain, to update, to freshen and to keep people coming back ...

... and, really, isn't that kind of the point?


Foy Lyndstrom said...

Methinks this is a bad idea. Rewind two years ago, and imagine the thoughts in the minds of the Disney Upp'n'Uppers:

"Hey! Mexico! That Ride is outdated! Hey! Looks at It's a small world! That ride is outdated!"


"Hey! Look! France is outdated! Let's have it narrated by a French Donald Duck! Hey! Norway! Mickey in da huset!"

Keep the timeless images, update old images with virtually exactly the same pictures, just modernized. No Disney characters allowed. Period.

Epcot82 said...

Oh, yikes -- I hope that's not the message I conveyed! The films should absolutely retain the flavor and spirit of the originals. It's about time to put the "cartoon characters invade EPCOT" concept to bed!

Matt said...

No, that's not the message you were conveying... I just think that some people envision the anti-Walt, moneygrubbing middle-managers in today's Disney corp. trying to add as much marketing as they can whenever anything is redone (which means branding, icons, money).

Anonymous said...

So far we have an updated China, Canada and American Adventure ending film...I can't imagine that France and Norway are too far away (not like anyone will stick around to watch the Norway movie anyway)

Unknown said...

A thought occured after reading this article, again subject to the "I don't care about the legal ownership of the idea, WDI; but please restore that complete sense of wonder after a visit as best you can!" caveat.

Would it be possible to make the films in a modular manner? That way, the framework of the films could remain basically constant (and if they're firmly rooted in the timeless parts of the culture for the given pavillion, that should be pretty easy to do). Then the timely aspects may be something one could re-shoot as needed every 3-5 years or so, probably using much of the same narration but with updated visuals. I can't imagine that being too expensive if you're using the same celeb V/O as the "previous" version and use routinely updated film from the host country. It'd be even cheaper to redo if you don't get caught in the 'People Magazine' trap for the V/O roles; using unknowns should allow cheaper and easier updates of the script too (and maybe serve as a farm system for animation voice talent!).

Obviously that'd be even easier to do for the Future World films, though again an actual piece of hardware that the pavillion sponsor would supply, even if it's just an interactive digital model, would probably be more meaningful for EPCOT visitors than a film they could just as easily sleep through.

Lastly, while it's got nothing to do with the movies topic, that photo of SSE with the finish of the metal panels highlighted is pretty cool; thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

I love the Norway film. People who skip out on it are missing maybe the best, most lovely part of the pavilion. It's a shame people can't sit still for five minutes and feel the need to rush on to see the next thing. Guess they miss most of their life that way, too.

Anonymous said...

Universe of Energy is outdated but we teenagers know who Bill Nye the Science guy is. Go to any high school and play the theme and it's awesome! All teens learned in elementary school from Bill.

Anonymous said...

Wait... Didn't they update Spirit of Norway last year? I'm almost certain that they did. If not, it's been in the works. I agree something needs to be done to France's film. I say they should keep the title and re-film all the scenes that focus on the cities and digitally remaster the out-of-focus country-side scenes from the original. I've got to hand it to Disney for adding new footage of Mexico City into the new Gran Fiesta Tour...but you can't take the Three Cabelleros seriously as hosts to represent an entire nation... There's 2 rumors I'd like to inform you about, Steve. and apparently they're considering updating Universe of Energy with a much more educational approach with the enviromental ideas of Al Gore... But that one is just a rumor thus far. -Mike Hitchcock

Anonymous said...

While you're talking about movies, how much would it cost to change Soarin' over California to "Soarin' Over America"? It's a fine experience, but limited...

Anonymous said...

Not at all!

Disney is so big, the money they make on all the "big movies" are eaten up by "small movies" to make them at least break even (anyone remember Home on the Range?)

Plus, because disney is such a big company, they are spreading themselves thin in may respects. They have a line of fresh fruit packaged for lunches...should they not have done that in order to redo a film most people will walk across anyway? Or a ride that will be E for the first month, than slowly descend into the depths of A?

Anonymous said...

The French film isn't so much about France but about French classical music, which is timeless. Therefore I hope they never change that film. Maybe update the images, but not the soundtrack!

Anonymous said...

The Norway movie always makes me misty. It's so beautiful to me, because of the statement "The spirit of Norway is in her people." And if they shove Disney characters into it, it will break my heart.

My very spiritual path is rooted in Norwegian indigenous practices, and having a dignified portrayal of our ancestors is a very good thing.

I wonder where that child is now, the one who touches the ship in the Norway movie...

Smilee306 said...

Well he's at least 30...which comes back to the original point. I shouldn't think it's 1980 still in Norway.

Anonymous said...

If they do update the films I hope that offer the originals for purchase on DVD. They are such a part of my childhood that I would like to share them with my kids.

I agree with the Anonymous poster who commented on the timeless element to the French film, due to its music. There is such a charm and majesty about that film that to loose it forever would be a travesty.

AnneBDots said...

While Bill Nye the Science Guy is now outdated...the Universe of Energy ride at present was such a drastic improvement from it's prior incarnation that I still find it entertaining and refreshing.

I agree strongly that the Impressions of France movie, to me, is timeless. I do, however, wish there were a way to keep it and have a contemporary take on French culture. There is much more to France and her people than those lovely scenes and sounds.