Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Way back in 1786, when this country was just being born, Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote:

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men /
Gang aft a-gley, /
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, /
For promised joy."

Or, better known to us, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

In the case of EPCOT Center, we know who the mouse is, and we know who the men (and women) were, and still we're left with some sadness over the promised joy that never came.

Here's a look at a commemorative 1982 booklet that previews EPCOT Center and ends with a promise of much more to come.

We know the endgame here. Horizons is only a fondly held memory, replaced with a thrill ride that, anecdotally, at least, more than half of EPCOT's visitors won't even attempt to experience. The Living Seas, which only mildly fulfilled its original vision, has been turned into a Fantasyland dark ride with an aquarium now seemingly haphazardly attached. (Or is it the other way around?)

The Morocco pavilion may be one of the most exquisite, but it is also one of the most ignored and overlooked by guests (again, that's anecdotal). Those who do venture into its "back areas" and the prayer room often find they are overwhelmed by its beauty and detail. But for the most part, it's wasted space waiting for something grand to happen there, as it has waited for two decades.

Spain and Israel never came to fruition, and though they've never been directly addressed by Disney management or Imagineers (to my knowledge), they likely were a victim of the September 1984 regime change, hardball negotiations by capital-infusion-averse Disney, and the political climate of the 1980s and 1990s.

Equatorial Africa always seemed a bit of a stretch to me, more confirming that geographically illiterate guests (of which there are many, and sadly mostly Americans) would be led to believe "Africa" is a country. Ultimately, it morphed into Animal Kingdom, which has been a terrific addition to Walt Disney World -- and, with the continuing slump of EPCOT, is probably my favorite park to visit, as it gets more beautiful with every year (except the Dino Land area).

It's just sad to see how much enthusiasm there originally was for EPCOT Center, how much the park really did seem poised for growth that upheld and expanded its core theme.

Today, there's little "theme" left in what was once the ultimate "theme park," and many of us are left, it's true (yes, critics of EPCOT Central, come to the fore!), wondering what would have happened had those plans of mice and men actually come to pass.


St. Chris said...

Is there more to that booklet, or were you just showing us the cover?

David Landon said...

Ah, the Forgotten EPOCT. I would have liked to have seen the bullet train in Japan, and the Rhine River ride in Germany. The original concept for the Living Seas would have been amazing, had it ever been built. A Space pavilion was planned all along, but had it been constructed in the 1980s it likely would have been more impressive than the one we ended up getting.

But I'm glad Africa never got done. After all, an African pavilion would have to walk a razor-thin line between accentuating the bright spots that exist there while not downplaying the AIDS and the famine and the military juntas that count rape and torture as elements of their domestic policy. They couldn't have pulled it off.

Epcot82 said...

Well, I think that the idea behind Equatorial Africa was the same behind any of the pavilions -- to spotlight what makes us at once unique and the same. I'm glad that Disney, back when it felt like the "real Disney," decided to go ahead with Animal Kingdom. It's a terrific introduction, and one of the beauties of Animal Kingdom is that, no matter how much "Disney" gets injected into it, the basics are SO educational and SO antithetical to a "Disney-ized" theme park that the educational aspect really can never go away. I've come away from every trip to Animal Kingdom knowing a little bit more than I did before, and it just makes me long for EPCOT even more!

As for the booklet, I didn't scan in the whole thing; that was just the final page, a hint of things to come. It's a lovely booklet, often available on eBay by searching for "1982 EPCOT opening commemorative booklet."

Epcot82 said...

St. Chris, here is a link to one of those commemorative books on Ebay. (I am NOT the seller!)


Anonymous said...

I actually think shoving more into World Showcase would actually detract from what is already there. Most people already overlook big chunks in exchange for time in future world/other parks but it would be even more of a glossing over if there were more pavilions. Besides, some of the existing countries need more oomph to pull in the guests.

But I agree with your pull on Morocco. It really makes me wish the other countries had as much pride as Morocco did when given the opportunity to share their country with the world.

St. Chris said...

I actually think shoving more into World Showcase would actually detract from what is already there.

Yet there are still open slots for five more countries (six if you reclaim the Millennium Pavilion space).

What's wrong with a multi-day park? What's wrong with having more to discover next time you visit?

Mark W said...

I happen to like the Dino Land area. It's kitschy, it's corny, and it's DISNEY.

I understand your points about not turning Epcot into a cartoon, but in Animal Kingdom, the cartoon portion is nicely cordoned into its own little nook, and I don't think needs to make any apologies for being there. It's a whimsical little spot within an otherwise somewhat somber and serious park. Rafiki's planet watch, frankly, does a terrible job of being an educational spot. There are far too few exhibits. It's too hyper-focused on some seemingly random things. The walking trails and safari are much better (though I think they need to remove the animatronic 'ride' elements from the safari). That's an example of the cartoon leaking in where it shouldn't.

Anonymous said...

I happen to like the Dino Land area. It's kitschy, it's corny, and it's DISNEY.

We'll agree to disagree on that. As far as I'm aware, Disney has never been in the business of creating cheap-looking, cardboard-cutout roadside attractions. That may have been the "theme," and therefore it may have succeeded. Then again, if someone dresses trashily to look like a prostitute and succeeds ... is it necessarily an accomplishment?

Gil said...

@offkilter06 Are you saying that you don't think more countries should be added to World Showcase, or are you saying that you don't think anything at all should be added to World Showcase?

I myself would rather see a few more rides added into World Showcase's no-ride countries than have Epcot add new countries. World Showcase could really use some plussing of the current pavilions before jumping to add new ones.

Where's my Mount Fuji rollercoaster? I want to take a ride down the venice canals!

@Epcot: I didn't realize you liked Animal Kingdom so. My first trip was during its early years, when it felt like a half-day park, so it was a bit disappointing (like my first trip to MGM Studios). I've been once since then but I remember my first trip more clearly for some reason, so in my mind I'm still disappointed with Animal Kingdom. Actually, probably because of its lack of Beastly Kingdomme, more than anything. I'd love to see you do a post contrasting Animal Kingdom with Epcot, though...

Anonymous said...

Gil, I also am forever disappointed with Animal Kingdom after my first visit, since I also visited when it just opened. Full of spaces where we were told 'and this is where the ........ is going to be'. It felt like it had been opened too soon, before it was really finished. I think the jeep safari and the dinosaurs were the only 2 attractions in place then, but it has to be said, they were amazing.

Epcot82 said...

I like the idea of doing a comparison of Animal Kingdom and EPCOT -- I'll try to write something up like that!

I was working for Disney when Animal Kingdom opened, and I was painfully aware of what was planned but never happened. Still, for some reason I was less upset about it than at EPCOT, perhaps because Animal Kingdom is a lovely park to just "walk around" in, and, as you mentioned, the attractions that WERE there were really stellar. Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Pangani Forest trail, the Maharajah Jungle Treak, the Oasis area and the original Dinosaur attraction -- for me, at least -- could easily consume more than half a day.

However, I'm not the sort who likes to just rush from attraction to attraction -- I love the sort of park where you could spend hours just wandering around, going to shops (and Animal Kingdom has terrific non-Disney merchandise), getting a bite to eat, and having a leisurely day. After all, "park" is an important part of "theme park"!

David Landon said...

A funny thing about the Morocco pavilion; my first trip to EPCOT was in 1985 when I was 7. My family did the first half of the day at the Magic Kingdom, and when we got to EPCOT my parents sped right past all those wonderfully futuristic pavilions and headed straight for Morocco for my mom to go shopping. Needless to say, I was in no mood to appreciate the exquisite theming. Fortunately, my mom finished shopping in time to take me to Future World, thus changing my life forever.

Unknown said...

Future guy: you may get your wish sooner than you think about the bullet train concept.

I too miss the other pavilions, but agree that the current ones deserve to be plussed before adding more. One thing not thought about when adding countries, is that it means adding another restaurant. How many restaurants do you think can feasibly be supported at one theme park?

World showcase was my least favorite thing as a kid, but is easily my favorite place now.

Gil said...

@Anonymous: Yeah that was basically it when it first opened, they had Africa which was well themed and had a great Safari ride, and then there was the Tough To Be A Bug in the Circle of Life tree, and then CTE, which was a great ride but was marred for me slightly by the fact that I assumed the Dinosaur land would be better themed. [I still miss the early conception of the three lands: The Real, The Mythical, and The Extinct].

The second time I went, they'd added the excellent River Rapids ride, but it felt like that was it aside from some even worse cheaper cheesier Dinoland Theming.

Since Expedition Everest arrived, I haven't been back to DAK... MGM finally started to feel like a real park when Tower of Terror was added, is this true with the addition of Everest?

Perhaps in my mind, until I see a Dragon or Unicorn at DAK, I won't be satisfied.

Anonymous said...

I too would like to see more pavilions in WS. I have read before that Israel, as well as any other mideast nation, will not be built because of security concerns (Disney already is considered a terrorist target, an Israeli presence would make it more so).

I'm don't understand what you mean when you say The Living Seas "only mildly fulfilled its original vision". It was the largest aquarium in the world from the time it opened until the Georgia Aquarium opened in 2005. That's almost 20 years! In the middle of a park with so much else going on, I could see people interacting with sharks, turtles, rays, and dolphins in tanks that were so big I wasn't sure where or if they ended. An animatronic deep sea unmanned sub (JASON) talked to me. I got to get inside and use a deep sea dive suit that looked and felt tougher than the suits astronauts used.

Plus, it was magnificently themed. The Nautilus and the other old time diving memorbilia in the line led to a circular room that gave you the sense of being underwater just from the light it projected on the walls. Then you watched a movie that powerfully let you comprehend just how much water there was in the ocean. As a kid, the hydrolators really made me feel like I was going five stories underwater. You got all that before you even got on the ride! The sea cabs felt futuristic and seemed to take you on a longer ride than what I can think of as being possible by looking at the track now. Then you got to Sea Base Alpha which felt like you were on a one of a kind research base, deep underwater, where you could watch so many interesting things take place.

I'm sure there were some great ideas for the Living Seas that got cut, but what was created was incredible. Nemo is a neat ride that would make a fantastic addition to Fantasyland, I just miss the Living Seas.

Anonymous said...

I can't see why disney management isn't going back to some of these fantastic ideas. Sure, they'd cost a LOT... but chances are, they'd also draw in a LOT of people. Make the new epcot like the Disneyland '59 opening.

I would love to see more attractions in the world showcase. Think if we could cruise down the river in germany, or "meet the world" and take a ride on a bullet train in japan... There's just so much potential even for just the WS that it's hard to believe it's the way it is.

As for the living seas, WOW. I'd LOVE to see some of the original Poseidon concept. You think the opening day living seas was amazing? You'd be blown away by the pre budget cut, pre United Technology's cheapness version.

As for animal kingdom, the park has come a long way, but just like epcot, it still CAN go a long way. the question is... will it?
Dinorama doesn't bother me. The imagineers did a great job (read the back story) of tying together what they had to work with. The bad part is, unless you are fully aware of that backstory, it looks like they threw some cheap dino amusement rides in the middle of a great theme park. It was both a success and a failure.

I hope someday disney parks management will make the budget work just like walt did, and realize the potential of real disney rides... not old ones with disney characters plastered on them.

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