Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A World We Long(ed) to Share

Thank you to everyone who has welcomed back EPCOT Central. I was sorry to be away so long, but after a couple of months, it got to the point that it seemed best just to give the site a long, long rest. Yes, I expected it to be permanent, but with every trip to Walt Disney World, my enthusiasm for EPCOT – what it was, what it is, what it promised and what it can be – just grows. I was fortunate (since I don’t live in Florida) to visit three times since EPCOT Central’s last post, and the thoughts just continued to build. At the moment, I’m going to postpone continuing my “Ten Steps to a Better EPCOT,” though I will, at some point, finish those out. For all of you who express enthusiasm for my writing and ideas, thank you. And, as a “re-dedication” of EPCOT Central ...

To all who come to this place of thought, expression, ideas and dreams, welcome. EPCOT Central is yours. I hope you will continue to speak your mind here, and to share in the dream that Disney will someday regain its appreciation of this most unique, daring theme park.

As daring as EPCOT Center was when it opened, 25 years ago, it dared even further with the opening of Horizons. The massive, single-ride pavilion, originally sponsored by GE, made a declaration that, sadly, The Walt Disney Company would prove itself unable or unwilling to realize: “If we can dream it, then we can do it.”

It’s unlikely that, in January 1999, executives at Disney realized just how wrong they would be in assuming that Horizons was antiquated and needed to be replaced. Certainly, they could never have anticipated the outpouring of emotion and nostalgia that so many feel for the attraction.

In many ways, Horizons represented the pinnacle of Walt Disney Imagineering. It boasted a large number of Audio-Animatronics figures, a theme-park innovation that no other company (sadly, including today’s Disney) was ever able to replicated. It offered guests an immersive experience that transported them out of their worlds and, briefly, into another. It improved on an existing ride system and increased capacity, so that while by today’s standards its hourly intake was relatively low (I’ve read about 700 an hour), there was rarely a wait, and the experience felt seamless to most guests. It blended humor, music, nostalgia, optimism, futurism, hope and even smells into a ride unlike any other, before or since.

Its unique “immersion” into “the promise of brighter days” may have left some guests cold, no doubt, but for many others, it offered the glimpse of a world in which, true, we might not all actually wear jumpsuits, but in which we had a chance to know and understand more about our life. It told us we had choices, and each was rife with possibility.

Horizons was markedly un-ironic, and it could not exist in a company that seems to believe post-modern irony is what makes its guests chuckle. No, it wasn’t markedly un-ironic – it was gloriously un-ironic.

Allegedly, Horizons fell victim to a sinkhole that mysteriously appeared a few years after GE failed to renew its sponsorship. How GE, or any other company, was supposed to re-invest in a concept that Disney itself appeared to have lost faith in is something I can’t explain. The “official version” aside (sinkhole, no sponsorship, guest surveys), it’s hard to accept any reason for Horizon’s fate than this: Disney didn’t believe in its basic message. No one understood it, and as Horizons lost its lease on life, so did EPCOT Center’s original theme.

I like to believe that the (Disney) world will be a better place someday. Soon, I hope. Because instead of new horizons, it’s increasingly showing us very limited horizons that look awfully like the world we live in now, filled with glitz and flash, but little substance, and, frankly, very little hope or optimism.


Anonymous said...

Welcome Back EPCOT Central! I missed Ya! Very much agree with all of your comments on my favorite calssic WDW attraction, Horizons. However, on my last trip back to EPCOT (last month) I was excited to ride the new and improved Spaceship Earth and was pleasantly suprised that it kept many familiar aspects while including some new ones. And I just LOVE Soarin' and from what I understand they are working on a new movie that incapsolates many different locals, not just California (So odd to people who don't know it came from DCA) So yes...a part of me will never forgive Disney for ripping out a piece of my heart when they took away Horizons, but I feel like there must be one or two old school Imagineers out there pushing for what all of us love about EPCOT. The promise of Brighter Days.

Anonymous said...

Too true,sir.

Welcome back.

Josh said...

Glad to have you back - your perspective is a nice one, and you speak for an awful lot of people when you talk about the potential that EPCOT has to be so much more than what it's become.

It can't become the park we remember and love again, true, but it can become a better park, maybe even better than it was when it started. I hope that's the case.

Anonymous said...

Horizons did indeed represent the future and Future World at EPCOT more than even SSE.

It would be wise for someone who could to impliment the re-creation of a Horizons show for us to not only enjoy but like the original Horizons, be nourished and blessed with a bright outlook to the future we create based on the spirit of Horizons and what it represents.

Anonymous said...

Great to read another post.

What do you think about Spaceship Earth's increasingly becoming a new Horizons? It isn't the same, but it seems every refurb to the ball makes it one step closer.

Epcot82 said...

JMWeingarten -- I think it's very unfortunate, actually, that Spaceship Earth is becoming very much like Horizons. Conceptually, they are two entirely different shows, even with the "re-theme" of Spaceship Earth.

I think the original concept of different subject areas -- communications, energy, health, transportation, imagiation, the land, the seas -- was brilliant. It took the major concerns (save politics and economics!) of most people around the world, and divided them in a way that made sense. Horizons complemented all of them by being about "the future" -- but also about our collective hopes, aspirations and possibilities.

Now, Spaceship Earth is about the rather nebulous "innovation." Which is also what, I thought, "Innoventions" was about. Slowly, the entire concept, the THEME of this "theme park," is being dismantled. Mission: Space is mostly about trying not to get sick. Test Track is about one narrow subject within transportation -- how cars are tested (we learn nothing about anything EXCEPT cars). The Land is still about the land ... and also about Soarin'. The Seas With Nemo and Friends is mostly about that incessant song, cute projections, an adorable ride and, really, about selling "Finding Nemo."

And the Universe of Energy is about 10 years too old.

So, all that said, I love, love, love EPCOT and what it was as well as what it can be.

But it's not a lack of a Horizons-type ride that EPCOT needs to address ... it's a lack of a central vision, a reason for being, a theme that makes sense. No amount of rehab of a single attraction will change that.

Anonymous said...

Bravo...i guess we're way beyond gaining any satisfaction with some sort of official, justified reasoning behind closing Horizons. To me, between Horizons and World of Motion, I just get the overwhelming impression that Disney needed EPCOT to have more thrills and thus more repeat riders. I don't get it. I distinctly recall hopping on Horizons right after I'd gotten off. That has always been the appeal of the park for me...the balance of future-themed dark rides with World Showcase. MK is my place for thrills. MGM is my place for Hollywood themed attractions, etc.

I feel like we're one step closer to EPCOT becoming Hannah Montana Center.

Anonymous said...

What fools these mortals be...

Welcome back, you were very much missed.

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post regarding Epcot Center. Although I can't pretend to have insight into the decisions about the different themes of the Pavilions, it would seem that they reflected heavily upon their sponsors as the synthesis of American Corporate ingenuity and Disney creativity. Horizons was the way it was because GE was a multifaceted company. Spaceship Earth was a communication themed ride because of it's sponsor, AT&T.

The current remake of Spaceship Earth makes sense from the standpoint that Siemens is now the sponsor and represents a different aspect of business. Although "ingenuity" is a less tangible subject than "communications", it does fit the supposed theme of the park. Personally, I felt the story of communications to be more compelling because throughout history it has been the enabler of great cooperation and enlightenment and, regrettably, the cause for so many misunderstandings. Perhaps if the current Spaceship Earth show was revamped to have a more compelling message, it would be better received.

Eric Hoffman said...

I'm so glad to see this blog back in action. Your perspective on Epcot Center is spot on to me and your comment on a lack of vision I think IS truly the problem.

Each new thrill ride that is installed only seems to take a little more of the remaining potential and soul away.

Everything in Epcot should resonate with a higher purpose but it doesn't quite do that now does it?

Anonymous said...

Nice post. One little remark:

Horizons did not have an hourly capacity of 700 guests, but of approximately 2700 guests.

Even by today's standards a phenomenal amount. What can we say? Horizons even excelled in this aspect. A true crowd eater, it swallowed lines whole.

Smilee306 said...

Glad to see you back!