Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Random Observations

This latest trip to Walt Disney World and EPCOT provided lots of food for thought. Below, in no particular order, are some observations and musings, some of which will stand on their own, some of which may be developed into later, more detailed blogposts. Bear in mind, it's just a sampling of thoughts ... feel free to add yours!
  • With just four small snips, the "Spirit of Norway" film could be perfectly timeless and run forever ... but it would also help if they could project it digitally so the worn-out 70mm print wouldn't look so scratchy.
  • It's still a mystery why some people resist that downright majestic five-minute film.
  • Whoever decided to move Norway's stroller parking to the lagoon side of the World Showcase Promenade deserves at least a commendation, if not a medal of some sort.
  • Journey into Imagination is not a horrible attraction, it just assumes kids are a lot dumber than they are
  • It's a crying shame that the entire upstairs of the Imagination pavilion is used only for storage; it looks eerie up there, like it was abandoned in a hurry.
  • The Nemo ride that now opens the Seas pavilion is atrocious and gets worse, not better, with time; at least the old, oft-maligned reef ride gave us something to look at beyond cartoon projections.
  • How odd it is that "Honey I Shrunk the Audience" has a hard time getting anyone to see it at Disneyland, yet it remains a top attraction at EPCOT.
  • Spaceship Earth gets better with every ride, and the video descent is pretty good -- too bad it's all played for laughs instead of having at least some basis in reality (it comes across like one of those cheesy "futurism" cartoons from the 1950s).
  • The new moving images of the caveman fighting the mammoth that open Spaceship Earth are just wonderful
  • Judi Dench isn't a bad narrator, she just comes across as a bit smug -- especially when she says, "Remember how easy it was to learn your ABCs?" and "Call it the first backup system." Ugh.
  • At the Magic Kingdom, it's easy (too easy) to find Magic Kingdom merchandise; DHS merchandise is a snap to find at DHS; Animal Kingdom is filled with DAK-themed product ... so how come there are about 10 SKUs of EPCOT merchandise at EPCOT?
  • That said, it's such a thrill and delight to see "old-school" EPCOT logo items.
  • But, really, couldn't MouseGear have a whole "EPCOT" section, including futuristic/technology-driven doo-dads and thingamajigs?
  • The Fountain of Nations is a kick to watch when it goes into full "water ballet" mode, particularly at night when it's spectacularly lit -- and, astonishingly, each nozzle and light has to be programmed manually. To whomever does that job: Congratulations, you do it astonishingly well!

  • Among the things I never knew (or realized) about EPCOT: The park's west side is ruled by water, curves and lots of flowers and trees -- while the more tech-heavy east side is all sharp lines and grassy areas, and gets the harshest sun of the day.
  • There seems to be a lack of consensus about whether the EPCOT Center logo on the ground in front of the Fountain of Nations marks the original "center point" of Walt Disney World, or whether it's the center of the wonderful set of inventors' quotes and landmark dates between Innoventions and The Land.
  • Boy, those hallways in the southwest section of Innoventions are awfully barren; can't someone add more artwork, a mural or some sort of permanent displays in this area?
  • On that note, EPCOT seems to have more unused areas than most theme parks, which is a shame.
  • Speaking of unused, can't Odyssey be turned into a permanent, multi-faceted "princess dining" experience? There could be a Belle seating area, an Ariel seating area, a Jasmine seating area, a Snow White seating area ... and still room to spare, and the building wouldn't just sit there unused most of the year.
  • An EPCOT cast member told us, shockingly, that EPCOT management is thrilled to have the old Wonders of Life pavilion sit empty, because they can use it for festival headquarters "and it takes pressure off of other locations in the park." Really? Is that the official line? That's pathetic.
  • Ballzac has got to go.
  • What a missed opportunity that the Teacher's Center doesn't still exist.
  • Soarin' is a great attraction but really, really makes no sense as part of EPCOT. (The same cast member told us, "As long as it pulls in guests, no one will see a need to change the film." Yes! That's the Walt spirit!)
  • Once you know about the show buildings behind Germany and Japan, they're all you see.
  • Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is just wonderful -- it would be great if someone could figure out a way to communicate the "story" to guests in some fashion.
  • The old World Key reservation stations outside Guest Relations are still there, just clumsily boarded up; never noticed that before.
  • Spaceship Earth is like a great painting; I could stare at it for hours and just contemplate it. It's a truly inspirational and awe-inspiring piece of architecture that is unfairly dismissed as an "amusement park icon."
  • How is it Disney can spend $4 billion to buy Marvel and pay its top executive $51 million a year ... but it still "needs" corporate sponsors to run its attractions?
  • Epcot is fantastic ... but, man, with someone in charge who had genuine vision, EPCOT could be truly, jaw-droppingly extraordinary. Maybe that day will come.


Digital Jedi said...

Soarin' should have been a World Showcase attraction.

The Maelstrom is disappointingly short, and makes the ride seem like a preshow to the film. It's actually somewhat backwards an attraction.

Innoventions needs a complete and comprehensive overhaul.

Pretty much agree with everything you suggested except the Disney Princess thing. If we're going to do something, how about that cafe with the touch screen table tops everyone was talking about there for a while?

Airamerica said...

I agree with most of what you've observed at Epcot recently.

I think it could be a stunning place to visit even though I'd rate it at 6.5 out of 10 right now. The big issue for me is how the 'space' within the property is used.

It's annoying to see that:

The Wonders of Life pavilion sits empty - truly, what is the point of a stunning, large building if it isn't used to entertain the guests. It's even worse if you consider that imagineers MUST of dreamt of something to fill the void.

Innoventions, East and West are filled with uninspiring exhibits. Having said that, the East side is truly a terrible place to spend time. This entire area really should be used to showcase the kind of future technology that's being developed and shown at CES each January.

The Odyssey building seems to be a forgotten relic and although I never cared much for the restaurant itself, it's another big area left vacant - I'd turn it into the ultimate internet cafe, sponsored by Apple!

Spaceship Earth is pure genius, even after all these years but the final third of the ride - the descent stage lacks creativity and according to the little girl in seat behind me last week, it's boring! In addition to the touch screen entertainment there needs to be more.

The Seas, hasn't improved with age and the final stage of the attraction, the pavilion itself is looking tired and empty. I remember the past when it was full of interesting exhibits and themes, it's just a big room at the moment.

Imagination - lets use some upstairs and return this building to its former glory.

Having said all this, Epcot's redemption is World Showcase. I love the design and the way the countries are presented, I only wish there were more rides in this area. Maybe, in future a new country could be added, which includes another ride.

BTW, I can't stand to endure the Norway film under any circumstances but if editing it might make a difference I could try again!

I know money is the major problem when developing any of the existing parks but I always feel that Epcot has so much already in place, it just needs a bit of care and attention to represent genius.

Although, I do wonder if Disney management deliberately hold Epcot back - knowing how amazing it could be and not wanting to steal the Magic Kingdom's thunder... Maybe with the Fantasyland update Epcot might get it's chance to shine in the near future???????

TongaXtine said...

Ballzac has got to go. - AMEN!

How is it Disney can spend $4 billion to buy Marvel and pay its top executive $51 million a year ... but it still "needs" corporate sponsors to run its attractions? -
Disney is clearly decentralized in its park operations and funding.

jimmycrackedcorn said...

How did you get to see the upstairs of the Imagination Pavillion?

Anonymous said...

Airamerica -- Why do you hate the Norway film so much? It's a great little movie, at least as good in its way as Impressions de France, which REALLY needs to be updated, unless we are to believe Parisians all drive European cars from 1979. But what is there to hate about seeing fjords, parades, viking ships and beautiful countryside?

Steve said...

When I visited EPCOT Center as a kid, I loved the original shop in Future World that had exactly what you suggested: a place for technical and "futuristic" gizmos of all kinds. I could have spent my whole day in that store! As it was, I bought a perpetual motion top that I had for years. (How the top worked to keep spinning was a lesson in itself.) The store is, to this day, one of my strongest memories of visiting EPCOT Center.

My guess is, as stores like The Discovery Store and other gizmo and "scientific" curiosity shops became popular in the '80s and '90s, that EPCOT shop was not cool and unique any longer, and run-of-the-mill Disney merchandise made more business sense. Oh, the things "business sense" has destroyed!

Now that the gizmo shops around the country have pretty much all closed up shop, Epcot could be a cool place to find these items once again. The amount of money people of my age spend on "useless" gizmos and collectibles is vast. Epcot could offer a combination of the cheap Discovery store stuff and higher-end geegaws. I think such a place would go over well today.

Hale said...

Great post. I have to agree with a lot of those points. But you didn't notice the difference between the two sides of Future World? That's in the Imagineering Field Guide. I tried pointing that out to my family a few weeks ago, and they made fun of me by pointing out the garish paving in Innoventions Plaza.

It's a shame that the mentality of Disney towards Epcot is just to make people entertained easily instead of really putting good effort into it. It is a great place, but with some TLC, it could be amazing.

Anonymous said...

Imagination is horrible. seems that should qualify as what you called "bad change".

as for the norway film, seems we could wax philosophical about the hectic pace of the modern world, our lack of patience, out desire for everything, including entertainment in another pavillion, "now, now, now!"... but i think you answered part of the question...

it's a scratchy film that, even at only 5 minutes, could be edited down!

i agree that there is plenty of [wasted] space, both in under/unused physical structures or real estate.

i liked your take on the plaza too, hadn't really thought of how circus-ified that area had become. the new color schemes seem to cement that though, eh?

Epcot82 said...

I'm probably in the minority of (shockingly) thinking Imagination isn't horrible -- and even as a child thinking Dreamfinder was just a bit too saccharine. But I'd gladly have him back instead of Eric Idle! Nonetheless, there are some fun, clever moments, and unlike the now-13-year-old Ellen's Energy Adventure, I don't find myself getting bored. Quite the opposite, I crack a little smile when the skunk smell is pumped out, when the lights go out to hear the train going by, when the ultra-colorful final scene "pops" into action.

To repeat: I know I'm in the minority! But I don't think the Imagination ride is awful, despite some awful parts. But what they've done to the pavilion as a whole ... that is INDEED awful.

rob said...

I love you ... all so true.

Have always loved the Norway movie. I was just at EPCOT this past weekend and though I did not do Norway ride, did go to France.

That movie is soooooo old.

I can't believe people are still seeing Honey I shrunk the audience. please, epcot, bring back captain eo. And I've seen pictures of what they've done upstairs to journey to Imagination and all managers who let that happen should have been fired.

Epcot is just cashing in on food and wine and really doesn't care about anything else.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you observed. I don`t like Imagination, yet I go on it every visit. I guess I am hoping to find something to spark my imagination and creativity the way the original did. Like everyone else, I am sad that the Odyssey and Wonders sit idle. Cmon Dis invest some money in these areas instead of Marvel. Get some of the magic back in EPCOT.

Anonymous said...

a little nit i didn't like during my last visit...

a the Land pavillion, they added a stroller parking area to the right/at the bottom of the ramp. However it wasn't used any time I walked by and [lazy] guests still piled strollers along the side of the entrance ramp.

makes it sloppy looking, and worse, creates a narrow alley for people to get in/out of the pavillion. as often is the case, it's about enforcement.

Stacy D-A said...

LOL, at most of these comments. Very true observations!

Thank you for the smiles :)

Anonymous said...

Epcot already was jaw dropping to me.When it updated to me it seemed more rushed and began to conform to what all the other non Disney parks did, depend on fast rides for their income.
Horizons was a jaw dropping attraction from an artist point of view with it's amazing music and craftsmenship.So was Journey into Imagination.
To me updateing can only go so far or it distroys what Disney's vision was.