Friday, May 24, 2013

Beating Disney at Its Own Game ... Again

Here's what a visitor to EPCOT Center would see today:

* A Universe of Energy attraction that hasn't been updated in 18 years, despite the remarkable advances in alternative energy and even fossil-fuel technology since then;

* The Seas With Nemo and Friends, which took the formerly thoughtful and dramatic Living Seas and turned it into a cartoon-fest (which, Disney often says, is what guests want);

* A Journey Into Imagination that looks like a ghost town in the upstairs area, now closed off to guests;

* Boarded up interactive information kiosks (above) that were the precursors to today's smartphones and used to show the visionary reach of EPCOT;

* A bunch of people waiting at the exit to Mission: Space because the ride is too intense for the entire family, and results in many visitors not being able to experience a key EPCOT attraction;

* A Wonders of Life pavilion that is shut down and serves only as a roof over the head of special events, completely shuttering one multi-attraction pavilion in the park;

* A Test Track that got "upgraded" with neon lights and some new show elements;

* Two World Showcase pavilions (Norway and France) that depict the culture of entire countries through 30-year-old film footage.

EPCOT Center, once the crowning achievement and proud showcase of all that Disney was capable of creating, is old and increasingly irrelevant, as Disney's expert "brand management" team defines what the public thinks "Disney" should be all about.

And, then, Universal comes along and opens the high-tech, jaw-dropping Wizarding World of Harry Potter, showcasing ride technology that, ironically, got its first public demonstration at (you guessed it) EPCOT.

To rub salt on Disney's creative wounds, which it licks with the billions of dollars in profits it rakes in, Sea World Orlando -- which for years had been stagnating, this week went directly after EPCOT's guest.

Its new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction is, by the accounts I've read, immersive and captivating, beautiful and imaginative, entertaining and educational.

It even provides two different ride tracks ("mild" and "wild") that allow the entire family to experience the attraction together, even if they're too young for big thrills.  (Take that, Mission: Space!  Disney's competition is learning from the Mouse's own mistakes.)

Perhaps sensing that Disney only cares about its "brand management" focus, and has let EPCOT fall by the wayside, Sea World has created the kind of large-scale, pavilion-style attraction -- combining a store and restaurant in a single location that has a ride as its centerpiece -- previously reserved for the groundbreaking EPCOT.

Disney, once again, is losing the very creative game it originated.  Increasingly, if you want to find EPCOT, you should visit any theme park other than EPCOT Center itself.

And if you want a Disney-style immersive, jaw-dropping, mind-blowing, creative, interesting, fun and unique theme-park experience, it seems Disney is no longer the first place you should look.

Wow.  It's a sad day when that last paragraph can be written ... a day many of us long-time Disney fans never thought could really arrive.  We thought it would be a cold day in some other place when Disney was routinely beaten by its competition; we didn't imagine that cold place would be Antarctica.


Unknown said...

Actually, read a lot of reviews of the ride at Theme Park Insider that said it was rather disappointing. Been a while since I checked the blog due to your long absence but catching up on your posts. Having just made it back to Disney after a six-year break, saw EPCOT and yes, felt a bit annoyed at how the "classic" EPCOT I knew and loved had fallen by the wayside.

But then I remember I also miss decent shopping malls with bookstores. I miss video arcades. I miss not having to have a phone in order to communicate with people on computers and such. I miss not being treated like a backward fool because I don't use twitter or a Kindle.

I loved EPCOT dearly, I still do. But the brutal truth remains that most kids today consider those rides like "Horizons" and "World of Motion" dull and boring, not innovative. I agree, Disney can put more thought and such into it but sadly, I feel blogs like this just add to this "oh, Disney doesn't care" mentality that's taken hold. Like the rants on CarsLand or getting Star Wars and such, that a company doesn't do what every person wants, that means it's automatically a failure. Not to mention how, quite often, folks act like Disney has unlimited resources and can afford to do every single thing fans want when that's not the case.

David Koenig had a classic line that sums it up: "Everyone knows Disney is a business. They just don't like it when it acts that way." When I was at EPCOT, it was packed due to the Food and Wine Festival but people were packing in rides of all types, and movies as well, not to mention the great live entertainment. I love EPCOT, I always will and miss the classic way it was. But to dismiss everything Disney does with it just because it's not what you would do is rather short-sighted and doesn't help with folks wanting to help it get back on track.

I agree, Disney can do more but again, this is a company with a lot on their plates to handle. We can hope it changes but at least give them a chance rather than run down what they do have just because it's not the "magic" it once was.

Unknown said...

gotta love how the forbidden journey stole omniscreen technology from horizons. if Disney kept the same
technological pace, they would be as jaw dropping imaginative as they were in the 80s-90s