by: Gabriel Gil
EPCOT Center: the 8th wonder of the world. EPCOT, Walt Disney’s last and greatest dream and the crowning Jewel of Walt Disney World. EPCOT, a fantastic center for exploration and research into amazing new ideas… is now home to a talking snowman who happens to like warm hugs.
Walt Disney and by extension the Walt Disney Company used to have a strong set of moral values. A forward thinking persistent attitude of innovation no matter the cost. Walt was a fully realized capitalist who followed the american dream and believed he could actually change the world, which he could. After completely revolutionizing the animation and amusement industries, Walt felt he had enough insight to do something larger. EPCOT: an actual city of the future never made it off the drawing board before his untimely death. However, the spirit of EPCOT would live on.
After 16 years of changing and improving concepts, EPCOT Center opened on October 1, 1982. Putting more emphasis on morals than any park before it, EPCOT Center assured its guests that each pavilion would thoroughly:
Entertain. Inform. Inspire. These defining principles MUST be an integral part of everything experienced throughout EPCOT Center. This is not to suggest that classic EPCOT Center was perfect. But perhaps, it tried a little too hard to educate its audience. However, when Imagineering decided to reevaluate the relevance of EPCOT in the 1990’s and again in the 2000’s they took the park in the complete opposite direction. Taking a park that was heavily informative and transforming into an entertainment park, a second Magic Kingdom, if you will.
But where does the third theme come into play? Inspiration may be the most quintessential part of any Disney experience. And strangely enough, unlike entertainment or education it is an indefinable quality. The ability to be inspired is what kept people coming back to the cinemas to see Walt’s animated features, what allowed people to be immersed in Disneyland, and what drove people to think about or get involved in the world after visiting EPCOT Center. The simple entertainment through IP (intellectual property) characters used in Disneyland or The Magic Kingdom could not/ cannot work in EPCOT. Until 2006 IP character usage throughout the park had been kept to a minimum. And, while most all classic attractions were replaced, they were done so with new, original storylines. Some with better execution than others (but that is another story entirely). 2006 saw the addition of “Nemo and friends” into “The Living Seas” pavilion in Future World as well as Donald Duck and the three caballeros inserted into the Mexican pavilion in World Showcase. It is apparent in both these projects that the goal was to leave the educational aspects of these attractions largely in tact. The characters at the Seas are featured in plaques around the pavilion providing facts about the different flora and fauna found in the tanks. Donald Duck and his friends still explore the country of Mexico. What’s missing? Inspiration. One no longer have any desire to visit Mexico or have any additional positive regard for Mexican culture after leaving the Gran Fiesta Tour. And leaving the Seas with Nemo and Friends, there is no longer any interest in undersea exploration.
Exactly one decade later, a new chapter in EPCOT’s history has presented itself. In 1988, EPCOT Center, opened its newest World Showcase pavilion, Norway. The star of the pavilion was Malestrom, a high speed boat ride through the myths, legends, and culture of the norwegian state. As quirky and corny as it was, the attraction had a certain level of charm in its mysticism. And in that, had a certain inspirational value. I would be the first to argue that by modern standards the attraction was quite dated and undoubtedly needed to be updated or replaced entirely. However, what ended up happening was inexcusable.
In 2013, Walt Disney Animation premiered “Frozen” an unexpected BEYOND smash hit that by now could only be described as a cultural phenomenon. The unparalleled success of the film pushed management to consider options for a Frozen presence in the parks. The fact that the film had significant cultural ties to Norway and the dated nature of the Maelstrom attraction made the change a no-brainer. Therefore, on June 21, 2016, Frozen Ever After opened in the Norway pavilion.
Having been on the attraction twice, I must say that for the most part, it is a very good... fantasyland dark ride. As you ride along you hear many of the wonderful songs from the movie and see many of your favorite characters. However, it is completely antithetical to everything EPCOT stands for. Honestly, the sickening part is that it is a really cute and fun attraction and I don't have too many complaints about the attraction itself, other than its location.
“Frozen Ever After” is just one example of the destruction of the spirit and morals of EPCOT. I am completely sure there will be more in the future. Obviously, because of my deep passion for Walt’s and the Imagineers’ vision I am not the most objective person on the subject, but I do offer my opinion as a gesture so that EPCOT Center may move forward as originally intended. I take significant amounts umbrage at the amount of contempt and the utter disregard the Disney organization has had for EPCOT Center. A project, that in my eyes, is just getting started.
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