This is a topic that’s sure to cause up a lot of controversy among Disney fans, and in all fairness, it calls for a valid discussion. Naturally, Walt Disney World, and especially EPCOT Center, has gone through countless amount of changes since it’s opening, and undisputedly, much of that is a good thing. Part of what Walt had previously planned for Disneyland and whatever theme parks would follow, was that it would always be changing, adding new experiences and attractions. It was elegantly summed up in Walt’s famous quote from 1965, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination in the world”. New ideas and experiences are what make both Disneyland and Walt Disney World a vacation destination worth returning to again and again.
However, despite many changes that have been welcomed by fans, the most controversial ongoing discussion amongst Disney fans is of course, the operation and future of Disney’s Epcot. The famous park first opened its doors to the public on October 1st, 1982, then called EPCOT Center. The “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” was originally an idea for a futuristic city that Walt Disney had conceived, but after his untimely death, the city later formed into the theme for Walt Disney World’s second theme park. EPCOT Center opened as “a celebration of the future”, giving focus and celebrating human achievement through technology and culture in both an informative and entertaining way. What was the most interesting thing about EPCOT Center at the time was that although it was proudly a Disney-theme park, you would be hard-pressed to find a Disney movie character to be spotted throughout the park. Other than the occasional Mickey and gang who made their appearance notably at the Epcot opening ceremony and continued to appear occasionally for the next few years, the park was absent of any Disney characters, other than in-park originals, like Figment.
Over the years, characters have slipped through the Epcot ‘no characters’ decision, and it’s understandable that would be the case, seeing as the park is a Disney-themed one, it would make sense for Disney to want to incorporate some of their franchise famous characters into Epcot as much as possible. Disney characters began to make their way into World Showcase corresponding to their nationality from their respective films, such as Mulan meeting guests in the China pavilion, Mary Poppins in England, and Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco just to name a few. The biggest and perhaps the most controversial of these changes amongst Disney fans is the addition of Anna, Elsa and the rest of the cast of Frozen to the Norway pavilion at the Epcot World Showcase in the past few years.
When Frozen was released in theaters in November of 2013, not even Disney could be ready for the success that the Frozen phenomenon would explode into. Frozen soared to become the fourth-highest domestic grossing animated film of all time (just one spot behind Shrek 2, The Lion King and Toy Story 3) not to mention becoming the ninth highest grossing film worldwide, wedged right between Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Iron Man 3. To try to keep up with the massive demand for more Frozen products and experiences, Disney was quick to introduce the characters to the Disney Parks and Cruise Line. Disney was quick to plan a Frozen attraction at their park as soon as possible and with no time to waste, Disney began construction in the Norway pavilion of Epcot, closing up the pavilion’s already built ride, Maelstrom to be rethemed to house the Frozen cast of characters. The attraction opened its doors earlier this week on June 21st, and if the 300-minute attraction wait times and fan reactions are any indication, the Frozen retheme is already off to an amazing start.
While the attraction is definitely a financial gain for Disney and a gorgeous showcase of the amazing talents of Walt Disney Imagineering, there are many fans who are up in arms about the changes, which causes for an interesting conversation about the direction of the theme for Epcot has become.
We’ve often discussed the current state of Epcot and how its present day operation is so different than the one of 1982, but the opening of Frozen Ever After within the World Showcase is perhaps the biggest difference between what defined EPCOT Center and modern-day Epcot. While we’re willing to welcome Frozen into the park with open arms, it’s certainly worth pointing out that an entire attraction based off a Disney film was something the Disney theme park was very much opposed of upon its foundation, and for that reason it’s understandable that the fans who had visited the park upon it’s opening and have fond memories of the park in its original form would be up in arms about such changes. It’s clear that Epcot isn’t quite out for the same mission as it used to be. Epcot isn’t quite the place to celebrate human achievement in technology or culture, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the inclusion of more Disney franchise characters are to blame. In fact, the addition of Disney characters isn’t exactly a new situation for the park. With the success of The Lion King, Disney was quick to open The Circle of Life, a wonderful short film about protecting our environment, and The Living Seas got a remodel when Finding Nemo became the beloved box-office smash that it did. In both situations, the park maintained its purpose and its theme, which is an indication that the Epcot’s downfall isn’t necessary caused by the inclusion of Disney-licensed characters, and there isn’t any reason why the park can’t both be informative and entertaining if they’re told through the Disney movie characters or not. Many park fans believe adding the characters is a loss to the integrity of the World Showcase, the theme of Epcot, and most importantly the vision of Walt Disney, but there’s definitely a lot more factors playing into the downward tumble of Epcot for over a decade.
This isn’t a discussion that will likely end anytime soon, because if the past two decades are an indication of the current operation of Team Disney Orlando, character tie-ins and franchise placements are only going to grow stronger, especially in Epcot. It’s hard to tell what’s in store for the future of Epcot, but whatever it is, movie characters or not, we hope that it can go back to being informative and entertaining as it was in its heyday.
Today, we’re opening up the conversation to you. Are you a passionate EPCOT Center fan who wants to see Disney follow more in-line with what the park was like originally, or are you a Disney fan who’s okay with seeing more characters in the park? Does the addition of Frozen Ever After bother you and your visits to Epcot?
What do you think? Should more Disney characters be included in Epcot’s World Showcase?