The day was October 1, 1982. Four years of construction and $1.4 billion dollars later, Disney’s newest and by far most impressive theme park yet was finally ready to be shown to the world. The park as directly inspired by a futuristic city planned by Walt Disney, which he penned as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or EPCOT in short). Though the city never came to full fruition, the plans and ideas that were left behind for the planned city showcases some of Walt’s finest futuristic creativity and optimism. Following Disney’s death, the company wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about launching a city as much as Walt personally did, but that vision and belief would be instead translated into a brand new theme park that unlike any Disney theme park to date, would be created for the sole purpose to celebrate human innovation, achievement and the advancements of technology, and the hope of a promising new future.
The park opened as EPCOT Center in 1982, until 1994, (which it was retitled Epcot ’94 and Epcot ’95 one year later) and finally, just simply, Epcot. In the opening years, there was a lot that made Epcot work so well, and though the park still has so much to offer today, the park has changed drastically as it was when the park made its debut in 1982, but not in the intended way the park was founded on. For a park that’s founded on celebrating advancements in technology, the park surely has dwindled in it’s up-keeping, making the dedicated Future World section of the park feel awfully outdated. Additionally, the celebration of human development has dwindled in the past two decades, the biggest being the demolition of the still-beloved Horizons attraction, which is one of the single biggest attractions that maintained the spirit of the park so well, aside from being one of Disney’s finest dark-ride attractions.
The downhill tumble for Epcot would continue as Disney would go on to things like revamping the beloved Journey into Imagination, and closing and leaving the Wonders of Life building to sit abandoned to this day. Many fans will complain the largest of this demise is the addition of Disney characters to the park, with many of the opinion that Disney-property characters have no place in the park built simply on the celebration of innovation. Personally, I don’t believe the addition of fictional characters neccesarily means that we can’t still maintain that vision of the park and share new information, because in certain occasions, it works fairly well, like the addition of Finding Nemo characters in The Living Seas, or The Lion King characters in The Circle of Life film in The Land. In my own personal opinion, I don’t think the Disney characters are really the one to blame in the reason for the decrease in Epcot’s quality, but instead, the clear lack of constant care for the park.
In creating a park that’s to celebrate constant advancements can often act like a double edge sword, as that with time, the park would have to undergo regular changes to keep up with new technology unless it ends up awfully outdated, which as seen today is very much the case with the park. What was impressive in 1982 is no longer as advanced in today’s modern society. Whenever I visit the park, I always feel in a park from 80’s that was left uncared for. The park no longer bursts with creativity or imagination, but feels awfully uncared for.
When it comes to the challenge of rebuilding a park dedicated to the future, most of its biggest solutions live predominantly in the past. In order to fix the park, Disney has to take a step back and first realize what the park is all about. I can understand why Disney would feel the need to incorporate more of their movie properties into the park to drum up a bit more interest, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of the park theme. The Imagineers need to begin by reinvigorating that experience from EPCOT Center in its heyday, the park needs more attractions in the vein of Horizons or Body Wars, and Future World needs pavilions that spotlight different areas of achievement and open up a world to new possibilities. Disney needs to reintroduce pavilions that entertain and educate kids about technology, biology, and culture. Epcot needs to be the place where education meets entertainment, and kids need to walk out of that park at the end of the day feeling that their contributions can make all the difference in the world, in both technology and in the environment.
Epcot is still by all means a wonderfully entertaining park, and still a massive impressive showcase of the talent of Walt Disney Imagineering, but there’s so much about Epcot that screams as a disappointment when looking back to how incredible the park was back in the day. It will always be hard to recapture the same magic in the future of the past, but in following Walt’s own ideas, “EPCOT will never be completed, but always updated with new ideas and technology.” Epcot doesn’t have to go back to being any specific form to work, but it needs to reintroduce new ideas and information and keep moving forward with that same values as it did when it opened. I think there’s still a strong chance that a great big beautiful tomorrow will shine once again through the park, offering new ideas and exploration and information, but in the end, that will all ultimately depend on how much Disney truly cares about recapturing the spirit of the park.