What Happened to the Imagination and Innovation at Epcot?

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the park surely has dwindled in it’s up-keeping, making the dedicated Future World section of the park feel awfully outdated.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.

Epcot-at-night

 

6 thoughts on “What Happened to the Imagination and Innovation at Epcot?

  1. I’ve written this essay before on FB groups, but I never quite captured it in my blog. oh well.

    Basically what did the innoventions in is the same thing that killed the studio in Disney-MGM-Holywood: corporate secrecy.

    In the grand era of the Worlds Fairs that EPCOT was inspired by, corporations loved to share. They loved to make big announcements of what they had and what they were working on. Generally this was because they’d made such a large investment on it that it would be too hard for anybody else to catch up for years once they saw it, unless they paid the patent rights.

    That world ended after the 1982 Worlds Fair in Knoxville. It ceased to exist…just as EPCOT needed it. Right off the bat, EPCOT was stuck in being dependent on a world that didn’t exist anymore.

    What changed? Software. Software is, unlike hardware, infinitely malleable. It is also infinitely copyable, whether as stolen bits or as someone smart like me (as a programmer) looking at it and going “I can do that”…and then doing it. It is just too easy to do. Plus it also gets out of date much more quickly, too, as fads and fashions of appearances change as rapidly as performance does with every Moore’s Law generation.

    So corporations had to hide their software until it was absolutely on the market, and then it was distributed so quickly that it would be in someone’s hands before a demo of it could ever be put in Communicore or Innoventions. If you didn’t hold that secrecy, a faster competitor could knock off the same thing in a matter of weeks (all the hard thinking was already done for them by the REAL inventor) who could beat them to market and potentially invalidate their patent applications for the product.

    Or if you did put out the early prototype on display, the criticism of it could kill the product before it actually hit the market.

    This is that same “control the message” that marketing departments have had to demand for 3 decades now…and it is why the studio was removed from DHS.

    Directors shoot a LOT of footage that doesn’t make the final film. The animation story team produce a lot of ideas and drawings that don’t even get animated. When the public is allowed to see what may happen, they will produce an opinion of it that may not be what the studio actually wants them to have. Imagine if audiences saw the more bug-like Jimminy Crickets before Ward’s final, perfectly charming design? They may not have gone to the film, worrying about how “ugly” it might be. In the case of regular films, “spoilers” is the big thing, especially under today’s social media instant-leak world.

    Thus, the studio lockdown: nobody sees what Disney is working on until it is ready to go, and then the marketing team carefully controls the promotions. Failure to do so can create a flop before it has even started.

    And failure to control your product’s release and demos before it is ready can kill a corporation.

    So yeah, in Innoventions software is the problem: it is too quickly created, too quickly released (and replaced), too quickly copied, and too quickly criticized, to really be something to show in a building that requires a 3-6 months to refurbish and re-theme…and hardware just doesn’t impress anymore.

      1. Summary: no corporation wants to participate in using Innoventions (or before, Communicore) to preview their upcoming ideas and designs because it is too easy to copy and steal it because most real technological updates today are in software, not hardware.

        And that includes Disney itself.

        1. I see your point, which might explain (on an unrelated note) why I heard some rumors that the electronic/gaming news event, E3, might be ending next year.

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