May 5, 2008

Cinco De Mayo Celebration at Epcot

At the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, the Disney Imagineers set a new creative standard for themselves. Walt Disney's EPCOT- Creating the New World of Tomorrow by Richard R. Beard details the creation and execution of this cutting edge park- the first non-Magic Kingdom style playground ever built by the Mouse.

Today, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, we'll look at a few pieces of concept art and photos of the splendid Mexico pavillion circa opening year. (All images are copyright Disney.)

Upon our first visit to EPCOT Center, this pavillion was an easy favorite among all the World Showcase countries represented. The France pavillion, although extremely pretty and a close second, housed an admittedly wonderful travelogue. Yet it left us wanting to experience more. You cannot do that with a film! However, with Mexico, it was a different story- and this story is told uniquely. The main method for communicating was a Disney first: a large part of the signature attraction in this pavillion was told through the medium of dance.

Inside the large temple which forms a major portion of the area, a small Mexican village is found drenched in eternal nighttime. The quaint central plaza built in the beautiful Colonial style includes shops, a small museum, and a waterfront restaurant. Colorful lanterns hang in the air while mariachis play. Sitting waterside sipping margaritas would make it tempting to stay here all day, but the boats cruising El Rio del Tiempo beckon us to step aboard.

Our excursion onto the river is at once peaceful and mysterious. Cruising along, we enter another temple, and our adventure begins. After encountering a high priest, dancers surround us, moving to ancient rhythms. This section is the showpiece of the attraction, and its elegance does justice to this beautiful people and their fascinating history. 

Of course, the cruise continues into other regions depicting Mexican celebrations and modern life. Everything following the dance pales in comparison. Fortunately, a lovely and playful song sets us in a joyful mood for the rest of our journey, and as we depart, we reenter sunlight humming the tune for the next few minutes.

From the initial concept art to the final construction, the Imagineers did an excellent job capturing the culture of our friends south of the border. Unfortunately, recent revisions to the boat ride employed an insertion of The Three Caballeros and its associated music. This is a major misstep. The dignity and sophistication imbred into EPCOT Center since its inception has been replaced by a desire to please a less discerning crowd- and to increase sales of character merchandise at the cash registers. It is a trend which must stop if the Walt Disney Company wishes to capture the travel dollar of discriminating and aging adults.

(Art and photographs copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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