May 19, 2008

Saving Epcot

A while back, I took a fair but critical look at The Walt Disney Company's challenges in Anaheim with Disney's Real California Adventure. While the second park in that state is certainly worthy of a critique due to its numerous and oft discussed failures, it is by no means the only park that needs serious work. Disney's original second park, Epcot, requires a hefty dose of help as well.

Removing the wand was the right beginning. Now that I've gotten that out of my system, let's take a look at what Disney can do to save Epcot, restoring it to the wonderful park millions experienced at opening without repeating mistakes of the past.

Plan of Attack #1- Develop a Vision for the Park and Stick to It

This shouldn't be that difficult- one was already developed. Make it better, make it different, but do it. Be inspired and show it by the results. Let us be inspired by what we experience there. Animal Kingdom feels cohesive and unique due to this very factor, and for the most part, what was built at Florida's 4th park matches the vision. It is my belief that Epcot began to slide in quality and attendance when it moved away from its original plan.

Plan of Attack #2- Bring Back the Timelessness

Guests who enter Future World come in wanting, and expecting, to be inspired by... the future. This is not supposed to be Disney Studios 2.0. Nor is it the setting for cross promotion and marketing"synergy". Leave the insertion of current "hip and edgy" Disney television and movie stars for the attractions of Disney's Hollywood Studios park. Don't remove their voiceovers, just their images. Think of the number of pavillions and individual shows that have a present day actor in them: Universe of Energy, Imagination, Wonders of Life (now closed), Mission Space, even Soarin'. Not many of these have aged well due to this very factor. Is this a case of cause and effect? Something to consider. Admittedly, removing the original "Living Character Initiative" aspect is a lengthy process, but it is a major step toward making the park feel timeless once more.

Plan of Attack #3- Give Us the World
Remember World Showcase is fully half of this park- a major part that folks enjoy. Guests spend alot of money in its shops and restaurants. But please treat World Showcase with some dignity. Give us some new attractions, and keep the special effects working on the few that exist. Clean up the films with new prints and/or technology. Consider the original plans for the park and add a new country or two. Develop and execute outstanding and immersive attractions that celebrate the foreign cultures versus exploiting them. No more mistakes like "Gran Fiesta". There is real magic in experiencing a taste of other cultures that does not include the Disney world and its animated characters. Bring that kind of magic to us.

Plan of Attack #4- Strive for Greatness Not Profits
Don't just focus on the bottom line. Consider it, of course, but don't let it drive your decisions. Imagineers are among the the most brilliant folks on the planet with the best resources. As your fans, we love to see you astound us. We'll reward your efforts with large attendance and increased spending. Look what Everest did for Animal Kingdom, Tower of Terror for the Studios, or Indiana Jones for Disneyland. However, big budgets are not the determining factor for success. There are plenty of smaller gems found in the parks, adding to the atmosphere and creating a sense of awe visitors should feel at a Disney park. Again, inspire us. Don't rest on your laurels. Expectations are higher than those for your competition because of your reputation and your history.

Although the theme park version of Epcot is not what was originally imagined, it should continue to be seen as more than just another gated attraction. The unique vision, history, and heart of EPCOT the city and Epcot Center the park is rooted in a desire for a better future- with a chance to experience some of what lies ahead. Use your imagination. All it takes is one little spark.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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