October 4, 2012

Epcot at 30: Why Epcot Can Never Return to Its Glory Days

I am going to contradict myself. Today, I'll tell you why Epcot can never return to its glory days. Tomorrow, I'll tell you how it can. 

Walt Disney's vision for EPCOT, and the Company's vision for EPCOT Center after Walt died, were based on an optimism that no longer exists.  There was a bright hope for the future that solidly  permeated America, and especially those that were the public faces of the company Walt built. 

It's almost as if Walt demanded that kind of optimism from his team. In fact, I would say this is why his Imagineers were successful- he always told them they could do it, even if they themselves had no belief it was possible. And often they did. They tried the impossible, making the company a present day think tank that was wise enough to gain additional knowledge by partnering with the experts of the day. Be it the government, the businesses or the people, the company had enough clout to be taken seriously.

Walt was beloved by the American public, so when he passed away, the country and the world went into mourning. In some ways, we have never recovered from it. We've exchanged hope for gloom, hard work for handouts, and passion for getting by. Our politicians play on our need for something different, but they rarely encourage us to go after it ourselves. Even many men and women of faith- especially those who serve the God that raised His Son from the dead for our benefit- have given into despair and given up. Why wouldn't our country follow suit?

We've changed. Our age of innocence and hopefulness in the future has disappeared. This is reflected in the business world, where research and development have given way to cheap profits earned at a very high cost. Our jobs now go overseas at alarming rates. As a nation, we have devalued people for so long- and yes, starting with those still in the womb. We've forgotten the value of life from conception and that changes just about everything going forward. When people are not first and are reduced to handouts to pacify them, it's every man for himself and every business only exists for cold hard cash. Mankind as a whole suffers, selfishness wins. 

A business is no better than the people who make up its leadership and those who are employed by it. Should we be surprised the Epcot of old can never return?

On the level of theme park, visitors now want thrills. This means the suits- including the shareholders- desperate to keep their own personal bank accounts full, press the designers to add thrill after thrill, diluting the power of the theme unless it is excellently done. The story behind most thrills seem to be comprised by setting the stage for fright and terror, not optimism.

The age of "edutainment" in the theme park world may also be over. It seemed people want to be taken out of this world of worries and not be encouraged to think, even if it is in an interesting and even fun way. 

Where does that leave the second Florida park? In a state of constant flux as the leaders hedge back and forth for a direction. Perhaps Epcot cannot return to its glory days- but maybe it can. Come back tomorrow as we wrap up this series with a hope-filled ending.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

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