January 6, 2014

A Frozen Epcot and the Three Caballeros

The talk around the Disney World regarding the pending transformation of Norway's Maelstrom attraction to one celebrating the movie Frozen has me thinking a lot about what EPCOT Center used to be. It's now been so long since the whole premise of the park has changed that a new generation of Disney parks fans may not really know what was intended- or what they have lost- by never personally experiencing the park which opened in 1982.

The cartooning of Epcot has been slow and steady. Perhaps it came from desperation, trying to be more things to more people while attendance dropped. Or maybe those in charge lost faith in the excellence (and marketing strength) of their original product. Regardless, bringing in the characters seemed to be a way to save the day. Be it adding Nemo to the Living Seas or Simba to The Land, the increase has been deliberate and sly. Mostly under the radar to not upset older fans (and those with the disposable income) who were accustomed to the elegance of Disney's version of a World's Fair. Even Martin Short's invasion of the Canada Showcase could be argued as a cartooning of sorts. Ellen DeGeneres being added to Universe of Energy is another example of a move away from the park's original  integrity and intent.

The ultimate bastardization of World Showcase came much earlier than those changes to Future World. When the Mexico Showcase dismissed the lovely El Rio del Tiempo and accepted the newer Gran Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros, the dumbing down of the pavilion and the cheapening of the rich Mexican culture began. Gone were the riveting Aztec dancers. In its place, Donald Duck and friends became the centerpiece. The transformation was done so quickly and so cheaply that the Disney Suits couldn't even pony up the cash to reward riders with a finale that brought Audio-Animatronics of the three stars. I guess digging them out of storage or making new casts from their use in the Mickey Mouse Musical Revue was out of the question! 

The new mandate of synergy must have felt ugly to any remaining Imagineers who remember the heart and soul put into there work during the park's creation. Imagine their hard work in examining history and the tales and lore of other cultures. Imagine the thrill to educate guests in an entirely new way, to place their stamp on arguably Disney's most nuanced theme park. The loss must have been deeply felt and very disappointing. Oddly, in an effort to keep the park fresh and interesting, the powers that be have transformed Epcot from something timeless to almost instantly dated as time goes on. Well, at least now you never forget you are in a Disney park. Of course, its also more difficult to imagine you are now in another time and place.

For younger guests now visiting the park, Epcot is still a place of discovery, but it is now an odd mix of thrill rides, Disney animation stars (to mixed results), and an opportunity to drink around the World. How different it was, yes, "back in the day"- but oh, how much more rewarding and rich!

(Afterthought: Frozen really belongs in the Magic Kingdom- and in the New Fantasyland, giving guests a real E Ticket reason to go there. Imagine the famous trackless system in Tokyo put to great use! And the potential of a fantastic Christmas overlay to the ride!)

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


Dan said...

I totally agree about EPCOT, and what bugs me even more is when the new version isn't even well done. The end of the Mexico ride is sad now. I'd love to believe that adding Frozen to Maelstrom would actually be well done, but I expect it would be on the cheap.

EPCOT is surviving on its restaurants and outdoor atmosphere, but it's falling short with attractions. It needs a lot of work in Future World.

Mark Taft said...

I'm totally with you on this, Dan!