October 19, 2009

Can Epcot Be Saved?

Quite awhile ago, I took a fair but critical look at The Walt Disney Company's challenges at the Disneyland Resort 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 as well as a plan for the future.

Disney's original second park, Epcot, requires a hefty dose of help to restore it to grandeur. Let's take a look at what Disney can do to save Epcot, restoring it to the wonderful and visionary park millions experienced at its 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 creatively inspired and show it by the results, then we will be inspired by what we experience there. Imagineers and accountants, work together to make us feel your inspiration! If you don't, neither will we.

In comparison to Epcot in its current state, 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. Joe Rohde and team creatively challenged themselves to please and astound their guests, and it shows. It is my belief that Epcot began to slide in quality and attendance when those involved moved away from its original plan.
Plan of Attack #2- Bring Back the Timelessness

With the eyepopping Spaceship Earth dominating the landscape, guests entering Future World come in wanting, and expecting, to be inspired by... the future. Removing the wand was the right beginning. Keep going and remove the memorial too. Take us right into the future and out of the present.

Speaking of our current times, Epcot is not supposed to be Disney Studios 2.0. Nor is it the setting for cross promotion and marketing "synergy". Isn't the advertising outside the parks in print, television, movies, and cable already enough to generate the cash needed to run the company and please the investors?

Leave the insertion of current "hip and edgy" Disney television and movie stars for the attractions of Disney's Hollywood Studios park. Remove their voice overs and their images. Think of the number of pavilions 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. You cannot take guests into the future when celebrities and cartoon characters are all around. Keeping us rooted in the present reminds us of our daily lives. It is not a difficult reality to comprehend nor to fix.

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 a lot of money in its shops and restaurants. Do you want to keep them coming back? Treat World Showcase with some dignity. In blunter terms, take care of your cash cow. Clean up the films with new prints and/or technology. Keep the special effects working on the few attractions that do exist.
Give guests some new attractions, some new country showcases to experience. The idea base to draw from in planning new adventures is as limitless as the earth itself. Open land exists all over World Showcase; space that already has major infrastructure complete. There are even existing plans Imagineering have had for years. Make good use of them.

Develop and execute outstanding and immersive attractions that celebrate the foreign cultures versus exploiting or belittling 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.

Make dining and shopping a rewarding experience not a headache. The dumbing down of meal offerings to please American palates not used to the more authentic is an insulting and poor choice. Although by neccessity children's offerings are needed, keep them in harmony with what children eat elsewhere. Burgers and chicken nuggets are not the answer, use some culinary creativity. 

Additionally, the Disney Dining Plan may bring profits, but even in the bast case scenario, it is difficult to use even for the most informed guest. It is time for it to go.

Continue to improve the retail experience available. This point is not limited to World Showcase even though there is much more variety as would be expected. Shopping in Future World seems to consist of fairly generic Disney merchandise available all over the property. Admittedly, the tide may be turning a bit with the introduction of the retro Epcot offerings. Keep moving forward.

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 the attendance you want and increased spending. Look what the highly detailed and unique attractions have done for your parks. They will draw the crowds. 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 to revitalize this park back to greatness. All it takes is one little spark.
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very well said Mark. I really enjoyed your article and I appreciate the thought and effort you put into it. I agree with everything you said, except that I happen to like Gran Fiesta.
I look foward to more of your posts.