Wednesday, March 08, 2006
There was a beautiful, ethereal majesty to Spaceship Earth as it existed from 1982 to 1999, before the millennium, before the hand and the wand.
Spaceship Earth achieved something virtually every architect aims to do but few ever accomplish: It made a bold and immediately compelling statement simply by existing. Anyone who saw it from afar, even without knowing anything about EPCOT Center, had an emotional response. The gleaming silver sphere promised something both impossibly grand and strangely familiar. It was an unmistakable landmark and also a symbol of everything for which EPCOT Center stood -- beckoning guests to comment on it and conveying a message of future hope and opportunity even if that message wasn't consciously understood.
By erecting the Mickey Mouse hand and wand, Spaceship Earth was defaced. It would have been understandable had the decorations been a temporary salute to the millennium, then been dismantled. But when the decision was made to make them both permanent -- and, worse, changing "2000" to a curlicue "Epcot" -- the meaning of Spaceship Earth was changed entirely.
Now, it stands as a giant billboard and not much more than that. It is a garish reminder that Disney cannot love itself enough, that the company must push Mickey Mouse into places that he is not comfortable. The giant, disembodied hand with the "Epcot" name spelled out is the most remarkably in-your-face insistence on blending corporate messages I've ever seen.
It's as if no one understood that Spaceship Earth itself was a symbol, one known to virtually anyone who had ever been to or even thought of visiting Walt Disney World. Much like the Empire State Building or Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, Spaceship Earth was instantly recognizable and inspirational for its simplicity.
It's time to take down that wand and hand, to show that Disney's newly inspired crop of Imagineers understand that the unadorned Spaceship Earth is a structure of power and of imagination in a way that even Cinderella Castle couldn't be, because it is wholly unique, created not by taking inspiration from the real world, but by imagining something out of whole cloth.
If and when that hand and wand come down, it will be a sure sign that Disney might, 24 years after it opened, finally be trying to understand Epcot.