Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sea? This is FUN!


I'm happy to know that so many reports are coming back with positive things to say about the newly retooled pavilion with the unwieldy name The Seas With Nemo and Friends. Full disclosure: I have not experienced it myself, and probably won't get the chance to do so for quite some time.

That said ... I'm not sure I want to. Having visited the half-finished pavilion several weeks ago, none of the reviews I've read online lead me to change my mind about this Epcot pavilion: It's Pixar-ized pabulum that dumbs down what was for many years one of the most challenging -- and most rewarding -- of the Epcot attractions.

The Seas, etc., etc. would, from what I gather, be a lovely addition to The Magic Kingdom. It's fun, it's colorful, it's firmly rooted in fantasy. It's got loveable characters that are nicely integrated into a well-conceived ride.

But here's the thing -- what I'm realizing is my basic problem with turning EPCOT Center into Epcot and now into, it seems, Discot (Pixcot?):

The Magic Kingdom is a place where adults can feel like kids, where kids (by virtue of being able to share most of the attractions with their families) can feel a little bit like adults, where fantasy is the common touchstone for everyone who visits. (I'll put aside the relentless commercialization and even the non-Tomorrow Tomorrowland.) It's a place where animated characters and fairy tales can come to life, alongside recreations of our heritage and our idealized notion of how we came to be (at least, if we're Americans).

In short, it's a place that you grow up in.

EPCOT Center was something quite different, and here's the conclusion I've reached: It was a place you would grow into. You could be too young for EPCOT Center, without a doubt. If you were 8, the place would be boring, and Disney knew that -- so they tossed the kids a bone in the form of a purple dragon and some silly-looking characters in World of Motion.

Other than that, EPCOT Center was resolutley and steadfastly determined to present itself as different than The Magic Kingdom. As you "grew up," you would find more and more to EPCOT Center to stimulate you. A child has little interest in shopping for interesting home decorations, visiting displays that teach about the history of a country, or discovering how food is harvested. But for most of us, those things become increasingly fun, increasingly relevant, increasingly interesting, the older we get. They remind us how much we don't know about our world, and how much there is to explore and learn. EPCOT Center was made for those who found The Magic Kingdom a little silly.

No one is allowed to do that today.

We're not allowed to think our own thoughts, conceive of our own lives, without Disney's help when we go to Walt Disney World. To me, The Seas, Yaddah, Yaddah is yet another example of that.

Let me state again: I believe (and want to believe) that it's a good, fun ride. I don't doubt that the Imagineers have done a terrific job at making it look great.

But The Living Seas celebrated our world, not a digitized, Pixar-ized vision of happy, talking fish. It reminded us that there are mysteries here on our very own planet that we have only begun to explore, and then invited us to explore those mysteries at our leisure. It held a view that the oceans were vast, exciting, vibrant and alive with creatures that seem infinitely alien but share our own planet.

I just don't believe, as well done as it may be, that a turtle who loves saying "Duuuuuuuuude" is quite the same as discovering for ourselves how little we know our own world.

18 comments:

dean said...

Epcot82, I have not had the chance to personally see the new version of this pavilion, but I have seen Finding Nemo. I have to say that Pixar did an incredible job of bringing to the movie screen, all those miraculous attributes of the oceans that you describe. There are some interludes in the film where I find myself awestruck by the sheer beauty they portray: whether it is drifting through the colorful coral reef with Mr. Ray, or experiencing the magnificence of a whale making it's way through the deep ocean. It has been my opinion that if these moments were brought to The Living Seas in ride-thru form, they would greatly enhance the experience in a method consistent with Epcot's original goals: creating a moving and educational experience that stirs in us the ambition learn more about the world around us.

If the ride falls short of those goals, one can hardly blame Pixar. The opportunity was not theirs to lose but that of the ride designers. It might be a wonderfully produced ride, but those making the decisions on what it would be seem to have only seen the more marketable aspects of the film.

Anonymous said...

I agree with app. 98% of what is said on this site... but I have to defer on this one. "The Living Seas" never lived up to its preview hype (it initially appeared that guests would ride bubble shaped submarines through the ocean depths!). Maybe it was a sponsorship problem... but it always felt like a dimly lit, somber, fake experience. Take a bland movie, a REALLY short omni-mover ride past tanks you walk past anyway, and an aquarium experience that was inferior to Sea World and many local aquariums and, well, TLS was the one EPCOT attraction that was never on our "must" list.

Nemo may compromise the park's future theme, sure. But on this point, I say if it's fun, gets people through the door, makes TLS relevant to families (sorry, the fake "hydrolators" just didn't get the job done), then I'm all for it.

epkat said...

I thought you liked Kitchen Kabaret. So far as I know, food does not talk any more than fish do. How is this different? I also remember you expressing sadness about the removal of Cranium Command, but but there does not exist a little man sitting in a chair in my head, or TV celebrities in various parts of my body. But these shows increased my interest in nutrition and the body. Remember SMRT-1? Robots have not yet really had minds with personalities. That was also a character. This post is out of touch with what Future World has been all along.

I have never spent much time in The Living Seas. I considered it a failed attraction until Turtle Talk With Crush was added to it. I'm looking forward to it now. The Living Seas is not becoming an Epcot pavilion about a Pixar movie. As you see in the above comment by Dean, a Pixar movie is retroactively changing in the minds of everyone who visits The Living Seas, into a movie about an inspiring and educational Epcot pavilion.

I really love the fact that my 4-year-old neice started asking me for the names of fish species in books about aquatic life, at the age of four. It was because Crush talked to her at The Living Seas. He has infectious enthusiasm for how fun the ocean is!

This caused me to realize that Epcot's vision, inspiration and education of the real world and the future is not being taken over with kid stuff-- it's the other way around. Through Nemo, no less than through other classic Epcot characters, Epcot's vision, inspiration and education of the real world and the future is taking over kids. They are the future. As the song in Spaceship Earth put it, they are "Tomorrow's Child."

Epcot82 said...

It's always fine to disagree. :-)

If something "may compromise" EPCOT, why give it a pass because "it's fun (and) gets people through the door"?

That's called compromise and relaxing standards.

I do not disagree Nemo is a lovely movie that captures the look and feel of undersea life brilliantly. It would make for a fantastic, wonderful, memorable attraction at The Magic Kingdom (which, ironically, does not have a Nemo ride!).

It's just wrong for EPCOT. Whether you loved The Living Seas (I really, really did) or you thought it was poorly executed, it offered a fantastic base from which to build.

What's the difference between talking fish and talking vegetables, talking brain parts or robots with a personality?

If Wonders of Life or The Land had presented ONLY those cartoon views of their subjects, it would have been problematic and disappointing. What they did, however, was use those to augment the stellar "discovery" attractions elsewhere in their pavilions, like Living With the Land and the terrific interactive stations throughout the Wonders of Life.

At the Seas pavilion, the amazing world under the sea is literally right in front of your face; it's living (hence the old name), it's complex, it's separated from you by six inches of acrylic. It defines "so close, yet so far." But it's not enough, apparently -- it has to get some animated characters projected onto it, so that those "boring" fish will suddenly become "fun."

It's like going to the Louvre and finding out they've created a happy little mascot to walk you from gallery to gallery -- not only is it unnecessary, but when you really think about it, it becomes almost insulting.

It's not adding Nemo to the Seas that strikes me as so completely, dangerously wrong -- it's making the movie the cornerstone of the pavilion, sending the very clear message that nature, on its own, isn't enough ... Pixar and Disney know how to make "boring" nature into something more "exciting."

epkat said...

Epcot82, consider the difference between "Finding Nemo" and "Spongebob Squarepants."

Spongebob and his friends are very anthropomorphized. They wear clothes, live in houses, drive cars, and read newspapers. Fish on that show walk on their back flippers, and hold things with their front flippers. They are ruled by King Triton. They even take showers and cook with ovens-- underwater. They are the Mickey, Donald and Goofy of the sea, and if "Spongebob Squarepants" were a Disney property, it would be appropriate for the Magic Kingdom.

"Finding Nemo" is not. Not only do the characters in that film correspond to actual species, they are only given the bare minimum anthropomorphisation necessary to have human-like relationships necessary for an entertaining, accessible feature-length drama. They are far more appropriate for Epcot Center than for the Magic Kingdom.

You also said,
-------------------------------------------------
If Wonders of Life or The Land had presented ONLY those cartoon views of their subjects, it would have been problematic and disappointing. What they did, however, was use those to augment the stellar "discovery" attractions elsewhere in their pavilions, like Living With the Land and the terrific interactive stations throughout the Wonders of Life.
-------------------------------------------------
This paragraph would only apply if the aquarium were going away. As long as it remains, The Seas With Nemo And Friends appears to be the precise analogue of the past pavilions you cite approvingly here.

Ivonne R. said...

I actually got to ride the new Seas attraction on Monday, and I'm at a 50/50 about it. The ride itself is a very cute little dark ride. The scenes are short, but still very well detailed, and the projections at the end of the attraction inside the tanks are just amazing. Nemo and his friends truly appear to be swimming with the real fish. Especially the portion of the ride when you are riding down the EAC was very cute and well done.

On the other hand I remember how the Living Seas used to be and if you compare it to this attraction, it's just a lot of fluff. You don't learn much about the oceans around you and the creatures that inabit it and most of the exhibits have been way dumbed down.

The only good part about the new attraction is that The Seas is actually getting a crowd again. It's sad that it takes an animated fish and not real fish to do it though. All in all not bad a change, but I really do miss Seabase Alpha.

WED52 said...

I have yet to ride this new attraction, but I've seen pictures and video of it. My question is why did they have to change the name of the entire pavillion? They could have left the name, "The Living Seas", and just called the ride "The Seas with Nemo & Friends".

What Epcot82 is talking about can be perfectly exemplified by the entrance marquee. When The Living Seas opened, it's marquee was a strong, visual statement - a tide pool with crashing waves at sunset. The architecture was abstract and you actually had to think about it for a moment. It was simple, yet profound.

Nowadays, the new marquee is the same as the old one, but not as simple. The lettering of the marquee is brightly colored, which clashes with rocks. When the wave crashes against the rocks, three seagulls spout, "Mine, mine, mine!" at the top of their lungs. The sunset mural has been covered up by the shapes of the characters from "Nemo".

While I do think that the addition of the seagulls is cute, I think that the simple visual statement of The Living Seas has now been lost. It now hits you in the face even before you walk into the pavillion.

I miss the hydrolators.

kcnole said...

This is the first time I've stopped to post here. Normally I read your comments, nod my head and just say to myself, yep, what he said. But in this case I have to point out where you are wrong.

The Living Seas was a failed pavilion from the start. The wonderful original goal of the pavilion was amazing, the dark ride with King Triton and Poseidon that eventually led through the pipes to a true underwater city was marvelous. But the sponsor wouldn't pay for that, so we got what we got. The worst pavilion and ride in Disney history.

The Living Seas was a pavilion with no real heart. Sure they tried with the meager budget they got and I give them that, but it failed. The seacabs never inspired anybody (although the hydrolators were effective) but for the most part the pavilion captured nobodys imagination or heart.

Eventually the pavilion closed the doors to the sea cab rides and became nothing more than a cheap aquarium. It became something nobody even wanted to go to. Now when Crush was added I sort of shook my head and said, well at least something is in there, but didn't feel it was cohesive enough to work. However, once the crush theater is moved and expanded, I have changed my mind. The pavilion now has a theme and it now has a purpose.

Yes, they are using the pixar characters, but they're using them to educate as well. True, turtle talk with crush doesn't do much education, and true the ride doesn't stop to be overly educational, but there is opportunity for education all throughout the pavilion.

The characters capture our imagination and draw us into the pavilion. Once inside there are locations where the true names of the species of fish from the movies are given, labs are still coming to learn more about the habitats, etc... So Finding Nemo is used to draw families into the pavilion and then once inside those same opportunities for education are all still there. It's exactly what Epcot's goal was in edutainment.

The living seas is now closer to actually meeting its goal of inspiring us to learn about the seas than it ever was under the old seacabs ride. As I said earlier, the original ride system for the building would have been amazing, but then Poseidon and all are fictional as well. So I don't see much difference here. As long as we're still given the opportunity to learn then Epcot is reaching its goal. For the longest time, there has been no desire to learn from this pavilion. For the first time, there is.

Cliff Cot? said...

Great post Epkat and E82. I really empathize with both sides of this argument. The Living seas should have been more compelling than frankly it ever was. As a kid I loved the Hyrdolators. Having spent way too much of my youth on boats I loved the queue area with old diving suits and submarine stuff (I believe the Nautilus from movie fame was in there somewhere). The movie was powerful (“the deluge”). When the rain stopped and the camera pulled back from that dripping rock to show the oceans, it opened your mind to the incredible scope of the oceans.

I believe the whole point of Epcot was it connected your curiosity to the world. Of course we know the oceans are big, but for those of us who don’t spend much time around water it can escape us.

After that wonderful setup you entered a frankly underwhelming 20 foot people mover. Then you saw……..an aquarium. It had some cool styling and the sea base idea was cool, but what was next? If you appreciated what you saw great. If not you said “that’s it?” and left.

I think the problem with this pavilion is people want more “attraction” from future world and Disney. At $67.00 a day people want a lot more than a big aquarium.

Let’s be clear this pavilion probably has amazing operating costs. I’ve always considered it one of the most vulnerable to closure. It now sounds like many people will vote with their feet to see it. Sure some will treat it like the Buzz Lightyear ride (saw character, check, move on). Still others will come for the clownfish stay for sea, and find the wonder of the oceans that the spirit of 82 was going for in the first place.

Josh said...

I can see both sides of this argument too, and I think I fall somewhere between the two sides of the argument, albeit a little closer to EPCOT82's viewpoint.

I remember The Living Seas, especially in conjunction with the undersea colonies featured in Horizons, really firing my imagination about the possibility of undersea cities, colonies, labs, etc. The fish in the aquarium were just a bonus.

Having just gotten back from WDW at the end of last week (missed getting to ride the Nemo ride by 2 days!), I was extremely disappointed in the Pavilion. I don't know if it's necessary for the Nemo dark ride's projection features, but the tanks were so dimly lit that there was absolutely nothing to see, no matter how long you spent up on the observation deck (same goes for the manatee tank).

And where were/are the dolphins? Calvin and Ranier were nowhere in sight, the tank they're normally in has been reconfigured, and none of the Cast Members I spoke to could tell me anything about it.

Also, the queue for Turte Talk with Crush, a show I absolutley love, dominates the entire pavilion, with huge crowds glutting the entire space.

This pavilion used to really open the doors of my imagination - now it's just cute. Now it does the imagining for you.

I've got the same gripe about the newly retooled Pirates of the Caribbean over in the Magic Kingdom too. You used to have to provide the whys and wherefores of the Pirates and their attack on the town for yourself; now it's all packaged up for you.

Thank God there's still Tom Sawyer Island!

Kevin said...

"I don't know if it's necessary for the Nemo dark ride's projection features, but the tanks were so dimly lit that there was absolutely nothing to see, no matter how long you spent up on the observation deck (same goes for the manatee tank)."

I don't know that it's so much poor lighting as it is dirty tanks. The construction inside the tanks for this ride apparently stirred up a lot of junk and its going to take a while for them to clear back up completely.

"Also, the queue for Turte Talk with Crush, a show I absolutley love, dominates the entire pavilion, with huge crowds glutting the entire space."

This is being worked on. The turtletalk attraction is moving into a different theatre and the line is being reworked to actually have a more well hidden queue and not take up the entire pavilion like it currently does. The current location of turtle talk has always been temporary.

"Thank God there's still Tom Sawyer Island!

Well if the rumors turn out to be true, this may become some type of pirate island anyhow.

captain schnemo said...

First of all, I have to say that I love Finding Nemo. I think it is far and way Pixar's best movie, and is obviously better than anything Disney has done in ages.

But I don't think I have enough bitterness in me (and believe me, I've got a nuclear submarine-load of it) to express how much I think the new Seas sucks.

Again, people are falling into the trap of thinking that because something was either half-assed or not maintained properly that the only possible way of dealing with the situation is to add some friggin' cartoon characters and go at any hard science with a chainsaw.

Yes, the SeaCabs were so pointless that it would have been better off not having them at all. All they did was create a line where none was necessary. But no matter how cool the effects might have been, hitching a ride with King Neptune to an underwater science lab would have been equally ridiculous.

When I think of what could have been done with the tech they're currently using to market more plush merchandise to us, it makes me want to cry. The idea of an underwater lab of that size and complexity is still science fiction 20 years later, and a tech upgrade could have made this place really amazing.

Instead, they are using one of the most impressive aquariums in the world as a backdrop for cartoons. "Don't pay attention to the actually interesting and amazing life before you -- watch me jiggle my keys, people!"

Just hateful.

Epcot82 said...

Not that it matters anymore, but here's a possible scenario for a reconfigured experience that could have worked:

You enter the pavilion through a queue area that reminds us how little we know about the seas. We see images of (perhaps fossils or even small AA figures) some of the most bizarre creatures imaginable -- and learn that they actually live just a few miles away from us ... down.

As we journey through the queue area, we move from happy, light imagery (representing the top surface of the ocean, which we think we know so well) into darker, more ominous motifs. It never gets too scary, just inky and murky enough to make us remember that the bottom of the sea is only a few miles away but might as well be on another world.

A series of signs informs us we are about to enter the training room for Seabase Alpha, where we have been invited as the first civilian visitors.

The doors open and we are taken into a seating area that will give us important information we should know before entering Seabase Alpha. We are told that centuries of exploration have left us knowing little more about the seas than we did years ago, how mysterious they are, how much we can learn from them, how they may hold the answers to problems of disease, pollution and famine that plague the top of the earth. We are told that we are about to embark on a grand adventure that many have dreamed of but few have taken -- a voyage to a working seabase that in many ways is an even more remarkable feat than a space station.

The doors open and we board the vessel that will take us down into the ocean's depths. We ride past scenes that show us descending further and further. Odd, luminscent creatures poke out at us; shipwrecks fill our view. We receive data and information about this trip, then ride past scenes that show us how this amazing feat was engineered. We're told it's not so deep that it is impractical to science, but deep enough that we can discover and develop new marine technologies. We see it coming to life, and finally we step off our vessel and into ...

Seabase Alpha.

The inside of the Seabase is part "industrial-functional," part futuristic. We learn that it has several different layers, each of which represents the different layers of the oceans. For instance, as we disembark, we see familiar marine mammals, and watch and interact with scientists who are studying them. We learn about how man interacts with this top layer of the ocean, and how we are impacting it. "Turtle Talk With Crush" is in this top area for the kids to learn more about the oceans.

One level down, we see the main aquarium tank and learn about sealife that never comes to the surface. Nemo presents information about fragile coral reefs for kids in a short video that leads into a replica of a real coral reef, while adult guests are able to watch and interact with the divers.

On the lower level are the mysteries of the deep. Here, a new 3-D presentation about some of the most unknown creatures on earth shows us things that few people have ever seen. It has no host, but rather is presented as a "journey to the depths." Beyond its doors is a spectacular new three-dimensional, Imagineered diorama that shows some of these creatures and also offers a self-guided audio tour (one for adults, one created specifically for kids, narrated by Dory) that talks about some of the amazing scientific and medical uses that these creatures may provide in the future.

We exit as we used to come in -- through the "hydrolators" that take us back up to the surface. Upon our exit, we walk through two enormous tanks that show off beautiful undersea displays and remind us of the amazing things we just saw and learned.

The pavilion provides enough education for adults and entertainment for children. It capitalizes on the success of Finding Nemo but does not fully rely on Nemo for its appeal. It incorporates a reconfigured ride and also allows guests to see and experience the attraction at their own pace.

Of course, it will never be ... but what do you think? Could there have been a way to "find Nemo" but not lose "The Living Seas" -- and offer some perspective not available at Sea World?

captain schnemo said...

I really like your idea, although descending to the depths of the ocean doesn't jibe with the coral reef environment in the aquarium, which requires sunlight to survive in the wild. The deep is a really cool area that could certainly be explored in a dark ride, one of the side areas, or even the queue as you suggest, provided it's explained that this particular base is not 2 miles down.

I also wouldn't mind a certain amount of Nemofication, as long as it was confined to the side areas.

To be clear, what I object to is changing the entire focus of the attraction into a toon show as opposed to a sea base. It's flogging a dead seahorse at this point, but there's nothing futuristic about talking fish (unless the future is going to be one creeeepy place).

Anonymous said...

I agree. Had the "cartoon fish" been at least original (like the characters in Cranium Command), there might have been something to it. But it feels too ... I dunno, just lazy.

Anonymous said...

"Instead, they are using one of the most impressive aquariums in the world as a backdrop for cartoons."

This is in no way one of the most impressive aquariums in the world. When it first opened it was the biggest, but there are a ton of aquariums in the country that are much more enjoyable than this one. Take the one in Atlanta. Now that's the most impressive aquarium in the world currently. I'd say that it's not even the most impressive aquarium in Orlando. To truly make anything worthwhile other than what they did would require flogging the entire aquarium and starting over.

captain schnemo said...

Just going to have to agree to disagree there. Out of curiosity, are you actually interested in aquariums and zoos? Because I've been to many of them, all over the country, and I've never seen anything like the Living Seas.

Just having a really big tank isn't the same thing as having a giant underwater community. Larger aquariums are cool, but typically they represent open water ecosystems...which means that the sheer size of them is countered by the fact that they are mostly filled with nothingness (and of course some huge impressive whales and other large animals).

Just saying the tank is big doesn't speak to the complexity of the habitat at all. There's much more variety at the Living Seas than the average aquarium. And, of course, the presentation is different.

Twirlnhurl said...

Anonymous said...
"but there are a ton of aquariums in the country that are much more enjoyable than this one. Take the one in Atlanta. Now that's the most impressive aquarium in the world currently."

Have you been to the Aquarium in Atlanta? I have. With the exception of the deep ocean section and one or two little portions of the other areas, I found the Georgia Aquarium to be poorly designed, poorly laid out, and overly crowded (due to poor design). It was designed like a mall instead of something which can contain thousands of people who want to watch fish. The windows were all too small and too spread apart inside narrow hallways to properly appreciate the fish. There was far less educational content in the entire Aquarium then there was in the comparitively smaller Seas With Nemo and Friends at Epcot. If it wern't for the giant movie screen sized window at the end of the deep ocean area, I would have felt cheated for wasting my day and my money there. Just because an Aquarium is big, doesn't mean it's better.