Monday, December 11, 2006

A New Year's EPCOT Wish

End-of-year vacation and work obligations will keep me from posting through the end of the year. For those of you who have spent time reading EPCOT Central, writing me, posting comments and letting the EPCOT community know your thoughts, I send enormous thanks and gratitude. Your enthusiasm for EPCOT Center has been tremendously encouraging, and it is really wonderful to know there are others like me out there, who were inspired by EPCOT at an early age and who would like to see Disney once again turn its attentions to this most unique and potentially marvelous place.

If you’re new to EPCOT Central, please explore and continue letting everyone know your thoughts. While I may not have the opportunity to respond to each e-mail I receive during the holidays, I assure you that I read and appreciate all of them! (Below, I’ve included some links to past articles that you may have missed.)

As 2006 winds down and we head into 2007 – the 25th anniversary of EPCOT Center – I’m reminded of the excitement I experienced as a pre-teen who was so excited and intrigued by the promise that “the 21st century begins Oct. 1, 1982.”

In this silver anniversary year, I hope that the traditional gift will be taken literally by Disney and that the garish wand and sorcerer’s hand above Spaceship Earth will be removed so that we may be able to see the silver majesty of the geosphere again rise so magnificently above the Florida landscape. It would be the most welcome anniversary present of all for all guests.

It’s my New Year’s EPCOT wish ... that someone, somewhere at Disney will have the integrity and inspiration to realize just how special EPCOT is – that they will look back at the millions of words written about this theme park over the years and come to the conclusion that Disney has the opportunity to return EPCOT to its roots. Today’s entertainment industry continues to look for ways to blend entertainment and education in a way that is intriguing, engaging and relevant … yet EPCOT tried to do that a quarter of a century ago.

It’s my New Year’s EPCOT wish ... that The Walt Disney Company will spend a tiny fraction of the money it pours into television and movie programming of dubious quality on this most unusual and unorthodox theme park. Instead of chasing the “impossible dream” of building another cookie-cutter theme park in China, Disney can turn its attention to a park unlike any other, one that can showcase everything Disney is capable of doing.

It’s my New Year’s EPCOT wish ... that quality will be restored to the park. Instead of cartoon characters and quickly dated movies, a new influx of immersive, ride-through experiences of the sort only Disney has ever been able to create can breathe new life and new vitality into EPCOT.

It’s my New Year’s EPCOT wish ... that Disney will recognize the enormous potential of EPCOT to create that “holy grail” of a global brand that stands apart from the Disney name, one that stands for a different kind of “family” entertainment, that aims to educate and inspire as much as entertain, that can be applied to everything from magazines and housewares to electronics and books.

It’s my New Year’s EPCOT wish ... that an expansion and refurbishment of the park, announced during its Silver Jubilee, will honor the incredible growth and explosive pace of the world in which we live, will highlight the ways in which we can live together and learn from each other.

It’s my New Year’s EPCOT wish ... that our shrinking “global village” will receive the tribute of additional pavilions in World Showcase, celebrating and exploring places on the globe that many people may never get to experience in real life, but which can be presented in microcosm in this rarest of environments.

It’s my New Year’s EPCOT wish ... that the park will be blessed with a management team that understands its unique position and incredible profile around the globe. (Ask many people who have never even been to Walt Disney World what “EPCOT” means, and most will at least have heard of the name … that’s a name recognition that most creations never achieve.)

It’s my New Year’s EPCOT wish ... that the 25th year of EPCOT will be only the start of 25 more years of inspiration and discovery … not simply of showcasing the latest Pixar movie or thrill-ride technology.

So, my New Year’s EPCOT wish is actually many wishes. But I once heard that wishes can come true. I’d like to believe it’s possible.

Happy New Year, EPCOT … and readers of EPCOT Central. Thanks for the great times. May there be many more!

And for those of you who would like to explore a bit more of EPCOT Central, here are some of the articles that have received the most feedback and response:

Being Unique

When Disney Blinked

Lost: One EPCOT Center User's Guide

The First Quarter Century

A Convenient Theme?

Enjoying EPCOT

Sunset on a Spaceship

When Enthusiasm Was Enthusiastic (retro video from EPCOT Center's opening)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Lack of Energy

What’s with the Universe of Energy pavilion?

It was once the single most ambitious, epic, over-sized efforts in an ambitious, epic, over-sized park, yet today – from start to finish – it’s one of the most lackluster and unimaginative offerings in Disney's theme-park portfolio.

Although I happen to think Ellen DeGeneres is a fabulously gifted comedian with a wonderful, unique delivery, 10 years of her is more than enough at Epcot. Moreover, she’s teamed with Bill Nye the Science Guy, a former Disney “property” whose TV show was only a modest hit … more than a decade ago.

Then, you’ve got a much younger version of Alex Trebek hosting Jeopardy! on a comparatively ancient version of the game show’s set in a not-very-funny little sketch co-starring an actress, Jamie Lee Curtis, who recently announced her retirement.

Calling this show dated is like calling Nicole Ritchie a little on the thin side.

And then there's the simple fact that it's just not entertaining anymore.

It's got a tired, listless quality (with the exception of the Audio-Animatronic dinosaurs at the heart of the show – which remain exciting and fun) exacerbated by C-list celebrities and humor that would barely warrant a laugh-track response on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Most bothersome and frustrating about Universe of Energy, though, is how it demonstrates Epcot’s unwillingness or inability to keep up with the most basic of world issues, to change, grow and educate based on what we know today about tomorrow, not what we knew a decade ago.

Communications, transportation, the oceans, space exploration and health are all, without doubt, major topics that affect the entire planet. They were chosen to be represented at EPCOT Center for a reason, and it's a pity that Disney's latest incarnation of lower-case Epcot has been so creatively lazy and financially frugal when it comes to updating them. (Unless, of course, there's a chance to make them cartoon heavy or turn them into meaningless thrill rides.)

That's particularly true when it comes to energy.

Now, I know virtually nothing about this topic, I’ll be the first to tell you. Still, I am aware that global warming is an energy-based subject that is increasingly in the news and increasingly accepted by scientists of all political stripe. I also know that finding personal vehicles that don’t consume gasoline is a subject that even Detroit and Washington are beginning to take seriously. Likewise, I know that heating and cooling my house has become increasingly expensive, and that I am becoming aware that there are alternative options.

My point is, I’m pretty much in the dark about energy, but I’d like to know more, I’d like to get an idea of where we’re headed in the next 20 years, and I’d like the kids in my life to be aware of the issues that are going to be confronting them.

Does that mean Universe of Energy has to become a boring, staid lecture on energy? Absolutely not.

If anything, it means that this attraction -- more than any other -- stands the most to gain from a complete overhaul that could see it become truly revolutionary. Universe of Energy can and should be one of the most exciting and mind-expanding Epcot pavilions, not one of the most dull and sparsely attended.

It is nothing short of astonishing that Disney pays such little heed to the original mission of Epcot that it allows Universe of Energy to impart old, outdated information that has little, if any, relevance to the lives of the guests who visit it. Rather than offer an experience that presents the most cutting-edge, up-to-date information in a compelling way, Universe of Energy offers stale, underwhelming information in an environment that actually seems more dated than the 1980s stars of Cranium Command.

The novelty of Ellen and Alex Trebek wore off years ago. (For the huge number of non-U.S. guests who visit Epcot each year, was there ever any novelty at all in seeing such quintessentially American pop-culture celebrities?) The discussions of solar and wind power are meaningless in a world that is more focused on hybrid vehicles and global-warming issues.

It’s far past time to give Universe of Energy the infusion of, er, energy it so sorely needs.

Come on, Imagineering – this is a great chance to thrill us again and to remind everyone, particularly Disney itself, what Epcot can and should be.