Date: January 25, 2007
To: Brad Rex, Vice President, Epcot
From: Epcot82 (EpcotCtr82@yahoo.com)
Re: EPCOT Center and Epcot
I understand you have been in charge of Epcot for quite a while. We’ve never met, but I know a lot about Disney, particularly on the corporate side, and I realize, more than anything, you’re doing the best you possibly can within a difficult organization.
I’m not here to blast you or say you’re doing a crappy job or endlessly criticize your decisions.
By now, perhaps you’ve read some of the responses to the blogpost I wrote called “I (Heart) Epcot.” It’s gotten a tremendous response; for every comment you see here, I’ve gotten two e-mails from others who have said they didn’t want to post their comments. Some of these are from Disney employees who, despite the anonymity offered by Blogger.com, are worried that somehow even their support of Epcot and Disney theme parks will be traced back to them. That fear speaks volumes about the organization. I’m not sure how you can encourage feedback from Epcot cast members when many people at Disney (both in California and Florida) are fearful even of an anonymous system!
That’s beside the point, of course. The point of this blog is to discuss what is great – and nearly great – about Epcot. (For the sake of argument, I’ll use the lower-case moniker, though EPCOT Center, as nebulous as the name might have been, was more grand and evocative of something enormous and vaguely mysterious.)
Epcot is a grand and glorious place. It has never been, and probably never will be, duplicated in the world. It is so far outside of what we consider “Disney” that for many of us it has come to define “Disney” – trying for something new and exciting, pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
Throughout this site, you’ll find a lot of criticism. Perhaps you’ll understand how sincere that criticism is. Perhaps you were like me as a kid: You didn’t try too hard at school, you always managed to get Bs, perhaps an A here and there, sometimes a C (or worse), but overall, you did fine. It probably wasn’t enough for your parents. They didn’t understand why you would settle, and you didn’t understand why they cared. It was, after all, your life – and you were correct in that assumption.
But when you see someone who is capable of so much not living up to full potential, it hurts; you know that there’s a chance for greatness with a little effort.
So it is with Epcot.
Many of the readers of EPCOT Central, I’ve learned, had similar experiences to me growing up. On TV, in books, at the movies, Disney was a constant in our young lives. And then, 1982 happened. EPCOT Center burst on to the scene, and when we got our first tastes of it, we learned something incredible: The world was bigger than we imagined. “Disney” was safe and simple, its characters taught us little lessons and encouraged us to be imaginative. But Epcot was something completely different; here was Disney telling us that we lived in a big, messy, complex world that was filled with people different than us and things we didn’t understand.
EPCOT Center tried (and succeeded more often than it failed, I think) to show us that our world could make sense, that there were a lot of difficult things in it, but if we broke those things down into their simplest parts, we could understand them, just as we could begin to understand how they all related to each other.
There was a world around you that contained complex issues and subjects, but not only could they be understandable and even interesting, if we simply crossed a bridge we could find people in other parts of the world who were also dealing with the same issues, and we could learn about them and have fun together.
Yes, Epcot attempted to do a lot, perhaps too much. But there’s much more to be said for trying and sometimes failing than not really trying at all.
Over the years, though, Epcot seems to have grown weary of trying. Make no doubt, it is an effort – one that isn’t easily explained or illustrated by the basic principles of entertainment marketing. Epcot sits so far outside the boundaries of what is “normal” for a theme park, it is much easier to throw in the towel and make it like everything else.
Giving up on Epcot may even have seemed to be profitable in the short term. Anytime a theme park adds an exciting new thrill ride or finds a marketing hook, there can be a substantial uptick in attendance, and I’m fully aware that you’re judged not against qualitative metrics but against quantitative, numerical ones.
But giving up is always disappointing to everyone, particularly when it closes the door on ambition.
Epcot was once filled with ambition … but it has become lazy.
I don’t blame anyone for taking the easy way out with Epcot, but look at what goes missing: Inspiring a new generation of guests the way millions of people were inspired by the earlier incarnations of Epcot.
Epcot has become flashy, fun and a bit simplistic; it emphasizes immediate thrills over lasting satisfaction. To draw a real-world correlation, you probably dated people like that: they wanted nothing but fun and excitement all the time, and they weren’t particularly deep. These aren’t the people we marry and have a lasting relationship with. After a while, that insistence on having fun becomes exhausting and a little boring. Sure, a bit of it is fun, but whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we crave more than that.
At Walt Disney World, pure fun and thrills are everywhere. Don’t like a bit more substance on vacation? You could go a week without setting foot in Epcot and come away satisfied and happy. But if you do want more – which so many of us do – what’s wrong with providing that? It doesn’t mean you want a boring, mundane, stuffy museum, it just means you want stimulation of another sort.
Epcot provided that. It was, to repeat myself, glorious.
Next time you walk around Epcot, take a good hard look at what it’s become. Perhaps it’s just having a midlife crisis, desperate to be as flashy and showy as those around it.
Epcot doesn’t need to be anything more than it was. It was perfect like that: always growing and becoming something subtly different with each visit, but with a clear sense of purpose and confidence of its mission.
You’re in charge of a wonderful, fantastic place. I hope you know that … and that you will want, for yourself and the park, a legacy of change, of improvement, of lasting impact and genuine achievement.
Next time you’re there, I hope you’ll look at that dedication plaque outside the park’s gates, then look up at Spaceship Earth and remind yourself of what Epcot is … and how much more it could be.
Maybe the readers of this blog and I have become bothersome in our insistence on improving Epcot, but know we want that because Epcot was meant to be unlike any other place in the world. Don’t let it become just another theme park. Let it be Epcot. Let it be amazing.
I wish you all the best for a successful, inspiring 25th anniversary, one filled with hope, excitement ... and vision.