Over at FoxxFur’s “Passport to Dreams” blog, the author presents a fascinating, dead-on view of the groundbreaking design and near-complete aesthetic success that was EPCOT Center and the confused hodge-podge of thrills, spills and “theme-park” mentality that Epcot has become.
It would be disingenuous of me to try to elaborate on what FoxxFur writes so well. Kudos to this terrific blogger! The writing has, however, certainly made me think more about EPCOT/Epcot.
EPCOT Center may have failed on some counts (its earnestness, its endless optimism, its simplicity), but it succeeded on so many more. Only in hindsight can we see exactly what went wrong with its transition to Epcot in the mid-1990s. But that hindsight is only useful if Disney can and will commit itself to correcting its mistakes.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it endlessly until some action is taken (or until something forces me to shut up): When it “fixed” a mostly unbroken EPCOT Center, Disney closed the door on its own four decades of progress and innovation. By throwing in the towel on an admittedly difficult and expensive project, Disney didn’t just acknowledge its own defeat – it actually gave up, willingly, a leadership position in the entertainment industry. As recently happened with animation, Disney become a competitor in a field it dominated for decades. The company's inability to uphold its own visionary undertaking signified that the company could not be as creatively vibrant and forward-thinking as it had been even a few years before.
Ironically enough, conventional wisdom holds that Disney in the mid-1970s was creatively bankrupt. If you go strictly by Herbie Goes Bananas, The Last Flight of Noah's Ark and Condorman, that may have been true. But this was also the era that turned out such theme-park creations as Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Disneyland’s Fantasyland, Tokyo Disneyland … and EPCOT Center.
In the mid- to late 1970s, virtually every bit of Walt Disney Imagineering’s efforts went into EPCOT Center; not just WDI's, really, but Disney's. EPCOT was a company-wide commitment on a level that could hardly be imagined today. It was an attempt to continue Walt Disney’s rather extraordinary, unexpected fascination with the applications of new technology, to continue a course that Walt had set. To the outside world, it may have seemed decidedly “un-Disney” – yet in spirit and conception, EPCOT was more in keeping with the Walt's spirit of innovation and exploration than any theme park the company has built in the past 30 years.
The last decade or so, however, has seen Disney inundated with entertainment-industry executives, business-school graduates and marketing “experts” who believe they know Disney better than anyone … even if, well, they don’t. (Few really understand or care to understand the incredible contributions that Walt and Roy O. Disney made not just to their company but to American business.)
Most Disney fans I know -- who are excoriated by executives in Burbank, Anaheim and Lake Buena Vista -- have more inherent understanding of the basic ideals and ambitions that led to Disney's 1920s-to-1980s creative success than the current crop of Disney management (many of whom I also know). Yet these are the executives who were called on to “fix” the “problems” of EPCOT, and their actions led to mistake piled upon mistake.
As in any politically driven organization (which today’s Disney unfortunately has become, first and foremost), each successive regime thinks it has the answer, and all too often their solutions only make past mistakes worse. There is no progress, only a general confusion that comes whenever creative ambition is replaced with financially driven goals, when one hasty decision is made to counteract an earlier bad call.
What every “generation” of Disney’s theme-park management has failed to acknowledge about EPCOT is a simple truth: EPCOT wasn’t broken in the first place.
It was inarguably neglected and in need of care and understanding; it most certainly suffered from a lack of inspiration. But its basic foundation was solid. The only “damage” the park had sustained was cosmetic.
Yet a new regime of Disney management believed some drastic action needed to be taken. Now, 10 years after the efforts began to turn EPCOT into something it was never intended to be, Disney has completely lost sight of what the park had already become. In their zeal to change EPCOT simply for the sake of changing it, no one stopped to consider that everything that made EPCOT different and challenging (for guests as well as management) were exactly the things that made it unique, remarkable and eminently marketable.
EPCOT Center used to serve as a living symbol of why Disney was unlike any company on the planet.
Now, it has become an icon for how much the “Disney brand” is like every other. There’s little innovative or genuinely exciting about it, only amusing and generally entertaining.
The truth about EPCOT is, it could be so much more. Its revitalization could symbolize a new renaissance for Disney's creativity and innovation.
But perhaps the hardest truth about EPCOT is, Disney doesn't really seem to care.