Thursday, September 13, 2007
Almost Right and Getting Closer
I've been gone for a while. Months, which in Internet time might as well be eons.
Is anyone still with me?
Regardless, there have obviously been some major developments at Epcot lately, ones worth noting.
While it's still lower-case Epcot, there's almost a temptation to rename it again, at least temporarily, recalling terminology used decades ago -- for a while, at least, it's fitting to view Epcot as "Progressland."
Look, I'm not a marketing "whiz" at Disney. But, in one of those noteworthy changes, a key "genius" has departed: Michael Mendenhall is gone, and if you're one of those who follow the inner workings and machinations of the strange place called The Walt Disney Company, you know what a major leap forward this may be. True, no one has been named to replace him, but there's every indication that John Lasseter helped force this change to happen, and it's a fantastic thing. All good wishes to Mr. Mendenhall, but his "profits-over-everything" mentality and lack of any true creative vision has damaged Disney's theme parks immensely, most of all Epcot.
In Mendenhall's view, theme parks were simply another asset to be monetized and commoditized. (A view, unfortunately, shared by Jay Rasulo; it will be fascinating to see if he lasts a lot longer under Lasseter's leadership.) They lost their position as the public face of Disney, as the arbiter of Disney's creative vision and the showcase for all the wild imaginings and possibilities that could be dreamed up by Disney's artists and engineers.
If EPCOT Center never became what "Walt wanted," it became something close to what Walt might have loved. In its slow transition to "just Epcot," this extraordinary place of hope, vision and community became nothing more than another place to build mundane attractions, then populate them with the latest Disney cartoon creations. EPCOT Center lost more than some capitalization and a word, it lost its soul and became an MBA-bearing marketer's dream. Its size and scope meant more retail space for the latest all-alike Disney products, its complex attractions became nothing more than acreage on which new, cheaper rides and shows could be built, further improving OI and revenue.
Epcot, more than any other park, became a mish-mash of Disney billboards and marketing messages -- never more garishly depicted than the quest for a "better" icon, in the form of a Disney-ized, bedazzled Spaceship Earth.
Now, that era is over.
There's no better symbol of that than the simple, unadorned, majestic, specatcularly silver sphere that once again is the simple beacon that lets visitors know they've arrived at a most unusual and specatcular place.
There's still visual clutter beneath it, still eye pollution that prevents it from standing quite as tall, quite as proudly, quite as gracefully as it could and should, but I am not about to bemoan progress -- well, not too loudly. This one-two punch of the "simple" Spaceship and the "loss" of Mendenhall couldn't be better hallmarks for a new age of growth, exploration and discovery ... both for Epcot itself and for Disney guests.
There's still a huge amount of work to be done. But this is true progress.
For now, I won't address the painfully unfunny new Canada movie, the ghost town of the Wonders of Life, the duck-filled Rio del Tiempo, the kid-filled Akershus.
I'll just say thank you.
I don't know who I'm saying it to, exactly. If it's John Lasseter, then you've shown that you get it -- clearly and pointedly. If it's an operating executive who thought the wand was just too expensive to maintain, then you've paid a backhanded compliment to the namesake of your company. If it's someone else, then, simply ... thank you.
What a change. What a difference. What a beautiful sight.
There's a long road ahead, and while the "Center" may still be missing, EPCOT just got a little of that capitalization back ... at least in principle.
This relatively simple act has made a lot of passionate people very happy ... and no doubt made a lot of guests say, "Now that is cool."
Yes, folks ... EPCOT is cool.
Welcome back, E-P-C-O-T. We missed you.
P.S. For those of you who have communicated with me directly in the past, please note that my e-mail address is slightly different. You'll find it in my profile or by looking up my information; please change your e-mail address books accordingly if you'd like to keep in touch. I do read every single e-mail, I can't always respond as quickly as I'd like, unfortunately!