Friday, June 08, 2007

Knowing When to Say When

It's been well over a year since I started this blog, and if you're a long-time reader, you've probably noticed I have had less and less to write about lately -- as well as less and less time to do it.

EPCOT Center will always, always, be near and dear to my heart. You who are reading this and I share a passion that is found in far too few Disney executives these days, a passion for seeing Disney fulfill the promise of this immensely promising place.

The pessimistic side of me reckons that Disney has made it abundantly clear they have no interest in doing anything but turning EPCOT (not to mention Disney-MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom and even California Adventure) into just another "Disney Park" -- a brand so wrong-headed and ill-conceived that anyone except a Disney marketer could see it is the corporate equivalent of a supermarket's generic label: plain and dull. Disney is stripping away the individuality each park used to have. Ironically, we live in an age of "branding," yet Disney is removing the personality from its own carefully wrought brands. Its theme parks are little more than an increasingly cynical way to wrest money from your and my wallets, and visiting the over-crowded, over-priced parks gets me depressed lately rather than raising my spirits.

So, that pessimistic side says, "Why bother anymore?" Yes, it's time to concede defeat. All the bloggers in the world won't change Disney's calculated decisions, nor its bloated "creative development" process, nor its overly politicized corporate environment that emphasizes pleasing Wall Street over pleasing guests. In a company like Disney has become, a concept like EPCOT doesn't stand a chance.

The optimistic side of me ... ?

Well, what little remains, when it comes to Disney, hopes that the recent rumors, running rampant online and in Burbank and Lake Buena Vista, are true: The ugly wand over Spaceship Earth is finally coming down, a decision made not by Disney marketers but, interestingly, by Siemens.

Perhaps this marks a moment of change in Disney's attitude toward EPCOT? Unlikely, and I'll believe it when I see it, but certainly possible.

I hope that's the case. I'll be watching and waiting to see. The defunct Wonders of Life pavilion; the dumbed-down Seas pavilion ("But it's always busy!" comes the retort -- as if popularity were always indicative of creative success); the "Gran Fiesta" travesty of choosing Disney frivolity over an entire culture; the often-empty queues of Mission: Space; the neglected Audio-Animatronic figures in World Showcase; the carnival-barker atmosphere that increasingly pervades EPCOT ("Buy a Glo-Stick necklace now!") ... none of it gives me much hope.

I don't know when I'll visit Walt Disney World again. Probably not very soon. It depresses me.

The good news is, the science center up the street from my house offers extraordinary interactive displays and exhibits (not to mention IMAX films) that stretch my imagination; inexpensive flights to foreign lands make it easier than ever to see the real world myself; and thanks to DVD and the Internet, the glories of EPCOT past are rarely far away.

I will always love what EPCOT Center tried to be, as well as the idealized philosophies of Walt Disney and the company he created -- the one that stopped existing in 1995, when Disney execs decided the company needed to become a multi-media conglomerate. If I can carry a tiny bit of those ideals with me in my own life, I think I might be able to make some positive changes. You know, it just takes "One Little Spark" of inspiration. Disney and EPCOT Center once provided that spark -- many times over.

But for now, I know when it's time to say when ... and that time is now.

I'm closing down shop on EPCOT Central.

The posts will still be here for anyone to read for months to come; I have no intention of taking them down. I hope you'll share the thoughts on this blog, which come from around the world, with your friends and colleagues who care about EPCOT. Even though I won't be adding new ones, maybe the posts that are here could still make a difference.

As readers, you have made a difference in my life. I've seen that literally tens of thousands of people worldwide share my passion for EPCOT Center, for the ideas and thoughts that once filled the park, for the inspiration it provided in our own lives. That inspiration will never die, no matter what the Florida theme park becomes.

May the inspiration of EPCOT Center continue to drive you, to inform your lives, to light your way.

Thank you for reading. And now ...

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls ... EPCOT Central is closed. We hope you've enjoyed your stay.