EPCOT Center was boring.
It just ain't so.
Those of us who were around back in the early 1980s know first-hand that the "Myth of Boring" is overstated and not terribly accurate. But just as there are those who absolutely insist that Walt Disney's frozen, headless body is buried somewhere 'neath the Animation Building at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, there are those who are certain beyond any doubt that there was one major problem with EPCOT Center as it existed from 1982 until the mid-1990s -- that it was excruciatingly dull, given over to quickly outdated pontificating about such weighty matters as science and education.
It's the one excuse that's given, over and over, for the near-constant messing with EPCOT that Disney has done, mostly in the past 10 years. So, let's get this straight:
EPCOT Center wasn't boring. EPCOT Center simply became too ambitious for a giant corporation that lives off of "the bottom line."
On Oct. 1, 1982, EPCOT Center opened with seven Future World pavilions and nine World Showcase "countries." From the outset, Disney promised EPCOT would constantly expand. Within several years, Future World added the Universe of Energy and The Living Seas, while World Showcase grew with two new "member nations." New rides and attractions were added to keep people coming back, and attendance grew modestly.
But, here's the thing: the real world grew, too, and much more quickly than anyone had ever envisioned.
That proved problematic to Future World, in particular, because within a decade of the park's debut, the "new" technologies it put on display, the leading-edge research it showcased, became antiquated. And Disney didn't know how to respond.
But the shows themselves? They were rarely less than fascinating. Perhaps the most ponderous was the Universe of Energy, which did, let's be honest, feel a little like a dumbed-down science lesson. Just the other day, I heard on a Live365 radio station the original narration to Universe of Energy, and I was a little surprised at how lumberous it felt. But it was easy to forget that it was accompanied by a ride through a primeval world, filled with sights, sounds and smells that were impossible to find anywhere else. Universe of Energy may have been a slog at times, but its core experience was hardly boring.
World of Motion contained fun Audio-Animatronic tableaux that were genuinely one-of-a-kind and a delight for families, who could spend the entire ride pointing out silly situations in this comedic, satisfying ride. But then you got to the "GM part," and you sensed Disney's storytellers struggling to combine their creatively spot-on tale of how transportation developed with the needs of Disney's corporate partner. Moreover, auto manufacturing was changing so rapidly by the early 1990s (remember the introduction of the Saturn and the fuss it caused?) that World of Motion felt increasingly irrelevant.
Spaceship Earth? Ah, Spaceship Earth. Even with its latest renovations, no experience has ever captured what Disney does quite so well, providing a multi-sensory experience that took difficult concepts and made them relatable.
Horizons -- well, entire websites could (and have) been written about Horizons. While Spaceship Earth still counts as the masterpiece of Disney ride showmanship, Horizons is a very close second in my book. It reminded us of what we aspire to being. How many times have you felt that in a theme park of any sort?
As for The Living Seas, if you don't get a thrill by watching creatures from the silent world below us in their natural habitat, if you can't find excitement by seeing them in ways that were sometimes better than even Sea World could provide, then no cartoon fish is going to make you feel any differently. (To me, the layering of Finding Nemo on to this attraction is tantamount to characters from Prince of Egypt added to the Pyramids to make them more interesting.)
I've only touched on Future World, and not all of the pavilions there.
It's enough, as I write this, to remind me, without any doubt: EPCOT Center wasn't boring.
But it was abandoned.
The theme park needed to be revitalized, updated, added-to and refurbished nearly constantly. It needed money and a creative team dedicated to it, to ensure that its contents could keep up with what turned out to be one of the most technologically revolutionary times in world history. EPCOT Center suffered because of care, and that's why its attendance suffered in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Park guests may have found it boring, but that's because within 10 years of its debut, the "wonders" it presented were part of our everyday lives. Disney failed to keep EPCOT Center moving forward.
The inelegant solution Disney decided upon was to stop trying.
EPCOT Center gradually began looking and feeling like other theme parks. There was always a bit of a twist, there was always just enough "Epcot" in there to make it marketable as a "discovery park." But its heart was removed, and its spirit dwindled in the process.
I still love Epcot. It remains a theme-park experience like no other on the whole; but parts, too many parts, are increasingly like what I'd find somewhere else. EPCOT Center didn't suffer from that problem. Nothing else was like it, and that was too much for Disney's Ivy League MBAs to deal with; it was a problem they didn't teach in grad school. EPCOT Center needed more attention than any of Disney's parks, and in the School of Bottom-Line Finances, every investment needs to have a return. The only way you can measure a return at a theme park is by examining its attendance and its merchandise revenue. So, they crammed more of the "same stuff" into the stores, built rides and attractions that were marketable to the least discerning consumer, and ... EPCOT became Epcot.
EPCOT Center thrilled in a way nothing else has ever done. The thrills came not from adrenaline rushes or wind in your hair, they came when you got home and you found yourself wondering if perhaps oceanography was a good profession, or telling people at your dinner party how your food got to the table. The thrills came from understanding about yourself, your world and your fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth.
EPCOT Center was forgotten and abandoned by Disney management who failed to maintain and constantly update its vision and its ideas.
You can say a lot of things about EPCOT Center, not all of them glowing. You can say it was outdated, that it was overwhelming, that it was complicated and challenging. You can say it required a sure and unusual touch that Disney never understood, that it was so unlike anything else that people didn't know what to make of it. You can say it didn't develop and grow, that it suffered. You can say all those things and more.
Just don't say it was boring.