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This October 1st, EPCOT (or Epcot) turns 30 years old. About 37 days later, so do I. There is not a time in my existence where there was not a Spaceship Earth, an extended monorail, or a bunch of pavilions selling alcohol around a lake under a Disney banner. Epcot is actually my favorite park of all, and I was lucky enough to have worked there on the WDW College Program ten years ago (as of two days ago).
Anyone that knows me, and has read some things I posted on this site, knows how much of a fan I am of the Disney theme parks in general and the ones situated near Orlando the most. If I didn’t have a home or a wonderful family, that is where I would call my home and who I would call my family. I feel more like myself there than I do almost anywhere else (almost). I stated on Twitter earlier today, in a jokey tweet, that I feel like Epcot is my slightly older twin brother. Sure he came out about a month early, but we have a lot of commonalities and similar DNA, even if I don’t contain a somewhat lifelike representation of Ellen DeGeneres in myself.
Epcot was originally EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It was a bold plan concocted by Walt Disney that even today makes me upset that it was a vision never realized. I’m not even saying that it would have worked in every single way he dreamed up, but just looking at his plans makes me wish that it had existed and got it’s due chance. Epcot now is not what it should be and I sometimes think that way about myself. I’m not trying to be down on myself today, because I love what Epcot is today just as much as I am fine with what I am today, but I see areas of improvement there just as much as I see them within myself.
I had visions of my future just as Walt did when he was drawing up Project X in the early 60s. The story goes that Walt’s untimely passing was also the nail in the coffin for EPCOT as a city, though there are other accounts showing that the company was at least somewhat open to the possibility of making it work until they found out just how damn difficult it actually was to do all of the things Walt had envisioned. Running EPCOT the way it was intended and doing it well would have changed the world. I believe that. There is no doubt in my mind that central Florida would be an entirely different place if the Magic Kingdom had the Community of Tomorrow to it’s south instead of the resort complex that stands there now.
My ascent to adulthood has seemed to go much the way the road to EPCOT did, as I had plenty of visions for where I saw myself and what I saw myself doing. While there was no death to derail my plans, there were still moments that made me realize just how hard it is to make dreams come true. Disney fans are quite fond of “If you can dream it, you can do it”, a phrase plucked from the Horizons attraction and posthumously handed to Walt Disney as a source of inspiration. Yes, it is inspiring and no, he did not actually say that in any sort of official sense, but it just feels like something he would say and it absolutely feels like that is how he lived his life. The problem is that getting from dreaming to doing is incredibly difficult, especially since I am not nor will I ever be someone like Walt Disney, as much as I would love to follow in his footsteps (I can’t even draw nor have the mechanical or persuasive inclinations to drive hundreds of people to work miracles en route to things like the 1964 World’s Fair, Snow White & The Seven Dwarves, or even Disneyland itself (and after his passing the slightly depressing modifications from Project X to the Walt Disney World Resort).
I’m not Walt Disney, but I might very well be Epcot (again, without the booze or reasonably moderate density of European girls). Note, I am also most definitely not EPCOT, and by that I mean a dream realized and fulfilled. I took the bumps in the road toward that dream and did the best I could with what was in front of me, modifying the road ahead as I needed to in order to at least have some success, even if it involved lowercase letters and the addition of the absurd “Center”(which I am glad has disappeared as much as I am that stupid wand above the aforementioned Spaceship Earth). [note to Disney: the future isn't glitter]
Am I not happy sometimes that Epcot isn’t EPCOT? Sure. Am I not happy sometimes that I am not what I set about to be ten or fifteen or twenty years ago? Sure, sometimes. But just like Epcot I am getting ready to cross that line into my third decade in existence, and while my World of Motion might be Test Track, my Horizons a Mission: Space, my Walter Cronkite a Jeremy Irons (sorry Judi Dench) and my Wonders of Life ironically closed to only open for special events and very important people, I am still here and I am still making the right people happy – people that may not know or care what I could or maybe even should have been, but yet still appreciate what is here and what will continue on.
Futile or not, I’ve only just begun to dream.
Earlier this week, it was announced that the Walt Disney Company will be partnering with James Cameron to bring Avatar to the various Disney theme parks, starting with the Animal Kingdom. At first, I was horrified. While almost any Disney park fan worth their salt instantly calls to mind the original plans for the Beastly Kingdom section of Animal Kingdom that was scrapped in development, I instead thought of Harry Potter, and how it seemed like Disney was going out of there way to latch onto a profitable franchise and use it to their advantage.
While there may be a small bit of truth to the idea of oneupsmanship as it pertains to licensing films for attractions, at least in the case of Avatar there is much more coming (two films scheduled to be released in 2015 and 2016, with the latter date being when the attractions are currently slated to be up and running), while Potter is done in terms of films but has things like Pottermore around to at least keep it alive and growing in popular culture. It is sometimes difficult to remember that many of Disney’s most famous stories are pulled from other sources – be it fairy tales, children’s books, or even 1960′s anime (jury’s still out on the last one). Also, a few of Disney’s most famous attractions come from franchises they don’t own (Star Wars and Indiana Jones) so this is not without precedent in their theme park design history.
For now, there are no concrete plans. Construction isn’t planned for another two years, and everything is currently nothing but blue sky (that’s a tie-in to my previous post, probably), but there are actually things that could work in it’s favor…
1. James Cameron is insane. Hear me out, okay? Cameron is a man who has worked on many projects that have taken the limits of creativity, engineering, and special effects and ripped them to shreds. Between Avatar, Titanic, Terminator, and Aliens there is just a whole lot of magnificence that succeeds in pulling you into some other world and keeping you there, enveloping the viewer in a different time and place. That is the exact kind of thing that Disney can be good at and needs to be good at. The idea that I can walk from the hustle and bustle of the Oasis and journey deep into the planet of Pandora and actually feel like I’m on another plane of existence is an experience that sounds too good to be true, but it just might be possible in a few short years.
2. Connections. A big part of the Animal Kingdom’s message is all about conversation of the environment, a story element that was also smeared all over Avatar and is just one connection the two share that can be utilized to at least make sense of placing an Avatar “land” in the Animal Kingdom instead of, say, the Hollywood Studios. There is also the idea that one can go to Animal Kingdom and see animals in natural habitats and even close enough to almost be touched. Now, while i suspect one will not see any Mountain Banshee’s flying overhead around that section of the park, the technology exists for at least the flora (as faux as it will be) to really draw you into this alien world. I mean, seriously, one word – bioluminescence. Night on Pandora might just rival the Osborne Family Christmas Lights as the brightest and most awe-inspiring landscape available at a Disney theme park (the finale to Illuminations would be my third place vote).
3. Technology. I suspect that by the time we get closer to the beginning of construction that some new technology will exist that both crazy James Cameron and profit-hungry Disney will pounce on to create something that is never-before seen in the world of amusement and theme park attractions. Avatar is not something that would benefit by any current off-the-shelf ride model (stupid flying carpets) and by all rights should have something new and exciting to draw people in. It is not enough that the film was immensely popular and has an incredibly large fan base that will no doubt pilgrimage to central Florida in five years and beyond – it needs to live up to the bar already set by the film and be unlike anything anyone has seen before. I can not even been to speculate what exactly this technology could be, but I am sure there are Imagineers sleeplessly staring at their ceilings or fussing about with Erector sets trying to figure out what that is.
Disney, this isn’t about if you are going to make this amazing and brilliant environment that defies all expectations. This is about just how much you will be able to take those growing expectations and smash them to tiny pieces under an entire alien planet that you are inviting us all to experience. I hate to be one to bring this to a close on such a down note, but anything short of perfection is going to be a disappointment. I guess if all else fails, we can be sure to be on the lookout for Dances With Wolves Land in 2018. For now, I will try to be optimistic, if even cautiously so.