Travel into the Future

Disney’s Epcot. What a wonderful place to begin. This park is one of the most beloved theme parks in the world, holding strong as the number six theme park worldwide, number three in the United States (TEA/AECOM 2015 Theme Index and Museum Index: The Global Attractions Attendance Report). Disney is known for its unbelievable magic and imagination. A place where dreams come true. However, as of late, Disney’s Epcot has fallen prey to one of the many pitfalls that Disney encounters in its current neck and neck race against Universal- in its quest to innovate, some of its old fall backs get left behind.

But that doesn’t mean that our beloved Epcot is down for the count. On the contrary. It remains one of my favorite places to visit, certainly ranking it highest during the Food and Wine Festival or Flower and Garden, two of the tricks that keep Epcot’s numbers flowing. But if we were to examine it on just the day-to-day operation of it, Epcot has gotten rather… ho-hum. Don’t get me wrong, the chance to wander around the world and purchase pseudo-authentic ethnic cuisine while buying nick knacks remains one of my favorite things to do in Disney, but there is so much more that can take this park and make it top shelf once again. This post is the first of several that will explore some options to take this beloved park up a notch, take it back to its former Disney glory. This week’s post is going to focus on one aspect of Future World, giving it some help from a few friendly companions…

Epcot began as a dream of creator Walt Disney. His original vision wasn’t for a park, but for a place. A place where people can live, work, shop, dine and be entertained in an innovative, safe community. And that’s what he called his vision- the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT. Walt didn’t live long enough to see this vision come to fruition, but a large part of that dream can still be seen on display when riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (the People Mover) in the Magic Kingdom.

EPCOT Center (as it was originally called) officially opened to the public in 1982, and was considered a wonder of technological advancement. It features two worlds- Future World, located near the front turnstiles, and the World Showcase, located around the lagoon. Future World was created as a center for education, with rides and tours designed to educate park guests on things such as the human body through entertaining rides. As Walt Disney once said, “I would rather entertain people and hope they are educated, than educate people and hope they are entertained.” The World Showcase originally featured nine different countries from around the world, each one hosted by corporate sponsors from actual country of origin. The designs for each country came from the host countries themselves, and they provided the inspiration and concepts to the Disney Company in the design of their individual locations. Today, the World Showcase has 11 countries, and is the main location for Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, as well as the Flower and Garden Festival.

Okay, enough with the background information. Presumably if you’re reading this post, you have some familiarity with the park itself. If not, I would suggest hopping over to the Disney website for an overview of the parks, as well as a park map, just for orientation. You can visit the park maps here for more information.

In today’s post, I’m going to focus strictly on Future World, saving the big ideas I have in store for the World Showcase for another date. Future World has several main areas, all located off the central hub of Spaceship Earth (that’s the big golf ball in the center of the park, and is considered the park’s emblem). These spaces are known as Future World East (comprised of Project Tomorrow, Ellen’s Energy Adventures, Mission:SPACE, Test Track, and Innovations), Future World West (including The Sea with Nemo & Friends, Soarin, Living with the Land, and Journey into Imagination with Figment), and Showcase Plaza (which is really a glorified walkway that mainly consists of a few food kiosks and is the port of entry to all the festivals in the World Showcase throughout the year… don’t get me started). Just giving you all the tools you need to understand the changes that I’m suggesting. Don’t want to lose anyone on this tour. Now, onto the future of Future World.

As I see it, Future World really can be boiled down to a few key concepts: technological and conservation innovation. These are seen in such core areas as Spaceship Earth (technology), Mission:SPACE (technology), Living with the Land (conservation), or The Seas with Nemo and Friends (conservation). These are just a few quick examples, but you get the gist here. These main core concepts form the basis of my proposed changes, really additions, to the Future World area of Epcot.

Let’s start with technology, and save my favorite for last. If we’re thinking of technological innovation only one thing really comes to mind that matches up with Disney licensed characters (I get it, I’m not a character person either, but bear with me), and that is Big Hero 6 (Disney, 2014). For those of you who don’t know what this is, you must go watch this movie immediately. Big Hero 6 is the story of a tech genius, a 14-year old named Hiro Hamada. His college-age brother, Tadashi, goes to a “nerd school,” and works in a robotics lab, coming up with the latest and craziest inventions with his nerd friends. Since Hiro is such a genius (albeit a very lazy one), Tadashi wants him to stretch his potential and join his school. A lot happens in this endearing tale, and I will not spoil the Disney magic for you. But the absolute main focus of this movie is the technological innovation, particularly that which is seen through the lovable, healthcare companion (built by Tadashi) called Baymax (the big red guy pictured below).

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Disney’s Big Hero 6 is a technological giant that can take Future World East into the new age of innovation. (photo credit: Playbuzz)

Baymax and the entire story of Big Hero 6 is a gold mine for Disney. It is not the breakout hit of, say, Frozen, but is a much more cohesive story and blends easily into the Epcot theme. Utilizing this character, as well as the entire cast of Big Hero 6, Epcot can highlight once again what it was known for: education and technological achievement. Epcot is truly lacking in its technology, despite being called Future World. Future World East already houses some of the greatest technological innovations of our day, showcasing space, transportation, and characters like Baymax can highlight the latest technology in healthcare, energy, chemistry and transportation, all themes that were explored already within the world of Big Hero 6.

If we look just to the Innoventions pavilion, so much more can be done there. Each of the main characters really represent a different facet of innovation: Go-Go Tomago is transportation and speed; Baymax is healthcare; Hiro is robotics; Honey Lemon is chemistry; and, Wasabi No-Ginger is laser technology. The final character, Fred, is the comic relief, a humorous character that can be portrayed throughout as the fresh eyes of the guests. He is the novice to technology, as well as a funny character for the kiddies to enjoy. Using each character’s strengths, Innoventions can capitalize on the specialized technology of each of these characters, offering fun, hands-on, educational entertainment for children of all ages.

This brings me to my second infusion into the wonderful world of Epcot, and that is WALL-E (Disney/Pixar, 2008). WALL-E is an amazing piece of cinematic magic created by Disney. This story is about a futuristic robot who is left alone on what used to be Earth, and is now the trash pit of our future. There is no plant life, no life at all, save one small cockroach that WALL-E befriends. One fateful day, WALL-E meets EVE, a futuristic robot from the Axiom ship carrying all human life (who have ballooned up in the zero gravity of space). WALL-E gives EVE the one and only plant he finds, a sign that life can return to Earth. The unlikely duo of robots returns to the Axiom, and chaos ensues to try and get the ship to return home. This is a rather simplistic telling of a complex story, but it is truly a beautiful work of art by Disney Animation.

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WALL-E is a stunning piece of Disney animation that brings to life the dangers of exploiting the Earth’s resources. It offers a futuristic take on conservation innovation, and how to protect planet Earth. (photo credit: Pixar Wiki)

WALL-E is, at its heart, a cautionary tale of over-exploitation of the planet’s resources, and the amount of refuse that is starting to choke our big blue world. If we look to pavilions such as The Land or The Seas, it is easy to see where WALL-E can bring that conservation innovation into Epcot. Epcot has always had a pseudo-green initiative. Rides like Living with the Land, The Circle of Life, and The Seas with Nemo and Friends encourage guests to reduce, reuse and recycle. And what better way to really infuse that idea into the minds of youth than with an adorable, trash-reducing robot named WALL-E. And, pairing that with the super technology of EVE, you have one over-arching theme that can take Future World West into the future of conservation. Think WALL-E recycling bins, themed rides, shows that promote conservation, solar panels (WALL-E charged using solar energy), educational pieces on how we innovate to grow food (a big theme at the very end of WALL-E)… the possibilities are really endless with this cast of characters.

I am not generally a fan of throwing licensed characters on everything. In fact, when Epcot first began they barely had any. The focus at that time was mainly on fun education. But times have shifted, and if the new country of Frozen in the World Showcase is any indication (I know that it’s still Norway, but allow me to be bitter), this trend isn’t going away. Instead of placing random characters that break apart the otherwise seamless illusion, why not embrace those characters and ideas that may be able to bring Epcot back to its original purpose without detracting from the overall ambiance and purpose of the area? The only way to achieve this is through the addition of well-placed characters and cohesive theming. A little Disney magic like that can stretch a long way.

That’s a few BIG ideas for the future of Future World in a very short post. Next week I’m moving onto the World Showcase for an idea that is truly Walt inspired. See ya real soon!

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