Keeping children entertained around Epcot is often one of the most challenging tasks ever taken by parents on vacation. Throughout the years, Epcot has tried to up its content for young visitors, adding the Kidcot Fun Stops at each of the different countries. But during its numerous festivals it is hard for parents to meander through all the shops and treat stations with their children in tow. Kids become restless and want to hurry on, as their parents have little time to look around the country, let alone buy any of its wares. In Epcot’s latest festival, Disney has found an ingenious way to keep guests in the pavilions, while keeping the kids happy. But does this happiness come at an educational price?
This year marks the inaugural year of Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts, an auspicious excuse for Epcot to recoup some falling ticket sales following the Holidays around the World festivities but before the Flower and Garden Festival. The International Festival of the Arts kicked off officially in January, and it is truly a rather lackluster affair when compared to its sibling festivals year round. However, seeing as this is the first year experiment of this new addition, guests can forgive the rather rushed feel of this one.
Amidst the living statues, sidewalk chalk art, and pop-up food tents, a small, but rather genius addition emerges that provided a wonderful distraction to the hot, forlorn exhibition. This child and adult crowd pleaser is Figment’s Brush with the Masters Scavenger Hunt, a hide-and-seek type game reminiscent of the Remy games that are found during all the other festivals. This game, however, caught my attention not because of its usefulness in capturing my child’s attention so that I may enjoy the festival, but rather for its simple placement of the game within the pavilions, not just the outside sidewalk areas.
Figment’s Brush with the Masters Scavenger Hunt is a finding game located throughout the Epcot’s World Showcase. Located in each of 11 countries is a famous painting by an artist from that country. The trick is that hidden within each of these paintings is that lovable, purple dragon, Figment. For those not in the know, Figment is a character purely created for Epcot, with his own ride, Journey into the Imagination with Figment. Figment was originally created by the Dream Finder, a jolly man who took guests on a journey of discovery through the imagination. Along the way, Figment comes with his childish delight and shows guests through his eyes how to imagine and be creative. The ride was changed to remove the Dream Finder and replaced him with Dr. Nigel Channing (played by Eric Idle), a scientist who teaches guests about the five senses in his sensory labs.
What’s genius about this game is not just the inclusion of Figment (a sad rarity for the Epcot exclusive character), but that the paintings had to be located inside for guests to find. In similar, previous games from Epcot festivals, the hidden characters (generally Remy from Ratatouille) are located on the outside sidewalk of the World Showcase, near the pop-up food kiosks. Occasionally, the character would be placed a little further in the country, but rarely more than a few feet. For the Figment game, guests have to traverse through the shops, into quick-service restaurants and around the Kidcot Fun Stops to locate the prize painting. The genius in this is that guests are forced to walk through the pavilions rather than skipping them just to finish the game, making guests smell food they may want to eat, buy things that catch their eye or engage with locals in the Fun Stops, therefore possibly upping the take home from this event for the Disney Company.
Despite this wonderful addition to the Epcot kid game line-up, one major critique that is quickly apparent is that there are no signs, no informational booklets that tell the player what the paintings are or who even who painted them. While it is easy to determine for anyone with the smallest background in art that all the paintings are found within their country of origin, without any sort of information a novice to international works of art may not put even that scrap of information together. Though these are famous paintings, such as The Scream or the Mona Lisa, nothing provides any background on the paintings or even the name of the painting itself so that guests may look it up. This is a major hole in an otherwise stunning educational opportunity to introduce children to famous, international works of art in a fun and engaging way.
Epcot was originally created to serve an educational entertainment purpose. Looking specifically at the festivals themselves, it can be argued that Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival is there to provide information on food, and the Flower and Garden Festival showcases educational opportunities on all things flora. Experts can be found throughout these festivals on their respective topics, and there is no shortage of information available for growing plants or on preparing foods. Therefore, this should be no different for the International Festival of the Arts. Sadly, however, this is not the case.
The educational aspects of the Epcot festivals doesn’t quite hit home at the International Festival of the Arts. Not just in the Figment game, most works of art were depicted without any context or background information on the art, including life-size paintings for photo opportunities or sidewalk art recreations of famous works located throughout the World Showcase. Several of the sidewalk art did have the reference materials located near the chalk art, but only Italy was found with any information on the source material. This source material appeared to have been left by the artist for guest information, and not by Epcot itself.
Figment’s Brush with the Masters Scavenger Hunt is a fun game to amuse guests and fill out a lackluster event. Given that it’s the inaugural year, many of the issues with the festival itself can be overlooked. However, there is little excuse for having an interactive game of famous works of art without any sort of context for young minds to explore. By simply adding a few well placed signs near the paintings, children (and their curious parents) would be educated while being entertained on the beautiful works Figment has taken over. This playful addition is certain to remain in future arts festivals. Let us hope that Epcot embraces this opportunity to truly inspire their guests by showcasing these magnificent works of art.
The Epcot International Festival of the Arts runs every weekend through February 20.