My Take On The D23 Expo 2017 Parks & Resorts Panel

OK, folks, it happened–Bob Chapek and a few other people got up in front of a huge audience at the D23 Expo in Anaheim and talked about some of what we can expect for the Disney parks. Some rumors were confirmed, others were disproven, a couple weren’t mentioned at all, and there were a few surprises thrown in as well. While I wasn’t there personally, I did watch a stream of the event as it happened. Additionally, the Disney Parks Blog was posting frequent updates, offering a bit more info on each announcement.

So let’s take a quick look at some of what was presented in the panel (complete with my personal commentary on each).


Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

There had been a lot about the upcoming “Star Wars Land” already at the D23 Expo, with a model of the new area being unveiled and lots of stuff being shown in an booth dedicated to it. So we already knew that it was going to be a big, immersive experience and that everything–from the shops to the restaurants to the characters–would be themed to fit into the world they were creating. Two attractions will be a part of the land, one that takes guests through a Star Destroyer and into a battle between the Resistance and the First Order (which also seems to confirm that the land’s story is set during the new movies) and another that allows guests to fly the Millennium Falcon. This second attraction was described as something like Mission: SPACE in that a group of guests would work together to fly the ship. Unlike the EPCOT attraction, though, you can actually crash the ship (you can’t in Mission: SPACE, I tried).

Supposedly, anything you do in the Star Wars land can have repercussions. Fly a successful mission and creatures in the cantina may show you some respect. Crash the Falcon, though, and you may hear around the cantina that there’s a price on your head. No details were given on exactly how all this would work, though my guess is that MagicBands will be involved.

The biggest announcement in the Parks & Resorts panel was actually the name of this new project: Galaxy’s Edge. While social media seemed split on whether or not this was a good name for the land, personally I really like it. I could see that as a name for some Outer Rim spaceport in the Star Wars universe, and it even evokes the “outer rim” concept as well that plays into many Star Wars stories.

It was also announced earlier that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would be opening in the first half of 2019, and in the Parks & Resorts panel it was added that the one in Disneyland would be opening first. No mention was made on how far after that the Hollywood Studios version would open, they just stated that the two would be staggered.

Personally, I’m super excited for all of this. I’ve dreamed about being in the Star Wars galaxy since I was a child, and it’s looking like Disney is going to finally give me that chance. There’ll probably be more strollers, angry parents, and lines than I had imagined as a kid, but at least there’ll probably also be churros (or whatever they’ll call them in Galaxy’s Edge).

Oh, one last exciting tidbit got announced–Rex, the pilot from the original Star Tours attraction, will be returning! In Galaxy’s Edge he’s a DJ at the local cantina, rather than a pilot, but it’s very cool to see this bit of fan service tossed into the mix.

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Though the entire Disney empire was “all started with a mouse” there’s never been a ride actually starring Mickey. That’s going to change, though, at Hollywood Studios. A new attraction called “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway” is coming to the park, and will feature Mickey Mouse as well as his friends. Based upon the new cartoons, Mickey and Minnie will start out on a casual drive and end up on an adventure that involves (obviously) a runaway train.

This attraction will be “2.5D” rather than 3D, which was explained to be a new technology that will have flat “cartoons” come to life in a seemingly 3D way without the need for wearing special glasses.

All of this sounds pretty cool, but there is a downside–this new attraction will be taking over the space currently occupied by the Great Movie Ride. That classic will be closing for good on August 13, 2017 to make way for its replacement. While I’ll admit that the Great Movie Ride was showing its age, it’s a bit sad to see the attraction go away completely. I’m also a bit surprised by what the Mickey attraction turned out to actually be. I had thought that it would be something that had to do with Mickey movies (since the park has a cinematic theme and all) and not the cartoons, and shortly before the D23 Expo I had even heard a rumor that it would be a ride featuring scenes from a bunch of Disney animated musicals. Obviously, none of that is true. Still, I’m excited to see this new ride and I’m intrigued by the new technology they’re creating for it. Even if I am a bit sad to say goodbye to the Great Movie Ride.

EPCOT

I literally held my wife’s hand when Bob Chapek said that it was time to talk about EPCOT, I was so concerned about what was to come. As it turns out, I was partially upset and partially excited about what I heard.

First, the stuff that I liked: it’s official that the Ratatouille ride (popular at Disneyland Paris) is coming to the France pavilion in World Showcase. It also sounds like this is going to be in a new part of the pavilion, as there was no mention of the Impressions de France film going away (it’s a fan fave, and I’m guessing a lot of folks would be upset about that if it happened). They talked a bit about wanting to not only highlight the cultures in the countries, but also the stories they’ve inspired. While on the one hand it sounds like an excuse to shove Frozen into Norway, at the same time I sort of get it. If Ratatouille draws a family to the World Showcase, and they get to experience a bit of the “country” in the process, it’s probably a win. Plus, I’ll admit, I’m excited to ride it myself!

They also announced a new movie coming to the China pavilion, using new camera technology (similar to what was used in Soarin’) in a new Circle-Vision 360 presentation. This is pretty cool, as in this case it does retain the original “show the country” aspect of the World Showcase.

Over in Future World, Mission: SPACE will be getting a new mission. The attraction actually closed down recently for renovation, though nobody (outside of Disney) was quite sure what that was going to entail. Well, as it turns out the less intense “green” side will be getting a new mission that’s supposedly meant more for younger guests who want to experience the attraction. Rather than going to Mars, the new mission will send astronauts into orbit around the Earth. They sort of suggested that this was meant for kids, but honestly I’m pretty stoked to try it myself. I’m not good on spin rides, and while I can handle the green side of Mission: SPACE it’s pretty much at the edge of my comfort level (I tried the orange side once, and will never do so again). So an even more gentle mission sounds just about my speed. On the other hand, Mission: SPACE is a really cool attraction and it would be a shame to lose the excitement of the experience for a more family-friendly approach. I guess we’ll see, but as long as the ride lets me pretend to pilot a spaceship and push buttons I think I’m happy.

Speaking of outer space, a new table service restaurant is going in that’s going to be themed like you’re dining far above the Earth. Part of the Mission: SPACE area, the concept art seems to suggest that the establishment is on a space station and windows are looking out to the planet and the stars beyond. No opening date, menu, or anything else was announced. I’m still excited for it, though.

OK, now for the not-so-good: an attraction based on the Guardians of the Galaxy films will be coming to Future World. Replacing Ellen’s Energy Adventure (which will close on August 13, 2017) the new ride will feature characters from the movie franchise. Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald, who was heading up this part of the presentation, did try to say that it will fit within the theme of EPCOT, and even said that part of the ride’s story is that Peter Quill (one of the main characters) went to EPCOT Center when he was a boy and is coming back as an adult. I’m dubious, as I simply don’t see how an action-based comic book movie can possibly fit within the EPCOT themes of inspiration and education. Then again, I have lots of thoughts about those themes and why I think they shouldn’t be messed with (see my recent EPCOT post for more on that). Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but I’ll just go ahead and remain unsure about it until then.

Interestingly, that was pretty much it for EPCOT announcements. They did say that there would be more coming over time, and a lot of rumors were left unresolved (neither confirmed nor denied). It’s been suggested a bunch lately that a new country pavilion, most likely Brazil, would be coming to the World Showcase, and that wasn’t mentioned at all. Neither was anything that had to do with Figment and/or Journey Into Imagination (which is rumored to be replaced with Inside Out). So while these announcements may still come in the future, they weren’t addressed (for better or worse) at this panel.

Tron Coming to Magic Kingdom, And A New Theatre

The big Magic Kingdom announcement was one that has been rumored for a while now: the Tron roller coaster, Shanghai Disneyland’s most popular attraction, will be coming to Walt Disney World! It’s being put in Tomorrowland, and will occupy a new spot next to Space Mountain. Previously, the rumors had suggested that it would be replacing the Tomorrowland Speedway, but this now seems to not be the case.

So here’s the thing: I’m super excited about this. I’ve drooled over photos and videos of the Tron coaster in Shanghai, and was sort of sad that I’d probably never get to ride it. I’m a huge Tron fan, and the fact that I will now get to experience this cool attraction at Walt Disney World very much works for me. I suppose there’s a small nostalgic part of me that laments such a drastic change in Tomorrowland, and wonders how this big and flashy new thing will affect the fun retro-future style there (which very much influenced my personal aesthetic growing up). Though, I also really like high-tech Tron circuitry (which also influenced my personal aesthetic growing up). Ultimately, I’ll get to ride the Tron coaster, and I think that’s really a net win. Plus, I’m happy that they’re still using the Tron franchise at all. Maybe this will pave the way for a new Tron movie!

No release date was given, other than that it will be opening in time for the Walt Disney World 50th anniversary in 2021.

On Main Street USA, a new theater is going to be constructed. Based upon the Willis Wood Theater in Kansas City, MO, the building will be based upon how the theater looked in the 1920s when Walt Disney lived there. What will occupy this new theater was not announced, nor was a firm release date (other than “in time for the 50th anniversary” like the Tron coaster).

New Transportation Options

A couple of new Walt Disney World transportation options were unveiled during the presentation.

The first is a gondola-like system, similar to the old Skyway attraction in Magic Kingdom, called the Skyline. Connecting EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and Art of Animation, the new system will take guests over the property to their destination. The cars, at least in the concept art, will be decorated with Disney characters. This whole thing sounds really neat to me, and I’m guessing that you’ll get a great view as you travel. I also loved the Skyway, so getting a chance to sort of ride it again is pretty cool. No launch date was given, though I’m guessing it’s a ways off yet. It also adds to the “lots of ways to get around” thing that’s a cool part of staying at Walt Disney World.

The second way to get around the property will be point-to-point vehicles, similar to Uber or Lyft. Called “Minnie Vans”, these will offer guests direct transport from one spot on property to another. The concept shown in the presentation was of a bright pink car with white polka dots. I’ve actually used Lyft on property to get around a few times, so a Disney version seems like a great idea. Though I wonder if they’ll then prohibit other ride-sharing services from operating there.

Also, I love “Minnie Vans”. I dig it when they use puns like that.

New Resorts

The previously rumored Star Wars resort experience is going to become a reality. Guests will stay in a themed resort, and interact with Star Wars characters, and everything they do during their stay will revolve around this theme. The room windows will even “look out” into the stars rather than the Florida sky. The multi-day experience will immerse guests in Star Wars, complete with dressing up in appropriate costumes and “leaving Earth” for a starship resort as the story gets incorporated into every aspect of their stay. There was no word on which resort would be modified to incorporate this, though it’s believed to be one of the deluxe offerings (with a price to match, no doubt). I’m guessing that this whole experience is going to be pretty pricey, though I’m also thinking that I should start saving now because I really want to do it once it becomes a real thing.

Disneyland Paris is getting an overlay to their Hotel New York. Redubbed “Hotel New York-The Art of Marvel” the resort will incorporate characters from the movies and comics. Not much else was explained, though it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be an immersive thing like the Star Wars experience at Walt Disney World. Which is kind of too bad–checking into the hotel and becoming a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, teaming up with Marvel heroes for your stay, would be pretty cool.

A new Disney Vacation Club resort was announced for Walt Disney World, called Riviera Resort. Near EPCOT, the new resort will be included in the new Skyline gondola transportation system and will feature a rooftop restaurant that promises to offer great views of nighttime fireworks shows in the park.

Disneyland News

We already knew about the upcoming Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios, and while they showed a bit of video at the presentation they didn’t really offer much by way of new information about it (though there was a cool shot of the Slinky Dog roller coaster track). They did say, though, that the new area will be opening in Summer of 2018!

However, there were a lot of announcements about Pixar coming to Disneyland! One of the biggest announcements was the retheming of Paradise Pier at Disney’s California Adventure. The new “Pixar Pier” will feature attractions based on the studio’s various movie franchises, though whether this means a true renovation of the attractions or just a re-skinning to feature Pixar characters remains to be seen. This will be opening in 2018, to coincide with a new limited-time event dubbed “Pixar Fest”. A new themed fireworks show will be a part of the celebration, as well as the return of the Pixar Play Parade. There will also be other themed events around the parks as a part of Pixar Fest.

Disney’s California Adventure will be getting a lot more Marvel soon, with the announcement that Spider-Man and the Avengers will be coming to the park in a new immersive themed area. That was pretty much the entire announcement, really, with no real details being offered. More information will no doubt get revealed sooner or later, but it didn’t happen today. Also, they didn’t mention where the new area will be located within the park. There’s speculation about it replacing the kid-focused Bug’s Land, but that hasn’t been confirmed. Personally, I’d be a little sad to lose the silly-yet-fun Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train ride if that turns out to be true (I’m maybe half kidding here), but I do think the idea of meeting Spider-Man is pretty cool.

Cars Land will be getting a Halloween makeover this year. The area has previously been decorated for Christmas, but this will be its first Halloween theme. The concept art they showed looked neat, with a big scary face that looked to be made up of hubcap eyes and traffic cone teeth. I love Halloween, so I’m a big fan of more decorations for the holiday.

The popular Paint the Night parade, that had been running at Disneyland prior to the return of the Main Street Electrical Parade, will be moved to Disney’s California Adventure. They also hinted at a new float being added when it starts running there. I loved this parade when I saw it, and I’m glad that it’s going to keep happening. I was sort of hoping that they’d announce it as a new nighttime parade for Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World (or, y’know, announce any new nighttime parade for Magic Kingdom) but if I do get back out to DCA it makes me happy to know that I can see this one again.

Disney Cruise Line

The Disney Cruise Line is adding to their fleet, and while they had previously announced two new ships (bringing the total to six) they now plan to roll out another over the next few years and bring it up to seven. Each ship will have different events and entertainment options, making each Disney Cruise unique. I’ve never done one, though I really want to, and of course more ships will mean more options to choose from. I’d love to think that more ships also means lower rates across the board, but I’ll accept that this is just wishful thinking. Still, I’m hoping to get the chance to do a Disney Cruise someday.


So that’s my basic rundown of what I saw and read during the presentation. A lot of questions were answered, and there’s some exciting stuff coming (as well as some things I’m just not sure about yet). Either way, it seems like the folks at the Disney Parks & Resorts have a lot of new content planned over the next few years and they’ll be bringing a bunch of new experiences to guests at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

 

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Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For… The Redhead

So if you haven’t heard by now, Disney recently made some pretty big announcements about changes coming to the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland (also the foreign parks, but we’re going to focus on the domestic ones for this). In addition to some technical upgrades–audio, lighting, animatronics, etc– the biggest bombshell had to do with… well, the ride’s bombshell. That is to say, the famous redhead.

The iconic auction scene, in which a pirate captain attempts to sell off some of the captured female townsfolk to a surly group of scallywags, will be reimagined at some point in 2018. This means that the sultry redhead, the star of the scene, will no longer be for sale. As such, it’s likely that the classic “we wants the redhead!” line will also be taken out. The popular character isn’t being removed entirely, though, and in fact her entire persona is being redesigned in a new take on the scene. When the ride reopens the redhead will now be a fearsome pirate herself, armed with a rifle, encouraging the townsfolk to “donate” their possessions to her crew. Disney hasn’t given a real reason for this move, but there’s been plenty of speculation, and the biggest suspected cause for the change? The company wanted to get away from a scenario depicting what’s basically human trafficking. Sure, it’s meant to be a cute part of a family attraction, but if you stop and think about it for a second it really is about women being sold to pirates in what’s undoubtedly sex slavery. So it’s strongly believed by fans that this is why the ride is undergoing this particular renovation.

The debate across social media has been a bit insane (it’s social media, though, so this is hardly a surprise). A large number of fans were outraged by the announcement, fuming over what they perceive as Disney caving in to political correctness. Arguments for keeping the popular scene as-is included “it’s historically accurate to actual pirates” as well as “it was one of the last scenes Walt himself worked on”. People begged the company not to mess with the classics, and some people suggested that this was the beginning of a slippery slope in which anything deemed potentially offensive could be removed. While some of the Tweets about it were actually pretty funny and many were well thought out, there was also a lot of anger and vitriol aimed at Disney and at people who defended the change.

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People against the change wonder what’s next. Will the pirates start helping little old folks across streets, and sing a song encouraging kiddies to finish their vegetables?

On the other side were folks who agreed with taking out the scene. Some felt that, while people may not have thought the gag was a big deal back in the 1960s when it was created, the scenario is uncomfortable and should absolutely be removed in these more socially aware times. Proponents of the change also argued that a strong female pirate character would be pretty cool, and of course Walt’s words about how the Disney parks will “never be finished” have been tossed about quite a bit as well. Again, because it’s Twitter, there was (of course) a fair bit of anger and name-calling from this side as well amid the genuinely good points that were being made.

pirates

If you’re genuinely upset that Disney has decided to change a scene that promotes sex slavery, you may want to stop and think about that for a moment.

Since the announcement, I’ve had discussions about it on both the Magic & Misadventures Facebook page and Twitter feed. I’ve spent time talking with my wife and daughter (both big Disney fans) about it. I’ve read what many others have had to say about it on Twitter, diving into a rabbit hole of Tweets from the entertaining to the disturbing.

When I first heard the news, I was outraged. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of my favorite Disney attractions, so the fact that they were making such a big change to such a beloved ride was upsetting. The scene (and the line) have been there and have been a popular part of the attraction for decades, and how dare they mess with it! It’s just a silly scene in a silly theme park ride about pirates, after all!

However, that rage lasted… maybe a half hour tops. Once I really started thinking about it, I realized I was OK with the change. The more I considered it, the more I actually got excited about it.

Here’s the thing: the scene does depict women being sold. Sugar-coat (or pixie dust) it all you want, but at the end of the day that’s what’s going on there. It may be presented as a gag, and it may be the fun Disney-fied version of a human auction, but there’s no denying that the pirate captain is selling women to other pirates. That’s not even getting into the not-so-subtle fat shaming that’s happening, with larger women in the background as the buccaneers call out for the “attractive” one. The scene never offended me personally, true, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more socially conscious and I’ll admit that the whole auction thing does have problems. I also understand that just because the scene didn’t bother me doesn’t mean that it didn’t bother other people. The parks are about entertaining all people of all ages from all cultures, so I’ll accept that my adult-white-American-male viewpoint isn’t necessarily the only (or the correct) one out there, and kudos for Disney for thinking about everyone.

“It’s part of the original ride” people say, as well as “Walt worked on it.” Some have stated that it seems wrong to change something that these Imagineers created. I get that. The work of the people who helped craft these attractions should absolutely be respected. At the same time, they knew that their work could and probably would be changed as the parks changed. Walt said that the parks would never be finished, and this is hardly the first thing that an original Imagineer made that’s been altered. I’d also like to point out too that, in some cases, changing the original vision isn’t a bad thing. Does anybody remember the awful bride that used to live in the attic of the Haunted Mansion? It was a static figure in a dress with no face (just red glowing eyes) and a beating heart, holding a candelabra. The attic itself was uninteresting. Then new Imagineers came along, with new ideas and new technology, and transformed it all into the vastly superior Constance Hatchaway and the story of her many husbands. It’s these beloved classic attractions that keep us coming back to the parks, sure, but seeing new ideas brought to life in them can be exciting (and a reason to ride them again) as well.

In that vein, Disney Legend Marty Sklar had this to say in a recent statement released to various news outlets: “Pirates of the Caribbean has always represented great Disney Park storytelling; it has set the standard for the theme park industry for half a century! But it’s a story you can continue to add fun to, with great characters in new ‘performances.’ That’s what the Imagineers have done with this new auction scene—it’s like a theatre show with a new act. To me, the Imagineers are simply reflecting what Walt started the day Disneyland opened—making changes that create exciting new experiences for our guests. I can’t think of a single attraction that has not been enhanced and improved, some over and over again. Change is a tradition at Disneyland that today’s Imagineers practice—they learned it from their mentors, many of them Walt’s original team of storytellers and designers—the Disney Legends.”

Basically, I figure that if an original Imagineer is OK with it, there’s no reason that I (or anyone else) shouldn’t be.

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I saw a tweet that more or less stated “if you don’t like it, you don’t have to go on the ride” in reference to the auction scene. I would say that, if you’re that upset about this alteration, the same option is available. There’ll be less of a line for those of us who want to give the new version a chance.

Another argument that’s come up in the controversy is that pirates really did sell off women, so historically it’s fine and we shouldn’t be erasing it. My rebuttal is fairly straightforward here: Pirates of the Caribbean is not going for historical accuracy. It’s a Disney ride featuring a fictionalized view of pirates, and not a museum. Also, just because something really happened doesn’t mean we need to celebrate that fact (we shouldn’t forget it, we just don’t need to showcase it for entertainment purposes). Besides, women pirates really did exist. There was Anne Bonny and Mary Read, as well as Ching Shih–one of the most feared and successful pirates in history. So, if accuracy really is a concern, adding in a female swashbuckler still works with that. In fact, from my (admittedly brief) research, records from the time of pirates state that Anne Bonny did in fact have red hair. So it’s still history, just a different take on it.

Ultimately, what made me decide that I was OK with the renovation (aside from the obvious “human trafficking is bad and shouldn’t be glorified” thing) is simply this: the addition of a badass redheaded female pirate who’s terrorizing the townsfolk sounds really cool. Like Constance Hatchaway before her, I see this as a way to reintroduce the redhead as a “new” character, and I’m hoping that it will turn out just as well as it did for the Haunted Mansion’s bride. I’m excited, rather than upset.

Pirate skeleton closeup

I applaud Disney for taking a hard look at a scene that has some really negative connotations, and rather than just shrugging and saying “it’s a classic” they’re taking the time to reimagine it in what sounds like a really cool new way for future (and hopefully more socially conscious) generations to enjoy.

Consider this, too: the arguments against the change are coming from adults. They’re being posted by people who love Disney and have grown up with the parks, and who have emotional attachments to the experience. Much of the backlash is simply because they don’t want something they’ve cherished for so long to be altered. A lot of the (more rational) argument is coming from a place of nostalgia, and I absolutely get that. I’m really going to miss the scene, I’ve grown up seeing and hearing it and to me it’s always been a part of the Pirates of the Caribbean experience. I totally understand the desire not to see classic moments like that get altered. If they had announced that they were majorly overhauling the ride to be all projections rather than animatronics, or that they were turning the whole thing into a ride based on the films and ditching the current story, I’d be right there at the forefront of the outrage. The thing is, though, personally I never gave the scene much deep thought. It was one funny moment in a ride that I really enjoyed, it had some funny lines and characters, and that was it. Step back from that, however, and the scene does have serious issues. As I said in a recent tweet: “accepting change to an iconic ride is tough for adults who grew up with it. But little girls seeing this new badass pirate may be thrilled”. Frankly, if the choice is to keep using the version that portrays women as property or create a new one showcasing a strong woman character for future generations to enjoy, it’s not much of a choice to me. I think that young girls will be excited to see this new pirate, and I really think that it’ll be great for young boys to see her as well–the more strong female characters they see, the more they’ll just accept it as how things are and it (hopefully) won’t be as much of a thing as previous generations make it out to be.

pirate sign

I asked my (twenty-one year old) daughter if, as a young female human, she’d be excited to see a badass female pirate on the ride. Her response: “f*ck yeah!”

Ultimately, there are people who are going to keep being outraged about the change and people who aren’t. The argument will continue, some minds may be changed and others won’t be, but the reality is that the change is going to happen regardless. There’s certainly validity in being upset when a much-loved experience, especially a classic steeped in Disney history, gets altered. At the same time, I feel that being excited to see what the Imagineers create is my stance here. Is a new redhead scene going to lessen my enjoyment of the attraction? Unlikely. My childhood will not be somehow “ruined” because Disney is showing the redhead as a strong female character rather than a victim. I sort of pity those for whom it would.

Chess pirates

I’m on board with the new redhead thing, sure, but if Disney ever removes these chess-playing pirates from the queue I’ll be at the head of the “torches and pitchforks” line.

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A Letter About EPCOT

Dear Powers-That-Be at Disney,

Nowadays it seems that “Epcot” is just a name for a theme park, a word with no real meaning. EPCOT, though, used to stand for something: Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. It was a term coined by Walt himself for his vision of a futuristic city.

The creative vision of the future that led Walt to create EPCOT is as important now as it was then, and perhaps even more so. In the 50’s and 60’s, people dreamed of an exciting future full of robots and rockets. In the 70’s and 80’s, when computers were really becoming mainstream, they offered an incredible digital frontier that captured imaginations. Now, though, what do people dream about when they look ahead? As the concept of a bright and shining future gets further away from our collective consciousness, the need for a place like EPCOT is even more critical.

EPCOT used to represent inspiration. It showcased examples of humanity’s potential. It was a place where we could see amazing possibilities like underwater cities and space colonies, where we could learn about the history of transportation, and where we could discover how advances in communication helped shape our past and future. It was a place where a man and his purple dragon showed the wonders of imagination, where guests could explore other countries, and where innovation met invention.

I use the past tense, because the park seems to be none of those things anymore.

At Destination D in November 2016, Bob Chapek told the audience that EPCOT would soon be undergoing a “major transformation”. He said that it was going to be “more Disney, more relevant, timeless, family oriented, and true to the original vision”. This sounds great to say in front of hundreds of Disney fans (the announcement was met with thunderous applause, particularly the “true to the original vision” part) and the idea of a big EPCOT overhaul is pretty exciting. However, as of yet we’ve seen nor heard anything more about this plan so we’re still left with nothing other than hope that EPCOT will return to its inspirational themes.

The reality is that, for the past several years, many see the park becoming a shadow of its former self. Fans of EPCOT, people who grew up going there and who loved its inspirational and forward-thinking vibe, are disappointed in the direction that it has been taken by Disney executives. Hashtags like #ReturntoCenter and #BringBackTheFuture (and, as a result of recent surveys, #SaveFigment) have gained a fair amount of support on social media as loyal fans try to get the message across: they miss what EPCOT used to be, and they wish it could become that again.

It’s true that many of us really do miss the atmosphere and the attractions of the EPCOT Center of the past. Horizons in particular became a sort of rallying cry, a long-defunct favorite now seen as a symbol of what the park represented and what many feel it no longer does. The ride’s vision of possibilities, shown with the sort of storytelling that we expect from a Disney attraction, and even its tagline of “if we can dream it, we can do it” has become emblematic of the inspirational feeling that people really miss about EPCOT. We miss the fun look at history in World of Motion, and the unbridled whimsy of the original Journey Into Imagination. The park was a place of education as well as entertainment, a place that addressed real topics like science, energy, and nature yet still retained Disney magic–and did so with catchy theme songs like “It’s Fun to be Free” and “One Little Spark”.

These days there are still a few cool things happening in the park, things that inspire and educate. Classic attractions like Living with the Land and Spaceship Earth remain, both of them throwbacks to the park’s beginnings. Newer experiences like Test Track and Mission: SPACE fit well within the Future World mission to entertain, inform, and inspire (loosely, perhaps, but they do in their own ways). Events like Flower & Garden, Food & Wine, and the new International Arts Festival invite guests to discover new experiences from around the world. On the surface it appears–on paper, anyway–that EPCOT is continuing to fulfill its promise.

What the guests and long-standing fans of the park are seeing, despite all that, is different. We’re seeing possibilities get pushed aside for thrills, culture get replaced with characters, and real inspiration fall by the wayside.

We understand that things need to change. Disney parks are constantly evolving, and that’s one of the exciting things about them. We accept, perhaps grudgingly, that the days of Horizons and World of Motion are gone (though I’ll not sure we fully accept the retirement of Dreamfinder).  We understand, when we’re talking about a community of tomorrow, that it needs to keep evolving as tomorrow continues to become yesterday. What we’re asking for isn’t some unrealistic rebuilding of dead attractions. We simply want a return to the themes and goals that EPCOT was based upon. We want inspiration and possibilities, visions of the future, insights into other cultures, and we want to see how imagination can lead to wondrous ideas.

While we keep hoping for a return to form for the inspiring EPCOT that we loved, though, rumors suggest plans that go in the opposite direction. There have been frequent mentions of popular characters–like the Guardians of the Galaxy and Cars–getting shoehorned in with (seemingly) no regard for theming. We have Magic Kingdom for beloved characters, and we have Hollywood Studios for attractions based upon popular movies. We don’t need more of that in EPCOT. We need a focus on the possibilities of the future and inspiration to face the challenges it will take to get there. Obviously I understand that these are rumors, so they should be taken with a big grain of salt. If these rumors are to be believed, though, it seems that the intent is to push the park further away from the science and education focus that was originally envisioned for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. They point to an upsetting possibility–that Disney executives want to take EPCOT in a direction that fans definitely don’t want it to go. 

Is there a middle ground between the science-and-education park that fans want, and character-driven attractions that will entice guests? Probably. If a new ride based on Inside Out is really being considered, which would definitely draw in fans of the film, have it focus on the science behind emotions and use those characters to educate as well as entertain. The futuristic setting of Big Hero 6 would be a great way to introduce robotics to kids and adults as they visit the park. There’s an opportunity to use Marvel properties (once contract issues are sorted out, of course) in a way that can showcase science and technology. Even using characters in World Showcase, to show how real cultures influenced animated features, could be great if done right. While I personally don’t think that EPCOT needs characters to drive its message (other than Figment and Dreamfinder, and maybe Dr. Bunsen Honeydew with Beaker), I understand the desire to use popular franchises to draw people in. As long as it’s done well, with respect to the theme of EPCOT, and not just “hey, these characters have a spaceship and lasers so they’re futuristic”. It’s not about rides full of characters, it’s about attractions that showcase humanity’s history and potential.

Entertainment showing post-apocalyptic wastelands and xenophobia, rather than exciting lands of tomorrow and acceptance, seems to be more popular these days than ever. Inspiration has been lost somewhere over the years, and we need a place where families around the world can go to get it back. We need a place where we can learn about energy and embrace other cultures, where laughing purple dragons can take us on journeys into imagination, and where we can look ahead to new horizons. We need a park that showcases science and real possibilities for our future. Something like this is perhaps more important now than it’s ever been.

We need, now more than ever, an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.

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It seems to many fans that the Disney company has forgotten these words, and that the park no longer fulfills these ideals. Some of us, though, still hold out hope that one day EPCOT will once again entertain, inform, and inspire.

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