Not long ago I wrote about the closing of Maelstrom ride. Well, more accurately the post (which can be found here) started about Maelstrom and then morphed into a rant of sorts about EPCOT in general. I stated in that post that I feel that the park faces an “identity crisis” as it tries to balance the edutainment aspects of its original design with characters and attractions that would make it more mainstream-friendly.
So, my wife and I went into New York City recently to see the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. exhibit at Discovery Times Square. Before I get into what I think that has to do with EPCOT, I’ll explain what it actually is: The Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. is a walk-through exhibit based upon the Avengers movie, and features activities based upon the characters and settings within the film. In many cases these activities also have some sort of real-life scientific basis as well.
The attraction starts out by making you a probationary agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. complete with ID card. This plastic card has a QR code on it, and you’ll use that to access many of the stations throughout the exhibit. Once you get your card you’re brought into a room where you’re ‘scanned’ and you watch a short video about your entrance into the agency. As a big fan of the TV show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was excited about all of this and found it surprisingly immersive and fun.
Once past that, the attraction is broken up into separate rooms for each hero. You start with Captain America, then move on to Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man.
In the Captain America section you take on some physical activities and your results are shown against what that hero could do. So, for example, you’ll squeeze a handle as hard as you can for a set period of time and the sensors will tell you what your grip strength is versus what Captain America’s is. Hulk’s zone is a lab and is less physical and more educational, with touch screens explaining the different parts of the brain and what they do and how they “change” when Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk. The Thor area is focused on outer space, with stations showing constellations as well as far-off planets. Finally, the Iron Man section is all about tech and has you moving a robotic arm with your own motions and targeting enemies on a screen with your eyes and blinking to scan them.
The entire experience was fun, with some really cool parts and some definitely lame parts. I loved the immersive feeling of being in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility–the attention to detail in the decor is really neat–and there are costumes and props from the Avengers movie on display throughout the exhibit. The Captain America section was nifty, and I tried the grip strength test a couple of times–once with each hand–to try and up my score. Hulk was OK, more science and less interactivity, though there was a cool balance between explaining the real-life science of the human brain and fictional details of Avengers movie stuff like the Tesseract. The Thor room was lame, just some screens with some basic astronomy. Iron Man’s zone was perhaps the coolest, with some robotics tech that may not be revolutionary but is still fun to see in practice. Moving your hand under a sensor and seeing an Iron Man armor arm move the same way was neat, but perhaps the highlight of the room was the “view from the Iron Man suit” station in which you put your forehead against a sensor and looked at a screen, and as you looked around the screen the crosshairs followed your eye movements. The goal was to scan targets, which you did by looking at them and blinking twice.
When we had initially been looking into the exhibit (which closes in NYC in early January but may travel after that) we checked out online reviews and they were… not kind. Reports of broken stations and unhelpful staff seemed to be the norm, though most of the really negative reviews were a bit older and the more recent ones showed definite improvement. So we gave it a try, and for the most part everything worked as expected. The touch screen on one of the Captain America stations didn’t like to respond to touch, and the Thor planetary search kept showing the same planet no matter which one we chose. Some of the staff members really got into playing S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and were obviously having fun (props to Agent Johnson, who gave us our initial briefing) while others looked like they’d rather be anywhere else.
Still, overall it was fun. Some areas were better than others, there were some grammatical errors in some of the signage that irked us (really, you would think an exhibit like this could have hired someone to tell them the difference between its and it’s). It was cool to see the costumes from the movie and the “become a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent” aspect was surprisingly cool.
So what does all this have to do with EPCOT? Simply put, the park needs something like this exhibit. Maybe not in its current iteration, of course. It would need to be modified to handle extreme crowds, there would have to be more stations (that would all have to work), and it would have to just be given an overhaul to make it bigger and better. The NYC exhibit is a great basis for something that would fit well into EPCOT, though. You’ve got a blend of science, tech, and entertainment which was always part of the idea behind the park, and the Marvel characters would be a big draw and don’t really have a presence anywhere in Walt Disney World yet.
Imagine going into an Avengers attraction in EPCOT. You scan your Magic Band (instead of an ID card) and it tracks your progress as you move from station to station. You do some basic exercise activities with Captain America and pit your progress against his. You learn about the human brain and outer space, and you see what it’s like to see through Iron Man’s helmet. Maybe even have the characters there for meet & greet sessions, or Memory Maker Magic Shots where you can be a superhero alongside the Avengers.
Something like this could take over a section of Innoventions, or even get its own pavilion with a bunch of interactive stations and even an Avengers-themed ride. If done correctly it could offer education wrapped up in a cool super hero package; The franchise may be fantasy but it has elements of science and technology, which would fit in well with the EPCOT experience.
The reality is, though, that something like this would probably never happen. So far Disney has shown little interest in incorporating Marvel characters into the parks (painting superheroes onto the sides of monorails doesn’t count) and their inclusion of Frozen in EPCOT suggests a different direction for the future of the park and one that seems to want to distance itself from edutainment. I think something like the Avenger’s S.T.A.T.I.O.N. could fit well, though. It could offer a great balance between science and fantasy, and I do believe that the Avengers characters would draw guests into the park.
Still, it’s fun to dream (this isn’t as good as my fantasy of a Horizons 2.0, or the return of Dreamfinder, but it’s not bad), and if any EPCOT executive types are reading this–and let’s be honest, you’ve probably got better things to do–then you should totally agree that this is brilliant and get to the drawn board immediately.