Friday, February 24, 2012

Epcot Part 1: Entrance, Spaceship Earth, and Innoventions

Epcot is truly a unique theme park, unlike any other that had been built at the time it opened in 1982. Based upon Walt Disney’s idea of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, the theme park is a far cry from Walt’s ultra-modern city, but many of its forward-thinking and innovative ideas were recognized in Future World when Epcot first opened.

Originally known as EPCOT Center, the park’s name has changed over the course of its history, losing the "Center" from its title in 1994 and then in 1996 the name Epcot was no longer stood for an acronym. The name change of the park reflects one of the sad truths about Epcot and especially Future World in that it really does not reflect the ideals and themes of what the park stood for when it first opened. Therefore, my plans for re-imagining Epcot call for a restoration of the park’s identity. We will start in Future World where I want to bring back to the future.

First, I would restore the park to its original EPCOT Center name. Although Walt Disney was not around for the park’s construction and opening, it would be nothing today without his great ideas. This name pays tribute to Walt and his vision of the future.

The first change to the park comes as soon as guests enter through the main turnstiles. Leave A Legacy was a good concept, but its placement was very bad. All the large stones with their photographs of guests detract from the majestic beauty and sheer massiveness of Spaceship Earth and most guests just meander past them without even knowing what they are. In their place, I would restore the entrance plaza back to the way it looked prior to the addition of Leave A Legacy, giving the entrance a more open feel.

Spaceship Earth is a classic Disney attraction that has been a part of Epcot since it first opened. In 2007 the attraction underwent a rehab that tweaked the storyline slightly, brought in a new narrator, updated the audio animatronics, and completely changed the descent portion of the ride. The first three-quarters of the refurbed attraction are fantastic, but the new version of the descent, with the interactive touch-screen, leaves much to be desired.

I would make a few changes to Spaceship Earth. First, even though I don’t have as much a problem with Judi Dench’s narration as others, I would bring back Jeremy Irons to narrate the attraction; his voice is just so much more powerful and dramatic, more appropriate for an attraction of this nature. As far as the descent is concerned, I would actually incorporate elements of a former Epcot attraction. Horizons was an attraction that took guests on a journey into different scenes from the future focusing on different elements such as communication, energy, transportation, anatomy, physiology, along with man's relationship to the sea, land, air, and space.

As part of my new Spaceship Earth descent I would add in three different scenes from Horizons. First would be a view of the space station Brava Centauri, which depicts future space colonization.

Next, guests would travel to the desert farm of Mesa Verde, depicting arid-zone agriculture.

Finally, guests would encounter the Sea Castle research base, giving a glimpse of future ocean colonization.

Not only would this greatly improve upon Spaceship Earth’s current descent, it would also greatly please fans of the old Horizons attraction.

Behind Spaceship Earth, I would make a couple of aesthetic changes to Innoventions Plaza which would restore this area to the appearance that it had prior to the millennium celebration. I would start by removing the large purple canopy that covers much of the plaza, giving it a much more open and spacious feel. Along with the removal of the canopy, I would likewise eliminate the Pin Central kiosk that sits in the center of the plaza.

Here is the plaza with the canopy:

Here is what the plaza looked like without the canopy:

I would also remove the stage that is in front of the Fountain of Nations. While the stage itself does not necessarily look bad, it blocks a portion of the fountain from view and also prevents certain jets of water from being used.

I have always considered Innoventions to be an under-utilized space. There are many guests who just pass by the Innoventions buildings without even knowing what is inside while others enter the building just as a way of cutting through to another area of the park. The exhibits and activities inside Innoventions have become more about promoting the various sponsors rather than really being concerned with the future. I would bring majors changes to Innoventions that would completely change their function and purpose.

Innoventions is divided into two buildings, East and West. Inside of Innoventions West I would completely gut the building of its current exhibits and it would become the new home of Carousel of Progress. I have never really felt that Carousel of Progress fit in well with Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom; the spirit and themes of the attraction are more in keeping with the premise of Epcot and especially Future World. Carousel of Progress was also an attraction originally designed by Walt Disney himself and would therefore be a fitting tribute to have in a park that would never had come to be without his ideas, imagination, and love of the future.

I would make a few minor changes to the attraction, however. As it stands, the current scenes in the attraction are roughly the 1900s, 1920s, 1940s, and the future. It has always seemed like a large jump from the 1940s to the future so I would include an additional scene depicting the 1970s. I would also update the final scene to make it feel more futuristic. When guests exit the Carousel attraction they would then have the opportunity to walk through different rooms from a House of the Future, similar to the attraction that opened in Disneyland in 1957, where they would encounter amazing new technology for all rooms of the house.

Epcot purists may not like this next idea and I am somewhat conflicted about as well. With the new "Tron: Legacy" movie that came out last year there has been an increased interest in the world of Tron. I cannot really see any area in any of the Disney World parks that Tron could fit in quite as well as Future World in Epcot. Therefore, the space currently occupied by Innoventions East would become “The Grid,” an area of various interactive games, activities, and exhibits that would immerse guests into the world of Tron. Holding true to the essence of Epcot and Future World, this would be an area that would incorporate elements that are both entertaining as well as educational. The only part of the current Innoventions East that I would keep would be the Kuka robotic arms from Sum of All Thrills, which would be incorporated into this new Tron theme. As a way of creating even more space for “The Grid” I would remove the Electric Umbrella restaurant as well.

To make up for the loss of the Electric Umbrella I would make some changes to the current Fountain View Ice Cream Parlor. As it stands, the ice cream parlor only occupies a small portion of the building it is in. The rest of the building is comprised of the Character Spot meet-and-greet area and Club Cool. I would rename the ice cream parlor the Fountain View Café and expand it to occupy the entire building, including the removal of the Character Spot and Club Cool.

This would be a futuristic-themed hybrid between a counter service and sit-down restaurant. Upon entering, instead of ordering food at a counter, guests would be shown to their table where the tabletop is actually a touch screen that allows them to order their food (picture a giant I-Pad). Their orders are sent to the kitchen and when the food is ready the tabletop notifies the guests that they can pick it up at the counter. During the course of the meal, guests could use their tabletop touch screen to play various games, watch videos, and even visit certain websites. If you think this seems a little far-fetched, check out this video:

Stay tuned for my next entry where we will move onto Future World West, including big plans for The Seas, Imagination, and a revamped Soarin’.

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