Horizons. A love letter.

The Disney Parks Blog this week has really been trolling me, and other lovers of Epcot Center.  There was the 13 reasons we still love Horizons, the Advice on the future from 80s Epcot, and the Horizons quiz.  They then fired a personal attack highlighting Kitchen Kabaret, which had to be targeted directly at me.  It HAD to be.  I’m the dude that spent hours last year drawing characters from Kitchen Kabaret to make my own personal T-shirt to wear specifically at WDW.  Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit 4 Life!

Anyway, sidetrack.  The Disney Parks Blog seems to be poking the stick at us grumpy original Epcot fans, there have been questions bouncing around akin to: “Is Disney bringing back Horizons?” (spoiler, no).  I think that it makes it as good a time as any to talk a little about what is mostly seen as Epcot Center’s prized jewel, Horizons.

Again, a bit of a caveat here.  Horizons was my favorite attraction in all of Disney. Horizons tops the Enchanted Tiki Room. Horizons (just barely) beats out Journey into Imagination. I'd ride it 1000 times over Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest. It was, without a doubt in my mind, the best dark ride ever made. The premise, the format, the execution. Everything was there. The theme was rock solid, it really couldn't get more on point for Future World than an attraction about the future. The motto was one of those things that sounds so much like a quote from Walt Disney that it gets mis-attributed to him all the time.

"If we can dream it, we can do it"

In fact, at work right now I pass by a bunch of posters for a charity walk that is coming up with “If you can dream it, you can do it – Walt Disney” on the bottom and it really is all I have to continue to walk by instead of either tearing it down or putting up post-it notes correcting each and every one.

So this attraction here is a good example of nostalgia bleeding into my opinion.  It’s impossible to me to remove my bias towards the attraction to look at it objectively.  This would be the same if someone tried to argue with me that River Country was not the best water park of all time.  There’s too much history for me to objectively look at the lake water and zip lines and admit that it probably wasn’t.  It just was dammit.

The premise of the attraction was pure Epcot Center.  Looking at “the future” by investigating how people in different eras viewed it, and then giving a current look towards the future, it was a formula that worked really well throughout the entire park, but I’d say that I think that Horizons did it best.  The narration by the couple was a well done back and forth that really built throughout the attraction, especially as you started to realize that it was their family that we were tracing through the future. 

I mean, let’s just drop the analysis for a minute.  There was a freaking Jules Verne Audio Animatronic figure!!!

 Jules Freaking Verne

Jules Freaking Verne

We had a robot butler!

 I want to live in this place.  Look at that rad carpet!

I want to live in this place.  Look at that rad carpet!

Though to be honest, the robot chef was my favorite

 Maybe he should get to work on those dishes back there.

Maybe he should get to work on those dishes back there.

Who didn’t get a kick out of the 50’s neon jetpacks

 We were promised jetpacks

We were promised jetpacks

From there, we transitioned into act 2 of the pavilion by our trip through the amazing omnimax theater section, showing scientific achievements writ large on the massive screens.  The sense of scale here was immense.  Then the ride took us on to the future.  We’re introduced to our narrators in their smooth urban pad, with hologram phone service and hydroponic veggie garden.  Transitioning to the desert orchard, we hit the legendary Lorange smell (half lime, half orange, all awesome). 

 Maybe not the most efficient use of water, trying to grow water-dense crops in the desert, but I give them points for boldness. 

Maybe not the most efficient use of water, trying to grow water-dense crops in the desert, but I give them points for boldness. 

We then hit my favorite scene, the undersea portion: The research station and Seacastle Resort.  I loved the thought of this, living under the ocean, attending school and going scuba diving.  Having a drink and looking out the ocean at all the wildlife and kelp (seaweed,KELP). 

 I wanna be where THESE people are

I wanna be where THESE people are

Finishing out with our trip to Brava Centauri, the space colony.  The boy and his lost shoe was a sentimental favorite as well.

 Here boy, fetch!

Here boy, fetch!

The final piece, the choose your own ending, with the high-speed transit to your chosen destination was something I never tired of, not once in what was likely hundreds of trips.  The video screen was simple, yet surprisingly effective.  By today’s standards, this was rudimentary screen technology.  We’re not talking about Forbidden Journey here, but the simple screen that moved along with us really did give a sense of motion that was well over what I’d expect.

Of course, the kicker, the repetition of theme, having the narrators repeat the motto and then walking out past the “If we can dream it, we can do it” on the wall, was very impactful.  It was hard not to walk out of Horizons and not have some degree of hope and excitement for the future.  Horizons really was the heart and soul of Epcot Center.  We were in Future World, and this was the future.  The future was not something that was a passive concept either.  WE were involved in making this future together.  Think a little about the misquote I mention above and think of the difference.

“If you can dream it, you can do it”.  This statement is empowering, but it is personal.  It is not collaborative, no one can help you do whatever “it” is but you.  You can do it, alone.

“If we can dream it, we can do it”, this is empowering as well, but it brings us all together.  It is inclusive, we, everyone, all of us together, we can work towards a better future.  And this is something that is completely missing in Epcot today.  Everything is passive.  Test Track and Mission Space try and pull us into it, but not in an empowering kind of way.  We get to design our cars, but they are not the focus of the attraction, the auto manufacturer is.  Mission Space also tries to make us a part of the crew, but not in a way that has us looking forward to something we actually could achieve.  Do you want to pretend to be an astronaut, well, come aboard.  It is not a call to arms like Epcot Center had.  It was collaboration to create a better tomorrow.

I’ve tweeted this recently, but I find it interesting that when the attraction debuted in 1983, they were looking back to the 50s, which is at the most is 33 years back. Right now, in 2015, it is 32 years from 1983. If they were to make a new Horizons, old Horizons could be a scene in new Horizons.  It's like Inception, but for awesome dark rides.

So, that right there brings up an understandable weak point. They designed a ride that HAD to be updated. Horizons was built with amazing AA and scene work. It wasn't just an upgrade from one screen technology to another like some attractions might be these days (cough Soarin’ cough). In order to update the attraction, they had to rebuild the entire series of scenes. When the original designers built this ride, I know that they just assumed that it was understood that this would need to happen, and that they had no question that it would be done. It was more than assumed that they would be updating the attraction, it was just taken as a given.

Lets think about that for a moment though.  Horizons predictions for the most part have not come true.  We do not have a space colony.  We do not have a sea colony.  We're surely not growing Loranges in the desert (though Almonds in drought stricken California is a different story).  The two real pieces of Horizons technology that to me have come true are the fact that we can have a hologram of Tupac rocking the stage at Cochella, and we do video conference.  Since my employees work a few thousand miles away from me, I spend a lot of time on a video conference.

Part of the reason for this is that Horizons made grand, sweeping predictions.  They did not try and focus on the small, rapidly changing technology.  The things above I've mentioned were not the point of the ride, they were just a portion.  The big bold predictions are as futuristic today as they were 32 years ago.  So how much really needed to be changed?  Sure, the vision of the future was outdated by looking at the clothing they wore (I maintain that what we thought we'd dress like in the future in the 80s is vastly different than what we think we'd dress like in the future today).  Still, I think that we couldn't have kept Horizons static.  It went against the intent of Horizons to remain static.  It needed to be updated.

The major argument I hear when speaking of Horizon's demolition is that "it never had a line".  To touch on this, I'll put out the following:

Between 1987 and the mid-90s, Epcot lost somewhere north of 2 million annual visitors. Now, what impact would 2 million less customers in total have on an omnimover ride?  A little back-of-the-envelope math shows that Horizons capacity was around 2200/hour ( 184 cars, 3 riders per car, one car every 5 seconds). A people-eater like that would suffer drastically from a reduction of 2 million people a year from it's peak. Again, back-of-the-envelope math puts that at around 5480 less people per day (assuming an average disbursement of people across every day of the year, which we know is not true, meaning some times of the year would be fewer, some more).  The problem was EPCOT wasn't drawing people.  This is a bigger problem, but I digress, the bigger problem is kind of the point of this whole manifesto.

By the mid 90's, Disney had an attraction on their hands that needed to be re-done. I can almost understand their thinking. I mean, the park was full of long rides. Lots and lots of long dark rides. Most of us Disney aficionados love that kind of stuff. The general public likely was not as into it as we are. So, they have lots of long dark rides and they have an attraction that needs to have major work to update it. I can almost put myself in the headspace it would take to decide to knock down the building and replace it with an "exciting" ride.

The thing that stops me though is the fact that HORIZONS WAS PHENOMENAL. It also was one of the three most important pavilions in all of Epcot (Horizons, Imagination, American Adventure). They took the "Future" pavilion out of Future World! They got rid of "If we can dream it, we can do it!" They took away the pavilion that was supposed to be what we were all striving for. I just can't ever fully understand how that decision made it past enough people to greenlight the wrecking ball.

And what did we get as it's "replacement"? Well, as we mourned the loss, at least we were getting a space pavilion! I mean, who doesn't love space?!? They got rid of the best ride in the history of theme parks, they have to have something amazing in the wings, right???  Right???  We’ll cover that later.