The spark is gone

This is a topic that I’ve really been itching to touch for a while now.  It’s time to spend a little time talking about the Imagination pavilion.   It was, in your not-so-humble manifesto author’s opinion, a nearly perfect pavilion.  A microcosm of what made Epcot Center so special.  With it’s unique exterior, multiple attractions, commitment to theme from outside to inside, it’s whimsy, it’s charm, and it’s intelligence, it contained everything that made an original Epcot Center attraction great.

It also was, in my mind, the most important pavilion in the park.  Maybe it was the kid in me looking back through all of these years into a nostalgia influenced haze, but I truly feel that Imagination was the uniting factor in all pavilions in Future World.  In fact, in some ways it is the genesis of this entire blog.  I’m not talking about it’s influence on me growing up that made me love Epcot Center so much.  That had equal parts to do with almost all of the pavilions as a cohesive whole. 

On my hard-drive, there is a document started just about a year and a half ago.  The title: “Ideas if I ever write that manifesto”.  The idea of writing an Epcot Manifesto was kind of a long running joke for me for a few years.  I was passionate about Epcot, sure.  I had opinions and a lot of times they ran counter to prevailing opinion.  I took opportunities to write long winded thoughts when I was inclined, but it was still kind of a joke.  One day though a thought struck me that really grabbed me and made me start to think about writing this thing for real.  I captured that idea in a doc, wrote some notes, and then left it alone for quite some time.

The main contents of that document are entitled “Dream/Imagine theme throughout Future World”, and in it I started to collect pieces of original attraction scripts.  I had stumbled upon the idea that the Imagination pavilion was the linchpin of the entire Future World section of the park, it was the piece that tied every pavilion together.  The overall mission of the park, the one unifying factor, was Imagination.  So I started to look for examples to prove / disprove this thought.   I wont copy them all here, but let’s hit a couple shall we.  For reference, I’m including Dream and Imagine together, as I feel that in most of these scripts, they are being used interchangeably.

Spaceship Earth (Original Script)

Vic Perrin: With each day come more paths, more ideas, more dreams, and we build new machines: computer machines that think, that store, sift, sort, and count, and help us chart our course through an age of boundless information.

Vic Perrin: Now our Future World draws near ... and we face the challenge of tomorrow. We must return and take command of our Spaceship Earth ... to become captains of our own destiny ... to reach out and fulfill our dreams.

World of Motion

Gary Owens: Yes, our world has indeed become a World of Motion. We have engineered marvels that take us swiftly over land and sea, through the air, and into space itself. And still bolder and better ideas are yet to come. Ideas that will fulfill our age old dream to be free. Free in mind. Free in spirit. Free to follow the distant star of our ancestors to a brighter tomorrow.

The Living Seas

Female Narrator: Try to imagine, just for a moment, a future of amazing technological creativity ... a future of incredible adventure and discovery ... a future of remarkable awareness of understanding.

Female Narrator: Try to imagine. For we welcome you now to take the first steps into that future. We welcome you to The Living Seas. We welcome you to Sea Base Alpha.

Horizons

Heck, just about the whole thing, but I don’t know, how about this one:


I’ll stop there for now. I’ll refer back to my first post on here, The Mission of Epcot Center, but notice that these quotes all also echo not just imagination, but in OUR participation in these dreams.  It is OUR imagination that are going to build the future.  OUR dreams that will come together to build the world we want to build.  It is our dreams, our visions, our effort that is needed.  The idea that imagination is an imperative for advancing civilization.  It was the backbone, the most important thing that we needed to strengthen moving together toward the future.

A quote I pulled from my Walt Disney’s Epcot Center book regarding the Imagination pavilion:

“The most important point made in Journey into Imagination is that this is a gift shared by everyone, a gift not to be used just on special occasions, but every day.”

And one more, as it describes the end of the ride:

“And, in case we missed the point that the whole presentation is about us and our innate capabilities, the last thing we see is a framed photograph of our own party in the vehicle, taken at a point earlier in the ride.”

I also feel like this, along with Horizons, always tend to be the favorites of Disney aficionados because those two pavilions really seemed to get at the direct heart of what (at least we believe) Walt Disney really stood for.  Horizon’s “If we can dream it, we can do it” line gets attributed to Walt so often that it’s almost hard to remember it is not from him.  Imagination felt like it shared the same DNA with Walt.  It came direct with characters, Figment is quite simply an absolutely perfect theme park character. 

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The entire pavilion treated everyone, children and adults, on an equal level.  There was no talking down to kids, no thought given that the attraction was only for kids, but for everyone.  It played to the childish heart that is in all of us, giving us an attraction with different layers that could be equally enjoyed by everyone.  These things seemed so linked with Walt Disney that it was many years before I really put 2 and 2 together to realize he did not design this himself.

The one place where I think that the Imagination pavilion actually beats out Horizons for Best Pavilion is the fact that it had more than just the ride.  Horizons was the best dark ride ever made.  Imagination was close, but it was not alone.  Journey into Imagination was only the first step.  Once you reached the end of the ride, you walked into ImageWorks, which allowed you to continue the journey, interacting with the different exhibits yourself.  And once you were done playing around in ImageWorks (which as a kid, I could have done for hours and hours and hours), there was still the trip to the Magic Eye Theater for Magic Journeys / Captain EO.  And even further than that, you stepped outside of the Magic Eye into the Magic Garden area, with the jumping fountains and the reverse waterfall. 

Heck, catch it on the right day and you might even bump into Dreamfinder and Figment as you dodged the jumping fountain.

The pavilion offered so much, and everything in the pavilion was interconnected, and the pavilion was interconnected to every other pavilion in Future World.  Imagination was the heartbeat of the park.  Ok, now I’ve called it the heartbeat, backbone, and linchpin.   I wonder how many other metaphors I can come up with to try and drive home how important I think this pavilion was to the park as a whole.

Which is why what exists today seems like such a disappointment.  I don’t know if my words can express everything that feels so off about the current pavilion.  It just feels dead.  Lifeless.  The attraction seems aimed only at young children.  We’re taught about the 5 senses, which I believe my kids learned about in preschool.  A sound can make me imagine a train?  Great.  You can make something smell like a skunk?  Awesome.  How is this important or relevant?  How does this show me all the ways that imagination can push me, in literature, in science, in play, in art, in exploration?  It doesn’t.  Sorry Eric Idle, but you now represent something that I love (Monty Python) and something that I hate (Dr. Nigel Channing).  You’ve effectively balanced yourself into a zero sum game.

Taken with that, the ties to all of the other pavilions is gone as well.  The pavilion has lost its interconnectedness with all of Future World.  It, as other pavilions do, exists in their own little bubble.  There is nothing that ties it to Test Track, nothing that ties it to Mission Space.  Sure, we can come up with hackneyed attempts (“Well, you have to use your imagination to make your own car, or to pretend you are on a Mars mission”), but the importance is not stressed.  The onus is on you to try and make the connection, it is not intrinsically a part of the attraction or the park itself. 

The park lost it’s heart, which turned each pavilion into disconnected and disjointed experiences, and the pavilion that demonstrates this more than any is Imagination.  It’s always walk-on.  The rinky-dink faux ImageWorks at the end distracts you just long enough to get annoyed at your kids for wasting time on this when there is drinking to be done in World Showcase.  Now the theater is going to be filled with something I can pull up on my AppleTV at home.  All that remains is a character being used poorly, almost as a has-been actor trying to live life on a character that was once important.  Oh, and the melody of a masterful song, rewritten to support the current “plot”. 

A song that was penned by the legendary Sherman Brothers.  A song that is on it’s own worthy of an entire blog post.  I’ll leave you now with some of the lyrics of that song.  Such a part of everything that was Epcot Center.  Just close your eyes and picture yourself sitting in the ride-vehicle, the steampunk-before-it-was-cool blimp passing into the distance as you make your way towards the Dream Vault, a place where anything could come true, if you just used your… imaaaaaaaaaaginaaaaaation…

One little spark, of inspiration
Is at the heart, of all creation.
Right at the start, of everything that's new.
One little spark, lights up for you.

We all have sparks, imaginations.
That's how our minds, create creations.
For they can make, our wildest dreams come true.
Those magic sparks, in me and you.

Imagination, imagination.
A dream, can be a dream come true.
With just that spark, in me and you.