Now that we’ve covered the mission statement of this blog, I want to focus on the other mission statement that I talk about. The mission of EPCOT Center*. Let’s try and get a good definition around what I mean when I talk about the mission.
*Note, I will try and refer to EPCOT Center when I am referring to the park from 1982 – 1994, and Epcot for any iteration of the park after that
Now one thing I’d like to mention here is that I’m not an Epcot historian. There are a ton of people much more knowledgeable than I am regarding the specifics. Just spend any time at all on Martin’s Vids on YouTube and you’ll likely learn more than I could ever teach you in a fraction of the time. Still, I do feel that I can speak with some authority on this, hopefully once you read on you will agree.
Stating the obvious, the EPCOT Center that opened on October 1, 1982 is not what Walt had announced back in '66. His idea was an actual community, but one where both people and industry lived and worked together. His vision keyed around people and corporations, existing side by side, working on solving the problems of the future. It would define a new way of living, addressing issues found in existing cities, trying to find new and more efficient/effective ideas in urban planning, transportation, sewage and waste transportation, and employment. His vision was Utopian, and likely would have faced many significant challenges in it’s design, development, and implementation.
Here's a good Walt quote that speaks to his vision that I pulled off the book
EPCOT will be an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that will take it's cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And Epcot will be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise
After Walt’s death, the project halted for a time, but in the late 70s, leadership at Disney decided to revive the idea, refocus it to incorporate some of the ideas from Walt, yet set it in a theme park. Gone was the actual community, but they wanted to keep as much of the spirit of industry involved as possible.
There are a few great quotes that I feel get directly to the heart of what I am talking about. The first quote is one that most Epcot fans would recognize, it’s from the dedication of the park:
To all who come to this Place of Joy, Hope and Friendship
Epcot is inspired by Walt Disney's creative vision. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.
May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.
E. Cardon Walker
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Walt Disney Productions
October 24, 1982
The other quote I think speaks to this is one of my favorites. It's from that Walt Disney's EPCOT book I mentioned previously. It was put out by Disney at the same time EPCOT Center was opened as a publicity book, and it's filled with construction pictures, concept art, and it was put out before a few of the major pavilions were even completed. Horizons is spoken of in the future tense. There is a whole section devoted to the soon to be built "Africa" pavilion in the World Showcase. Anyway, the quote:
While entertainment will continue to be a highly visible attraction at EPCOT Center, it is the underlying educational value of Future World that is it's most important contribution. Exciting, amusing, and fascinating as each pavilion is in itself, it is but an element of a project that may well be viewed as a springboard to our discovery of new world
That’s a pretty lofty statement.
The thing is, I didn't know any of this growing up. Heck, it wasn't until late last year that I really looked into any of the above. But I knew all of these things. Not by reading books or memorizing quotes, that is how EPCOT Center felt. It dripped out of every pour of the park. It was apparent from the entrance to the exit. The whole park seemed to work together in concert that screamed that this was no ordinary theme park, it had a purpose. It felt (to me at least) that this was important. That the future was going to be built by those of us who were walking through this park. I have no question that EPCOT Center was a major player in my interest in the sciences, and was likely what drove me towards computer science as a major in college and further as I work more and more closely with data scientists each day.
The topics it covered: The oceans, agriculture, energy, transportation, communications, (later) the body. They all seemed like they were the pillars that were important to the future. There were two other pavilions though, and they always felt like they were the most important ones. Horizons, which explored the future, and Imagination, which I felt was the linchpin to the entire park. I’ve looked through the original scripts of each original pavilion and noted multiple references to "dream" and "future" throughout them all. Both of those pavilions were truly something special and this is why they are both so fondly remembered by fans of the original park.
Most of the old pavilions fell into a similar format. Through knowledge gained by understanding the history of a technology, and through the dreams we have for the future, we can work together to accomplish anything.
There is a subtle point there.
EPCOT Center's Future World was not about "Here's the future, come look at it". Not really. Sure, there were attractions that presented the future (RIP Horizons), but Future World was about inspiring people to help build the future.
Yes, by the mid-90s much of Future World was outdated, and it's hard to remain on the bleeding edge of technology that is moving at such a rapid pace. But that was never the point! Update/remove/replace, it doesn't matter, but what Disney has done is remove what made the original place so special, and that is the feeling that we're all in this together, and that it's part of our mission, every one of us, to build the future. It wasn't "Hey, look at what the smart people at <insert corporation> are doing to build the future for you."
Look at the lyrics to the songs, or scripts from the original EPCOT Center:
"If we can dream it, we can do it."
“Tomorrow's child / Shaping a world that will last
Holding the spark / as we embark / On a great journey / Together we're learning to
Reach for hope and desire / Building a world to inspire
Tomorrow's child / Tomorrow's child / Charting a brand new way
For the Future World is born today!”
"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."
"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."
"Ladies and gentlemen, General Motors now invites you to share the challenge of the future. We need you to help us shape tomorrow's mobility."
"Energy, there is no living without you, we must keep learning about you. Now is the time to find how to."
"The seasons come, and the seasons go, / nature knows everything it has to know.
The earth and man, can be good friends, /let's listen so our harvest time will never end."
See how everything in there is inclusive? It was what WE could do, together, to make the future better. That is one of the things that I really feel is missing today. None of the pavilions inspire me to do more. None inspire me to look more into the topic being presented. Some really don't try to do anything at all (I'm looking at you Soarin' and Nemo).
So that is where we start. This is what we strive for. EPCOT Center was once more than just a Theme Park. It can be again.
From here on, we’ll try and explore what once was. What made it special. We’ll look at what exists now and if/how it falls short. Then we’ll try and see if we can come up with a plan to fix this.