Author's note: I started this post on 12/29/17 and wrote nearly the entire thing. It sat in draft status for months. I figured it was still worth discussing, so I am dusting it off and finishing it up. It's the first of my blog posts that wasn't written in a single sitting, blasting through and just posting it right away. Don't let that give you higher expectations however. It'll be the same as before, just with a huge pause in between starting and finishing.
It's been a year now since I wrote a new post regarding Plan Alpha, my first cut at a plan to gradually reinvent Epcot into a modern/updated version of the park that was, holding true to the original vision of Epcot Center, while bringing it into the modern era.
There are a lot of things I could point to that would explain why I kind of fell off writing about it. It started with having less time to write, more work responsibilities keeping me later at work on most days, reducing my free time to write. Add to it the fact that the logical next step of my Plan Alpha was one in which I really didn't have many concrete ideas on, more the beginnings of ideas.
Then, in springtime, I started to get a little more concerned than usual that Epcot was starting to get beyond saving. That it was in danger of making changes that would alter the park in irrevocable ways. There were rumors of serious danger of losing a pavilion to shoehorn in a Guardians of the Galaxy themed attraction. I know that at this point in time, those seem like they were just rumors, but given some people I had talked to, I think we were a lot closer to this happening than most people realize. I'm still not sure it's 100% off the table.
Most of my available "Thinking about Disney" time after that was spent mourning what I felt was the final nail in the coffin of the Original Vision of Epcot Center, and then avoiding thinking about it all together for a while.
In November, at the Destination D event, Bob Chapek announced that a major reinvention of Epcot was coming, and that it would be
more “Disney,” more relevant, timeless, more family-friendly, and true to the original vision
That last line there seems directly intended to be heard by me and those who think like me about Epcot. It was something that most people would read right past, but for people like me, it was directly intended to either reassure, or appease depending on your reading of Disney's PR department.
I'll admit, I started out really excited by the wording "Original Vision". In fact, those words "Original Vision" made me read right past the rest of the statement. I can easily argue that being Relevant, Timeless, and Family Friendly are a part of the "Original Vision", so those statements could be seen as redundant taking a fairly optimistic reading.
I do worry however that coupled with the first part "More Disney", it takes a different meaning. In this context, it feels more like the Relevant, Timeless, and Family-Friendly statements are in support of the More Disney phrase, and almost in opposition to the Original Vision statement.
No one will argue that what they have let Epcot become is not relevant or timeless. With that understanding, I'm glad that they are looking to correct this. Each individual pavilion has become, to varying degrees, irrelevant and dated. If the statement about being more Relevant and Timeless is regarding the individual pavilions, I'm all for it.
If however the statement is being aimed at Epcot as a whole, it takes on a new meaning. If the implication is that Epcot, as a whole concept, was not Timeless or Relevant, that it needs to be More Disney in order to be those things, then it's a little more worrisome. If Disney thinks that the only way that a theme park can be Relevant and Timeless is by inserting Disney (brand) characters into it, it seems to me that they have the potential to fall back onto the crutch of IP as a simple way to make an attraction popular.
I've mentioned it before, I don't really have a problem with adding characters into Epcot, as long as they do so as a part of a larger story that stays true to the mission of Epcot. It's not the Nemo that makes The Seas bad. It's the execution in how they incorporated (or didn't) Nemo into the pavilion that leaves it as an underwhelming pavilion.
But what makes an attraction timeless isn't strictly that it's based on a timeless IP. Or more worrisome, an IP that is currently "hot" whose timelessness has not yet been proven out.
I love the movie Moana. My kids love it as well. I feel like Moana is a film that carries a timeless message, is relevant to our time and to times in the future. It has great characters, a setting that resonates (especially for me, feel free to witness my obsession with Polynesian culture here), great music. It has everything that could lead this film to be timeless.
That doesn't guarantee that it will be of course, and to the larger point, it doesn't mean that Disney should rebrand the Polynesian Village Resort as Moana's Polynesian Village Resort and shove quickly made decorations into the lobby and pool area just to capitalize on the film's popularity. Could Moana have a presence at the Poly? Sure! And she should! Should the Poly become an all encompassing greatest hits of Moana? I think few would argue that would be a bad idea.
What was relevant and timeless about Epcot Center, in it's original state, were the big broad strokes painted by the pavilions. Dreaming about the future. Dreaming big and collaborating to make our dreams a reality. Inspiring every visitor to think about some of the really huge pillars of human civilization, from transportation to communication, exploration of our own planet and our universe, striving for new techniques and technology in agriculture and energy, and the thing that tied it all together, and what made the entire advancement of our species possible, imagination.
These concepts were relevant and timeless, and they remain so today. While Horizons, or World of Motion may have included visions of a future that are far different than they would be today, the underlying concepts remain important (are more important) today as they were back in the early 80s. These are what was intended to be timeless and relevant for Epcot Center. The attractions could be changed/updated, as long as they continued to address the concepts in an entertaining and inspiring way, they would succeed.
I get the feeling though that current Disney management doesn't think in this way. I have a feeling that what is headed our way is going to be a whole lot of "timeless" Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm/Pixar characters. Maybe they will even try and tie them into some sort of science, or the pavilions themselves (Mission Space 2: Wall-E's Search for the Axiom). But the attractions will be about the characters themselves, or the films that they are from, not the concept they are trying to convey. Using the characters to tell a story is one thing, using a character AS the story is another. I have a feeling that we're going to be seeing a lot more characters telling their own stories as an attempt at keeping Epcot timeless. What you'll have then is just another Magic Kingdom, with a different facade, and a whole lot more drunks.
Please Mr. Chapek and company, remember what made this park special, remember why it resonated with so many, look at the opportunities to influence your guests, and hold true to the Original Vision. If you do that and don't ignore it, it will always be timeless and relevant.