The first of a five-part series about Epcot and the central role it plays within a growing segment of Disney fans.
Many hardcore Walt Disney World fans share the same favorite park. Delve deep into the heart of the Disney fan community and you’ll find a startling number of people all pointing to one place—Epcot, and not just Epcot, but EPCOT center. Slow, boring, too educational, too much walking, those were the complaints, yet this is their favorite. Sadly, it is because of the love of this park, I think, that a very vocal group among the hardcore Walt Disney World fans are so jaded, so irritated, so frustrated. They love to think about Disney, they love to talk about Disney, and they love to HATE Disney.
This group needs a different term than fan because that doesn’t quite get to the heart of their complicated devotion. You can find a multitude of blogs about how angry they are because of additions that they see as abominations to the parks. The conversations on twitter run late into the night, longing for a return to Disney park greatness which, they feel, was a very long time ago. Let it be understood—this group LOVES Disney. If they did not, they wouldn’t care so much and would have moved on. It is because of this love that they hate. I do not belong to this group, yet I want to understand, and I think the center of their continually fractured fan-hood is EPCOT.
The original project, an acronym for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was the all consuming focus of Walt Disney’s final days. It was to be a city of the future that would revolutionize the way we think about urban living. Unfortunately the concept died with Walt, however the ideals simmered…and waited.
In 1982, the Disney company opened EPCOT center, the intellectual successor to the great storyteller’s final dream. While not at all what Walt had envisioned (and very few people at the time knew about the project’s initial scope), the new theme park promised to be a showcase for new technology, to build the dream of a global community and to inspire hope for the future. Many Disney fans grew up with EPCOT center being THEIR park. The enormous Walt Disney World property had its fantasy and make believe to the north, but this was something entirely new.
The new fantasy was reality, or rather the reality yet to come. Attractions were markedly different at EPCOT center from the Disneyland-style Magic Kingdom. Instead of flying through a movie like Peter Pan, you would pass through human history, focussing on one form of innovation or another, seeing where we’ve come from, where we are, and, most importantly, where we may be heading. Instead of a focal point for the eye, the attractions offered a focal point for the mind. This was EPCOT center, the park that inspired children and adults in the 80s to dream forward and dream bigger than they ever had before.
The new Disney dream—a promise for the future—was established. The Disney company took a massive risk in embarking on what was then the largest private construction project the world had ever seen. No one knew what the reception would be, but complaints started to roll in about the park being boring and Disney began to get nervous. They looked for ways to boost attendance by putting a little more ‘theme’ into the park, and the dominoes began to fall. Things turned sour for some when the new Disney promise was seen as broken.
Down goes World of Motion and up goes Test Track, a ‘you are the crash test dummy’ experience with a high-speed finish. Fun and zippy, but with a narrower story than the ‘past, present and future of’ attraction that it replaced.
Down goes Imagination and up goes…Imagination…sort of. The new version (which has since been changed again) focused on a laboratory type setting where imagination was being studied and tested. The ride had clever visual tricks and illusions and was hosted by a celebrity comedian, but it lacked the broad strokes and whimsy of the original.
Many other things triggered alam bells for the future disaffected fans. Disney characters suddenly populated the park, celebrations of goofy 80s fare took place on a stage built around the once symbolic Fountain of Nations, and the addition of a giant wand adorning the Spaceship Earth icon marred the geometric landscape. It is the change to World of Motion and Imagination, however, that is seen as setting the wheels in motion, moving the park from EPCOT center, to Epcot, a seemingly insignificant alteration, yet one that stirs up emotion in the seething Disney fan unlike any other…save one…
Down goes Horizons and up goes Mission: Space……