The fourth of a five-part series about Epcot’s central role in the lives of the disaffected Disney fans.
Please read part 1—Epcot: the center
Please read part 2—Epcot: the center II, a new Horizon
Please read part 3—Epcot: the center III, receding horizon line
“No no no.” Michael Eisner had an epiphany. “This is too big. An idea like this needs its own theme park.” The planned movie pavilion that would have slipped into the South-to-North running Epcot’s West side was gone, but not the least bit forgotten. Eisner, now a dirty word among Disney fans, recognized the potential in a movie themed attraction and lifted what would become The Great Movie Ride and dropped it down in an entirely new theme park known as MGM Studios.
It was a brilliant move, as the subject matter of movies was clearly bigger than a single pavilion, however it lead to a curious development: two rides that were perfect for MGM Studios made it into Epcot, while an attraction well suited for Epcot landed at MGM, and so began the broad-stroke era.
The parks, indeed the entire Walt Disney World resort, saw immense growth under Michael Eisner, but this growth came with consequences. New shops, new hotels, new parks sprang up one after the other, however the more he built different things, the more those things seemed somehow the same. This is a major part of the unraveling for the so terribly frustrated Disney fans, the inspiration for this entire series. Michael Eisner used his arrival to turn the attention of the Disney corporation back to the parks and back to a mindset of storytelling, however, diehard Disney fans will tell you, he began down his path with a momentum that could not be stopped, no matter how far he may have strayed.
Think, in a broad sense, about the Disney shops within the parks and resorts. In the past each shop’s offering was unique to its location within the themed environment. On the whole, today you can find the same thing on Main Street that you can find in the Contemporary. Sure, sell popular merchandise; no sense in stocking anything but the most popular items. Unfortunately, this is not limited to stores. What has happened to merchandise is a miniature version of what has happened all across the Disney theme parks, and the Disney corporation as a whole. All across the company, everything has slowly melted into one another and there are few distinctly different stories left. When producing content for tweens on the Disney channel, creating generic content with no differentiated value is actually the business model that is profitable, but when applying it to the parks, it is slowly, gradually, inherently destructive.
One of the abandoned concepts for Disneyland was a proposed Rock Candy Mountain, built to look as though it were made entirely of candy. It ended up being very off-putting, though, and no one could quite figure out why. It wasn’t until John Hench, imagineering’s resident philosopher, pointed out that contrast was what made candy seem sweet, but just having the same candy over and over makes the sweetness dwindle (too much of a good thing).
People go to the parks for the rides. No, people go to Six Flags for the rides, they go to Disney for the experience, and when every experience is indistinguishable from the other, then you have a problem. Both Test Track and Mission: Space could have slipped right in at the former MGM Studios, or at the Magic Kingdom, as the themes of the parks crossed. Honestly, this muddling of park DNA might have been ok for the rest of the Walt Disney World resort, but, for angry fans, it is not ok for EPCOT center.
We go back to the new Disney dream—the new Disney promise that EPCOT center offered—and we see that this unique park that inspired those who are now adults to dream bigger when they were children was grabbed by the scruff in the neck and jerked back to become just another ticket booth. Suddenly the Disney super fans were left hanging, hearing the company say, “Remember how we said those things back in the 80s, yeah…all that stuff is still there, it’s just that now there’s Nemo.” Disney lost super fans who believed in the promise and gained super angry fans. They bought into the Disney dream, never for a moment considering that the one who would betray that dream would be Disney itself.
In one of the final posts on the now defunct blog Epcot Central, the author summed up the feelings of the disaffected quite well:
No, EPCOT was never entirely successful at taking difficult, esoteric concepts and reducing them to levels that could be comprehended by tens of millions of people a year. That’s an extraordinarily ambitious task, one most museums can’t quite make work, either. But it tried.
Back in 1995 or so, about halfway through EPCOT’s life (so far), Disney gave up trying. EPCOT, like The Walt Disney Company as a whole (and, it could be argued, society in general) recognized that it was far easier to succeed at creating shiny, pretty, easily digestible entertainment than to educate, inform and enlighten.
It’s just a shame, though, that we have entered that future that EPCOT and Walt Disney once envisioned, but to a large degree we’re doing it without a guide, without someone truly “at the helm” who can guide everyday folks through the confusion and explain what it all means. Walt Disney did that for one generation, and EPCOT tried to do it for the next. Now, there’s literally a bright and gleaming future being built … and no one, really, to tell us how exciting it is. (full article)
And this, after everything, is the heart of the matter for this angry, but growing, group. Disney built a park they thought Walt would build, but without Walt’s hand, without someone to answer the inevitable “what now?” after the initial wave, they had to go in a new direction, or rather, a very old one. The Disney corporation became afraid of its own evolution and opted to stop moving forward intellectually in favor of growing fatter in place.
This is the complicated devotion a ‘true fan’ of Epcot must live with. To them, EPCOT center was sacred, it was the jumping off point into the future. EPCOT was literally the center from which the future would be attained, but instead became simply the center of frustration.
Next post—Epcot: the center V, conclusion