Epcot, Epcot, Epcot...
Epcot, Disney's second, and probably my favorite, theme park. Where to begin... First off, this article is not here to make the age old argument that Epcot has failed to achieve what Walt had originally envisioned. What the Disney company ended up building was not supposed to be Walt's idea brick for brick. The park is fantastic! When it first opened, it was flawless. I will not use this article to discuss what the park should have been. Rather, I will discuss what events led the park to its current state. To be clear, Epcot is still a great park and I believe it is worth everyone's time. That said, it still needs work.
With that said, let's get started! Epcot is split into two main parts, Future World and The World Showcase. Future World was designed to be like the World's Fairs of the 19th century. The idea was to have pavilions with interactive experiences and rides that would educate and inspire guests about advances in technology. To make these pricy pavilions more affordable, Disney looked to sponsors to help fund the pavilions. This worked great at first and for about a decade, Epcot ran like a well oiled machine. The problems did not begin to occur until the 1990s. Most sponsors signed contracts that would last roughly ten years. When contracts started ending in the 90s, a lot of companies did not want to renew. The reasons for this are not so cut and dry. For some companies it was simply too expensive while others did not feel like they were really benefitting from their sponsorship. Disney usually found new sponsors but that was not always the case. Eventually, Disney started to shut down some of the pavilions that were not sponsored, though a lucky few managed to keep running without a sponsor at all.
So what is the problem? Well, with the dwindling number of sponsors, keeping up with these pavilions is becoming more and more expensive. As time goes on, the pavilions become more outdated. This is a big problem because so much of Future World’s focus is on technology and the evolution of science. In recent years, Disney has begun to find ways to counter these issues. The Living Seas lost its sponsorship in the late 90s but due to the fact that the pavilion is a large aquarium, Disney could not simply close it down. For years the pavilion went unsponsored until 2003 when Pixar’s highly successful film Finding Nemo was released. After this, Disney slowly started re-theming the pavilion with Nemo and friends. Over time the pavilion has evolved into The Seas with Nemo & Friends. This proved to be very successful for Disney but the addition of Disney IP in a pavilion has introduced a new issue.
Even though Epcot is a Disney park, it was not intended to be like Magic Kingdom with the inclusion of all things Disney. In fact, the addition of Nemo has actually begun to upset many fans. This makes Epcot start to seem a little confusing when you look at the theming of the park. The Land, for example, is a pavilion that includes no Disney characters and is dedicated to rides and experiences pertaining to the earth. The Living Seas went from being the under water equivalent to being a Finding Nemo land. Can the two live together and make sense? Should The land pavilion turn into something pertaining to Lion King to remain relevant?
Ultimately this has made things easier for Disney because the educational interactive experiences are now becoming more centered around entertainment. Rather than experiences being specifically about tech or education, they are now starting to be about having fun experiences with familiar Disney characters. Over time, this has begun to happen more and more with additions like the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure and the soon to come Frozen Ever After ride.
I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad idea. I actually quite like these additions but that does not distract from the fact that Epcot is now suffering from an identity crisis. Many pavilions are still dated and need improvements or replacements. Innoventions is a famous example of a pavilion is desperate need of a facelift. As much as I personally love this pavilion, I cannot help but feel like it lags miles behind other parts of the park.
While The World Showcase seems to be in good shape still, Future World is begging for some attention. In Disney’s defense, they have started to slowly address some of these concerns. Captain EO closed down this past Winter (Rest In Peace) and we are expecting to hear an announcement later this year about what Disney plans to do with the pavilion. If Disney continues to embrace this idea of bringing Disney themed attractions and experiences to Epcot, the park could be a completely new experience in the next decade. While it is exciting to think about what Disney may do in the coming years, it is apparent that for now, we will just have to accept the awkward transition stage that the park seems to be in. Hopefully we will one day see additions like the much rumored Inside Out reimagining of Cranium Command, or better yet, the Ratatouille ride from Disneyland Paris would be a great addition to the France pavilion in The World Showcase!