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Let’s Face It: It’s Time to Bring Characters to Epcot. This is How We Got Here.

The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are mine alone, and are in no way representative of those of Theme Park Tourist or its entire staff.

Since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, a visit to “Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom” meant a journey into the “worlds of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” Whether at Disneyland or its younger sister, Magic Kingdom, the idea of “Disney” as a place was synonymous with princesses and pirates; castles and characters; Peter Pan and Snow White, with Mickey always on-hand.

When it debuted on October 1, 1982, the whole point of EPCOT Center was that it was something different; something revolutionary; something brave. EPCOT Center would dispense with those tried-and-true fantasy connections in favor of a “permanent World’s Fair” rooted in a radical new thesis:

Image: Disney

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.”

Time and time again, we here at Theme Park Tourist have recounted the unusual origin story of EPCOT Center, and time and time again, we’ve watched the transformation of its one-time headlining attractions into monolithic Lost Legends: The Living Seas; Kitchen Kabaret; Journey into Imagination; World of Motion; Body Wars; Universe of Energy.

We won’t bother recounting the story of Epcot here, because the end result is the same: One-by-one, EPCOT Center’s ‘80s anchors have been toppled. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is the spirit that’s been lost along the way…

Unity

Image: Disney

In World Showcase, EPCOT Center features World’s Fair-stylized pavilions, each dedicated to select nations around the globe. For today, let’s leave behind any talk of which countries are present, or why, or the attractions they contain. Zooming out, the point of World Showcase is clear: harmony; strength in differences; global unity.” A single thread runs through the seemingly disconnected countries of World Showcase, painting a picture of life on earth.

Believe it or not, that same kind of thread runs through Future World, too. In the park’s northern half, it offered pavilions dedicated to areas of science, technology, industry, and enterprise… at its peak:

  • Communicore (innovation)
  • The Living Seas (ocean exploration)
  • The Land (agriculture)
  • Spaceship Earth (communication)
  • World of Motion (transportation)
  • Wonders of Life (health and medicine)
  • Universe of Energy (energy)

Image: Disney

The brilliance of Future World has always been its simplicity; mega-sized pavilions, each dedicated to a grand, incomprehensibly complex area of human innovation, with most boasting a lengthy, informative, epic-scale dark ride through that area of innovation from human’s earliest explorations to the future. But the connection between them went even deeper.

One take on the EPCOT Center set-up is provided by way of the “capstone” pavilion – the Lost Legend: Horizons – meant to unite them all. In Horizons, the true “thesis” of Future World is made clear: our future depends on all of those seemingly disconnected topics explored elsewhere in Future World; they’re each a single piece of a much larger puzzle (assembled in Horizons); each a single slice of a pie chart that builds to show the role of science, technology, and innovation in human society.

EPCOT Center, Universe of Energy, Spaceship Earth, Wonders of Life, The Land, The Living Seas, Horizons, World of Motion, Communicore, Imagination. Image: Disney

Okay, so that’s heavy. But look no further than the brilliant (and still prevalent on “throwback” merchandise) visual lingo designers crafted for this park. Each pavilion was represented by a circular emblem and a distinct color, assembling to literally form the larger logo of EPCOT Center. That’s no accident. Though each might offer different attractions and different architectural styles, and different focuses chosen by different sponsors, Future World was all about unity.

That unity has collapsed. And like it or not, Disney characters may be the best chance of bringing it back. Don’t believe me? Keep reading…

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