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Is Educational Entertainment Dead at Walt Disney World?

Is the educational vision dead?

"A Whole New Galaxy is coming to Epcot" sign

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

While Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom are both heading in fairly predictable directions likely to do well for those parks (especially with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge), what is to become of Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom?

It would be fairly difficult—bizarre, even—for Disney to scrub the educational components from Animal Kingdom. The entire park surrounds a vision of education about nature and conservation, and even in The World of Pandora, this theme is still reinforced. While there is no doubt the park will continue to transform for years to come, certainly bringing more intellectual properties, it seems a safe bet that Animal Kingdom will continue to carry educational theming for the long term, at least in regards to its animal residents and conservation efforts.

What about Epcot though?

The future of Epcot is where things get really murky. At D23 2017, Disney committed to a long term and intensive reimagining of Epcot. On one hand, Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts has said, “We want to keep it true to the original vision while making it more timeless, more relevant, more family-[friendly], and more Disney.” There’s a splinter of hope to hold to the original intent of the park, which implies educational attractions. Epcot’s annual festivals certainly are still running with this idea.

However, Don Dorsey, the creator of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, has voiced skepticism: “The original vision for Walt’s EPCOT is long gone. Even the subsequent revisions have fallen by the wayside. The world is moving and evolving way too fast for a single futuristic vision to last, so other non-future approaches are required and will succeed and change as needed.”

Looking up steps outside of Mexico pavilion temple

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

It is entirely possible for Disney’s shift to intellectual property focus to coincide with the educational vision: for example, a Beauty and the Beast sing-along coming to the France pavilion has potential for a mixture of the two. Character meet and greets help stir children’s interest in the countries those characters are from and create an opportunity for learning. The rumor mill surrounding Epcot pumps out wild possibilities almost weekly, from a Future World-themed resort to potential for a long-awaited new pavilion to be added to World Showcase.

However, one has to truly wonder if we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as changes to come. What would a Future World without any focus on the future look like? Will the idea breathe fresh life or doom the park to become a stagnant copy of Magic Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios? Are original story-attractions like Test Track, Mission: SPACE, Living with the Land, and Soarin’ Around the World safe, or is it only a matter of time before these are scrubbed in the name of intellectual property promotion? For Spaceship Earth, in particular, the future looks disconcertingly dodgy.

As a whole, the future of Walt Disney World holds great promise, and we are genuinely excited about a majority of the projects they have lined up. At the same time, one can’t help but wonder if we are witnessing the slow death of that special component of Walt Disney World that made education magical… We will have to wait and see.

What do you think about the shifts away from educational entertainment at Disney parks?

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