If one were to build the ideal community, what would be the necessary components? Some might say it ought to have enough technological efficiency and resources to support everyone. Others might say a diverse community which welcomes people from around the world. It seems as though there isn’t yet a perfect community in the world, making the pursuit of such a community of the utmost importance.
It was with this in mind that Walt Disney, fresh off his success with the California theme park Disneyland, conceived the idea for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, abbreviated as E.P.C.O.T. (and later changed to “Epcot”). I had the pleasure of visiting Epcot this January.
This is a continuation of my series of posts covering my January visit to Walt Disney World. To read the first part, in which I visit the Magic Kingdom, click here. Today, we’ll be visiting Epcot, Walt Disney’s dream for a perfect global community. For context, here is a map of Epcot.
The original idea for E.P.C.O.T. was a bright-eyed dream of the future. Walt Disney described this community in a film about his plans for Disney World. (A long version can be found here, but the E.P.C.O.T. excerpt can be found here.) As he put it:
EPCOT will be an experimental prototype community of tomorrow that will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.
The future, as Epcot would have us believe, depends on innovation and internationalism. Given these two founding principles, Epcot is divided into two parts: Future World and the World Showcase.
Spaceship Earth is the perfect introduction to the first goal of Epcot; technological innovation. Spaceship Earth chronicles inventions throughout the history of man. We see the heiroglyphs, the Library of Alexandria, the Romans, the Greeks, the printing press, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the invention of film… right up to today. All the while, actress Judi Dench provides a fun and informative voiceover guiding us through it. This voiceover was formerly done by Jeremy Irons, with an entirely different and more mature script.
The ride ends with a screen in your cart with asking a variety of questions and then designing a future based on your answers (i.e. if I were to say how much I liked travel, then the screen would show me a future in which travel was easily accessible). It’s neat, but can come across a little campy. But the whole point of Future World is to show us the future.
Speaking of which, the ride empties into an atrium, a section called “Project Tomorrow.” On display are various potential technologies, further in line with the theme of the future. I should have gotten better pictures of Project Tomorrow, but hey, here’s a cool picture of a car. (I’m a sucker for red cars.)
But red cars is a good transition to Test Track. Test Track is an amazing car-themed thrill ride. The idea behind it also relates to the theme, as it is a safety simulation test for a car. This is the fastest moving ride in all four parks, at one point moving from 0 to 60 MPH in 2.8 seconds.
When I went in 2006, I went on Test Track for my first time. And my second. And my third, and my fourth. I was so enamored with the ride, and given the advantage of a fast-moving single-rider line, my family was able to ride it forever (just not together). It’s a fun time.
There’s not much to say about Mission Space. Apollo 13 star Gary Sinise plays a NASA employee who briefs you about a mission to their new base on Mars. The ride moves and spins and has you press certain buttons depending on what position you’re assigned (commander, navigator, pilot, or engineer). There’s an option between the Orange ride or the Green ride, the difference being that Orange is more is more intense, spinning more rapidly. It’s nice that Disney gives the option for people who perhaps get motion sick but are interested in the idea, but I felt a little judged by the employees who saw me get on the Green ride.
This picture is from The Land pavilion. The Land is host to two wonderful rides. There is Living with the Land, which is an informative water-ride which shows various set-ups relating to American Agriculture. It starts off as just looking at these various scenes of farming, but eventually winds into a greenhouse, where Epcot is performing research into plants and how they can be made more efficient. It’s neat to see scientific research being done on Disney property.
The other necessary stop in the Land pavilion is Soarin’, a ride that shows bird’s-eye-view images of California, and lifts up your seats to give the sensation as though you’re flying. This ride is just a very pleasant time. We couldn’t go, as it was under renovation; it seems as though they’re changing what was formerly called “Soarin’ over California” to “Soarin’ over the World,” which will effectively broaden the content.
And then, we were off to the World Showcase. First stop was Mexico.
In Mexico, there’s a ride that gives off a fun and neat It’s a Small World vibe.
Then, we were onto Norway. There’s quite a bit to say about Norway.
Norway has been the spot of frustration recently. There was a beautiful water-ride, called the Maelstrom that showed a tour of the country, featuring recreations of beautiful icy seas, polar bears, snow-capped mountains, and of course, trolls. Tourists were greeted with the eerie call of “You are not the first to pass this way, nor shall you be the last.”
This voiceover was wrong twice. In 1988, someone was the first, and in 2014, someone was the last. The Maelstrom is being cleared out to make way for a Frozen-themed ride. Many over the age of 10 are unhappy about this. It goes against what that part of the park stands for, a world culture. Making way for these fictional characters who are pseudo-Scandinavian will require WDW to write out the narrative of real, Norwegian people. But whatever. That’s the way money works, I suppose.
Anyhow, there was a lot of cool stuff in the China section.
This was the ceiling inside the China building. We got to explore the building as we waited to watch a film about China. As we saw in the film, China is a nation with much natural and architectural beauty. Places like the Yellow Mountains and the Great Wall; I wished to visit these places before watching the film about China, and now, my desire to visit is twofold. This is part of what makes World Showcase great: it encourages an international community.
This is a replica of the Terracotta Army.
Das ist Germany!
We talked to a bunch of people who were visiting for WDW’s Marathon Weekend. There were various events throughout the weekend, including a quarter marathon, a half marathon, and on the last day, a full marathon through all four parks. There were a handful of stories of people who would be far enough ahead in the marathon, to the point where they would stop running, get on line for a roller coaster, ride it, and then continue running. And of course, we heard of at least one person who, while running through Epcot, stopped by Germany for a beer.
A brief stroll through Italy.
This is the United States section. The main attraction in America was the American Adventure. The American Adventure features animatronic recreations of Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain, talking about American history and what it is to be American. It’s a cool concept, but does not quite outshine Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents.
Similar to the Hall of Presidents, American Adventure acknowledges that American history isn’t perfect. As an American, let me say that Americans tend to have an almost self-important view of the world; we boast of freedom like we created it and think that we’re the best nation in the world. Surely, American Democracy created a template for other countries, but that doesn’t change our treatment of Native Americans or slaves, as highlighted in both Hall of Presidents and American Adventure. Point being, good on you, American Adventure!
This is Morocco. It’s interesting to note the Moorish architecture. Morocco is the only country from the continent of Africa to be represented. It was added in 1984. (There is a small section called the “Outpost” which seems to be intended to represent the continent, but is more reminiscent of European colonization of Africa. I asked my father, who knows the parks better than anyone, which country this was supposed to be and he just said “Africa.” I forgot to snap a picture of it, but check here to get an idea of what it is and what it looks like.)
I have to wonder about what thought process went into picking the countries that would become a part of the world’s showcase. It is odd to think that a countries like India, Russia, Brazil, Greece, South Africa, or Ireland (Or, most of the continent of Africa) were not represented here. These all seem to have a distinctive culture which would make for excellent attractions. Some might say that there was the intention to give these countries a place in the park, but there wasn’t quite enough room. But this article states otherwise, proposing a plan for where to put the rest of them, and mentioning other potential candidates that have been rumored in the past few years: Spain, Russia, Israel, Equatorial Africa, Denmark, Costa Rica, the United Arab Emirates, and Switzerland. Elsewhere, there are rumors of Puerto Rico joining the park.
Now, as far as African and Asian countries are concerned, they are able to find some representation at the Animal Kingdom, which showcases animals from around the world, but particularly from places outside of North America. In representing a culture, the people should be represented, but I suppose that animals are more than nothing.
While I’m being a little hard on Epcot, let me give them credit and bring up a trend I saw; at almost every country we stopped, I noticed that the stations were manned by people who were originally from that country. Now, I bet that if I were to explore each section thoroughly enough, I’d find at least one person from somewhere else, but for the most part, but by having most of them represent their own cultures gives a flavor of authenticity, and likely provides incentive for the employees to do their job well.
This, of course, is France. A lovely little area. Just as there is with every part of the World’s Showcase, there was a store selling French memorabilia. We wouldn’t have stopped at this store, but my dad enjoyed making a game out of it. “Let’s go in there and find the most expensive bottle of wine!” (It was kept behind glass, with a sign that said something like “Ask at counter for price.”)
One thing I noticed about this store was that they were selling Ratatouille merchandise. Ratatouille, if you have the misfortune of not knowing, was a charming little film about a rat with great taste who wanders the streets of Paris, complaining how it’s hard for him (being that he’s, y’know, a rat,) to get good food, and thus embarks on a quest to become a master chef. The movie really excels at making use of Parisian setting, and it’s a classic.
But this brings me to my concern. Seeing Ratatouille in that store made me realize a pattern that I hadn’t noticed throughout that day. In France, there was lots of Ratatouille; in China, it was Mulan; In Morocco, Aladdin; and Norway would soon have Frozen. Now, I don’t know if this is done exclusively to boost merchandise sales, or if these characters and countries matching up are just a coincidence.
There. I should be done complaining.
Here’s Canada! There’s another informational movie here, a comical one with Martin Short. It’s neat. I prefer the other films for France and China which take a more serious approach, but the Canada film has its benefits.
Here, we have a great example of forced perspective. The building appears very large, but really isn’t. The windows at the bottom are much larger than the windows at the top, giving the idea that they get larger as they go up. It’s pretty impressive.
After that, we took the ferry back to the Swan (that swanky hotel in the first picture) and went to dinner. Overall, it was a wonderful day.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for Epcot. Sure, it’s flawed, but maybe that’s bound to happen. Maybe trying to envision an ideal world is more important than getting every detail about perfect. Sure, some groups aren’t yet represented, but maybe that will change in the future. I hope it will. Only time will tell, I suppose.
While writing all this, I had a moment wondering just how much this matters; this is only a theme park, after all. So they didn’t make a Little India, or a Little Egypt, or they’re changing things about Little Norway. So what? But in many ways, it’s a lot more important than just that. This was envisioned to be the world’s ideal community, which people have been striving for since Plato’s Republic. This makes it so much more than just a theme park.
You want to call Magic Kingdom a fun afternoon for kids? Fine. You want to call Hollywood Studios just a place for film buffs? Fine. You want to call Animal Kingdom a zoo with rides? Fine. But don’t undersell Epcot’s goals. As I said in the introduction, the pursuit of a perfect community is more important than actually establishing such a community. There is no pursuit nobler than working for a better world.