At the 2019 D23 Expo Parks & Resorts panel, new details were revealed about the transformation of EPCOT, what we can expect as party of the radical overhaul of Future World, and when Walt Disney World guests will be able to enjoy all of this. Let’s get started, because we have a lot of details to share, plus my reactions to all of this big news.
First up is that Epcot’s Future World will be no more, replaced with three new neighborhoods: World Celebration, World Nature and World Discovery. These neighborhoods will pair with World Showcase and be filled with new innovative experiences and destinations, where the real is made fantastic in a celebration of curiosity, hands-on wonder and the magic of possibility.
World Celebration is essentially the central spine of EPCOT, and will offer new experiences that connect us to one another and the world around us. Spaceship Earth will remain the flagship attraction of the park’s core, presenting a voyage through time that now showcases the power of storytelling to unite the human experience.
New narration and an entirely new musical score will focus on the moments and ideas that define our story. Guests will follow a magical “story light” that brings the entire experience to life in dynamic ways, giving each scene energy and beauty that ties the entire journey together.
Disney hasn’t posted concept art online for the reimagined Spaceship Earth, but what was shared on-screen at the Expo showcased an animated version of the first few scenes of the ride, along with the glowing story light overhead. Per Bob Chapek, the current scenes that begin the attraction will be joined by new scenes–but no further details were provided beyond that.
Upon exiting Spaceship Earth, there will be a breathtaking new view of World Showcase from Dreamers Point, which will also feature a statue of Walt Disney seated on a curb (pictured below at the top of the “My Reaction” section). This area will also feature natural environments, a wishing tree in an enchanted forest, and a story fountain playing Disney music.
World Celebration will also be home to a new pavilion for live events, and the home base for Epcot’s signature festivals. Basically, this sounds like a new festival center now that the Wonders of Life is being converted to the Play Pavilion.
This new pavilion will be a three-level structure will have one of the most remarkable architectural designs at any Disney park, featuring a plaza level, a middle expo level, and a park that sits in the sky on the top level. The upper garden will provide a stunning elevated view of the entire park and an ideal view of Epcot’s new nighttime spectacular.
Finally, as previously shared, the park’s entrance plaza feature a reimagined fountain, new pathways, and sweeping green spaces that beautify the entryway and pay homage to the origins of EPCOT. No timeline was given for the debut of the new World Celebration, but we’re assuming it rolls out in phases, with most major sections between Spaceship Earth and World Showcase likely debuting at the tail end of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration.
Moving on to World Nature, which is dedicated to understanding and preserving the beauty, awe and balance of the natural world. This neighborhood will include the Land and The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilions. (And presumably, Journey into Imagination, although the presentation was silent as to its fate.)
As previously announced, this area will also be home to the new Journey of Water, inspired by Moana. This lush exploration trail will invite guests to meet and play with magical, living water. The water will have a life of its own – just like Moana’s friend, the ocean – and you’ll learn about the importance of the natural water cycle.
The Land pavilion’s new film, “Awesome Planet,” which showcases the beauty, diversity and dynamic story of the planet, will debut in January 2020. Although this post focuses on Future World, Disney also announced that the new Canada and Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along films will also debut in January 2020 during Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts.
Finally, World Discovery. This neighborhood showcases stories about science, technology and intergalactic adventure. This area is home to Test Track, Play Pavilion, Mission: Space, and the first “other-world” showcase pavilion at Epcot, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
This is the new name of the Guardians of the Galaxy story coaster, and a few new tidbits were released about it. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind begins in the “Galaxarium,” a planetarium-like exhibition that explores the similarities and mysteries of the formation of Earth’s galaxy and Xandar.
Guests are invited to learn more about the treasures Xandar has to share, until the moment when the Guardians of the Galaxy arrive, and adventures across the cosmos ensue. The Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attraction will feature a new innovation from Imagineering: a storytelling coaster that rotates 360 degrees to focus your attention on the action, including the first reverse launch on a Disney coaster.
Finally, Disney has given a new name to the space restaurant that will be located adjacent to Mission: Space and, sadly, it’s not Mission: Plates. The new restaurant will be called Space 220, and that inferior name was probably chosen so demand for ADRs does not reach stratospheric heights.
Space 220 will be a culinary experience featuring the celestial panorama of a space station, including daytime and nighttime views of Earth from 220 miles up. Guests will board a special elevator for a journey to a space station that is home to an incredible dining experience. Along the way, viewports will give you a real-time perspective as you travel high above the planet. The opening timeframe for Space 220 remains “this winter.”
I’m not really how much I can say about Epcot, its mission statement, and its loft aspirations that I have not already said in myriad posts over the last several years, most recently in our Moana Attraction & More Announced for EPCOT Transformation, which covered the broad brushstrokes of the new Future World concept art.
Before that, I succinctly covered why so many of the changes to Epcot made in the last two decades miss the mark, and why this park is so important in my Why We Can’t Let EPCOT Go post. I won’t rehash all of that here, but I will cover some thoughts on this latest announcement, specifically.
There are some elements of the EPCOT transformation that make my eyes roll. Specifically, Dreamers Point and the new statue of Walt Disney. It strikes me as hollow and transparent–much like using a Walt Disney quote about progress to justify adding characters to somewhere they don’t belong.
More and more, it feels like Walt Disney is a corporate mascot to give ‘cover’ to various, potentially controversial changes. It’s an easy and mostly superficial way to score points with fans, sort of like the original pavilion logos. The D23 Expo audience went absolutely nuts for this Walt Disney statue, so maybe I’m alone in my jaded and cynical perspective.
In general, I’m also disappointed by the lack of substance. Perhaps I feel this way because we already spent a lot of time in the EPCOT booth on the show floor watching the montage video and examining that concept art, and perhaps it’s because I pay attention to Walt Disney World rumors (almost all of which have been on the money and provided more detail about EPCOT’s future).
The jury is still out on Spaceship Earth’s overhaul (although it wasn’t explicitly stated, we’re assuming the longstanding 2-Year Spaceship Earth Overhaul Rumors are accurate–get your last rides on the current version as soon as possible!) We also don’t know what’s going to happen with Journey into Imagination. It would appear I got my hopes up there for no reason, and am now actively worried about its future since literally nothing was mentioned about it in the presentation.
With that said, my overall impressions of the aesthetic style of Future World’s redesign, in a broad and sweeping sense, are generally positive. As I’ve said elsewhere, Future World has felt like a dead mall for the better part of a decade. There was a time when the design of Communicore, the lush landscape, and water features made this area beautiful and inspiring. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case since before the Millennium Celebration.
The area’s central spine that runs between EPCOT’s entrance and World Showcase lagoon has been limping along without any cohesive vision for even longer than that. It’s been a duct tape approach with new paint schemes, whirlygigs, and other aesthetic flourishes trying to fake a sense of life and kinetic energy.
“I think it’s interesting that when EPCOT Center opened, it was pretty much a given that the future world (lower case) would be a “hard” landscape of concrete, steel, and glass. That was what progress looked like to Walt Disney (and countless futurists, science fiction authors, movie producers, etc.) throughout the majority of the 20th century. Sure, elements of the nature world would be present, but they would be tamed and constrained — whether in a water tank, a modern high-tech greenhouse, etc. Even World Showcase represents the “urban” version of all of the featured countries.
I feel like beyond the IP draw, this Moana attraction shows Disney continuing to adjust to a shift in how our culture views the future — where once nature was an enemy for humankind to subdue, most of us now recognize that we are interconnected with the natural environment and that a healthy symbiosis will be an element of an “idealized” future (which Epcot still represents in some ways).”
Towards the end of that, you’ll see that the current trends include sustainable and eco-friendly design, plus a variety of futuristic skyscrapers. Obviously, the latter is not a viable option for EPCOT (although that could help explain-away the hideous Guardians of the Galaxy show building!), leaving options that embrace and harness the natural environment.
While some examples of sustainable design are chic, trendy, and (arguably) vapid, there is also a lot of innovation in this realm. Architects and urban planners are starting to leverage these styles out of necessity to lessen their environmental impact and make more inviting spaces.
Previously, we pointed to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art as an example of potential inspiration for the festival center that will be built in Future World. This is one of many popping up around cities like Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and elsewhere. Perhaps the best example of all is Disney’s own Villages Nature Paris, which opened a couple of years ago and embraces this form of futurism.
Evolving perspectives of futurism aside, I think Disney’s best themed areas are, at their core, reassuring and welcoming. In recent posts about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we’ve talked about romanticized design versus gritty authenticity. Even though it’s not themed to a specific time or place, Future World absolutely falls into the former category of romanticized spaces.
At its best, Future World (or these new neighborhoods, if you’d prefer) should represent our best hopes and dreams for the future. As much as I love mid-century modern, brutalism, and other styles from around the time when EPCOT Center was built, I think tastes and real-world concerns that inform design have changed radically in the last several decades. For me, this aesthetic transformation reflects that–or at least it could. Change is really difficult, especially when it comes to EPCOT, but I’m optimistic that the new-look Future World will embody the spirit of EPCOT Center’s original vision. Maybe I’m naive or delusional, but the alternative to hopefulness is simply saying goodbye to EPCOT, and I’m not ready to do that.
What do you think of the Epcot Future World neighborhood announcement at the D23 Expo? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment that this is not the change that Epcot needs? Are you excited about this, or do you wish Epcot would return to the vision of the EPCOT Center era? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!