Epcot ‘Reimagining’ Details Announced

Epcot is going to be reimagined, and details have been shared about some of what that will entail for Walt Disney World’s second gate.

The big news Guardians of the Galaxy replacing the Universe of Energy (which will close August 13, 2017) as what appears to be a total overhaul of Future World. In addition to an aesthetic overhaul of Future World, this will also include substantive changes and additions to both Future World and World Showcase.

This was just announced during the Walt Disney Parks & Resorts panel at the 2017 D23 Expo in Anaheim. This was easily the most announcement-dense D23 Expo ever, and we’ll have updates on everything in the very near future…

In addition, it was confirmed that a Ratatouille dark ride (see our Ratatouille Trackless Dark Ride Coming to Epcot post for more info) will be added to the France pavilion.

From the concept art (see below), it appears that the permits uncovered were correct, and the Ratatouille dark ride will be an expansion to the France pavilion.

Both the new Guardians of the Galaxy attraction and the Ratatouille dark ride will open by 2021, according to the Disney Parks Blog.

Also announced was a new ‘green’ version of Mission: Space that will have guests orbiting our planet. It was described by Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald as “Soarin: Around the Earth.” This is being created by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Lucasfilm’s VFX and animation studio.

Directly adjacent to that will be a new themed “Space Restaurant” that will offer guests the opportunity to travel into space for amazing dining experiences with views into the stars.

The new space restaurant will be operated by the Patina Restaurant Group, which has multiple other restaurants at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

The only other World Showcase announcement was that Reflections of China, the classic CircleVision attraction, will be receiving a new film, shot with state of the art technology.

Tom Fitzgerald also teased that there was a lot he wanted to share about Epcot, but that some of the plans needed to be shared at a later date. We are pretty confident that several other rumors on our 8 Huge Epcot Rumors list will be part of this overhaul.

The inference was that the goal was to have Epcot’s reimagining complete in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021…

My Reaction

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 my Why We Can’t Let EPCOT Go post, I think I succinctly (at least as far as my writing goes) 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. I won’t rehash all of that here, but I will cover some thoughts on this latest announcement, specifically.

Okay, I will say a bit more…

I’ll start with the good. The first thing they shared–the piece of concept art showing a new aesthetic vision for Future World–gave me goosebumps.

Even though there are a lot of vague brushstrokes and it’s hard to tell what, exactly, is happening in some areas, this art feels reminiscent of Ryman’s original EPCOT Center art and some of what was created for WESTCOT. Perhaps that was an intentional choice to tug at the heartstrings and give it unearned goodwill (in which case, it work), but it was oddly reassuring.

It was probably reassuring, at least in part, because it signified that key parts of Epcot are not changing, and there’s the potential for reinvention in areas that have stagnated and are showing their age–I’m looking at you, tombstones and pin trading shades.

I was also relieved to see that Guardians of the Galaxy would be occupying the existing Universe of Energy building. Don’t get me wrong–I am not excited to see Guardians of the Galaxy enter Epcot–but if it’s going to happen, at least it’s not visually intrusive like at Disney California Adventure.

Likewise, I can get behind the changes at Mission: Space and the addition of the Space Restaurant. Mission: Space is hardly anyone’s favorite attraction, and breathing some life into a concept that has so much (squandered) potential is definitely something I can get behind.

As for Ratatouille coming to France, I’ve already offered extensive commentary on that in our recent post on the attraction. I don’t think it’s the best attraction, but with some tweaks, it could be great. The concept art also looks promising, and it’ll be a nice expansion to France.

A closing date for Impressions de France is conspicuously missing from the Parks Blog post (the same one that does provide a closing for Universe of Energy), so I’m wondering if maybe we won’t lose it? I’m still preparing myself for the worst–I would personally miss that great film, but I can recognize that it has had a good run.

In other World Showcase news, I can get behind a new Reflections of China film. I just hope someone besides Tom Fitzgerald is behind this. We do not need Reflections of CGIna.

Now, the bad. The whole concept of Guardians of the Galaxy in Epcot bothers me. I also find it downright insulting that Tom Fitzgerald used a “found photo” of a young Starlord at Epcot to help explain how the attraction fits.

If someone visiting EPCOT Center makes them thematically appropriate for an attraction in the park, you should all look forward to a ride based on my great grandpa reciting passages from Reader’s Digest in the near future.

I get that Disney is making decision for Epcot with a larger demographic than hardcore fans in mind, but do not insult us by making up some excuse as to how this fits the original vision for EPCOT Center.

It does not matter how much lipstick you put on it or layers of backstory are flung onto the walls of the queue and post-show, a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction has no place in Future World. These characters are an inorganic fit for Future World, and any attraction featuring them necessarily will be shoehorned into Epcot.

I can already anticipate the responses defending these additions: that Future World is stale, that the edutainment component of the original EPCOT Center has failed, that people go to theme parks to be entertained. I think these are some fair, but arguable, points. That’s why I’m so eager for a reboot of Future World–I just want one that stays true to the spirit of the original.

I’d add more to that: the edutainment component of EPCOT Center “failed” because of an extreme imbalance in the nature of attraction and due to Disney ignoring Epcot for decades. Moreover, pure “entertainment” attractions that were shoehorned in were likewise failures.

Finally, educational topics are as relevant as ever. As with anything else, it’s a matter of presentation.In their heyday, the original EPCOT Center attractions resonated with guests, who learned something while being entertained. Learning has not suddenly become boring. “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” was watched by an audience in the hundreds of millions. Americans are transfixed by SpaceX’s every move, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is treated like a rock star. The tech companies of Silicon Valley are a driving force of American innovation, and they rank as some of the world’s most admired companies.

As such, my ultimate conclusion would not be that Epcot needs thrill rides or a new mission statement to be relevant. Future World stopped being “relevant” when Disney started ignoring its mission statement, not due to that mission statement being broken. The problems Epcot faces today were not caused by its lofty ambitions, but of Disney “updating” it by shoehorning in characters and going the cheap route on keeping the park fresh.

Edutainment remains as viable as ever. What isn’t viable is trotting out woefully outdated attractions, shoehorning characters into existing attractions in a half-baked manner as a bandaid, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new attractions that are just flat out weak.

I really hope that the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction replacing Universe of Energy will be great. I suspect it will be, as the rumors about it indicate it has a real wow-factor. However, it still perturbs me, and that this is deemed appropriate for the park makes me question the long-term vision for Epcot.

I also worry that this approach of ‘putting whatever, wherever’ will have long term consequences. The net result is that 10-20 years from now every park will look the same: like a hodgepodge of attractions not designed with theme in mind, but on the basis of which franchise could fit where in any given year. If all four parks follow the Magic Kingdom model because it’s the most “successful” park at Walt Disney World, it weakens and cheapens all of them.

For Epcot fans, I know it might be easy to accept attractions that are poor fits if it means a significant overhaul to the park, as the park has been neglected for so long. Surely, whatever is to come must be better than the current stagnation, particularly in Future World, right? Personally, I do not think so.

The park needing significant changes (and I don’t think that’s in dispute) does not mean we should just gladly accept whatever. Theme still matters, especially at the most unique theme park ever created. After years of stagnation, the answer to Epcot’s problems does not lie with quick shots in the arm, but with a comprehensive vision that re-establishes its unique identity in ways that entertain and capture the imaginations of guests.

On the plus side, I think we are also going to get that. I’m optimistic (perhaps to a fault?) that some of the yet-unannounced reimagining of Epcot will maintain the original spirit of the park, and serve to further the original vision for the park. I suspect that Imagineering wants to toe the line with changes to Epcot, adding some crowd-pleasing favorites that do not fit, while also attempting to reinvent the park in the spirit of EPCOT Center’s original vision. The former is clearly going to happen. Whether I’m just delusional about the latter or not remains to be seen.

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Your Thoughts

What do you think of the Epcot 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!

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