The 2019 D23 Expo kicks off today, and there’s already big news for Walt Disney World! Specifically, some of what’s coming to the reimagined Epcot. This includes a new Moana attraction that will be part of the transformation of Future World. In this post, we’ll take a look at the old and new concept art, and offer some thoughts about what we know thus far about the future of Future World.
It should be no surprise that Epcot is a focus of the 2019 D23 Expo, as Disney has been teasing a reimagined Epcot for nearly 3 years, and announced in recent months that all would be revealed at this year’s D23 Expo. What is interesting is that Disney is getting a jump start on the festivities by releasing concept art and making announcements prior to the event officially beginning and long before Sunday’s Disney Parks, Experiences and Products keynote panel.
Walt Disney World already sort of tipped its hand as to what’s happening in Future World last month thanks to a slew of closures that were quietly announced. We covered these in our Closing at Epcot: Club Cool, Starbucks, Electric Umbrella, MouseGear, Fountain of Nations, Etc post. Suffice to say, a lot is temporarily or permanently closing on September 8, 2019. Well, now we know what’s replacing some of this: Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana.
Journey of Water is the first-ever attraction based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios hit film, Moana. This water maze will be a lush environment where guests can interact with magical, living water in a beautiful and inspiring setting. Moana: Journey of Water will more or less replace Innoventions West, which has been rumored to be demolished for the last several months.
While I like the idea of a water maze in Future World in theory, I’m not wild about more intellectual property in Epcot. I understand that it’s going to happen and have accepted the reality that a big part of this transformation is going to be a disappointment for me. Even though the version of EPCOT Center I loved has been dead for a while, it’s still tough to say goodbye.
With that said, I’m also of the belief that Walt Disney World is trying the thread the needle with Epcot, appealing to both one-time visitors, who may want characters and not much else, and longtime fans. Or at least, I want to believe this. My worry is that the additions for the general public will be hundred million dollar attractions that have nothing to do with the spirit of Epcot, while fans get an old Communicore logo on the back of a new trash can.
I don’t doubt there will be some cheesy fan service, but I’m also hopeful longtime EPCOT Center fans will receive some encouraging announcements of substance. This part of me is inclined to believe this Moana news was quietly pushed before the D23 Expo began, and well before the Parks & Resorts panel on Sunday, so it didn’t put a damper on other announcements (in other words, they know their audience).
This is probably naive, wishful thinking but I’m hoping that’s the case. I’m hoping the Epcot panel highlights the elements of this overhaul that will appeal to the fans attending the convention, and we’ll hear about the specifics of the Future World overhaul, new attractions/pavilions (the show floor makes it look as if two ‘attraction posters’ are waiting to be revealed). Perhaps we’ll even get big news about another journey at Epcot…
Next, we’ll be able to preview this new Moana: Journey of Water attraction, along with everything else coming to the reimagined Future World beginning on October 1, 2019 at Epcot in the Odyssey Events Pavilion, which will become “Walt Disney Imagineering presents the Epcot Experience.”
Inside Imagineering’s Epcot Experience, there will be engaging and interactive exhibits that allow guests to see and, per Disney, “step inside the relentless innovation, energy and excitement and see some never-before-revealed details driving the future of Epcot all throughout this unprecedented period of transformation.”
To us, this sounds a lot like the Blue Sky Cellar, which was an awesome preview of the Disney California Adventure overhaul several years ago. Blue Sky Cellar was used there primarily to highlight the radical transformation of that park’s entrance (sound familiar?) and addition of Cars Land. Epcot Experience is perhaps more interactive, but it’s more or less the same idea.
Finally, above is concept art that Disney has released of the new-look Future World. You might notice that this differs substantially from the concept art shared two years ago. That art was only briefly shared during the Parks & Resorts panel, which suggested it might be subject to change (or at least that Disney wasn’t sufficiently confident in its finality to release a high resolution version online).
This new concept has been released via the Disney Parks Blog, and with construction slated to begin later this year, we’re going to assume this reflects the final plans. For the sake of comparison, below is our photo of the earlier concept art:
After poring over this new Future World concept art for…too long…I’m still not quite sure what to think. One thing I know is that there are still a lot of unknowns ‘hiding’ in the concept art that have yet to be officially revealed.
The high-res art reveals a lot, including what appears to be an elevated building that guests can walk under or over (it’s vaguely reminiscent of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.) This space has been rumored to be everything from a beer garden to a new festival center, and I certainly think the latter would make sense.
As for my reaction to the art, I’m not really sure. It’s the final iteration of the previous concept art and I already ‘reacted’ to that in our Epcot Reimagining Details Announced post a full two years ago. Even before then, I shared a lot of personal thoughts about Epcot, its mission statement, and its loft aspirations in my Why We Can’t Let EPCOT Go post. That details 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. Specifically, I’m disappointed that Fountain of Nations really is disappearing, and the asymmetrical look of Future World thanks to only one Innoventions building is a bit jarring. Definitely a sharp departure from the Future World of EPCOT Center with which I grew up. I also think the layout looks a bit haphazard and doesn’t really do anything innovative in terms of design.
However, Future World has had a dead 1990s mall vibe for way too long, and this concept art does ooze life and vibrance. I’m stopping myself short of saying it feels more optimistic, because there are still a ton of unknowns (hopefully at least some of these are resolved Sunday, or if not, on October 1, 2019). About the only other thing I hope is revived in some form is the light-up pavement; that’s such a simple thing that still mesmerizes guests of all ages.
Since a ‘wait and see’ approach here only requires pausing a couple of days before formulating a reaction (and sticking to it for a lifetime, even if I end up being wrong!), I think I’m going to do that. More than anything else, I want Future World to be an optimistic, inspiring place that recaptures the spirit of EPCOT Center. If the “compromise” to get there is a couple more character attractions, then so be it, I suppose.
This all is, of course, assuming that Future World remains. In an image caption, Walt Disney World teased that this might not be the case, stating that “Epcot will be unified with four neighborhoods that take guests to new destinations where the real is made fantastic in a celebration of curiosity, hands-on wonder and the magic of possibility.” I guess we’re in store for a lot more surprises between now and Sunday. Stay tuned!
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What do you think of the Moana: Journey of Water attraction? Does more intellectual property being added to Epcot bother you, or do you think that ship sailed a while ago? Does this concept art look appealing to you? Do you agree or disagree with our reaction/assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!