Saturday, March 26, 2016

How I'd Fix Future World

An anonymous commenter on this site's Tumblr asked, "How would you fix Epcot's future world? Curious. I like your brainstorming."

For the most part, the PI Tumblr is a sort of research blog, full of scraps that might maybe someday be developed enough to merit posting here, but I guess I've thought so much about this prompt that it hit the ground running.

Also, I haven't posted any Imagineering Fanfic on here in a while, and I always feel they age really well and never regret having posted them

Anyway. My six-point plan to fix EPCOT's Future World:

1. I’d embrace its non-fictional subject matter.

I imagine most EPCOT geeks would be on board with me, here. Eisner’s route of apologizing for how “boring” non-fic is with “cool” post-modernism undercuts the source material, underestimates the audience, and ages poorly.  (Obviously, Iger’s route of replacing it with fiction is detestable to anyone who cares about this sort of thing.)

2. I’d enforce an all-ages, approachable tone.

EPCOT Center was perhaps the most ambitious work of location art ever produced, but I think that went to Imagineering’s head.  Their magnificent park had the best of intentions, but often came across as the teacher’s pet mumbling to himself.  Even the buzzword they used to describe their approach, “edutainment,” shows how clumsy they were at this sort of thing.

I’d veer closer to the tone of Bill Bryson’s a Short History of Nearly Everything.  If you haven’t read it, the gist is that Bryson laments how it seemed like his old science textbooks, “wanted to keep the good stuff secret by making all of it soberly unfathomable”--and here, he might as well be name-dropping the original Universe of Energy--so he wrote a book that boils complicated subjects like astronomy, oceanography, and particle physics down into a simple, pleasant read.

It’s accessible, funny in a way that doesn’t overshadow the material, and great at making the wondrous feel wonderful.  That sort of tone would win over the audience, protect the good stuff from being changed, and set a precedent for more good stuff to be added.

3.  I’d avoid futurism within attractions.

Predicting the future is especially hard in theme parks, because the future gets updated waaaaay faster than parks do.  I lament the destruction of Horizons as much as the next EPCOT geek, but if it still existed, it would feel reeeeally dated.  We’d be able to appreciate the ride as a work of location art, but not as an exhibit about innovation and future technologies.

Instead, I’d focus on the past and present.  Both of these already work well in Future World:  Spaceship Earth shows us the history of communication and leaves the door open for wherever we might be going next, and Living with the Land shows us how stuff works and what we’re working on now.

These approaches age well, they provide Imagineers with a firm approach that’ll prevent wishy-washy silliness like Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and perhaps most importantly, instead of showing the audience the future, they get the audience excited about the future.  I believe that should be the main experiential goal of EPCOT.

4.  I’d build upon the cultural association with musea.

When Animal Kingdom opened, they promoted it with the buzzword, “Nahtazu” (pronounced “not-a-zoo”).  It was a load of hot nonsense that deserved to die quicker than it did.

When I hype up that park to first-timers, I explain that, “It’s the coolest zoo you’ve ever seen, and also, there are rides,” and y’know what?  They love it.  Show ‘em Kilimanjaro Safaris, Pangani, Maharaja, and all of the assorted animal pens, and everything that comes after that is a bonus.  You can even get ‘em stoked about Chester ‘n Hester’s Dino-rama with this approach (if you’re twisted enough).

I’d use the same approach with EPCOT.  “It’s a museum by way of a theme park.”  Why craft an awkward term like “edutainment” when you could just tap into how much people already like musea?

This is more than a semantic notion; it’s a branding idea.  I’d push EPCOT as the Walt Disney Company’s educational branch.  All that cool conservation funding they’ve got Animal Kingdom doing, I’d push for education at EPCOT, and I’d make sure the Lotus Logo is on the giant check at the press event.

The ultimate goal would be to franchise more EPCOTs elsewhere.  NYCOT?  UKCOT?  OzCOT?  Show the world that location art is a fun tool for education, and that this medium can be more than spinning teacups and Frozen meet-and-greets.

5.  I’d do a shameful bit of Armchair Imagineering.

There definitely isn’t the space or resources to pull off the following ideas, but in this hypothetical, I have free reign, right?

I’d transplant the Carousel of Progress over to EPCOT, and make it the first attraction after entering the park.  Not only does it introduce EPCOT's themes really well, but it also encapsulates them better than any single Future World pavilion does. Plus, walking out of that theater and into Future World would be a killer reveal.

Also, I’d transplant it’s a small world to the entrance of the World Showcase.  Walt’s “prayer for peace” would flourish better as the nexus between education and multiculturalism than in a land dedicated to fantasy, and the childish architecture would juxtapose meaningfully with the realism of the pavilions.

6.  #JusticeForFigment

The Imagination Pavilion’s ride would be re-designed strictly in the spirit of the original.  Figment is not an asshole antagonist who hates us; he’s a charismatic co-narrator and audience surrogate.

Eric Idle’s out.  He’ll have to content himself with merely (coasting upon the success / cheapening the legacy) of Monty Python.

Dreamscapes are in.  A celebration of the Arts that’s not afraid to get dark or let abstraction overtake the characters (and us).  This would be a chance to go nuts with that trippy style where everything’s just sorta floating in a void, like in small world or Adventures Thru Inner Space, and you don’t get many of those on a scale like this.

And once that’s done, I’d hunt down the Suits who mandated Journey into Your Imagination and I’d...I dunno...hex them so that they get heat rash for a few hours or they step on LEGOS or they have an underwhelming experience the next time they visit their favorite restaurant.  Those guys suck.

1 comment:

  1. Great ideas across the board! I saw EPCOT Center in 1989, when I was twelve and it was still in its heyday. (It actually boggles my mind to think that the place was only seven years old when I went.) I was blown away by the sheer scope of it all. I wound up not actually going on many rides because I was so enthralled just wandering around. It actually hurts to think that hardly anything that I enjoyed back then is still there.

    Oddly enough, the loss of the original pavilion icons strikes me as especially unforgivable--think of all the brilliant work that went into creating these simple but evocative designs all following a standard template, and they just chucked it out the window in favor of uninspired, unharmonious corporate-esque logos.

    I guess what I'm saying is, can you add a seventh item to your list: Bring back the original icons?