The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Little-Known Epcot Soundtracks

by Tom Richards, contributing writer

Composer Steve Skorija was commissioned to write an original symphonette to commemorate the "100 Years of Magic" celebration held at the Walt Disney World Resort in 2001. According to the liner notes from the Walt Disney Records' 2001 release Magic in the Streets: Parade Memories, this symphonette was to contain four movements "representing the essence of each Walt Disney World park: Disney's Magic Kingdom (Fantasy), Epcot (Discovery), Disney's Animal Kingdom (Adventure), and Disney/MGM Studios (Show-Biz)." In an interview at the time, Mr. Skorija was quoted as saying that he viewed all of Walt Disney World as "one giant, larger than life music box."

Who could possibly disagree?

The music of Walt Disney World seems to fall into several categories: musical scores that accompany attractions (The American Adventure, Splash Mountain, Peter Pan's Flight), "live" musical scores (Illuminations, Wishes, stage shows), and background music (Main Street U.S.A., the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge, Hollywood Blvd.) that helps achieve the "mood" or "feel" of an area or resort.

On our last visit to Epcot, we recognized some familiar music here and there. Not original Epcot music, not music associated with a particular attraction, and not—for lack of a better term—a collection of "standards."

It became my mission to locate the original sources for this incidental music heard around Future World. I would like to share my results and along the way, highlight some under-appreciated Disney music that other Disney fans might want to add to their collections.

The Rocketeer by James Horner

The original motion picture soundtrack from the 1991 Walt Disney Pictures adventure film, The Rocketeer, is one of composer James Horner's finest scores. James Horner is a much-admired, highly accomplished composer whose memorable film scores include such classics as Glory, Titanic, Field of Dreams, Avatar, and A Beautiful Mind. With The Rocketeer, Horner found a story that provided a wonderful impetus for an exciting, moving, meaningful, and highly entertaining score. Even the arrangements for the two vocal songs—"Begin the Beguine" and "When Your Lover Has Gone"—are wonderfully realized.

It is, however, the instrumental themes for the film that make this a standout soundtrack, even by Horner's high standards. Three tracks, the lush, romantic "Jenny" along with the soaring, exciting "Main Title/Takeoff" and "Rocketeer to the Rescue/End Title" are among the most memorable in film history.

Excerpts from "Takeoff" and "Rocketeer to the Rescue" are featured at the Fountain of Nations in Epcot's Future World. This soaring music fits beautifully with Future World's optimistic view of a tomorrow filled with promise, adventure, and endless possibilities. The choreographed fountain water punctuates each pounding note, sways to the lush themes, and creates a perfect visual parallel to the musical score. As the music drifts through the very center of Future World, it is almost impossible to feel a bit of that old Epcot magic—that all-too-fleeting feeling that if we share "our common hopes and dreams, our sorrows and tears," the very best is yet to come for all of us.

The Rescuers Down Under by Bruce Broughton

Another adventure film from the early 1990s, The Rescuers Down Under (1990), presents us with a lively sequel to the fondly remembered The Rescuers (1977). This animated feature sends Bernard and Miss Bianca on yet another mission to save a child in need, this time an Australian boy named Cody.

The Bruce Broughton score captures the many moods of the film, from the adventure and excitement of the Australian Outback, to the longing, romantic theme associated with Bernard and his long-overdue proposal to Miss Bianca, to the humor of Wilbur's less-than-stellar landings. "Cody's Flight" accompanies one of the film's most memorable—and emotional—moments as Cody soars above the clouds upon the back of Marahute, the giant golden eagle. The soundtrack is worth the price for this track alone. When the original soundtrack was re-released, Walt Disney Records also included several vocal songs from the original 1977 film: "The Journey," "Someone's waiting For You", and "Tomorrow Is Another Day," all sung by Shelby Flint.

The "Main Title: The Rescuers Down Under" is an exceptionally exciting piece. It starts quietly—almost mysteriously—before racing to a crescendo of excitement and anticipation. This track—and the closing titles—also weaves various main themes from the film to create a wide range of emotions. It's exciting, romantic, mysterious, and hopeful—much like the spirit of Epcot's Future World pavilions.

It seems appropriate, therefore, that this music is also featured in the Fountain of Nations. The water effects are particularly striking here, as blasts accompany each of the music's opening notes. Like The Rocketeer, The Rescuers Down Under score include an interesting variety of moods and tempos; as a result, the effects of light and water are especially memorable. It's next to impossible not to stop at the Fountain of Nations when this appealing music is playing.

Emma by Rachel Portman

In contrast to the soaring orchestrations of The Rocketeer and the classic animated feel of The Rescuers Down Under, the lovely score from the 1996 Miramax release Emma is lush and quietly exciting. Composer Rachel Portman, known for other films such as Nicholas Nickleby, The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, The Duchess, and The Vow, perfectly underscores the gentle humor, the longing, the miscommunication, and the romance in this Jane Austen classic. The film, starring a very young Gwyneth Paltrow in a break-out role, is a wonderful romantic comedy in the very best use of that overused term.

While the mood is lighter and the social commentary softer than the novel on which it is based, the film captures the plot line and the tone faithfully enough to please both general moviegoers as well as Jane Austen admirers. The score is appropriately lilting, whimsical, and wistful. With the exception of one track, "Mr. Elton's Rejection," the score avoids being too film-specific; in other words, it is an enjoyable light classical work that provides a soothing and entertaining accompaniment for a Sunday brunch or a Christmas Eve dinner.

The "Proposal" and "End Title" are particularly moving, and these two pieces are, in fact, featured at a Future World pavilion as background music. This may seem an odd fit, but remember: The Walt Disney Company once owned Miramax Films, and the soundtrack was released on the now-defunct Disney-owned Hollywood Records label.

Any guesses?

If you said Future World's "The Land," congratulations! Specifically, the Emma soundtrack can be heard in the Sunshine Seasons food court, located in the center of The Land pavilion. It may sound strange that a score from a British film set in the 1700s would in any way, shape, or form fit an Epcot Future World setting, but it works. The lilting melodies reflect the calm, bright, relaxed dining atmosphere here. My bet is that this music was added during the 2004–2005 redesign of the pavilion that brought with it the addition of Soarin'. The original soundtrack for the food court featured instrumental versions of popular songs that in some way referenced the seasons. It was lovely, but I have to say that the inclusion of Emma erases any sense of regret for the loss of The Land's original music.

Disney on Demand

If you fondly remember the kiosks at Walt Disney World and at Disneyland that once featured Disney music and Disneyland Records as burn-on-demand CDs, you will welcome the opportunity to add a few more Walt Disney World musical memories to your collection. Trust me, you won't be disappointed. After all, there are very few park souvenirs that capture the magic of Disney like musical ones.



  1. By danyoung

    I have a pretty extensive collection of Disney park music. A lot of it came from the official CDs, but lately I've been streaming They have several Disney stations that will present some cool attraction soundtracks as well as a lot of area musical loops. Very very cool!

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