My Disney Top 5 - Things I'm Looking Forward to in the New Epcotby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Well, the holiday season is here. It seems like I just finished Thanksgiving dinner and I'm just about ready to celebrate Christmas with the whole family. Knowing my audience, I'm sure you've been like me these last few weeks. In between decorating and shopping, I've spent ample time glued to the small screen with Disney+—The Mandalorian is awesome as is The Imagineering Story—and the big screen as well with the stunningly beautiful Frozen 2 which recently opened and broke all sorts of records. There's so much amazing content being produced and put forth by our favorite entertainment company that it's perhaps an oversimplification to say that it's truly a great time to be a Disney fan. Not only is there so much to currently enjoy, but there's so much more on the horizon. Case in point, the ongoing and upcoming transformation of one of my favorite places on earth, Epcot.
If you've been to Walt Disney World lately, hopefully you've wandered into Epcot's Odyssey events pavilion nestled between Test Track in Future World and the Mexico pavilion in World Showcase and have had a chance to check out The Epcot Experience. The 12 minute film produced by the Imagineers plays on a 360 degree screen and surrounds a beautiful 3-D model of the park. I caught it on it's opening day a few weeks back and I left extremely enthused and excited for what's to come in Epcot.
The Disney faithful have been wishing on a star for quite some time that Epcot's Future World would be the recipient of, at the very least, some attention and, at best, a total makeover. I'm not sure anyone really expected the latter, but prayers were answered at the D23 Expo this past summer when the massive reimagining of Epcot was announced. Described as the biggest transformation of any Disney park in history, new attractions, restaurants, pavilions, movies, and essentially a whole new floor plan for what will no longer be known as Future World was announced. To really get the whole picture a visit to The Epcot Experience helps put it all in focus. As I said before, I walked out pretty ecstatic for what's to come. Let's narrow it down though with my Top 5 things I'm looking forward to in the new Epcot.
5 – Remy's Ratatouille Adventure
There's a pretty vocal segment of the Disney fandom that's not all that thrilled with the fact that many of the new changes headed to Epcot feature Disney intellectual properties. That's nothing new. One has to remember that the original version of Epcot had nothing to do with Mickey Mouse and friends at all. Legend has it that the company's ban of Disney characters in Epcot led to the birth of the Hidden Mickey as the Imagineers "snuck" Mickey into the new park in secret undocumented places. Fans still lament The Living Seas being invaded by Nemo. They resent Donald, Jose, and Panchito's intrusion upon El Rio del Tiempo in Mexico and don't even get them started on Olaf and the Frozen crew booting out Maelstrom's Trolls and polar bears in Norway. Personally, I'm for consistent change as per Walt's Disneyland decree that his beloved park would never be finished and would always be changing. I trust the Imagineers and as long as they deliver quality, I'm fine. I enjoyed all of the original versions of the pavilions I just listed and I'm fine with their replacements as well.
Circle wipe to Ratatouille's Remy and Linguini and their upcoming debut in the France pavilion. I'm thrilled about this. First of all, I adore the film. I think it's one of the finest things Pixar has ever produced, so the fact that I get to journey into Remy's world on a new attraction has me pretty darn happy. Plus, we get an expanded World Showcase pavilion with more buildings and facades to contribute to the already beautiful atmosphere created in France. The attraction imported from Disneyland Paris looks like it's going to be a lot of fun. They're building a new restaurant back there as well, La Creperie de Paris to add to the whole theme and I can only hope that they will serve Remy's signature dish, ratatouille, of course. This looks like it's going to be a win win on all fronts and I can't wait to see the results.
4 – Space 220
The concept art for this new restaurant to be built adjacent to the Mission: SPACE pavilion looks absolutely fantastic. After boarding special elevators, we'll travel 220 miles above the Earth where we'll be dining in a large open room purportedly in a space station. As we dine, we'll be looking out into space at the Earth "below us" through huge panoramic windows.
The technology has caught up with us just in time to bring a concept like this to fruition. I was at New York Comic Con not too long ago looking at a huge 8K video monitor and marveling at the stunning picture quality. If Disney pulls this off, and there's no reason to doubt them, and they install super high quality giant video monitors to act as the windows then this is going to be a major attraction in and of itself. I anticipate this to be a tough ADR to secure in the foreseeable future, but the Star Wars, Star Trek, Space 1999, Lost in Space fan that I am will have to make sure he secures a seat one way or the other.
3 – Mary Poppins
There's no reason to beat around the bush and no reason to be embarrassed by the following statement: I'm just a big ole' sucker for Mary Poppins. The original Disney classic is one of my all time favorites and I'm beyond thrilled that they will be paying tribute to one of Walt's true masterpieces at the United Kingdom pavilion in World Showcase. This is perhaps my favorite of the 11 nations surrounding World Showcase lagoon. The architecture, the gardens, Winnie the Pooh, The Beatles, fish and chips, the tea shop...I love all of it. We tend to spend a good amount of time wandering around this pavilion and I can't wait to see how they incorporate Cherry Tree Lane, the iconic Admiral Boom's house and, of course, the Banks family home at Number 17.
There's been some speculation but no confirmation as to what Disney means by a Mary Poppins attraction. Historically, that term can mean everything from a monster ride like Splash Mountain, to a character meet and greet like Princess Fairytale Hall to a classic spinner ride like Dumbo and everything in between. Most rumors are pointing to an actual ride, but whatever they build, my feelings are it's about time they honor one of Walt Disney's most beloved film creations with an area in the Disney parks and what better place than the UK pavilion in Epcot.
2 – Guardians of the Galaxy
This entry is a point of contention for many Disney fans out there. Just because you're a Disney fan, doesn't mean you're a Marvel fan, or a Star Wars fan for that matter. The question beckons, do the Guardians belong in Epcot? In the 1982 version of Epcot? Probably not. In the 2019 version of Future World? Borderline at best. In the soon to be rechristened World Discovery section of Epcot? Maybe. My point of view is a little skewed. I grew up reading comics, but when it came to superheroes, I gravitated almost exclusively to DC characters like Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern. I wasn't a Marvel reader at all.
When the MCU came into existence, I started seeing the films with my kids and became more intrigued so I started reading more and more of Marvel's classic lineup of comics like Iron Man, The Avengers, etc. That did not, in any way, include the relatively obscure Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, I had heard the group's name but knew nothing about them when I took my twin boys to see the first film. Rarely have I become so hooked on a film as I was during the opening notes of 10cc's I'm Not in Love when young Peter Quill is sitting in the hospital listening to that song on his Sony Walkman. I momentarily thought I was in the wrong movie theater. The music component was a brilliant addition to the story telling and because of it, I was invested in Peter Quill's journey as a character from that very first scene.
Since that moment I have gone Guardians crazy. Loved both films. Loved their roles in the two monster Avengers movies. Love the animated series. I've been reading the comics. Just last night, I went online and ordered the first three issues of the 1990 iteration of the comics which, ostensibly, has nothing to do with the films at all. I'm doing so because I'm delving deep into the title's history and I can't get enough. So, I'm going to be a very happy Disney camper when they have their own mega attraction in Walt Disney World. It sounds like it's going to be an innovative ride and I can't wait to take my Guardians fandom to another level. If that happens for me in Epcot, then so be it. That's fine with me.
1 – World Celebration
It's no coincidence that Walt's visions for Epcot came to life after his involvement with the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. After designing pavilions for the last great World's Fair and then importing some those pavilions straight to Disneyland, Walt was obviously struck by the grandeur and vision that the fair represented. I grew up a few miles away from the fairgrounds in Queens. I wasn't born until 1968 so I missed the fair, but I've spent a lot of time in the park around it's remnants. After my Disneyana collection, my next cherished assortment of collectibles are ephemera, souvenirs and trinkets from the New York World's Fairs of 1939 and 1964-65. The days of grand World's Fairs are over but the last, living, breathing example of what I imagine a World's Fair was like just so happens to be Epcot. Indeed, it's been described by legendary Imagineeers themselves as a "sort of permanent World's Fair."
As Future World officially becomes a thing of the past with this reimagining, the park will be divided into different worlds; World Discovery, World Nature, World Celebration and, of course, World Showcase. Discovery will feature Guardians, Mission;SPACE and Test Track, as well as the new PLAY pavilion. Nature will highlight the new Moana based water area and will incorporate the existing Seas and Land pavilions. But it's the concept art for Celebration that has me most intrigued and that's because it seems reminiscent of, you guessed it, a classic World's Fair type of pavilion. The three story structure represented in the drawings will be the new base for Epcot's many festivals and will feature a park in the sky on the top level with what promises to be an unforgettable view of all of Epcot. This will certainly be the new destination to watch the upcoming lagoon fireworks show and will be a completely unique vantage point in all of Walt Disney World. There are very few spots on property that offer high sweeping views. It looks to me like this will be a new favorite spot for me and I'm sure for many, many others. I know it's new, but to me the concept art just looks like what Epcot is and should always be; beautiful, iconic and inspiring.
So, yes, I've been in the camp that has longed for a Future World reboot for some time now. Epcot should always be evolving and changing and I never thought I'd see it happen to this extent, but, obviously, I'm thrilled that it is all coming to fruition. The inclusion of intellectual properties don't particularly bother me. If they pay tribute to the Disney storytelling tradition and do so creatively and tastefully, then I'm all for the addition of more Disney into Epcot. It's fair to point out that Spaceship Earth, which will receive an updating looks like it will not have Disney characters involved, neither will Space 220, the new China film or the new Canada film. Couple that with Soarin', Living With the Land, Mission:SPACE, Test Track, The American Adventure and much of World Showcase and the case can be made that Epcot will NOT predominantly be overrun with Disney characters. Obviously, I have yet to see the results, but it looks to me that the Imagineers are planning to walk a fine line with Epcot, hoping to infuse the park with new life and new wonder. It only seems logical that some of that wonder will incorporate the characters that are the backbone of their legendary storytelling background.
I've long said that Epcot is in a class all by itself. As far as Walt Disney World is concerned, it can be argued that the Magic Kingdom exists on both of America's coasts and now at Disney parks throughout the world. Universal Studios has definitely taken cues from Hollywood Studios and I suppose you could say they're remotely similar. They're far from being the same but it could also be argued that the great zoos of the world like San Diego and The Bronx as well as places like Busch Gardens have a lot in common with Animal Kingdom. But, Epcot has always been it's own unique, amazing, wonderful, magical place. There's simply nothing else like it anywhere. The changes coming to Epcot in the next few years aren't going to alter that classification. To the contrary, it seems like these changes, if anything, are going to solidify Epcot's uniqueness in the world and I'm beyond thrilled to be going along for the ride.
That's it for this Top 5. As always I'd like to hear your thoughts. Click on the link below, let me hear what you have to say about the reimagining of Epcot and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5. I wish all of you out there the very best for this holiday season and looking forward, a wonderful and peaceful 2020 filled with magic! Thanks so much for making 2019 another amazing year here on MousePlanet.