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Disneyland Ex Machina

Category: EPCOT Center (page 1 of 2)

Saving Private EPCOT

Ridley Scott’s The Martian is the Mars movie Disney should have made. It’s kind of remarkable, considering how much deep and important thought Disney once gave to Mars, that they didn’t get it first. Given all the legwork Werner Von Braun and his ilk did for the studio back in the 1950s, there’s no good reason that Disney’s two recent Martian expeditions should have been such expensive, baffling and generally unsatisfying projects. Disney has made films like The Martian before: what are the National Treasure films, if not a tribute to Boy Scout training and Yankee ingenuity?  Just make a National Treasure, but set it on Mars. Drop Nicolas Cage in the Cerberus Province with a years’ worth of beef jerky and send his ride home without him. It’s actually a plan that the film industry is working on right now, though they might forget to film it.

This brings us, naturally, to EPCOT. It’s the weird uncle of Disney’s Florida holdings, a park modeled on world expositions—the last one of which to open stateside did so more than 30 years ago. For a quarter-century or more, Walt Disney World has received visitors who crowd into EPCOT without fully understanding what in the hell it’s supposed to be. Flummoxed by Walt Disney’s untimely death, his people delicately set aside his plans for a future Waltopia and went back to what they knew and understood: They rebuilt the 1964 New York World’s Fair, right down to the big metal ball.

That’s probably why Disney has no earthly idea what to do with EPCOT now. How do you get people excited for a cultural touchstone that hasn’t been seen in this country since 1984? And how to you appeal to out-of-country guests who’ve maybe been to recent Expos in Shanghai, Milan or Yeosu, and who aren’t impressed with Ellen DeGeneres’ fumbling attempts to understand sustainable energy? It’s a real goddamn problem, and Disney apparently still doesn’t know how to remedy it. Walt Disney World’s other three parks are all receiving huge, game-changing capital improvements: Magic Kingdom has its plus-sized Fantasyland, Hollywood Studios is getting Lucas’d, Animal Kingdom Avatar‘d. By comparison, EPCOT’s 2016 resolutions are to re-skin the Norway pavilion’s Maelstrom boat ride with a story that has only a desultory connection to Norway, and to make the popular Soarin’ ride, y’know, bigger-er.

Technology isn’t the problem. Nifty though the ride mechanisms of Universal’s big-deal Harry Potter rides may be, Disney has already arguably matched them with the giant slot cars of Test Track and Radiator Springs Racers, the RFID-guided vehicles of Mystic Manor and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, and the relatively simple mechanism of Soarin’. (That’s saying nothing of the other ride mechanics Disney has pioneered or successfully adapted to new mediums, including those behind Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest and, hell, the Haunted Mansion. The humble Omnimover, turning people into moving cameras since 1967.)  The problem isn’t that the hang-time shenanigans of Soarin’ are passé, or that we can duplicate the Circle-Vision 360° experience with an app we can download free to our phones. The problems are in theme, story and cultural relevance, three things Imagineering is supposed to be good at.

For an example, I’ll skip over the two most obvious choices—Universe of Energy and the despairing wreck that is Journey Into Imagination—and consider the case of Reflections of China, the Circle-Vision 360° travelogue that replaced Wonders of China in 2003. Wonders needed badly to be replaced; I mean, gosh, China’s changed just a little bit since 1982. But given an opportunity to make something truly new and different, Disney acted clumsily: They paid just enough for a few minutes of new footage and, inexplicably, kept the Li Bai storyline from 1982, replacing the original actor—the great Keye Luke—with a double who doesn’t resemble Luke even in long shots. (Gone, too, is Luke’s splendid voiceover, replaced by a scab who doesn’t possess a tenth of Luke’s avuncular charm.)

Look, I’m just going to say it: There are at least a dozen Chinese actors recognizable to American audiences, from Michelle Yeoh to Steven Chow to Jackie Chan. Any one of these would make a suitable narrator for a 21st Century China, for a country that’s rapidly moving beyond our perceptions both good and bad. (And about the technology: I’d be willing to bet that somebody has already rigged up a drone-mounted, lightweight digital Circle-Vision 360° rig in their garage, something with greater maneuverability than a chopper. Just as long as we’re committed to the 360-degree thing.) The sequel to Wonders of China could have been entertaining, visually-dazzling and, y’know, informative.

(Though to be fair, I don’t suppose I should have expected quality filmmaking from last-gasp Eisner regime Disney; Reflections of China is imbued with just as much quality and sense as the Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion and Disney California Adventure 1.0.  That Disney did only as much for China as necessary to get Hong Kong Disneyand open, and to  keep the film distribution pipes clear.)

EPCOT’s biggest current failings are in theme, story and cultural relevance, three things Imagineering is supposed to be good at.

Moving around the lagoon: Tromsø, Norway has an influential electronic music scene. The renewable energy sector of Germany is among the world’s most successful. Italy has a truly rich legacy of cinema, without which the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino probably wouldn’t exist as we know them now. And the United Kingdom is so very united that Scotland recently considered leaving it. EPCOT’s view of the world has always been sanitized and small, but now, in an age of Googling Up Stuff, its tiny planet schtick is at best embarrassing, at worst xenophobic. And when you take the extra step of replacing a country’s entire culture with an animated landscape and population created in Burbank … well, there’s really no point to having a World Showcase at all, if your idea of travel is getting people to take your cruise lines to man-made beaches, or simply to drive across town to see Frozen on Ice.

And it’s not as if the restaurants and retail of World Showcase are picking up the slack:

The World Showcase – A lot has changed in my opinion from what it used to be. I remember when I was a kid I bought a little Mercedes model car, kind of like a HotWheels car but German. … I thought it was so neat, even (had) Made In Germany (written) on it. Nowadays, apart from the Japanese market (Mitsukoshi) every one of the stores in the countries have a bunch of crap. Want a keychain with Downton Abbey on it? They’ve got that in England. Do you need Maple syrup that’s available at Publix? They’ve got that in Canada. It’s pretty sad that every country just sells t-shirts with what the country is known for, not actual products from the country.

We ate at Via Napoli in Italy & were pretty disappointed with the food/price/service. We told the hostess we were celebrating a birthday & she made note of it but nothing was done. We had some pastries from Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie, they weren’t thing to get excited over. Maybe the food is better during Food & Wine time (which we missed by a few days, unfortunately).

That was TripAdvisor reviewer Billy H, a visitor from Nashville, Tennessee, in a review titled “EPCOT needs to go back to its original mission statement.” It’s not just the Disnerds blog who’ve noticed EPCOT sliding into irrelevance; the marketplace is beginning to catch on.

Back to The Martian. One of the things I liked best about it was the easygoing, unfussy way in which Ridley Scott presented the future. In a way, it’s the bright flipside to what he did with Blade Runner in 1982; he identified which present-day trends were likely to expand, and turned up their volume while leaving everything else untouched. Meaning: Rick Deckard hunts down advanced artificial intelligence in a heavily globalized Los Angeles while still eating modern-day street food and drinking brown liquor from regular glasses, and the crew of Ares III listens to seventies disco and maintains a treadmill regimen. The future isn’t about a whole-scale change to the way we live; it’s all about incremental change. And incremental change is easy to portray and maintain, if you do it right the first time.

EPCOT 1.0 embodied this principle much better than its present-day iteration does. One of the first things to wow me when I first visited in 1983, aside from the sheer scale of the place, was its interactive features. The WorldKey information kiosks were the first touchscreens I had ever seen, and now that technology is on a device I carry with me (and probably look at too often). Ditto the voice-to-text technology of AT&T (in CommuniCore West, RIP) and the social media-style instant polling of Future Choice Theater (CommuniCore East, gone too soon). A new EPCOT doesn’t need to be conceptualized from the top down, beginning with the multimillion-dollar ride vehicle and a new warehouse-sized dodecahedron or whatever; it can begin with something as basic as showing off what’s new in UI, or sacrificing some of Germany’s retail space so the country can talk up its Energiewende. Or by simply committing to improving the quality of EPCOT’s dining and imported goods to a level slightly above Cost Plus.

It doesn’t need to be a billion-dollar improvement initiative, and it doesn’t need to wait for an EPCOT-themed movie to help visitors to understand the place. (This seems a good time to say that I was in tune with Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland until its dreary, exposition-heavy final third. The film’s showpiece “Pin-Ultimate Experience” sequence, buoyed by a Future World loop-ready Michael Giacchino score, reminds me of how I felt when I saw EPCOT for the first time. ) The future, and the world we live in, are concepts that are already familiar to every one of us; Disney only needs to make them personal again. Walt Disney’s original EPCOT was intensely personal, arguably being the world he wanted to live in. Disney’s current, cynical approach to EPCOT is worse than impersonal; it is personality-free, an empty vessel. And with the Frozen boat ride, the company is making it plain that EPCOT is about championing Disney’s own aspirations, not our own.

“If (kids) go to bed dreaming about science, they wake up with ideas,” a character says in Eric Stephenson’s graphic novel series Nowhere Men. Whenever Disney gets around to noticing EPCOT again, they should consider the dreams that EPCOT once hoped to inspire … even if some of those dreams were Made In Germany.

Orange Clockwork: Soarin’ Over California, in review

In February 2001, I was invited to attend the press opening of Disney California Adventure. Disney paid my way, but the offer was only good for a single journalist acting alone. If I was to bond with anyone on this working trip, it would be with the media representative Disney had assigned to guide me through the brand-new Anaheim theme park.

It was not a good week for me to visit what had been freshly re-named “The Disneyland Resort.” I’d just broken up with a girl two weeks before, and I truly wasn’t feeling up to the single-rider experience. (Solo Disneyland can be fun, but Doombuggies and Mad Teacups are meant to be shared.) But work is work, and if Las Vegas Life magazine was to get the travel and lifetstyle piece it wso richly deserved, I had to mouse up, paste a convincing fake smile on my face and try to have real fun. There was no other way to approach it.

Days one and four were “travel days,” during which I enjoyed half-days in Disneyland proper, forlornly riding the train around the Park over and over again. On day two—February 7, 2001—the gathered press was invited to preview the bars, shops and restaurants of Downtown Disney, as well as some of the DCA attractions. That night was a party for B-list celebrities and other dignitaries, a sneak preview before the new park opened to the public on February 8.

I was not amused. I liked Downtown Disney’s bars and restaurants—finally I could get a Cuba Libre withing staggering distance of Pirates of the Caribbean!—but the breakup painted everything dark, and Disney’s nice gestures (including a comped room at the Disneyland Hotel, complete with swag bag and the latest issue of Brill’s Content) only served to make me feel worse than I already did. If a swag bag lands on a hotel bed and there’s no Facebook to share it with, did it really happen?

And there was something else, a truth I was loath to admit even to myself: Disney California Adventure paled terribly in contrast with its neighbor. I didn’t dislike the new park then, and I never have — but even then I could see that a tremendous opportunity had gone only partially recognized. There were too many shops and restaurants and not enough attractions. Dark rides, the bedrock of any Disney park, were in critically short supply; DCA only opened with one, the justly maligned Superstar Limo (now replaced by a Monsters Inc. dark ride). The bulk of the new park’s attractions were either films, which you could watch once and be satisfied, or carnival-style attractions that were best enjoyed in summertime. (Disney California Adventure opened in the midst of a cold winter downpour.) Such were DCA’s failings that, a scant five years on, Disney would commit upwards of a billion dollars towards “fixing” the park — a process that will be completed this June, with a “grand re-opening” that I hope I’m invited to.

Anyway, on that preview night, I was mostly unhinged. Disney was serving up free vodka martinis and I slammed seven of them in quick order. I was wounded, spoiling for a fight. (Finally, I heckled the Brian Wilson-less Beach Boys, which got much of the bile out of my system.) I was in a perfect place to receive one of Disney’s patented magical surprises, and to my delight, I received one in Soarin’ Over California.

If you haven’t experienced this flight simulator attraction, either at DCA or at EPCOT, I advise you to skip the rest of this paragraph; it’s really something you have to enjoy firsthand. Its component parts are simply understood: a large, curved IMAX screen, an innovative gondola system that hangs you above that screen, and a magnificent score by the late Oscar-winning film composer Jerry Goldsmith — to my mind, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written for a Disney theme park. Taken individually, these things give you a notion of how Soarin’ Over California works, but they can’t tell you how Soarin’ feels. For that, you need to wait in a 70-minute line, chuckle through the Patrick Warburton safety video, and take a seat in one of those suspended gondolas.

Soarin’ Over California is a dream. Pure and simple. In one guileless, inspired stroke of genius, Walt Disney Imagineering has managed to capture the sensation of flying in your dreams. The California scenes, sun-dappled and perfect, are projected at a sharp 48 frames per second, and the suspended gondola places you inside of them; your vision is deliberately fixed on the screen. almost without distraction. (You can see the dangling feet of riders above you, but that only enhances the experience; it’s fun to watch other riders “running” over the Pacific coastline, and lifting their feet to clear the harmless, projected obstacles.) Evocative scents are sprayed into the gondola at key moments: pine, ocean, orange groves. And as cheesy as it all must look from the ground (or on YouTube), there’s something that happens to you in those five minutes that can’t be explained by simple mechanics. You come to believe.

Goldsmith reportedly came down from his first ride on Soarin’ in tears, and truth be told, so did I. I couldn’t believe that Disney had found the place inside of me that wanted to fly and played directly to it. When the ride ended I burst into spontaneous applause, and I wasn’t the only one. All the assembled guests cheered wildly, and guests continue to applaud the conclusion to Soarin’ to this day. While Disney California Adventure was not a perfect theme park when it opened its gates, it did boast one perfect attraction—one that reminded me there’s always a blue sky above low-hanging clouds.

Writer Dave Hickey once complimented Disney’s ability to “invest anything with the pulse of human aspiration,” from mice to rocks to hanging gondolas. The machinery that runs Soarin’ thrums with that lifeblood. For all of Disney’s talk of “dreams” and “magic,” it has been a rare occasion these past 20 years that Disney has built an attraction that is truly dreamlike, magical. Soarin’ Over California, pardon the pun, rises to the occasion.

Back to Center

Earlier this week I visited EPCOT. I happened to be within a hundred miles of my second-favorite Disney theme park, and whenever that happens I pay and I play; that’s really all there is to it. I got a fever, and the only cure is more EPCOT.

(Disclaimer: EPCOT ranks second in parks I’ve actually visited. Haven’t been to the parks in Tokyo, Paris, or Hong Kong. For what it’s worth: 1. Disneyland; 2. EPCOT; 3. Disney Animal Kingdom; 4. The Magic Kingdom; 5. Disney California Adventure (before the remake); 6. VMK; 7. Disney Hollywood Studios. Challenges to this list are cheerfully welcomed.)

I’m happy to report that I had a wonderful day. Though my recently-retired parents and I explored the park at a relative saunter, we managed to take in nearly all our attractions, or at least what’s left of them. The best attractions at EPCOT remain Impressions de France, Spaceship Earth, the Gran Fiesta Tour, the Listen to the Land boat ride, and Test Track. Reflections of China, The Seas avec Nemo, and Maelstrom (which I did not see, sadly) are bubbling under the top five.

We did get on Soarin’, but I don’t count it among my EPCOT favorites because I consider it a Disney California Adventure attraction that wandered by mistake. And we had to skip Mission: Space, but I’m okay with that; I’m at best indifferent to it. To my mind, it’s not a true space pavilion: You learn nothing about the cosmos, and you’re even told right up front, by no less august a personage than actor Gary Sinise, that you won’t really be going on a trip to Mars; it’s all a simulation designed to test your ability to press a button when you’re told to press a button. It should be renamed Mission: Space Simulator, and it may well be, once I’ve sent a note to the Better Business Bureau.

Speaking of consumer fraud: O Canada, the CircleVision 360 movie now showing in the Canada pavilion, needs to be redone. It’s kind of awful. It has too many aerial establishing shots and too many instances of Martin Short clowning in front of a bluescreen. Generally speaking, it’s a bad thing when you come out of a travelogue wanting to visit somewhere less than you did when you went in.

Not to say that Short isn’t a good choice for a host. He’s genuinely funny, and let’s face it, we can’t help but like him. (His old SCTV “Monday Night Curling” routine, glimpsed briefly in the film, lays me right out.) But his tone in O Canada is too broad, too goofball—shortcomings I’m inclined to ascribe to the script and direction rather than the actor/comedian, who really works hard in the film. If nothing else, his whole closing schtick—”How do I get out of here? I need help”—should have been red-penciled early in the process; it lands hard and flat and diminishes all the pretty views that came before. The misuse of Short points to Disney’s recent attempts to paste over EPCOT’s big themes with feeble comedy: Journey into Imagination has been reduced to a fart joke, Universe of Energy screwed into the equivalent of Ellen DeGeneres jiggling her keys at a toddler.

In fact, both of the Circle-Vision 360° travelogues of World Showcase—ní hǎo, Reflections of China—have enough problems to warrant do-overs. For example, both of them end with the narrator saying something to the effect of “The best part of our country is our people,” followed by a montage of faces. Well, yeah. I would suggest that those people be moved into the heart of the film itself, seiing as countries are, in fact, made up of people doing fascinating shit. I can view Niagara Falls from the air via Google Maps Putting real human persons in front of that vista, taking photos or getting married or whatever, is what makes it impressive.

In any case, EPCOT remains as eye-popping an experience as it was when I first visited the park in 1983. Obviously I’m older now, and I no longer believe that Disney has built the future and united the world, but the pop science still goes down smooth, and the shops, travelogues and restaurants continue to charm. You can say what you will about Disney’s Florida theme parks — the budget-bursting expense of visiting them,  the cultural and intellectual stasis some say they’re trapped in, the “declining by degrees”—but those parks continue to prove Disney’s ability to build and maintain a themed environment. Even its closest competitor was designed and built by ex-Disney Imagineers, which only goes to my point … and the monstrously expensive and admittedly awesome Harry Potter attractions aside, Universal’s parks don’t have that Imagineering shimmer and sheen. They don’t inflate the wrinkles out of your brain.

Since 1955, Disney has owned the theme park thing lock, stock and gondola … and EPCOT, with its high-minded concept, nakedly corporate lineage and awkward name, is proof positive of that. There’s no good reason this park should have worked and continue to work. It’s not “EPCOT Princessland” or “EPCOT of Adventure.” It’s the same permanent world’s fair it has always been, still stumping for big oil, room-sized computers and globalization — and remarkably, the kids Still Want to Go To There. They don’t care if the message is several years out of date. It’s the environment that’s winning them over; the ideas have become purely secondary to the wow.

Whatever you’re doing now, I want you to bow in the direction of WED in Burbank, circa 1975. Those original themepunks knew their shit.


  • The Disney Dining Plan is a stupid idea. But I’m mostly saying that because it tends to jam up Le Cellier at lunchtime, and I’ve been jonesing for their beer cheese soup since 2007.
  • I really, truly love Gran Fiesta Tour. The excellent Passport to Dreams Old and New blog does a note-perfect job in describing why I love the revamped boat ride, and I strongly suggest you follow the above link and read FoxxFur’s piece.
  • Using low-resolution video images and ancient stock footage in 70MM Showscan films is unacceptable. If Disney truly feels that Symbiosis is what closes on Saturday night, they oughtn’t have dumped footage from that heartstoppingly gorgeous EPCOT original into Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable, where it only serves to make the aforementioned junk footage and Saturday morning cartoon-quality animation look even worse than it is. That said, the opening of Circle of Life—in which the titular song is used over recycled footage from Symbiosis—is so affecting that I’m willing to watch the film again, relishing its opening and closing sequences, and whistling through the artlessness that’s gunking up the works.

EPCOT 2.0: Welcome, New Corporate Overlords

This is a special message for Your Souvenir Guide’s many CEO readers. Word up, robber barons! Thanks for taking a break from your daily regimen of amalgamating and capitalizing to read—or, more likely, to order an unpaid intern to read and summarize—this special presentation. Today, I’d like to suggest to you a promotional opportunity that will galvanize your company’s customer base and transform its brand message. Today, savage capitalist, we’re going to talk about EPCOT.

We Disney theme park geeks—hereafter known as “themepunks,” because it makes us sound cooler—talk about EPCOT often, because it’s a sad place. The World’s Fair-style Walt Disney World theme park, the last living vestige of Walt Disney’s desire to build a true city of the future, opened to great promise in the 1980s, sustained with good grace the “let’s add B-list celebrities to every one of our attractions” craze of the 1990s, and is currently languishing in a state of practical neglect. The Future World section of EPCOT has received only four new attractions (one of them now closed and boarded up) and five renovations of existing attractions in nearly thirty years of operation … and it’s the lucky half of the park. World Showcase has gotten just one whole-cloth new attraction since opening day, and a series of halfhearted upgrades in the form of restaurants and shops.

It’s trendy for us themepunks to wring our kissably-soft hands and wonder how EPCOT came to this pass. The short answer is this: Disney can’t deal with EPCOT right now because there’s no clear-cut way for them to make more money from it by dumping Pixar characters into it. The themes are too difficult to sell to modern audiences, who care little about the future or the world at large, and difficult for modern-day Disney to work with, because Imagineering isn’t the think tank it once was and upper management hasn’t had a stake in the future since Uncle Walt bought the freezer. The future? Look at our Blu-Ray release schedule. The world? Um, “Tangled” just opened in Bali.

Now listen up, CEO. Normally, this is the point in the article where I would appeal to Disney to fix EPCOT by dumping the kind of money into the park that they’re currently pouring on Disney’s California Adventure to fix its b-list celebrity shortcomings. But I won’t do that. Several other Disney blogs—most notably Progress City, USA, highly recommended—have already done so, and better than I could ever hope to do. Also, I’m fairly sure that Disney knows all this stuff and doesn’t care. There’s no money to fix EPCOT and no compelling reason to spend the money they don’t have; it’s not like a bunch of egghead science crap is going to repel the magicks emanating from Universal Orlando.

This means an open field for you, benevolent corporate overlord. You may not know this, but EPCOT Center was built on corporate sponsorships—Kraft, General Motors, American Express, Kodak and others—and your investment can rebuild EPCOT as a 21st Century entertainment/branded marketing force, a true 2.0 model. Disney wants EPCOT to move forward (to “win the future,” right?), and you want to sell your products in a world that’s growing increasingly suspicious of corporate hegemony. Tell me how this couldn’t work for both of you.

I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up partnership blueprints for you and EPCOT. Please read through them, and feel free to email me if you have any questions. Don’t worry about catching me on the clock; I’m currently working as a freelancer, partially due to your inability to create large amounts of jobs. No offense; nothing personal.

Disney wants EPCOT to move forward, and you want to sell your products in a world that’s growing increasingly suspicious of corporate hegemony. Tell me how this couldn’t work out for both of you.

Google.  A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought your brand needed a dash of EPCOT, but you’re neck-deep in the iPhone vs. Android firefight and your advertising revenues are this close to getting pinched by Facebook. This calls for some trick maneuvering because Friend of Disney Steve Jobs haaaaaates you, but he’s currently on medical leave and there’s a mostly dead pavilion at EPCOT that I think would be a good fit for your company—one that was formerly devoted to the intangible realms of the human imagination.

Your company is a cloud of mostly nerd, but when it sets its mind to creating an educational tool — a real-time map of the night sky, an instantaneous translator, a visually-based search engine — it absolutely shines. I’d guess that a lot of people don’t even know half the cool things you do; they know your company solely as the maker of a search engine. An attraction that explores the creation and consumption of art, music and literature, and the many ways in which those things can be better enjoyed through the judicious use of technology, seems like it would be right up Google’s alley. Your entire company is a searching mind, every bit as inventive and curious as your rivals at Apple, and it’s time your customers discovered that for themselves by way of a nice hi-tech dark ride and a post-show area full of interactive hoo-hah.

General Electric. Ding. You’ve had terrific successes with Disney attractions in the past: Carousel of Progress is closing in on its fiftieth birthday, and the late, great Horizons is so beloved that one enterprising Disney geek is rebuilding it as a kind of first-person swooner. Now it’s time to come back to the party — not as a producer of consumer electronics, but as driving force in renewable energy technologies. You’re second in wind power market share, with nearly 14,000 wind turbine installations set up around the world — wouldn’t you like people to know that? You’ve just introduced a consumer-side electric car charger—don’t you want to flaunt it? And for that matter, wouldn’t you like to assert your windpower dominance over fellow EPCOT sponsor Siemens, which is currently ninth in total market share and gainin’ on ya?

The sponsorless Universe of Energy attraction is located inside an enormous wedge topped with solar cells. It rivals the old Horizons building in volume. And if you were to rip out everything inside—the movie theaters, the pointless primeval diorama, Bill Nye and the rest of the dinosaurs—you could make one hell of a dark ride in there, one that imagines the future of renewable energy and its many possible applications. I say again: The building is there, and the love is there. All you need to do is sign a third check to Disney and reap the benefits.

Inditex. You’re one of the largest fashion distributors in the world, with dozens of subsidiary brands and 48 stores in America (Zara, they’re called). More importantly, you’re based in A Coruña, Spain. EPCOT needs you because Disney has been trying to get a Spanish pavilion into its World Showcase since the Reagan Administration. And you need EPCOT because, until five minutes ago, I had no idea your company existed.

SAS (Scandinavian Airlines). Please allow me to make introductions. You’re the flagship airline of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, with daily flights out of Newark, Dulles and O’Hare. You carry 25 million passengers a year, many of them to Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim. You provide a conduit to the last of the red-hot beds of tourism; nearly everyone I know has recently become interested in visiting Norway, drawn by the fjords, the aquavit, the black metal bands, and the what-have-you. Norway is teh sex and SAS is teh sexay.

This shrinking lutefisk behind me is EPCOT’s Norway pavilion. Now, I think I’ve learned a few things about the Norwegians living in Ballard, a Norwegian-founded Seattle neighborhood that’s home to the largest Syttende Mai parade in the United States. If I want a helmet with horns on it, I can walk to the end of the block and get one. And this EPCOT attraction, whose ostensible purpose is to promote tourism to your homeland, doesn’t even fill me with the desire to visit my own neighborhood. The queue leading to the pavilion’s centerpiece attraction Maelstrom is a simple blue wall cheaply bedecked with tiny flags; the attraction itself has precisely one interesting scene and a bunch of terrible ones. I know that yours are a people not naturally predisposed to showing off, but c’mon. Norway has left 1979; your amazing techno scene proves it. The chorus of Röyksopp’s “The Girl and The Robot” is sick.

A relatively small outlay of sponsor cash—$10 million, $20—could make EPCOT’s Norway pavilion into one hell of a tourism office. It could pay for an update of the dated and borderline frightening movie that plays at the end of the boat ride; it could pay for badly-needed scenery and technical improvements to the ride itself; and it could enable Disney to do something, anything, with that boring queue. In exchange, Disney will slap your name on every flat surface and probably give you some shop space if you want it.

Sony. Oh boy, do you ever need this. Look: Samsung is spanking you in LCD TV sales, Microsoft and Nintendo are taking turns pwning you in gaming console sales, and you never came up with a satisfactory answer to the iPod, iPhone or iPad. However, your company does make some great products — your TVs, in particular, are terrific—and you’re one of the few multinationals that’s at least trying to reduce its greenhouse gases. If you were to sponsor a thrill ride at EPCOT’s Japan pavilion, it might help you to regain a foothold in the consumer consciousness—take us back to the time when we thought of Sony when we thought of electronic anything.

Starbucks. I’m kinda surprised we’re having this conversation. Walt Disney World is open territory, you latte-pulling Queequegs—perhaps the last place in the world without a Starbucks on every corner. Disney is still pouring Nescafe even though Nestle has left the building. People can’t believe Starbucks is not already a presence at Disney World; even Dave Hickey noticed your absence. Call Disney—odds are they’ve got a dedicated hotline assigned to you, just like Ryan Bingham in “Up in the Air”—and tell them that you might like to put cafes in EPCOT and every other damn part of Walt Disney World, if it’s not too much trouble.

While you’re at it, tell Disney you’d like to “sponsor The Land pavilion.” They’ll know what you mean. They will mention a badly-dated 70mm educational film and a few other places you might be able to insert your brand, then they’ll quote you a multimillion-dollar figure. Tell Howard Schultz to dig around in the tip jar and pay it.

Congratulations! This transaction makes you the new Coca-Cola. Enjoy the buzz until the FDA starts gunning for you.

Wired/Conde Nast. I think I’ve found a venue suited to the resurrection of NextFest, your World’s Fair-style showcase of emerging ideas and technologies. EPCOT’s Communicore pavilions—mammoth parenthesis enclosing the center courtyard of Future World—are currently occupied by “Innoventions,” a kind of low-rent Consumer Electronics Show clone that promotes dated technologies and makes exceedingly poor use of the Communicore space. (Floor-to-ceiling windows are meant to be used.)

Have your Conde Nasty bosses make a deal with Disney to clean out that crap and install NextFest for at least a year. After that, encourage Disney to create a kind of tech incubator, which you’ll sponsor through print and web advertising trade. Disney gets a shot of your credibility, and you’ll increase circulation of your magazine, website and mobile app.

I know that EPCOT seems like an old-fashioned idea, corporate overlord, but the timeworn ideals on which it was founded will always ring true. Ideas remain as contagious as ever. The future remains full of promise. The world continues to be vast and amazing, and it deserves to be saved. And people still want to be amazed by technologies indistinguishable from magic. This is your Sputnik moment.You can make an investment in a new EPCOT and be a part of the march of ideas that will save the world, or you can continue to make commercials like this one.

Line dancing. Heh, heh. Call Disney right now and say “help us.”

Ten things Disney could have done to geek up without buying Marvel


By now we’ve all heard that Disney is buying Marvel Entertainment, home to two dozen popular superhero characters and three thousand near-anonymous dregs. My Facebook friends list is awash in the blood of comic book geeks slitting their wrists in anticipation of the inevitable Wolverine/Bambi team-up.

Here’s what I think will happen to Marvel’s properties under Disney’s cape: next to nothing.

To my mind, the purchase of Marvel is one of the few missteps the Mouse has made under Bob Iger’s reign. Disney isn’t getting a hell of a lot for its money. The theme park rights to the characters will continue to be held by Universal. And the movie properties that Disney could use to keep Bruckheimer on the lot — Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man—will remain the properties of Sony, Fox and Paramount well into the forseeable future. (According to Variety, Fox’s deal allows them to keep the film rights to Fantastic, X-Men, Daredevil and Silver Surfer in perpetuity, just as long as they keep making the films. For Disney’s purposes, that means forever.)

Buying Marvel was an audacious move on Disney’s part — if you can’t lure the Comic Con geeks to your tweenaged-girl fairyland, just buy ’em. But it may not have been the right one. Superhero films are big-money gambles — you can’t make one for under $150 million and if it doesn’t make half that money back in its opening weekend, you won’t see profit for years, if at all. And Disney doesn’t have the big names to play with — I mean, they may be able to develop a Runaways franchise or get the publishing side to start up an Incredibles title, but I think that’s it and that’s all. Four billion dollars spent to wait out contracts and to see if Avi Arad and Jerry Bruckheimer will duke it out in Thunderdome.

I can think of ten ways off the top of my head that Disney could have spent that money to win tweenaged boys and geeks — ways that build on existing assets. Maybe I’m right; I’m probably not. Still, you can’t deny that these things would make you happy:

1. Remake Condorman with Sam Rockwell or Patton Oswalt. Only, y’know, better than the first time.

2. Revisit the Oz books. The two-decade-old Return to Oz is only now beginning to find its cult audience. Give the stories to Henson’s crew, to Tim Burton or to your own animators, front them $150 million and let ’em rip.

3. Lock down two more Tron films now. You’re going to have a Matrix-sized hit with Tron: Legacy, and probably a Rebooted and Revelations-sized critical and commercial dropoff with the sequels — but they will still make you a lot of money if you move fast.

4. Own your steampunk heritage. 20,000 Leagues! Island at the Top of the World! Atlantis! Fast-track these reboots and remakes while the goth kids are still wearing top hats and rust-colored leggings.

5. Put a billion into updating f–king EPCOT, already. Fill it with the cool hi-tech, geek-geared shizzy that appeals to readers of Wired. Every geek kid has geek parents that will fly halfway around the world to see the world of tomorrow.

6. Give Javier Grillo-Marxuach a deal and let him do something wonderful. You worked with him on The Middleman, a series that is now finding its audience on DVD. By the time he gets around to making a nice, cheap Middle-movie, the demand for it should be strong.

7. Bring back Duck Tales. Hew closer to the Carl Barks stories and cast Billy Connolly, the ne plus ultra of gruff but jocular Scotsmen, as the voice of Scrooge. I don’t know if that’ll bring the tween boys to the yard, but also, I don’t care. Bringing back Duck Tales is something Disney should already have done. ‘Cos I miss it, that’s why.

8. Make a movie based on Split Second, the car-chase video game you’re working up for the XBox 360. Stuff blows up!

9. The Disney Princesses: Teach them kung-fu and arm them with wrist-holstered blades and pistols.

10. You’ve got Nathan Fillion and Morena Baccarin on the lot working on Castle and V respectively. Marvel favorite Joss Whedon has worked with Disney on Atlantis and Toy Story. Do the math.

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