Living up to Walt's dream
is one of the most-visited Theme Parks in the entire world. It's made
an incalculable impact on technology, world culture and architectural
design. Hollywood "A" list stars have performed there — and ask to come
back again and again. A U.S. president was even inaugurated there (well,
sort of... Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in Washington, D.C. in 1984
but the event was shortened because of inclement weather, so our 40th
president held his inaugural parade at Epcot the following year). Yet
Epcot remains the subject of spirited debate among Disney experts, fans
and casual observers alike. D23 article originally published by
Disney Twenty-Three website (April 28,2009)
written by Bob Woodham
(c) The Walt Disney Company
Monorails connect Epcot to Magic Kingdom
Park; Spaceship Earth features a revised interactive finale and Project Tomorrow, presented by Siemens.How
does Epcot live up to Walt's original dream? Is it educational and
enlightening or is it fun and thrilling? And why does Epcot raise all
these questions and more, while other Disney Theme Parks may not? Maybe
it's due in part to Danny Kaye.
(c) The Walt Disney Company
But before we go there, however,
let's go back to 1966 when Walt Disney appeared in a film created to
present his concepts and philosophy about his Florida "Disney World
"It was the very last thing that he ever shot on film,"
Disney Legend Marty Sklar, Executive Vice President and Imagineering
Ambassador, Walt Disney Imagineering, says. "It was shot just before he
went into the hospital and he was driving me crazy to finish the script.
Nobody knew why at the time." The film began with a visit to Disneyland
Park, highlighting its many popular and business successes. Walt Disney
then provided an overview of his Florida plans, including a Theme Park,
hotels and recreation, much of which became the first Walt Disney World
phase in 1971. But he continued, "…the most exciting and by far the
most important part of our Florida project, in fact the very heart of
everything we'll be doing in Disney World, will be our Experimental
Prototype City of Tomorrow..." The film followed this with animation,
narration and dramatic music to detail a futuristic utopia.
passed away soon afterward and, even though the Epcot project was
revived, it took on the form of a second Theme Park rather than a
planned residential city and industrial center. In the meantime, the
Walt Disney World property had taken on the form of an experimental
community of sorts already, with many of its own municipal systems and
innovative techniques initiated by Walt.
For instance, take
garbage (please). "I remember that once Walt and Mrs. Disney were
babysitting for Ron and Diane Miller's children," Marty says. "In back
of their home, there was an alley where the trash truck would come for
pick-ups. They were out particularly early one morning, throwing around
the trash cans and woke Walt up. He started saying, 'Why do they have to
collect trash that way?' and that ended up as what we did originally
with the Walt Disney World AVAC trash collection system [in which trash
jets underground through pneumatic tubes]. That was really from Walt's
interest in testing and demonstrating things."
Shortly after the
1971 opening, journalist David Brinkley visited Walt Disney World Resort
with his NBC cameras, remarking that, while others just talked about
the visions for the future, Disney was doing something about it. "It is
the most imaginative and effective piece of urban planning in America,"
he told his TV audience. As a monorail glided behind him, Brinkley
concluded that the elements, "all fit together better than any other
urban environment in America."
From monorail systems to telephone
fiber optics, the entire Walt Disney World Resort was modeling the
Epcot philosophy. So when the second Theme Park opened as "EPCOT
Center," it was the nucleus around which the other Walt Disney World
But the public's frame of reference was Walt's
original announcement (if they had seen it) and press interpretations of
initial Epcot visions and the resulting EPCOT Center. What they did not
have was Walt himself on TV, as they had in the 1950s when he was
updating them on Disneyland and clarifying a new entertainment concept.
he said in the 1966 film, "The sketches and plans you will see today
are just the starting point, our first overall thinking about Disney
World. Everything in this room may change time and time again as we move
ahead, but the basic philosophy of everything we're planning for Disney
World is going to remain very much as it is right now." While there are
marked differences between the Epcot of 1966 and 1982, there is also no
way to assume whether or not Walt would have followed a similar path in
its development. Creative projects change by their very nature;
otherwise Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would have premiered
with a bed-making sequence and a dwarf named "Biggo-Ego."
Walt had at the time was a pretty well fleshed out outline, but he
didn't do the 'script,'" Marty says metaphorically. "If we had been
given a couple more years with Walt it might have been different. But
you can also consider the things we built into Walt Disney World that
were based on what Walt wanted to do." Walt also said that, "No one
company can do this alone." Walt Disney Imagineering collaborated with
some of the most prestigious names in science, technology and industry,
as well partnering with corporate participants. Marty points out that,
just as it had been with Disneyland and Magic Kingdom attractions, the
goal was not to tell institutional, company-line stories, but to call
upon such expertise to create entertaining experiences vivid enough to
spur greater discovery. On Sunday night, October 23, 1982, more than
three weeks after the actual Epcot opening, CBS broadcast EPCOT
Center: The Grand Opening Celebration. A balance of showbiz (Marie
Osmond, Drew Barrymore, Roy Clark) and gravitas (Alex Haley, Eric
Sevareid, Alan Shepherd), the program attempted to explain in one hour
what Walt Disney Imagineering had been developing for eight years.
Legendary Danny Kaye
hosted a TV special that gave millions their first impressions of a new
kind of Disney theme park.Danny Kaye, a
versatile, almost magical talent whose personality was almost as
complicated as some perceptions of Epcot, made a rare appearance as
host, singing several original songs and deftly balancing the comic with
(c) The Walt Disney Company
"…But maybe you're asking yourself, 'what's an
EPCOT?'" says Kaye during the opening musical number, before launching
into a tongue-twisting verse reminiscent of his famous patter songs.
"Just so there's no confusion, EPCOT Center is located in the center of
EPCOT. And EPCOT Center is made up of two parts… Future World and World
Showcase. It's 2.5 miles from the Magic Kingdom, which is also part of
Epcot, which is also what the entire 2,500 acre area known as the
Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT, or Walt Disney
World, is called."
Then he giggled and repeated, "Just so there's
The special also could not adequately convey the
feeling of visiting each pavilion and experiencing the attractions as
well as exhibits of new products and technologies in Future World, nor
the almost infinite details and discoveries of World Showcase. Epcot
requires Guests to savor the surroundings and tastes, perhaps to a
greater degree than most other places. The sensory details are as much
the "attractions" as are the ride-through adventures. Once most Guests
visited, they "got" it, and often Epcot became a family favorite among
Disney Theme Parks. But some who had never visited may have only been
guided by word of mouth, a few weeks of press coverage and Danny Kaye.
the years, additional shows on Disney Channel, network specials and
parades made more of a dent in the public's Epcot psyche. Epcot also
kept evolving, becoming more and more interactive and — yes — perhaps
changing the world with real-life technologies, festivals and events
celebrating international cuisine and horticulture, and with some of the
most popular attractions in any Theme Park, anywhere.
you're screaming along the longest, fastest course in the world on Test
Track, presented by GM, you're also seeing how an auto is checked out
for safety. Kids can literally chat with an animated star at Turtle
Talk with Crush, inspired by Disney·Pixar's Finding Nemo, and
a few steps away see actual research going on with creatures of the
Mission: SPACE is a thrilling blast off from Earth to the red planet you can
only experience at Epcot.(c) The Walt Disney CompanyInteractive
fun has probably seen its biggest increase at Epcot. "The hands-on
stuff was not in vogue when we started doing it at Epcot," Marty says.
"It has become so important because that is the way kids grow up today."
The Innoventions area is almost a Park within the Park, with so many
participatory activities, life-size games and shows, kids in particular
can spend hours there. The new Disney's Kim Possible World Showcase
Adventure not only sends families to countries in search of clues,
it has the added benefit of drawing attention to extraordinary Epcot
Perhaps the greatest combination of potential impact and
entertainment is found at The Land pavilion, where you can fly like a
bird on the Soarin'™ attraction one minute and see how one plant
can grow hundreds of tomatoes the next. If you take the "Behind the
Seeds" tour, you can see, up close, incredible things that help grow
food all over the world. The staff members include dozens of college
interns who then go out into the world armed with this amazing
knowledge. There's no telling how it can improve the future.
at EPCOT will be dedicated to the happiness of the people who will
live, work and play here and those who come from around the world to
visit our living showcase," Walt said in the 1966 film. Today at World
Showcase, 11 nations offer attractions, award-winning food and the
chance to meet people from the countries themselves. Many of them are
also college students on the World Fellowship Program who reside on
Disney property in special apartment complexes.
You can explore astonishing greenhouses in
The Land pavilion by boat or with the "Behind the Seeds" tour.Dan
Cockerell, vice president of Epcot, lived in such a dwelling as a
college student. There, he met his wife, who was a student from France.
"It's funny, when you are another nationality and you leave your
country, you become very patriotic, very prideful in what you
represent," he says."A lot of our international Cast members here
understand that there are some Guests who may have never considered
visiting these countries, but could be inspired to visit because of
Epcot. Kids might remember meeting an international Cast Member and it
could influence their studies or their career someday."
(c) The Walt Disney Company
else exists such a meeting of people and cultures, much less in such a
pleasant setting. Who knows how this can promote the celebration of
diversity? "When I was in Paris recently, I learned that there is a
yearly meeting of the World Showcase students in Europe," Marty notes.
"One of the students, who is championing these meetings, is now an
important leader in his country. You never know where it all could
Every evening, almost all of Epcot turns out to pay
tribute to the World Showcase countries when IllumiNations:
Reflections of Earth fills the sky with fireworks, lasers and music
in a spectacle that many feel is among the best of its kind anywhere.
ahead for Epcot? That's always a challenge. As Dan says, "The easy part
of Epcot is that you can do almost anything — and the hard part about
Epcot is that you can do almost anything. I think it has to be more and
more interactive. Guests want to be involved, they want to touch it,
smell it and hear it. They want to do it together."
Walt Disney's idea all along, as far back as when his daughters played
at a little park on weekends as he watched.
"We really did try to
stay true to the basic underpinning of what Walt wanted to do and I
think in many ways we did," Marty observes. "We felt, and Walt
championed, that we could help make the world a better place and give
people an opportunity to understand more about things that affect their
daily lives, all the while having a good time while they are doing it.
There really is no other place that accomplishes this like Epcot."