Well, EPCOT’s 30th anniversary celebration has come and gone. Sadly, I was not able to be there, which really killed me since the chance to be in the park with other people who appreciate it like I do probably won’t come again until the 40th anniversary in 2022. Still, thanks to Twitter I was able to keep abreast of the goings-on, and it certainly looked to be a weekend awash in EPCOT Center nostalgia.
If you’ve only ever experienced the present incarnation of the park, it can be hard to fathom why such nostalgia exists. Why do people get teary-eyed when they hear “One Little Spark” or “Tomorrow’s Child”? And what is with their insane devotion to Horizons, a ride that was torn down over a decade ago? It can be easy to draw the conclusion that we’re unable to let go of our childhoods and wish the park would remain forever frozen in the year 1989. But that’s not it at all.
EPCOT Center aimed not only to entertain, but also to inspire and educate. And it did an excellent job. For those of us who experienced the unique inspirational power of EPCOT Center as children, it profoundly affected us for the better. It left a positive imprint that’s stayed with us for the rest of our lives. And although most of us went through our snotty teenage phase where we considered things we’d enjoyed in our prepubescent years to be lame and uncool, when it was time to face the world as adults it was inevitable that we’d return to EPCOT looking for that same spark of inspiration. And boy, did we not find it.
It’s not that we expected EPCOT to never change. In fact, change was a big part of the original EPCOT Center experience. Especially in Future World, things were supposed to constantly change as the years went by and technology advanced. Of course, keeping what was essentially a giant-sized Tomorrowland on the cutting edge of technology was probably an impossible task, especially after the corporate sponsorships began to thin out. So some kind of re-focusing of Future World in a way that deemphasized technology was always inevitable. But as long as the park retained its focus on inspiration and education, I don’t think anyone would have had a problem with that.
Unfortunately, most of the changes made to EPCOT in the last eighteen years served to strip it of that inspirational quality. Also mostly gone is the experience of walking into a huge pavilion and experiencing a ride or show that transports you to another time and place. Most of the more recent EPCOT attractions seem to be designed to provide a certain minimum level of entertainment while funneling people into a gift shop, all while being cheap to operate.
So, when those of us who remember what EPCOT Center used to be say that we wish Horizons or World of Motion or Journey Into Imagination were still around, what we’re really saying is that we miss going to EPCOT to be inspired and transported to other places and times. That’s what made EPCOT Center so special. And that’s why we miss it so much.