Friday, October 24, 2008

The Definitive Horizons Ride-Through Video

Lots of other folks have linked to this, but there's just no way a self-respecting blog about EPCOT could not include perhaps the best Horizons video ever, posted on YouTube by a user named century3horizons. It's seperated into three parts, but for convenience I've combined them into one playlist. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Horizons 2012: Try to Imagine. . .

Imagine, if you will, that Disney decided to celebrate Epcot's 30th anniversary in a big way by rechristening it EPCOT Center and, on October 1, 2012 unveiling a brand-new Horizons pavilion in Future World. "Sure," you say sarcastically, "and imagine that I could fly there for free on a giant winged pig!" I hear you, but since Disney is all about wishing on stars to make dreams come true and crap like that let's just close our eyes and pretend, okay? (I meant that figuratively. You can't keep reading if your eyes are closed) Anyway, if Horizons were to live again, where in Future World would it go? How would a new incarnation of the pavilion differ from the original? Those are the questions I'm going to try to address here.

First of all, just where would it go? The Horizons pavilion was massive, and looking at an aerial photo of Future World it's hard to see where a new building would fit. More than one person on the forums has pointed out that the old Wonders of Life pavilion would be perfect for a new Horizons, and I agree that's probably the best fit. But would you put Horizons into the existing building, or demolish it and start anew? I'm not sure what the best answer is, but since the design of the old Horizons pavilion was so much a part o
f its identity, I'd prefer to see the existing structure demolished in favor of a re-constructed pavilion that's outwardly identical to the original Horizons.

Now that we know where a new Horizons would go, what would it be like? Well, the first two scenes ("Looking Back at Tomorrow") could be virtually unchanged, although it might be good to add some more recent mistaken views of the future. The Omnimax sequence would need to highlight current advances in things like nanotechnology and green energy. Of course, the "future" sequence would need the biggest overhaul. Here are some bullet points I thought of to serve as a guide:
  • No flying cars: Although they've been included any almost every vision of the future for the last hundred years, they're obviously not practical. All they'd do is make auto accidents more deadly.
  • No videophones: The videophone is another staple of the generic "world of the future". Although we've had the technology for quite a while, there just isn't any widespread consumer demand for it. To be sure, the future Horizons shows us should have some kind of innovation in communication. But in today's world where we carry around personal communication devices that double as handheld computer/camera/music player/GPS devices, I personally can't imagine what that innovation would be. Still, something's bound to come up. After all, who in 1983 could have imagined texting on a cell phone?
  • No ridiculous clothing: Trying to predict future fashions is a huge mistake that will just date the show. Put everybody in regular clothes; nothing overly faddish, no visible brand names, just simple, middle-of-the-road outfits. Spacesuits and undersea gear should look advanced, but without flourishes that seem futuristic now but may look dated in a few years.
Those points take care of things that the future should not contain, but just what would we see? Well, the city of Nova Cite could look a lot the "green megacity" envisioned in a recent issue of Popular Science. The idea of desert farms seems like an even better idea now than it was in the early eighties, but the utility of space habitats or ocean cities isn't as immediately apparent. The original Horizons did mention aquaculture (primarily kelp farming) as one benefit of ocean colonies, and a new ride should probably show that there's a point to ocean colonization beyond scuba diving and undersea restaurants.

It's ironic that we think less about space colonization in 2008 than we did in 1983. Most folks wonder exactly what benefit there would be to space habitats, other than the fact that living in space would be cool.
Physicist Gerard O'Neill had the answer when he floated the idea that space colonies could double as solar power stations that collect energy from the sun and beam it back to Earth, and that idea could definitely be touched on. One idea from the original "space" scene that should be dispensed with is the asteroid mining. It's just too science-fictiony. Unless the asteriod belt between Mars and Jupiter is full of some magical space mineral that cures baldness, flatulence, and cancer, I don't see how it could possibly be cost-effective to go all the way out there to grab asteriods, then tow them all the way back to someplace between the Earth and the Moon. Also, the space shuttle should be seen nowhere. Any space vehicles should look appropriately futuristic.

The original Horizons had no room for a post-show area, but if you've visited any Disney park in the last decade you know that many of the rides exit into a gift shop. I'm not totally averse to this idea, as long as the gift shop is full of can't-get-it-anywhere-else Horizons gear and not just the same stuff that MouseGear sells. It would be nice if there were a section of
CommuniCore (I refuse to call it Innoventions) set aside for exhibits where you could learn more about the technologies that make up the Horizons future.

So,those are my ideas for Horizons 2012. As always, I claim no ownership of them, and I certainly don't claim that they're any good. If anyone reading this has additional or better ideas, leave a comment!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Lost Message of Mission:SPACE

One of the many criticisms leveled against the destruction of the much-loved Horizons in favor of Mission:SPACE was that the new attraction had replaced the optimistic message "if we can dream it, then we can do it" with no message at all. (Except, perhaps "a trip to Mars would be cool." ) But if you examine the attraction's logo, you'll notice a very inspirational message: "We Choose To Go!" This is, of course, taken from JFK's famous speech of September 12, 1962, specifically, this moment:

Now, I know that the sole reason for the Apollo program was to beat the Soviet Union, I know that Kennedy privately complained that the space program messed up his budget, but that speech contains some of the most inspirational words spoken in the last hundred years. That is what Mission:SPACE needs. That message is the key to transforming Mission:SPACE from just another 5-minute thrill ride to something that genuinely inspires guests and gives them something to think about. Let's face it, as much as some folks would love to see Disney scrap Mission:SPACE altogether and rebuild Horizons, it's not going to happen. Mission:SPACE cost a lot to build, and it's not going anywhere for a very long time. And anyway, the premise of Mission:SPACE is a fundamentally good one, it just needs some tweaks to make it more than just another fun ride.

1. Change the pre-show to dispense with the whole "training" premise: Tomorrowland's old "Mission to Mars" attraction was billed as a "real" trip to Mars, even though all you did was sit in a vibrating chair and watch a round screen on the floor. Why not alter the story of Mission:SPACE so that guests are astronauts who board a spaceship instead of just a simulator? Use the pre-show to review the history of manned spaceflight and emphasize what a huge undertaking a flight to Mars would be; emphasizing that, despite the challenges and the hardship, we can make it to Mars if "we choose to go".

2. Make this the first-ever Mars mission: Since guests will "really" go to Mars, why not make them the first humans to land on the Red Planet instead of simply following in the footsteps of others? Plenty of opportunity there to inject the "we choose to go" message.

3. Alter the post-show area to reflect the idea that we've "landed" on Mars: Part of the ride's story could be that an unmanned ship landed earlier with a prefab habitat for the astronauts to live in. At the conclusion of the simulator ride, your ship could "dock" with the habitat, and the post-show area could be remodeled slightly to reflect this. Inside the post-show "Marsbase" you could have a couple educational exhibits about what Mars is really like, including, perhaps, a virtual-reality experience that allows you to play the part of an astronaut walking around on the Martian surface. Of course, this approach presents a story problem: if post-show area is also for people who are unable or unwilling to experience the ride, how do they "get to Mars"? I really don't know, but I'm sure the Imagineers could figure something out.

Now, in the EXTREMELY unlikely event that someone is reading this, I just want to say that I claim no ownership of these ideas. If someone who actually has the ear of Disney Imagineering wanted to claim them as their own, that's fine with me. Heck, I can't imagine that I'm the first person to have thought of any of this stuff. So come on, Disney. Let Mission:SPACE have its message. It's right there in the logo, some of the most inspirational words of the last century. Use 'em.

Monday, October 13, 2008

On Disney Dining

Get off the Interstate at any large exit, and you'll see three kinds of restaurants:
  1. Fast food (McDonalds, Burger King, etc.)
  2. Medium-priced family restaurant chains (Applebees, Chilis, Red Lobster, etc.)
  3. Ethnic cuisine (Chinese restaurants, Italian restaurants, etc.)
This is what the American consumer is used to. In our hometowns, we may frequent a Mom 'n Pop restaurant we know to be good, but when we're on the road our tastes generally fall into one of the above categories. Visit American consumer Mecca Disney World, however, and you get something very different. Disney restaurants usually offer either fast food or haute cuisine. Burgers or escargot. Sure, there are exceptions, like Animal Kingdom's Flame Tree Barbecue or the Frontierland Turkey Leg stand. Broadly speaking, however, the table service restaurants offer little of the comforting familiarity of the steaks, chicken, and seafood dishes that appear on the menus at Chili's, Applebee's, or Texas Roadhouse. Ordering spaghetti at EPCOT's Italian restaurant? It's got clams in it. Clams. Shouldn't clams in your spaghetti be something you have to specially request, like anchovies on your pizza? It shouldn't just come that way. And this being Disney, the prices are horribly inflated. A tiny plate of baby back ribs at Animal Kingdom's Yak and Yeti restaurant will run you $22.99. Basically, you pay Chili's prices for Burger King-quality food, and if you want Chili's quality food, then you pay whatever you would pay at Chili's if you wanted them to coat everything in gold.

And don't get me started on EPCOT's Coral Reef restaurant. One might expect an expensive seafood restaurant in the same building as the world's second-largest saltwater aquarium to offer at least the same variety of seafood as Red Lobster, right? Wrong. The Coral Reef's menu has only ten entrees on it, five of which are s
eafood dishes. Sad, sad, sad. But don't take my word for it. You can check out the menu right here. You can also read a review of the restaurant (apparently, the reviewer chose to go on a day when every employee in the place was having a bad day. Including the chef). Maybe things will change there now that the Seas pavilion is more kid-centric, but it woudn't surprise me if the only additions made to the menu were fish sticks and mac-'n-cheese.

You might protest that I'm being an unsophisticated yokel for complaining about this, and you're probably right. But, judging from the menus at America's most popular restaurants, most people are like me. Sure, we know that Disney kind of has us over a barrel, since we can't exactly leave the property at lunchtime. I just wish they weren't so obvious about taking advantage of it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Honest Look: Universe of Energy

Since Future World was initially devoted to the limitless potential of mankind's future, and since the early '80s saw us coming out of an energy crisis where we were forced to seriously consider the fact that fossil fuels would run out one day, one might have expected the Universe of Energy to focus on the future of energy beyond fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the sponsor Disney secured for this pavilion was none other than Exxon. Big oil! I don't know about you, but to me that's kind of like getting Sean Hannity to sponsor the French pavillion in World Showcase. Predictably, the show talked a lot about fossil fuels.

First, there was a film about the formation of fossil fuels, followed by a ride through a primeval landscape with Animatronic dinosaurs that were really the pavilion's main attraction. The ride ended with another film whose message was that, sure there were alternative energy sources like solar and wind, but they weren't economically viable yet, and until the Big Breakthrough to a cheap, inexhaustible energy source happens, we still haven't run out of fossil fuels provided by the Exxon corporation (there was no overt advertisement for Exxon, but the inference was definitely there). The main problem with the original show was that it was two PBS specials about energy with some Animatronic dinosaurs in the middle. Sure, the dinosaurs were pretty cool, but the fact that the films were projected onto giant screens wasn't enough to make up for their extreme boringness. The pre-show was interesting as a technical achievement (it was shown on a screen made up of 100 independently-rotating prism-shaped elements called a Kinetic Mosaic, invented by Czech director Emil Radok) but like the attraction's other films, it just wasn't that outstanding. Even worse, Universe of Energy's original incarnation featured not one, but two earnestly cheesy songs 1980s soft pop songs about energy. Tell me if these lyrics don't make you cringe:

En-er-GEEE, there is no living with-OUT youu
We must keep learning a-BOUT youu
Now is the time to find HOW tooo

Or, if you're in the mood for something unintentionally hilarious, try these:

Feel it grow, see it glow!
It's the Universe of Energy!

Trust me, the only thing worse than reading those lyrics is actually hearing them sung. Actually, don't trust me. Head over to the Media page at and download the original Universe of Energy ride-thru video so you can experience it yourself. If you have time, I recommend the Ultimate Tribute vi
deo, it's packed with lots of interesting information about the technical aspects of the pavilion.

In 1996, the show was upgraded to its current incarnation, Ellen's Energy Adventure. The story revolves around Ellen Degeneres having a dream in which she's playing a game of Jeopardy! with Jamie Lee Curtis and Alex Trebek. All
the questions are about energy, so she "pauses" the dream and enlists the help of Bill Nye the Science Guy to teach her all about energy so she can win the game. Goofy? Sure. But it presents pretty much the same information as the original version of the show in a more entertaining package. Unfortunately, all the 1990s pop culture in the show ensured that it would not age well. And of course, any show about energy that fails to address today's skyrocketing oil prices and the push toward alternative fuel sources is hardly worth your time.

Without a doubt, the original show contained some worthy elements. The same can be said of the current incarnation. Ultimately, which version o
f the show is "better" depends on your own personal taste. Personally, I like to compare the pavilion's two incarnations to the first two Star Trek movies. Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a bigger budget and was more intellectually stimulating, but it was boring and slow-moving. The Wrath of Khan had more entertainment value, but it definitely didn't take same the "highbrow" approach as its predecessor. Now that ExxonMobil no longer sponsors the pavilion, I hope that any future version of the Universe of Energy can be more honest about the energy challenges of the 21st century, and highlight the sources of energy we'll turn to once the fossil fuels run out.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Honest Look: The Living Seas

Many people are quite critical of the direction that EPCOT has taken since the lower-casing of the place in 1994. I generally agree, but not all of the changes made since EPCOT Center became Just Epcot have been negative. In this new Honest Look series, I'll be taking a look at the Future World attractions whose latest incarnations are either markedly better or at least no worse than the originals. First up is The Living Seas. Although EPCOT Center was nearly three-and-a-half years old by the time The Living Seas opened in January 1986, the pavilion was always part of the park's original plan. The 1982 book Walt Disney's EPCOT Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow painted a picture of the as-yet-unbuilt pavilion that was based on WED's bold, exciting initial concept for the attraction. Anyone who pored over that book, as I did at age 7, then experienced the version of the attraction that opened in 1986 must have been disappointed.

The WED Imagineers' original concept had guests being greeted by a giant Audio-Animatronic
Posiedon, God of the Sea, who would pull back a curtain of water to reveal the loading area for the ride portion of the attraction. The guests would then board clear plastic bubbles and be taken on a 10-minute ride through re-creations of some of the ocean's wonders, exiting at SeaBase Alpha. In the original concept, however, SeaBase Alpha would actually be located inside the aquarium, giving guests the feeling of really being deep beneath the ocean.

Sadly, the pavilion's sponsor United Technologies was run by the same breed of visionless, pointy-haired MBAs who voted to give Journey Into Imagination the New Coke treatment just to save money. And there was no way they were footing the bill for such an ambitious and expensive project. The attraction that got built, of course, boasted the largest man-made underwater environment in the world at the time, and it initially attracted huge crowds. I remember the first time I visited The Living Seas in late 1986; the line stretched out the front of the pavilion to the monorail track and this was late in the evening after the sun had set. When I next visited in the summer of 1989, the large crowds had disappeared. The line was short and moved quickly. The old Living Seas was perfectly servicable, it just had none of the "zazz" of WED's original concept. More than anything else, it was like a public aquarium you might visit in some place like Chicago. It lacked the old-school Disney charm of Horizons or Journey Into Imagination.
In the original version of The Living Seas, guests watched a short film on the formation of Earth's oceans, then boarded "Hydrolators" that supposedly took them down under the sea to a boarding area where they took a short ride to SeaBase Alpha via Omnimover vehicles called Seacabs. During the ride, you were treated to various views of the coral reef in the aquarium, and upon arrival at SeaBase Alpha you could view all kinds of educational exhibits. In 1998, United Technologies ended their sponsorship of the pavilion, and sometime in 2001 the Seacabs portion of the attraction was closed and the Hydrolators exited directly into SeaBase Alpha, which basically turned the Hydrolators into a purposeless bottleneck. Whatever Disney "specialness" The Living Seas once had was gone. Guests were staying away from the pavilion, and anyone could see that it needed some kind of "fun injection".

Disney's answer was to give the whole place a Pixar makeover. In 2006 The Seas With Nemo and Friends debuted. Gone were the Hydrolators and the introductory film. The drastically enlarged queue area creates the whimsical illusion of gradual entry into Nemo's undersea world from the beach. The Seacabs have been replaced by "ClamMobiles" that move horizontally along the same track the old ride used. Along the way, Nemo and other characters from the Pixar film appear to be swimming inside the aquarium, thanks to some cutting-edge technology. The ride exits into the Seabase (or whatever it's called, now) and there's an assortment of exhibits to browse. (I can't vouch for their educational content; my wife was really cranky the day we visited and had no tolerance for me scrutinizing the exhibits) Of course, the main draw in this area is the "Turtle Talk with Crush" show that utilizes the same technology seen in Tomorrowland's Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor to enable kids to actually "interact" with Crush, who kind of reminds me of Keanu Reeves in sea turtle form. It's not one bit educational, but the kids seem to love it. I visited this new incarnation of the Seas pavilion on Labor Day weekend 2007, and I haven't seen the place as crowded since 1986. The line stretched out the door, even though the indoor queue area is so large that a first-time visitor starts to wonder if there's any room in the building for the giant aquarium they've heard about.

So, was the Nemo refurb a good thing, or did Disney give the Living Seas the Journey-Into-Imagination-New-Coke treatment? Well, unlike the hated Imagination refurb, Disney actually spent a lot of their own money on this one (the pavilion still doesn't have a sponsor), and the new version of the attraction certainly costs more to operat
e than before. It would have been nice to see Disney make a real effort to get kids thinking about the effects of human behavior on the oceans, maybe working in something about how Nemo and his friends are being affected by global warming (which harms coral reefs) and overfishing. Maybe there's an exhibit somewhere in the Seabase that mentions those topics, but it would have been nice to see them get more attention.

In the final analysis, The Seas with Nemo and Friends isn't worse than The Living Seas, it's just different.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Another post from the old blog: On the new Star Trek film

Star Trek used to have the most devoted fans anywhere. Naturally we loved really spectacular outings like "The City on the Edge of Forever" or The Wrath of Khan, but we were also the only people on Earth who were able to derive enjoyment from turkeys like "Spock's Brain" or Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Back in the pre-Internet era, there was really no such thing as bad Star Trek. Some episodes and movies were simply less good than others. Maybe it was because Star Trek's heart was always in the right place in those days. Even klunky Treks like "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" or The Search for Spock were trying to say something positive about the human condition. Gene Roddenberry, the cast, and the many behind-the-scenes personnel were trying to give us something substantive, a show that was about something.

After the death of Gene Roddenberry, the franchise was mostly run by people cared little for the quality of the product, as long as the Star Trek cash cow continued to generate revenue. The good Trek that was being made (DS9) was roundly ignored and underpromoted in favor of the hackneyed, formulaic branches of the franchise (Voyager, Enterprise, and most of the TNG movies). This created an air of cynicism in the fanbase. The attitude began to emerge that to be a really-and-truly dyed-in-the-wool Trekker you had to refuse to eagerly lap up the watered-down, inferior Star Trek that Paramount was pushing. New stuff like the TNG movies, Voyager, and later Enterprise had to be beneath you. It wasn't good enough to be a Star Trek fan, you had to be a Star Trek connoisseur. In fact, the depth of your devotion to Star Trek could be measured by how much of the franchise you disliked. My favorite example of this kind of dysfunctional fan is a fellow at TrekBBS who, over the years, has gone by the names Great Mambo Chicken, Mister Stinky Pants, and most recently The God Thing. The only Star Trek this guy will tolerate (I swear I'm not making this up) is the first two seasons of the Original Series and The Motion Picture. If anyone dares to suggest that any other part of the Star Trek franchise is any good, The God Thing will flame that person to a crisp with the fires of His wrath.

I realize I'm rambling here, but basically my point is that Trekkies used to like whatever Star Trek The Powers That Be saw fit to give us, but due to ten-plus years of disappointment and stupidity on the part of the caretakers of the franchise, we've become a cynical lot who are skeptical of any new Star Trek project that comes down the pike and pretty much instantly look for any reason at all to dislike it. Nowhere has this been more evident that with the new J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek film that's set to be released on Christmas of this year. Upon learning that it focuses on the Original Series timeframe, a contingent of hardcore Trek connoisseurs decided that the set, costume, and prop design had to exactly mirror what we saw on the Original Series. Only a mentally ill person would expect a big-budget movie made in 2008 to strive to exactly duplicate the look of a 1960s television show that was shot on plywood sets, but these people are serious. Even after noted purist James Cawley visited the set and without spilling the beans assured us that, yes, things are different but they're different in a good way, you still get the feeling that some folks aren't convinced.

In the midst of all this negativity, you certainly couldn't blame the folks at the helm of the new film to distance themselves from the fanbase. To the contrary, though, J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Damon Lindeloff, and others associated with the production have gone out of their way to reach out to the fans and assure them that they take Star Trek very seriously and are determined to make a good movie. Their comments, coupled with the recent teaser trailer, really prove to me that they get what Star Trek is supposed to be about. So get real, people. Star Trek is over forty years old; the sets, props, costumes, and ships are going to look different from their 1960s counterparts. For the first time ever (outside the world of fanfilms, that is) different actors will be playing Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. But I'm convinced that this movie's heart will be in the right place, and I'm willing to overlook any little imperfections the finished film might have, just like I used to do with "Spock's Brain" and "The Alternative Factor", back before the Internet when gas was cheap and the world was young.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fixing Future World: The Little Things

There are many critical voices that say Future World is broken and needs fixing. They offer thoughtful, well-written opinions on why it was a mistake to close Horizons, how Finding Nemo has nothing to do with the theme of Future World, or how Future World doesn't really have a theme anymore.

In a perfect world, Disney would realize their mistake and spare no expense to undo all the damage that's been done since 1994 when EPCOT Center first became simply "Epcot". Even if the economy wasn't circling the drain, though, it's just not realistic to expect the pointy-haired MBAs who run the company to suddenly "get it" and do something so drastic.

So, as a low-cost alternative, how about this? Instead of each attraction having its own distinctive signage, how about bringing back the unique circular logos for each pavilion, and rendering all the signage in the classic "EPCOT" font (which looks like something in the Handel Gothic family, if you ask me). Future World may no longer have thematic unity, but at least there can be visual unity, some sense that all these attractions are part of the same "land". I'm not sure what the cost of this would be, but I imagine it'd be well under a million dollars. To a company that rakes in money the way a fishing trawler vacuums up fish, that's chump change.

Don't get me wrong; I want Horizons back, and I want Dreamfinder back in an Imagination pavilion with an enjoyable ride that takes up the whole first floor, with the second floor devoted to an updated and revitalized ImageWorks. I want a Seas pavilion that meaningfully addresses the damage that humans are doing to the marine environment. I want a Life and Health pavilion, too. But since we're never going to get any of that stuff, how about just the cool circular logos and everything in the same font? Is that too much to ask?

Journey Into Imagination Remembered

This post originally appeared in my old blog, but it fits in so well with the theme of this one that I edited it a little and moved it over here.

One of the vanished EPCOT Center attractions I remember fondly is the original Journey Into Imagination. While this beautiful building hasn't been defaced to look more hip (like World of Motion) or torn down and replaced with something inferior (like Horizons), its insides have been ripped out and a slipshod, obviously cheap attraction has been stuffed into its place.

Now, I understand that EPCOT was never meant to always stay the same. As technology advanced and visitors' tastes changed, the park was supposed to change with them. So if guests began to tire of a certain attraction because they felt it was boring or dated or whatever, then of course it should be changed to something they would like better. And, to their credit, Disney has done just that with a couple attractions. Back in the mid-90s they replaced the stodgy, boring show at Universe of Energy into the more entertaining Ellen's Energy Adventure. Around the same time, they converted the slow-moving World of Motion into the thrill-oriented Test Track, which, while hardly visionary, seems to be a pretty big hit.

So, one might expect that the decision to close Journey Into Imagination in 1998 for a yearlong refurbishment was made because park visitors had tired of the old ride and were staying away from it. According to Wikipedia, though, that simply isn't true. Imagination was, in fact, a very popular EPCOT destination. It saw more visitors each day than the park's flagship attraction, Spaceship Earth. This is pretty impressive when you consider that Spaceship Earth is the first thing you see as you enter the park, and you have to walk right under its enormous globe to get to the rest of EPCOT, whereas the Imagination pavilion is fairly easy to bypass without even trying. Imagination saw so many visitors, not because they were herded there by the park's natural traffic pattern, but because genuinely liked and enjoyed it.

There was, however, a problem. Kodak's contract to sponsor Journey into Imagination was set to expire, and rival corporation Fujifilm had submitted a proposal to take over sponsorship and turn the attraction into a thrill ride. Kodak wanted to stay, so they made a counterproposal that involved refurbishing the ride into a less-expensive one. Disney bean-counters had never liked Journey into Imagination because it was the most expensive EPCOT ride to operate (owing to its length and sophistication), so they accepted Kodak's idea. Journey Into Imagination closed in October 1998 to implement the Kodak proposal.

Remember 1985? When Coca-Cola, makers of the most popular soft drink in the history of the industry, decided that the best thing they could possibly do with their flagship beverage (which had a fiercely loyal multigenerational customer base, by the way) was screw up the formula and make it worse? Yes, the refurbished ride went over like a lead balloon filled with New Coke. Gone was the lighthearted 11-minute ride featuring the whimsical Dreamfinder and his equally whimsical companion (and unofficial EPCOT mascot) Figment. In its place was a 5-minute joyless tie-in to the Honey I Shrunk the Audience 3-D movie next door. In the new Journey Into Your Imagination, you were led by the Imagination Institute's Dr. Nigel Channing through various "labs" at the Institute then deposited into a seriously anemic post-show area which was (and still is) basically just one big commercial for Kodak. People disliked the ride so much that Disney closed it in early October 2001. Folks had high hopes that Disney would fix the attraction they had once loved, and when its doors opened again they'd be greeted by the Dreamfinder and Figment once again.

Back to the New Coke analogy for a moment. Imagine that, faced with customer outrage over the replacement of classic Coca-Cola with New Coke, the company had "responded" by pulling New Coke off the market and replacing it with Crystal Pepsi.

Well, that's exactly what Disney did with Imagination. When the ride reopened about 9 months later it was called Journey Into Your Imagination With Figment. Eric Idle's annoying Dr. Channing was still there to lead you through the Imagination Institutes' boring labs, only now Figment showed up and caused the ride to detour into his imagination, which consists of words painted on the walls and cobbled-together bits of defunct attractions littered about. The only positive thing about it is that Disney had the good sense to retain the Sherman Brothers' classic song "One Little Spark", and it's hard not to leave the ride singing it. Other than that one thing, the ride is a sparse, empty, joyless waste of five minutes. And the post-show ImageWorks area is even worse.

Back before the first refurb, the ride took up almost the entire first floor of the building. After it was over, guests were encouraged to climb up to the ImageWorks on the second floor, which you accessed by ascending a winding staircase that took you up into the glass pyramids that are the pavilion's most distinctive feature. The second floor landing was a light and airy place that afforded a magnificent view of the rest of the park. It had a bench or two and was a good place for parents to wait if they got tired of chasing the kids through the ImageWorks' many interesting activities. It was easily the best post-show area at EPCOT. After the refurb the ImageWorks was moved downstairs. It's a sparse, empty area now, a lot like the new ride that precedes it. Mainly, it's just a showcase for some of Kodak's more banal services.

I don't have visitation statistics for this newest incarnation of the Imagination pavilion, but the two times I've been there the place seemed almost deserted. Very few guests seemed to bother with it at all. I was able to get onto the ride with no wait, and as I looked around the ImageWorks I didn't once have to worry about tripping over a kid, because there weren't very many there. I felt like I had the place to myself. So, is it worth it to have an attraction that's inexpensive to operate if no one is, you know, attracted to it? Disney used to care about such things, but these days they're too busy jacking up their prices and adding an "Up With America" room to Disneyland's It's a Small World (complete, in a rumor I just made up, with Animatronic Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly dolls) to care about doing things that make sense. I guess it's not surprising that Disney is acting like all the other brain-dead visionless megacorporations out there, it's just disappointing.

At least we have the Internet. For a bit of nostalgia, check out Martin Smith's excellent tribute to Journey into Imagination, the way it was:


Welcome to what I like to think of as My Blog 2.0. The old one, GeorgeKirk's Minutiae, will stay up for a while, but I may be moving a post or two from there to here.

So, why "Futureprobe"? Well, Futureprobe was one of the names floated for EPCOT Center's Horizons attraction when it was in its conceptual phase. Since I'm a big Horizions-phile, and since 1970s and 80s retro-futurism is something near and dear to my heart, the title was a natural fit. Also, I wanted my blog to have an actual theme and an easy-to-remember title. Let's face it, "GeorgeKirk's Minutiae" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

Still, like the old blog, this new one is just a padded cell in which I mutter to myself. This one just has more hexagons.