Monday, November 29, 2010

The Minicot Project

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the extremely good fortune to take the Undiscovered Future World tour recently with the guys behind the Minicot project. What is Minicot, you ask? Well, rather than tell you about it, I’ll just show it to you. Or rather, I’ll let YouTube show it to you:

Now, if only somebody would give these guys several million dollars and a 5-story, 130,000 square-foot building, I’ll bet they could come up with a pretty excellent re-creation of Horizons.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Undiscovered Future World Tour Reviewed

Okay, first of all I know the Disney literature calls it the UnDISCOVERed Future World tour, but I refuse to spell it like that. It looks like the Caps Lock key got stuck. I’ve wanted to take this tour ever since I first learned of its existence a few years ago, and when we got Annual Passes last year I vowed that I would do it before they expired.

If you’re an EPCOT geek (and if you’re reading this, I assume you are) then you have to realize that you’ll find very little that’s new or informative in the script that your guide is required to recite, and really that’s to be expected. You do, however, get to go into some really cool areas where your average park visitor is not allowed. For example, the Living Seas VIP lounge:

Sorry for the poor picture quality; my camera isn’t very good in low-light conditions. I was surprised by how large the lounge is. It’s easily as big as the Coral Reef restaurant, probably bigger. In a perfect world, it would be converted into an exclusive lounge for EPCOT Center aficionados, and the password to gain entry would be “George McGinnis”.

You also get to go into Mission:Space’s Mission Control and take a close-up look at the control console prop that you can see from the queue:

The level of detail is very high; the buttons all work, and some of the little video screens are playing the footage of the bird that always set off the alarm in Tomorrowland’s old Mission to Mars attraction.

You also get to go into the (surprisingly small) backstage area at Universe of Energy. There are a couple of unused pterodactyl Animatronics stored there, and they’re the only thing you’re allowed to photograph backstage, as long as you don’t photograph them from an angle that reveals more of the room.

The best things on the tour, though, is the stuff the guide doesn’t point out to you, the little pieces of EPCOT Center that litter the backstage areas. Things like a Magic Journeys-era sign with Figment on it that tells guests where to deposit their 3D glasses after the show, a prop from Kitchen Kaberet, or what looks to be a vintage Universe of Energy operations manual sitting on a shelf in a back room. That’s the stuff that really makes the Undiscovered Future World tour worth the money.

I must admit, though, I felt kind of like an invader in some of the backstage areas, particularly in the Cast Services building. When they’re onstage, Cast Members are expected to stay “in character” at all times, and be friendly, cheerful, polite, and happy regardless of what’s going on in their lives. Backstage, away from the prying eyes of demanding Disney vacationers, they can decompress a bit and drop the Public Relations smile for a moment. All the Cast Members we met were exceptionally friendly, of course, but I still felt like an intruder.

A few of my online friends encouraged me to ask the guide to take us to the old upstairs ImageWorks. We had a large group, though, so it really wouldn’t have been feasible. However, I had a good fortune to have a couple of the guys from Minicot in the group with me.  These guys have, among other things, built a scaled-down Soarin’ replica at their home in Minnesota. I’ll have more about their impressive work in my next post.

So, is the Undiscovered Future World tour worth the time and the money? Absolutely. Your casual Disney visitor would probably find it rather boring (except the part where you get to ride Soarin’ via the VIP entrance, that is) but in the absence of a true EPCOT Center Geek’s tour, Undiscovered Future World is the next best thing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Whatever Happened to the City of the Future?

In September 1966, the original Star Trek debuted on NBC, and gave this blog one reason to exist. In October, Walt Disney gave it another one: the EPCOT project.

From Vimeo via EPCOTMedia

Not many people love EPCOT Center more than I do, but if I could take a one-way trip to a universe where Walt’s original concept was realized and EPCOT was a city instead of a theme park, I wouldn’t even hesitate. The way I see it, PeopleMovers beat Omnimovers every time.

I must admit, it’s bittersweet (okay, more bitter than sweet) to look back on a time when Disney’s creative energies were focused on urban planning and futuristic transportation systems rather than merchandise sales. But thanks to the Internet, an innovation Walt Disney never could have imagined, the good ideas that made up the original EPCOT project are still floating around in the electronic ether, waiting to be discovered by new generations. Maybe one day they’ll resurface, and we’ll get our pedestrian-friendly city of PeopleMovers and Monorails after all.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Gangsta Mickey?

Disney fan community, I owe you an apology. You see, on Saturday, October 16 I was standing in EPCOT’s Innoventions Plaza a few minutes before rope drop, and I overheard a couple of middle-aged ladies behind me decrying how today’s kids don’t know the words to the Mickey Mouse Club song.

“Before long, they’ll probably bring it back as a rap song,” I joked.

The ladies laughed.

“Gangsta Mickey!” I said, certain that Disney would never do anything so ridiculous.

They laughed even more.

I should have kept my mouth shut, because Disney obviously has listening devices hidden throughout the parks, and whenever a tourist, their brain functions dulled by the phenomenon I call Vacation Stupidity, says something like “I wish there was a show where Stitch ate a chili dog and then burped in your face,” or “You know what the Tiki Room needs? Gilbert Gottfried!”, it sets off the Bad Idea Alarm at Disney Corporate Headquarters, and the Imagineers are ordered at gunpoint to bring this idea to life.

How else can you explain the show Disney Dance Crew, which debuted one week later in Anaheim? Perhaps you are not familiar with Disney Dance Crew. Allow me to enlighten you:

If you’re like me, your reaction to that show went something like this:

Normally I try to have at least one positive thing to say about the stuff I criticize, but this time I’ve got nothing. Nothing at all. Disney Dance Crew is nothing more than a pathetic attempt by a committee of middle-aged suit-wearing white men to appeal to a young audience they don’t understand and don’t particularly like. It’s more degrading than reality television. And it’s all my fault.

Still, I guess we should just be thankful that Mickey didn’t come out holding a gun sideways, or introduce Minnie as his “’ho”.

Oops, I’d better not say that when I’m on the parks. I don’t want to set off the Bad Idea Alarm again.