With the massive overhaul of Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in Florida nearly complete, the resort is already turning its focus on a transformation of the Epcot theme park, unlike anything we’ve seen before.
While Walt Disney World will be turning 50 in 2021, Epcot will only turn 39 on October 1st, 2021; just in time for some of the first new additions to open. I’ve got a feeling this celebration will also turn into a celebration of Epcot’s 40th anniversary, a year later where even more updates will roll out to the public.
What has been announced so far is a very interesting mix. However, it seems that the true plan for Epcot’s transformation involves moving both forwards and backwards at the same time. Based on what was announced at the D23 Expo this summer, there is a definite retro push happening at Epcot.
A new park logo based on the original ‘Epcot Center’ logo, a revival of the park’s old attraction emblems mixed in with new ones, and even a remodel of the park entrance that has removed the 20 year old Leave a Legacy monoliths and will instead bring back a more garden-style feel; complete with a retro re-creation of the old fountain that sat just outside the entrance to Spaceship Earth.
Even the interim night show launching this Tuesday (Oct. 1st, 2019) is called Epcot Forever which will feature a retro park theme and is heavy on the music tracks and memories of past park attractions. Re-recorded tracks for the show will feature several songs. They include Magic Journeys, Listen to the Land, Tomorrow’s Child and One Little Spark.
Moving forward for Epcot
While the park is selling all this nostalgia, it is also simultaneously painting a new future. This future will be very different from the Epcot of old. When Epcot opened in 1982, it was intended to mimic the feel of a World’s Fair. This was in terms of both theming as well as the operational aspects. This meant that every pavilion and exhibit in the park was to be sponsored by a company. Or, it could also be through a partnership with a country in the case of the World Showcase pavilions. There was also a very conscious effort to keep the traditional ‘Disney’ characters out of Epcot for a long time, and instead keep the theme of everything more based in reality.
While this worked well for much of Epcot’s first decade, certain aspects of the park began to show their age in the 1990s. Over the second decade, things began to change, as the sponsorship business model began to fail with companies dropping out. At the same time, the general public had also begun to wise-up and sour on the concept of too much corporate sponsorship. As certain sponsors departed, some attractions were also closed. Likewise, some attractions may have been changed to better tie in with a new sponsor.
The beginnings of Epcot’s transformation
Looking back, I think the first step towards Epcot’s transformation may have begun in 2003 at The Living Seas pavilion. The pavilion was full of living marine creatures. It could not just be simply shut down when the sponsor left in 1998. In fact, it needed some kind of an update, and the timing was just perfect in 2003. This was when Pixar’s Finding Nemo film splashed into theatres that summer with a $936 million worldwide box-office take.
Very quickly, a little bit of Finding Nemo decoration began to appear outside the attraction that same year. This was then followed by an interactive ‘Turtle Talk with Crush’ added to the inside in 2004. By late 2005, the pavilion changed its name to ‘The Seas with Nemo & Friends’. Then by early 2007, the first half of the pavilion experience had been transformed into a Finding Nemo themed dark ride experience.
I believe this may have been the first time the theme of an animated Disney / Pixar film was used to take over a major attraction/pavilion at Epcot. And the guests seemed to love it. Technically this was not the first Disney ‘IP’ to be used as an attraction at Epcot. The live-action ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’ film series was turned into the popular ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Audience’ 4D theatre attraction at the nearby Imagination Pavilion. This was a replacement for the departing Captain EO 4D film about a decade earlier in 1994.
Is IP the future for Epcot attractions?
Over the past few years, we’ve seen more Disney IP brought into Epcot with various success. Take, for example, the addition of The Three Caballeros characters to the dark boat ride in the Mexico pavilion. Likewise, also with the complete transformation of the former Maelstrom dark ride in Norway into Frozen Ever After.
This seems to be the future of Epcot’s transformation, as major attractions are under construction to bring Guardians of the Galaxy and Ratatouille to life. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy will add the first roller coaster to Epcot in time for the 2021 celebration. On the other hand, the media-heavy Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure dark ride is expected to open as early as late 2020. It will be an expansion of the France pavilion in World Showcase.
Beyond these two projects, Disney has also announced that a Disney character-themed ‘Play Pavilion’ is on the way to take over the closed Wonders of Life pavilion building. There will also be a small Moana themed ‘Journey of Water’ walk-through attraction space, as well as a new Mary Poppins themed area and attraction added to the UK Pavilion in World Showcase.
There will still be other renovations on the way, keeping with the Epcot theme of old. They include a new edition of the park’s iconic Spaceship Earth attraction and a new Space-themed restaurant. All new Circle-Vision movies will also be added to the China and Canada pavilions.
Beyond this, even more is rumoured to be in the planning stages to continue Epcot’s transformation. This is an evolution I can’t wait to see, as Epcot always was Disney’s most unique park experience.