Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The American Adventure Suffers A Costume Change

The latest in a long line of befuddling changes and cuts, Disney management has taken measures to change Cast Member’s costuming at EPCOT’s American Adventure from  thematic colonial garb to a much more “modern” and professional costume consisting of a double breasted suit for men, and a skirt and blazer for women. Previously, men wore period appropriate breeches and a tunic, while women donned bonnets and flowing dresses. These costumes reflected American in it’s infancy and the aesthetics of the Federal Style, the overriding date for most of the pavilion’s trappings. 

Welcome to Soarin...er...The Amercian Adventure
©2012 The Walt Disney Company.  All Rights Reserved.
These costumes have existed for the past 30 years, seemingly, and have fit and interacted well with the American Adventure’s theme and mission to educate and entertain guests with the patriotism and history that has guided America for the past 300 years. Serving as an extension of the building itself, having the cast clad  in historic clothing was (and still is) part of the Disney Difference in creating an environment that is believable, cogent, and respectful to the history or story being conveyed. 

This is not to say that the costumes were the only appropriate choice for the pavilion, or for EPCOT. By nature of it’s theme and intent, EPCOT is very different from the Magic Kingdom, or any of her sister parks. EPCOT is a showplace for technology and world culture and fully acknowledges that. Though most of the World Showcase pavilions do create a striking illusion of being transported to the country depicted, it is very easy to see that the pavilions are designed to be grand showplaces of the achievements and the people of their nations. EPCOT deals in exhibition but dabbles is place making and illusion. The American Adventure is a prime example of this.

The New American Adventure Look posted on The Hub
©2012 The Walt Disney Company.  All Rights Reserved
Despite being designed in the Federal Style, the American Adventure takes no pains to hide that her show has characters and events from all of American History. Take a stroll around the beautiful lobby and you’ll see pictures and artifacts of recent events. A personal favorite is the McCall painting depicting America in the Space Race. The American Adventure creates a thematic environment with historical accuracy to a period, but can display all of history, as it is part of EPCOT; a showplace and exhibition hall. 

Considering this, a costume change is not intrinsically a bad thing. If Creative Costuming had elected to make dress the cast in a more professional vein, that would have been fine, as it reflects the museum quality of EPCOT. But this costume change looks to be a shift toward the garish and the cheap. It appears that Disney was aiming for a “museum docent” look, but instead landed upon a stereotypical “airplane pilot/stewardess” aesthetic. These costumes look more in line with what one would expect to find at Soarin’, especially considering the hues of blue and red in the renderings.
If anything, a simple, modern, streamlined suit and tie for the men, and a professional skirt and blouse for the ladies would be appropriate, perhaps with a flag lapel to reflect the patriotic sentiment of the pavilion.

Lonnie Hicks: Face of The American Adventure
Photo Credit: Attractions Magazine
It is a great hope that the decision to change the costumes at the American Adventure is seen as a poor one, in time. The choice to modify them comes out of the blue, though it has been reported that a heavily slanted guest survey was instituted so as to give credence to the change. Lonnie Hicks, a veteran cast member of the pavilion, has been adamant against the new costumes, and in the past has been successful in rallying the often lackadaisical management at Team Disney Orlando in correcting problems. In 2006, he was successful in a restoration effort for The Golden Dream, the sailing ship that is moored in World Showcase Lagoon by the American Gardens Theater which had subsequently been destroyed in a hurricane. 

With this in mind, hopefully cooler heads will prevail that know what is right for EPCOT and what is right for the thematic and cogency of the American Adventure. Costumes are relatively small detail in the grand scheme of running a world class theme park. But with Disney, these are the details that matter and adherence to them is what allows Disney to be special, and believable.

Follow @EPCOTExplorer on Twitter and check out his blog, The Explorium, for more articles about EPCOT and Walt Disney World.

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