Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Walt Disney's EPCOT Film: Parkscope YouTube Tuesday #6

Is this the most momentous film in Disney history? Hard to argue. After all, where would Disney be today had Roy not decided to build Walt Disney World? Certainly no one else of the Disney regime, even Eisner and Wells, would have built it to the specifications they inherited in 1984. Certainly there would be no EPCOT Center. And certainly the Magic Kingdom would be at the intersection of 192, as the operators wanted, instead of in the northwest corner of the property, as Walt wanted. Would Disney be as successful, or as large, as it is today without Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain?

“But wait,” you say, “certainly the Disneyland announcement was just as crucial to the success of the Disney Company?” I agree completely, but the EPCOT film gave a  special element to Disney’s future that the Disneyland announcement did not have: the unbuilt dream of EPCOT. It would have been like Disneyland only opening Adventureland and Frontierland, and never building out the rest. The tantalizing unfinished EPCOT project fired a million imaginations, and forever included a dark cloud over any future Disney development. “Sure it’s good, but it’s not EPCOT.” Even to this day, ill-informed tour guides and fan sites regurgitate the corporatized, sugar-coated version of the inception of the Epcot theme park: that Walt had intended to make EPCOT a city, but that this city “turned into” a World’s Fair-like theme park. As hardcore Disney fans know, that is complete bull. The secret, of course, is in the name. The Imagineers called the theme park “EPCOT Center,” not “EPCOT.” It was not supposed to be a city. The theme park was supposed to be the center of the city. The city, of course, being the entirety of Walt Disney World. Even in 1982, Imagineers were still hoping against hope that at some point, Disney corporate might actually decide to build out the city. They even started to do just that. After all, the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village was designed to be a shopping village for the city. The Disney Villas across the lake were designed to be model homes for the city. But alas, it never came to pass.

Though certainly Walt made the EPCOT film to announce to the world his plans for the Florida Project and what wonderful things were in store for the next great Disney kingdom, the film also had two other goals: 1. Provide a “thesis” video for Walt to present to Florida legislators to convince them to allow Walt to have unprecedented regulatory power over his new land, and 2. Recruit possible corporate partners to invest and participate in the EPCOT project. The film worked so well that Disney received these grants even after his death. The Florida legislators did indeed grant Disney unprecedented regulatory powers via the Reedy Creek Improvement District. And years later, American and International corporate sponsors lined up around the block to be included in EPCOT Center. And it was all because of Walt’s presentation.

Walt was in full presentation mode in this pitch. Having practiced his delivery so many times on the Disneyland TV show (and after his very awkward first attempt to sell the opening of Disneyland), Walt had every Disney nuance and storytelling skill on display to announce his latest and greatest dream. He included a historical build-up (as he loved to do in most of his Disneyland educational shows like “Magic Highway USA,” and “Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom) featuring the exciting happenings at Disneyland, then goes into a full speech about the Florida Project, and then includes a full animated demonstration from 13:10 to 24:18. These educational animated presentations, of course, had been perfected by Disney over the preceding 11+ years of the television show’s history (and even longer including the educational films Disney made for the military during WWII). These animations were simple and necessary to sell the concept to the public.

And boy, did he sell it. Throughout his time on screen, he gushes about the Florida project. “There is enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.” And keep in mind folks, his entire speech was done without a script or a teleprompter. His countless Disneyland TV appearances had made him an excellent public speaker. And in this film, he speaks directly from the heart.

We all know this was Walt’s last filmed appearance. Only his closest friends and relatives knew how much pain he was in. When the cameras stopped rolling, he coughed incessantly and he had pain all over his body. But you’d never know it from looking at him here. This is our last time capsule of Walt Disney, with a twinkle in his eye and an endless passion about how he was going to change the world for the better. And I can think of no better lasting memory for the man himself.  

--Jeff (@ParkScopeJeff)

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