Epcot has never been EPCOT. Walt's 1960s vision of a techno-utopia in the middle of central Florida's swamps died with him. Throughout the 70s Epcot then became all of Walt Disney World - see you don't need a separate city when all the infrastructure we built is Epcot! After the semi-successful Lake Buena Vista Village, Disney then combined the proposed World Showcase located next to the TTC with a proposed technology-focused Worlds Fair park to form EPCOT Center.
The EPCOT of 1982, of course, was nowhere near what EPCOT the city would be proposed as. Instead, it was a park based on sponsorships, corporate and governmental, and all the baggage that comes with that. Think Exxon telling people about global warming was bad? Just imagine what would have happened if the prominent supporters of apartheid sponsored the South Africa pavilion. Yeesh. The park was well-liked by the general public despite its obvious flaws. Slow-moving dark rides, walk-through attractions, and theatrical presentations are the bread and butter of a Worlds Fair but generally disappoint people who just rode the new Big Thunder Mountain Railway at the Magic Kingdom.
In 1984 Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took over The Walt Disney Company during the stock market takeover days of Gordon Gekko. Eisner did not like EPCOT Center, he immediately canceled several major projects for the park and realigned the park. No longer a simple Worlds Fair, Epcot (lowercase) would refocus on the hottest new exhibition of technology: the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES.
CES had several important factors that the Worlds Fairs did not have: relevant celebrities, modern design trends, modern music, and action. CommuniCore's expanded pavilion exhibits became Innovention's permanent CES. Major pavilions saw celebrity-hosted, or thrill ride-focused, changes. The peak of this time was Epcot's Millennium Celebration where many classic parts of Epcot saw their last updates and many classics were introduced.
Epcot's changes bottomed out from 2008 through 2016 when temporary festivals such as Food & Wine took over the focus for their affordability. Disney fans were understandably frustrated as pavilions became stale, outdated, and just plain old broken. Demands were made for a new focus and updates to Epcot. These dreams were fulfilled in 2017 as Disney announced a major redevelopment of Epcot- new attractions, new nighttime shows, and more.
Throughout all versions of Epcot, the goal was to represent the best of humanity through technology and culture. The park had something to say, no matter how biased or tainted by Reagan-era America it was. Do the new attractions live up to the Epcot goals and dedication? Do they triumph where prior attractions failed? Or, more basically, are they just good and fun?
Guardians of the Galaxy - Cosmic Rewind
While many see the two show buildings as a waste of space it is actually quite a brilliant feat of engineering. Several tweets went viral when POVs dropped about the excess space in the show building. Do you think if Disney had the option they would rather build a smaller building and not one that's needlessly large? All this space is needed for the projections and lighting systems, it's just the right size.
The rollercoaster experience itself is very similar to other "coasters in a box" - a twisty, helix-driven experience from the top to the bottom of the ride. Think Rock'n'Rollercoaster, not Hulk. The new feature brought to the table is a powered rotation system similar to a Disney "omnimover" ride vehicle. This similarity gave the system its name, the omnicoaster. This ride system allows for ride vehicles to rotate 360* as the coaster moves.
As anyone who's gone through high school physics knows that the velocity of an object is impacted by the center of mass, so as the ride vehicle's center changes as the vehicles rotate the vehicle can gain and lose speed. This causes speed issues throughout the ride, so to make sure the vehicle gets through the complete circuit there is a second lift hill (launch hill?) halfway through the ride. In fact, if you count the opening small lift hill, this attraction has three lift hills, which is as many as Big Thunder.
The ride experience is somewhere around the backward section of Expedition Everest, slightly more intense than Space Mountain at Disneyland. The rotation of vehicles adds, as well as subtracts, from experience. The much-touted omicoaster's ability to focus riders doesn't actually work. Attractions with squelching and projected media also have high walls around the ride vehicles to frame the image. Cosmic Rewindws vehicles do not have a way to focus the guests to see one thing, just the rotating. This causes issues when characters warp wildly as the squelching overcompensates for the projection setup. Thankfully segments like this are infrequent.
The good news is the controlled rotating does add a lot of fun to the ride experience. The highlight of the ride is immediately after the launch, where an oddly shaped turn then transitions into a block break segment. Normally on a coaster, this segment would lead to high lateral g-forces, which would be completely uncomfortable. But instead, Cosmic Rewind uses this point to rotate the vehicles to the front with us facing toward the ride's roof. Disney put up here projections of a solar system and nebulas, making it feel like we are floating in a newly hatched space.
Overall the ride experience is a lot of fun, and if Disney can figure out what is making people motion sick and reduce its effects, they have a winner of a ride system.
But you might have noticed, that I haven't talked about Zandar, Peter Quill, Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora, and allllllllll that entails. For good reason, I wanted to touch on the actual ride experience first before diving into Disney fandom's hot-button topic. THE question, THAT question, still remains: Does Cosmic Rewind fit in Epcot?
Walt Disney Imagineering, particularly Zach Riddley the Creative Portfolio Executive for Epcot, has stated that Epcot is now focused on human stories. Future World, a name that never quite described that section of the park well, is split into new "communities": World Celebration, World Nature, and World Discovery. The naming convention now is based on World Showcase but with 1982 Future World fonts and icons. Each land aims to explore humanity's relationships to various aspects of nature, culture, technology, and each other.
The confusion continues with Cosmic Rewind, where Disney uses the same font and branding to create the "Other World Showcase" pavilion, which isn't located in World Showcase. Instead, because the pavilion is future spaced themed, it's in World Discovery. While the ride is about going back in time to the big bang, the pavilion "theme" is of a fake alien civilization. This sort of vibes forward theming Disney is leaning into recently (I'll touch on this later).
Wonders of Xandu, as the pavilion is named, attempts to bring the Marvel IP to life within the boundaries of traditional Epcot. Inside the old UoE building is a large, spiraling room with an overhead video explaining humanity's various ways of establishing contact with intelligent life. Once on the second floor of the attraction, there are three rooms with various dioramas and exhibits about Xandar and the Nova Corps, a sort of Peace Corps the way of the Pinkertons. Here is where some of the first cracks start to form in terms of being an "Epcot attraction". There are attempts to link Xandairan culture or technology to humans but it falls flat without actual examples. Why aren't Nova Corp and Peace Corp intertwined? What about Actual technology examples? Instead, we get a video of Starlord making jokes about old Epcot shows. It feels lazy, which is a disappointment.
The next set of preshows is very Epcot-y: a set of three preshows! Woohoo! First is the merge room, where stand-by and Lighting Lane/FastPass/whatever-it's-called-now combine into a single group. Soon the doors open and we're onto the second room, a futuristic room with large wrap-around screens above us. Here we see Glenn Close and Terry Crews set up our plot: we are transported off our planet to a Nova Corp station in space, where we will see a demonstration of a power source McGuffin.
Glenn mentions we will be beamed up and we get a big setup for expectations for the next room. After some safety talk by Terry, we head into the third room with a typical lightweight, high-speed wall mechanism that lifts up to reveal our new view of Earth from the vessel. It's a nifty effect but nearly all the drama or release is deflated by constantly reminding us about teleportation. This effect, moment, and the story would all do much better if Glenn's character simply says Terry's character will give us the details of how we will get up to the station, or something. Terry forgets to mention it, we enter the kinda weird and creepy holding area, with lots of sounds and lights, and boom we're on the space station. Highlights the dysfunction that could lead to the next plot point and be more fun, ya know.
Anyway, the power plant McGuffin is stolen, the Guardians show up, we are enlisted into some sort of ploy to distract this bad guy, we win, etc. We leave in a transit area behind the scenes of the pavilion as if we entered a Cast Member-only area.
Each major pavilion at Epcot has something to say about humanity or technology. It might not be deep, it might not be correct, it might not be even good, but it has something to say. I struggle to find out what Wonders of Xandar/Cosmic Rewind says. It's not that IP is a problem or such, it's what is it trying to say about the theme of the park. Nothing sticks with you on this attraction beyond which song you got, maybe it's a ride about music? After all, they do denote the golden vinyl we sent into space. What about found families and our stories?
This is ultimately the biggest Achilles heel for the attraction, the lack of something to say in a park that is all about saying something. Maybe it needs to be about the music we play together? Maybe it's about becoming our better selves, going from a para-military org to a peacing keeping operation. I just want it to say something.
4 out of 5 stars
Harmonious has one of the largest boots to fill in Disney entertainment. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth was a fan favorite, running nightly for 20 years. The music is iconic, the show beats are burned into our memories, and many WOW moments. But it was not perfect and suffered from some pacing issues, so many guests started looking forward to what the next nighttime show could be.
Some first hints appeared in 2010 with World of Color's success in DCA. From here on out nearly all Disney nighttime shows will use dancing fountains of some sort. The next was the failure of Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom. Executive leadership was no longer interested in character-less nighttime shows. We knew the direction and mission, yet, it just feels so so off.
The Harmonious infrastructure is now around five main pieces, a central ring and four LED screens and several ancillary fireworks barges. The central ring's main feature is a large water screen in the middle where lasers and projections can be shown. The four LED barges are shaped like a half tear-drop with rotating metal arms. All the barges feature numerous fountain effects, from simple nozzles to World of Color-like ones with color and motion.
Our story is a loose thread of coming together to sing songs of our cultures. Ok, cool, sounds good. There is an attempt at some connective tissue between cultures, both a musical and narrative theme. Unfortunately, some last-minute snips to the show released all those connections and leave a show that is Disney song after Disney song.
The song choices are good, and the arrangements are sometimes puzzling. Instead of choosing arrangements that complement a fireworks nighttime show, instead, the choices are from a live concert angle. The show feels more restrained than it could have been. Harmonious Live showed this as focusing on the live performers improved the show, as does focusing less on the actual show itself (minus the fireworks).
The show suffers from three major issues:
- Odd Musical Choices - Music is ONLY Disney music, eschewing some obvious ties to local cultures. Of the Disney music chosen, there are some odd choices made with how the songs are arranged. Everything feels more choral than Disney's normal nighttime shows.
- Poor Gimmick Placement - Guests see nearly everything the show can offer within the first five minutes of the show. The arms, the fountains, the ring, the laser, fireworks, etc. Additionally, the fireworks feel poorly placed, with a huge finally trying to make up for a lack of pyro during the rest of the show. Holding off on some gimmicks and spreading some fireworks around would help this show a lot.
- Show Doesn't Feel A Part of World Showcase - From the placement of the ring during the show to the barges sticking out during the day, the show feels designed outside of the World Showcase.
Is the show salvageable? Maybe? The infrastructure is a mess, it looks terrible no matter how much Disney wants to admit it. Harmonious feels like a dead show walking with an uncertain future.
3 out of 5 stars
Remey's Ratatouille Adventure
Other Stuff - Connections, Creations, Music, and Etcetera
The Future - Announced Projects, Rumors, and The Soul of Epcot
- Play! Pavilion - Paused exterior work, no word on an opening date.
- Moana Journey of Water - Construction resumed in late 2021 for a likely early 2023 opening date.
- Dreamers Point - New central spine where the former Innoventions Plaza fountains used to be.
- Spaceship Earth re-do: upgrades to the ride system and story would switch the story from innovation and technology to "storytelling". Other rumored changes include some references to Disney properties and the removal of the touchscreens.
- Two Story Entertainment Pavilion: The much-touted three-story building and viewing area for Harmonious. It would have been also used for events, food, merchandise, and more between its three stories.
- Marry Poppings attraction. Rumored to be an indoor carousel with projection mapping.
- New China movies to complement the new Canada (good), Land pavilion (bad), and France (bad) movies.
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