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Lou Mongello’s Walt Disney World Wayback Machine – The Epcot That Never Was

Yes, something just isn’t working right lately, because I occasionally travel back to a time in Walt Disney World’s history where things aren’t always what they are supposed to be.

For example, last week I traveled back and found myself in a room in the Asian Resort, overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon. This view seems quiet familiar, almost as though I’ve seen it before while at the Grand Floridian.

Anyway, I recently took advantage of this conundrum and explored EPCOT Center in a bit of a different way. I was both surprised and amazed to see what my journey had revealed.

In past articles, I’ve spoken about some of the World Showcase pavilions that never came to be, including Spain, Israel and equatorial Africa. Well, needless to say, those pavilions were not the only ones left on the Imagineer’s drawing boards (or the accountant’s desks). My recent trip aboard the Wayback Machine introduced me to some potential new pavilions, attractions… and yes, a few surprises I had never heard of before.

You may have heard about World Showcase’s Japan pavilion (a personal favorite of mine, by the way), and what additional attraction was going to be placed there. If you ever visited the “Walt Disney Story” attraction on Main Street, USA (you can read more about it here and here ), you may have even seen concept art for a gate-buster attraction to be included in this serene pavilion. Yup. Believe it or not, at one time there were plans for a full-blown roller-coaster right behind the pavilion. (There’s plenty of space back there, believe me).

This attraction was to blend seamlessly into the beauty of the pavilion by being housed in a giant mountain – likely about 199 feet or less to avoid the FAA warning light issue that Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest faced. Tentatively titled “Fire Mountain”, or more likely, “Mt. Fuji”. Sounds like fun, right? I know what you’re saying – “Sounds great! World Showcase… even EPCOT Center as a whole had no real thrill rides… and what a great way to get people into and excited about World Showcase?!” Yeah. I thought that, too. I think the Imagineers felt that way a swell, and that’s why it appeared to be green-lighted to the point that Disney was advertising it to Guests. But like many great ideas, this one clearly never came to pass, and likely never will. Why, you ask? Well, of course there’s always the issue of money. You have to figure a ride of this caliber would have cost upwards of $100-million. And Disney wasn’t going to shoulder that burden all by themselves. So it came to having to fund Japanese corporate sponsors to help underwrite the costs of construction and maintenance. And not many companies came running to Disney, check in hand as you could imagine. But one potential suitor DID come to the plate. A company well known to American Guests (and consumers), who would clearly have benefited from having their name and corporate logo identified with what would have been one of the most popular attractions in Disney’s EPCOT Center. So, who was this white knight? Fuji. As in Fuji film. As in “Kodak has already been our corporate sponsor for decades so thanks but no thanks because they would freak out and who would we get to keep sponsoring their attractions and printing all those beautiful park maps and oh by the way did you know that we sell Kodak film here?”. Now, with that being said, other “issues” came to be mentioned, including possibly spoiling the simple, yet majestic skyline of World Showcase (although it sound like it would have been a great “weenie” to me. A “weenie” being a large visual object that would be easily seen by Guests and attract them deeper into the park, i.e. Cinderella Castle, the Tree of Life, etc.). I could go on and on about this one, as well as the unrealized U.S. version of Japan’s “Meet the World” show, but we need to move along…

Oh, and speaking of Kodak, they would actually go on to have another major impact on a part of Epcot’s legacy, and one of Disney’s most beloved characters. Intrigued? Good. So was I when I heard this, too! Well, here’s how the story goes: Once upon a time, an Imagineer named Tony Baxter came up with the idea for a new character who would serve as the official mascot for EPCOT Center’s new Imagination pavilion, to open in 1983. After watching an episode of Magnum, P.I. (I’m not making this up, folks. Go with me here), he came up with the idea of actually quantifying what a “figment of the imagination” would look like. Baxter recalled during an interview that he recalls Magnum saying to Higgins that whatever had torn up his garden was “just a Figment of your imagination.” Higgins replied smartly that “Figments don’t eat grass”. The light bulb went off atop his head, and he strolled into Imagineering the next day with the new “star of our show.”

Tony was (and still is), a huge fan of dragons. (Go to Disneyland Paris. Look at the incredible Sleeping Dragon Animatronic in the Castle. Thank Tony for that concept). Anyway, think of a dragon. You think of a green dragon, right? (Again, work with me here). Think Pete’s Dragon. Green again! So, this little dragon that would serve to represent imagination would of course have to be green. Two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow, horns of a steer, what a lovable fellow! From head to tail, he’s royal purple pigment… What? Yeah, Lou – he’s not green, he’s purple! Oh yeah… that’s where Kodak got “involved” yet again. You see, Tony’s lovable green and white dragon, which would have made a wonderful little plush toy, WAS cute and cuddly. He was also in the colors of Kodak’s competitor, our friends from the Land of the Rising Sun – FUJI! And there was no WAY that Kodak was going to permit their mascot to look like a little Fuji dragon. So, there went the green, and in came the purple pigment, yellow sweater, and, well.. you get the rest.

So, let’s go back to World Showcase, OK? Because there’s some REALLY interesting things I think you’d find fascinating. You see, there was yet ANOTHER pavilion that was closer to coming to fruition than you think – but not many people outside of WED (original name of Walt Disney Imagineering) and MAPO (construction/development branch of Imagineering) knew much about it. On October 3, 1983, a formal agreement was reached for a “Scandinavian Showcase” in World Showcase with Scanshow A/S (Scandinavian Showcase, U.S.A.), a division of Norway’s largest construction company, which had been recently established. Claude Coats (the Disney Legend, artist and Imagineer who helped develop a couple of little attractions like the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean) and Tim Bunner from the Show Design Department were put on the project and had been working on plans and models. Plans included working for about 3-5 months on show concepts, which were to combine the cultures of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Now while you’re saying that it’s no big deal, we have a Norway pavilion today, it is notable that THIS pavilion was to be much larger, and located between France and the United Kingdom. Look at your current park map – Norway is on the other side of the Lagoon. Final plans were to be completed by 1984, with eth pavilion opening in 1987. One can only speculate that it was once again the perils of finance and concepts that would have appeased all nations that led to this pavilion’s demise.

But wait! There’s MORE! (in Lou’s best used car salesman voice)

For many years (OK, maybe since opening day of EPCOT Center), a complaint from Guests with children has been that there was nothing for their kids to do. Remember, EPCOT Center was a very different place back then. There were NO characters in the park. At all. There was no Turtle Talk, no Kidcot Fun Stops, no Figment (purple or otherwise), and no… ummm… hmmm… OK, so there’s still not a TON for kids to do. Point made. Anyway, one would think that it was the intention in the original concept for EPCOT that it would be a place for learning, discovery, yada yada yada, and not really for the younger kids. You wouldn’t be 100% correct. I know I wasn’t. What I learned on my recent Wayback Machine journey was that there were plans from the very beginning to make EPCOT Center, and believe it or not World Showcase, more appealing to children. How, you say? Hang on to your hats and glasses, ’cause I know I was amazed when I heard this next one:

Let me use two examples of some concepts that almost came to be. The first was going to be a Pinocchio Village in Italy, complete with shows, attractions, and who knows, maybe even a restaurant. What would you think about going on a journey through the little boy’s story, ala “Pinocchio’s Daring Journey” in Disneyland, but better? Oh yeah… you’re right – that attraction opened in 1983, one year after EPCOT Center opened. Well, this would have been much more than just an attraction with Stromboli and Tobacco Road… in fact, we would have been treated to a whole Tuscany-themed area of Italy. There was (is) plenty of room as you can see from the recent aerial photo below, and I personally believe this would have been an extraordinary addition to an already beautiful pavilion.

How about a full-blown Alice in Wonderland attraction in the United Kingdom? Follow the White Rabbit her down the rabbit hole into a fanciful world full of colorful characters, and… well… yeah, I would have loved to see these, too. This one was supposed to be built into the pavilion as well. The concept was all but done, the show elements in development, etc. This, too, was closer than you think.

We’ll have to talk more about these lands and attractions and maybe about the whole Epcot/Kids thing some other time. There’s plenty to see and talk about, so until we board my Wayback Machine and voyage back to Walt Disney World’s days gone by, I hope you all continue to enjoy all of the true MAGIC that Walt Disney World has to offer.

Oh wait! Do I have time to talk about the Venezuela or United Arab Emirates pavilions?… Guess not… See ya!

To hear more about the Epcot That Never Was, these and other unrealized concepts, listen to Lou Mongello’s WDW Radio Show Disney podcast at WDWRadio.com. This topic was discussed on the April 15, 2007 episode

This article originally appeared in the AllEarsNet Newsletter