Exclusive Interview with Jim MacPhee, Vice President of Epcot

Lou Mongello: October 1 is a very important day in Disney History as it marks the 25th Anniversary of Epcot Center. And beyond being an important milestone in Walt Disney World’s History, it’ll be a day where the online Disney community comes out with a notable presence in the park, evidencing just how significant this day really is. And one of the people who has been at the forefront of what Disney has been doing is Jim MacPhee, Vice President of Epcot, and it is my distinct pleasure and honor to welcome him to the WDW Radio Show.

Jim MacPhee: Good morning, thank you, I appreciate it; I’m excited about being able to talk today.

LM: Thank you very much for taking time out of what I’m sure has been an incredibly busy week for you.

JM: It’s my pleasure, my pleasure. It’s been a great opportunity to begin to celebrate the significant milestone that’s coming up and also make sure that all the guests that are visiting Epcot every minute of every day are having a great time.

LM: You announced back in June that, despite some earlier statements from Disney, that Disney would be holding some type of public event on October 1st. Why was celebrating Epcot’s 25th Anniversary with the guests important to the Disney Company?

JM: Here at Walt Disney World we are celebrating the Year of a Million Dreams with a really strong focus on the fact that this truly is the place where Dreams Come True. And as I reflect back on the history of Epcot, it was nearly 41 years ago when our founder, Walt Disney, had the vision and the dream of bringing Epcot to life. He announced in the summer of 1966 the whole concept around Walt Disney World and introduced to the world Epcot Center at that time, just months before he passed on December 15, 1966. So I think it’s very, very appropriate that 25 years later from the opening on October 1, 1982 we are able to recognize the great things that have been accomplished as a fulfillment of Walt’s dream coming true, with a strong focus on our past, our present, and – even more important – our launch into the future. So we’re excited about that because it pays tribute to our founder, Walt Disney; it pays tribute to all of the things that Epcot is all about being ever-changing, and also a tribute to our cast members who have been here – many of whom have been here since Opening Day. We’ve got about 5,000 cast members who bring Epcot to life each day and this certainly is an opportunity to pay tribute to them. And then, even more important, to all of the guests whether they are born in fan clubs or first time visitors here at Epcot: we have millions and millions of guests who visit us every year who walk away with a really unique experience. So really it is kind of a Potpourri of Salutations to a great many people who have made the last 25 years what it is today.

LM: And what kind of events can we expect to see on October 1st?

JM: Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll just reflect back on the fact that we really have been celebrating this internally for the last three weeks. Here in our backstage hallways with our cast members, we’ve been counting down to October 1st with milestone memories and tributes to a lot of the design and blueprints that were established there. We did a countdown in 1982 – I was actually an opening day cast member and I was standing in the parking lot early in the morning of October 1, 1982 when the first cars rolled in so it’s pretty neat to see that we’re able to go back and take a look at a lot of the things we did counting down to that opening and replicate them for our cast members today. On October 1st, we’re going to be celebrating it in a fun way both on stage and back stage. For our guests, we have a very special guide map. It is a retro look at all of the things that Epcot was all about 25 years ago. They’ve got a neat cover that will show a reflection back to the way we thought about Spaceship Earth and then in addition to our typical guide map information, as you fold it open you will have essentially a duplication of the opening day guidemap that was here 25 years ago. And if you may remember that was a click-wheel version where you could spin and really forecast your location and what to do. It’s not going to be that sophisticated, but it’s a great look back to that. Of course, before guests even get to the main entrance, they’re going to arrive and see Spaceship Earth restored to its classic look as it was on opening day. As you know, we use Celebration buttons for many of the events that our guests are experiencing, whether it is an anniversary or birthday. So every guest coming through our turnstiles will receive a 25 Anniversary Button. And, of course, we have limited edition merchandise available throughout, in terms of t-shirts and plushes, exclusive pins and whatnot that will be available throughout the park. And, then, at 10:01 am, which is, fittingly, like October 1st, we will be doing a Re-dedication Ceremony that will feature Erin Wallace, our Senior Vice President of Operations, Marty Sklar, a legend and an individual who is instrumental in the development of creative and the construction and brining to life of Epcot overall, and we’ll be duplicating a lot of the same elements that were done on that opening day 25 years ago. We’re excited about that. We’re also going to be opening up a 25th Anniversary Exhibit Gallery in the Innoventions West area that will have, on the exterior walls, a great look at Walt’s dream of Epcot coming to life and then, of course, the construction photos that will be in and around there. And then inside the gallery itself, we’ll have some never-before-seen artwork and models and things of that nature that will give guests a glimpse as to what Epcot was all about in its infancy in terms of creativity and overall development.

Throughout the day we’ll have a couple of opportunities for guests to actually have a chance to converse with Marty Sklar over at the Circle of Life Theater, and that will be exciting because Marty has so much history and so much information and knowledge about what Epcot was all about.

And then, throughout the day, guests will get to experience all of the great things we have going on here at Epcot. Many of our restaurants will have a tribute to the 25th Anniversary Menus with some of the things that were here on opening day and then just some things that are really neat and exciting for that day. And the whole evening culminates with a tribute to Epcot as a finale to Illuminations: Reflections of Earth with a grand fireworks display and some music that is a tribute to a lot of the things that have happened during the course of Epcot’s 25 years.

So it should be a very exciting day; we think we have, already, a great product and experience at Epcot overall. And these are what we feel are great things for guests to experience on that day when they get here.

LM: To say that I and, I think, anybody that is listening is excited about this would be an understatement. But, I want to ask you, how much, if any, of the grassroots efforts of the online Disney community and organized events like Celebration 25 play into Disney’s decision to maybe reconsider their earlier position that no public events might take place?

JM: Well, I think we are always thinking about ways to celebrate or enhance, as you know, whether it’s the 50th Anniversary of Disney Parks or any other milestone that we have here, each of them is going to be thought of in very creative and unique ways specific to that property. As you know we have been focusing on Year of a Million Dreams and Where Dreams Come True, so it was a natural springboard to think about that as the platform to pay tribute to Epcot, in a sense. I’ll tell you, personally, I was not familiar with the fan club efforts. I know that the moment we got here at Epcot about five months ago it was something that we wanted to focus in on, again, in tribute to our casts and to our guests. So, I think it’s just poetic that the two have aligned and you’ve got such a great fan base out there that is so passionate about what Epcot is and what it’s all about. And we’ve had the opportunity over the last several months to bring some things to life. So I think they’ve worked in parallel with each other.

LM: Yeah, and it’s great. And obviously evidence to the fact that Walt Disney World – and Epcot specifically – is so important, not only to Disney but the guests as well. And I think that things like this that are going on really kind of evidence that fact.

Since you’ve taken over as Vice President of Epcot, you’ve really been instrumental in making a lot of important changes, both visible to guests (with things like the removal of “the Wand” and what’s coming up on the first) and backstage where cast members like you said are being recognized for their efforts and sort of reintroduced to the “original” Epcot Center. Is this a slight change in focus and direction of Epcot, or do you think Epcot still embodies that original vision from 25 years and what do you think the future holds for Epcot?

JM: I think today a lot of people ask “What would Walt say about Epcot today?” And as you go back and think about Epcot and Walt’s vision, Walt said that Epcot would be an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that will take it cue from the new ideas and new technologies emerging from the creative centers of American industry and that it would never be complete: it would always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials. It would always be a showcase to the world for ingenuity and imagination. And I think today, more than ever, we are delivering on Walt’s dream in a big way. If you think about the new attractions, the incredible restaurants and merchandise shops, the experiences we have in entertainment across the park, it is the bringing together of worldwide communities and a focus of innovation and technology that is the fulfillment of Walt’s dream. And I think we’re doing that now more than ever. It’s been a great couple of years for Epcot as we have had the opportunity to focus in on new attractions, new shows, and new restaurants, and I am just looking forward to continuing to deliver on those surprises and delights with the great cast based here – 5,000 folks, a third of which are from around the world – who deliver a very culturally diverse and enriching experience. So I think it’s the continuation of really exceeding Walt’s dreams and bringing them to life and then, at the same time, doing what he asked us to do, which is be ever-changing and focusing in on truly adapting to what the world wants and how the world changes. I think it’s an exciting time!

LM: I absolutely agree. Jim MacPhee, Vice President of Epcot, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. On behalf of all the guests I want to thank you for all that you have done to commemorate this very important day, and I look forward to seeing you on October 1st.

JM: It’s a pleasure. I hope to see you out and about here at Epcot; I know that we’ll all be looking forward to the day as we count down to, now, just a few days away.

LM: Like you said, it’s a very exciting time. Thank you.

JM: Alright, thank you, Lou.

Listen for more with Mr. MacPhee on the October 7, 2007 episode of The WDW Radio Show Disney Podcast – Your Walt Disney World Information Station

Thanks to John Grigas for transcribing this interview