Walt Disney World is in the middle of an ambitious, multi-year, top-to-bottom re-freshening of its second theme park, Epcot.
By now, you’ve likely heard the gist of what the plans include: a restructuring of Future World into three new neighborhoods, a major refurbishment of the iconic attraction Spaceship Earth, a complete redesign of the park’s center plaza, a statue of Walt Disney in said plaza, a new pavilion dedicated to the joy of play, replacements of three World Showcase pavilions’ educational films, a new nighttime spectacular, a Beauty and the Beast sing-along film, a Moana nature trail, a Ratatouille dark ride, a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster, and a new area in the United Kingdom Pavilion themed to Cherry Tree Lane from Mary Poppins.
At the 2019 D23 Expo, Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek described the ongoing work as the “biggest transformation of any Disney park in history.” Those are heavy words, and they admittedly invite counterargument. From a construction standpoint, surely the massive overhaul of Disney’s California Adventure that took place 2007-2012 was bigger. It introduced Cars Land and Buena Vista Street to Disneyland while effectively giving the entire park a thematic narrative so significant that it warranted a “grand re-opening” ceremony. From the perspective of a crowd-drawing juggernaut, surely the openings of Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios could be called a bigger transformation than Epcot‘s slate, in how those two lands will change the culture and vibrance of that park using two of Tinseltown’s most gargantuan franchises.
What does Disney mean, then? Why, despite those mentioned above and several other examples one could cite over the years at various destinations worldwide, is Epcot‘s overhaul still touted as the company’s “biggest transformation” ever?
The answers are found in, fittingly, the one concept that has always been at the core of Epcot — communication. Disney seeks to affirm what Epcot has always been and redefine what it can be. This is about identity. This transformation is existential.
There are several items we can leverage to guide us to this conclusion, among them a new instrumental anthem written for the park by composer Pinar Toprak (Captain Marvel).
More telling, though, is something else. Following the Epcot news coming from the D23 Expo, you probably heard tell of the new attractions, got a peek at some of the concept art, and maybe even saw the park’s new logo (a throwback that’s actually quite old). In the middle of all that was something easy to miss, but important to notice: a new slogan. At the conclusion of a breathtaking sizzle reel, a simple typeface accompanied the aforementioned new logo and read, Epcot: The Magic of Possibility. Don’t sleep on this. This is everything. Let’s take a closer look.
A Sense of Purpose
Epcot has always been the collegiate curriculum to its sibling parks’ standard intellect. Not to say that other Disney theme parks aren’t multifaceted and detailed — they most certainly are. But Epcot has always yearned to have a deep sense of purpose, to contribute something to the world, to impart a global message upon its Guests.
So, what is that purpose? What is Epcot? This answer has obviously changed over time, most notably from indicating a working city to a tourist theme park. Thankfully, though, the park never settles to simply possess a purpose, but to concretely define it. It means we can look to history and identify language that Disney specifically used to communicate what Epcot was.
Definition 1.) In 1966, Walt Disney defined Epcot as an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, at the time envisioned as a futuristic city and the epitome of progress. Epcot would be a leader in world technology and modern efficiency. Following Walt’s death, these plans were put on hold.
Definition 2.) In July 1975, when Imagineers greenlit a new interpretation of Epcot and decided to adopt the idea as a theme park, they established a “Building Code” for the project going forward. In other words, as they switched gears from functional city to theme park, what would be their North Star? It is described by the late Marty Sklar in the book, Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow (published just prior to the park’s 1982 opening). The “Building Code” claimed the purpose of the park: “To provide the flexibility that will encourage American industry, through free enterprise, to introduce, test, and demonstrate new ideas, materials, and systems emerging now and in the future from the creative centers of industry.”
This language indicates the sponsorship program that would be instrumental in Epcot getting off the ground. Businesses and corporations funded individual Epcot pavilions or attractions in exchange for a presence within the story, sometimes blatant and sometimes merely implied by a theme or message. The key to the 1982 iteration of Epcot would be the ideals present in Walt’s original concept, materialized as corporately sponsored theme park experiences. As theme park enthusiast Alicia Stella smartly points out on Twitter, with less and less sponsors within Epcot today, in a way Disney itself is the sponsor. What would a Disney-sponsored Epcot look like? A lot like the version of the park we’re experiencing. (What’s more, what does an in-between-sponsorships-and-unsure-of-whether-the-sponsorship-program-will-continue Epcot look like? The past 15 years.)
Definition 3.) Any park’s dedication plaque is a good place to start in exploring what its gate seeks to be for its Guests. Epcot‘s, instated on Opening Day 1982 by then-Disney CEO Card Walker, is no different. In short, the dedication proclaims Epcot to be a place that educates, informs, and inspires. I break this down more in this WDW Radio article from 2017, whose sentiments are echoed now that we know more details about Epcot‘s transformation.
Definition 4.) In 2016, at Destination D, Chapek hinted that Imagineers were hard at work, developing many of the concepts we now have greater clarity on. He teased that Epcot would begin a multi-year reimagining that would make the park “more Disney, more family, more timeless, and more relevant” for its Guests. At the time, this language was questioned. Was this something the executive said off the cuff and in the moment or was each of those words strategically chosen? Whether their origin began at that moment on stage or before it, those four standards have now become something of a commandment list since then, repeatedly communicated by Disney in describing the park’s effort. They offer an intentional map toward where it’s going, again openly defined and clarified to the public.
The Magic of Possibility
And now we come to what could be Definition 5, the new slogan: The Magic of Possibility. It was Epcot‘s very own Horizons that famously said, “If we can dream it, we can do it.” So it’s fitting that the park’s new motto would centrally focus on the idea of potential, of what can be. In their book The Art of Possibility, authors Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander describe possibility as “a place to dwell where new inventions are the order of the day.” Epcot certainly has its share of inventions. They go on to say that possibility “extends beyond the borders that confine us to our everyday reality.” This sounds a bit like the spirit of a certain theme park, doesn’t it? Curiously, the Zanders furthermore cite how “a universe of possibility stretches beyond the world of measurement to include all worlds: infinite, generative, and abundant.” This sentence practically feels custom-made to allude to the many imaginative stories and worlds that Epcot is currently welcoming to its roster.
Looking the other half of the slogan, Disney is certainly no stranger to the word “magic.” When paired adjacent to the mystical, intriguing realm that is “possibility,” the new phrase embodies the backbone of Epcot’s foundations supported by the signature of Disney’s brands (both the actual brands it owns and the feelings and emotions typically associated with the Disney name).
With this context, the slogan becomes a launching point. It exists as a collision of imagination and action, both inspiring the other. The Magic of Possibility sounds like a place where anything can happen, and that is quite an exciting promise indeed.
Celebrating the Future Hand in Hand
Epcot is undeniably special to many of us. Disney is not this transparent about its long-term intentions for other parks. No such “master plan” was given thorough thematic threading for any comparable expansion in another park. That tells us something important –– that Disney navigates Epcot in a class of its own. It’s seemingly an anomaly among vacation destinations, theme parks, and Disney experiences alike. It earned a unique place in history as one of Walt Disney’s most ambitious ideas. Though the framework may look different as time goes on, with possibility itself at its center, it will be impossible for Epcot to cease entertaining, informing, and inspiring us all as it carries us toward a grand and miraculous future.
To learn more about Blake and read his other posts on the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page.
(All artwork © Disney.)