Friday, July 06, 2007

The Not-So-Magic Wand

I am somewhat incredulous at the notion of people who, in defending the infamous Mickey hand and wand that has adorned Spaceship Earth at Epcot all these recent years, take to task those who were generally in favor of its removal. This tactic, to label those who disliked the structure as crazy, out-of-touch purists is a bit extreme and very much misrepresents many who have articulated sound, rational and educated opinions on the matter.

To begin with, let me just say that I never hated the Wand. It was an eye-catching, festive adornment that enhanced Epcot’s position as the center point of Walt Disney World’s Millennium Celebration. It had a New Years Eve party style to it that directly related to the festivities it represented. I viewed it in the same manner that I viewed the birthday caked-themed Cinderella castle back in 1996—a fun, short term bit of whimsy. Nothing more. Nothing less.

But unlike similar “temporary” redecorations over the years, the Wand remained. There have been mountains of speculation as to why. Marketing strategies, branding and financial issues have all been cited at one time or another. But let’s face it, the decision to keep it there was never the result of creative sensibilities. Outside of a specific marketing strategy such as the Millennium Celebration, would such a structure have ever been seriously considered or executed otherwise?

No, and there is a very good and fundamental reason why, that seems to have gone largely unaddressed in this long and very often contentious debate. While Spaceship Earth is without question the iconic representation of Epcot, it is also an attraction with a very specific theme and purpose. And to create a long term aesthetic that in no way relates, and in many ways runs counter to that theme is just plain bad show.

Here is an excerpt from the 1982 book Walt Disney’s EPCOT that tongue-in-cheek addresses Spaceship Earth’s somewhat familiar nature, but at the same time explains how the overall theme and purpose of the attraction extends beyond its interior:

Now the sphere, 180 feet in diameter, rises some eighteen stories high—a stunning silver ball dominating the landscape for miles around, with little to rival its rotund majesty. Although at first sight it looks like nothing so much as a gargantuan golf ball on the putting green of the gods, it takes on another aspect as we begin to appreciate its purpose—to reproduce the form of our spaceship, the planet Earth.

You see, Spaceship Earth, both as the icon and the attraction, was designed with a very specific aesthetic in mind. It represents Earth, both physically and philosophically. And those representations are an integral part of the message it communicates. An oversize wand and hand would be inappropriate positioned over such attractions as Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for clear and obvious reasons. Why is it then acceptable to attach these embellishments to an attraction that is just as equally distinct in theme and purpose?

Because, Epcot just ain’t what it used to be. If you don’t like it, just shut up and leave.

This seems to be the common mantra lately of those who seem intent on characterizing anyone who acknowledges and respects EPCOT’s original guiding principles as irrational, misguided “foamers.” Many of these folk wear their disdain for pre-21st century Epcot like a proud emblem, deeming anything associated with the park that is beyond their frames of reference as irrelevant and unimportant. They consider Epcot’s original themes of futurism, forward-thinking idealism, education and international community passé and old fashioned, yet are at a loss to describe what their current perception of Epcot is or what they believe it is evolving into. So what if it becomes a collection of totally disconnected compartmentalized experiences. As long as each experience is well done and a successful crowd-pleaser, why is there a need for a central, overriding theme. And who needs those annoying underlying missions of education and technological innovation, anyway?

Epcot purists (as they are so frequently labeled) are not opposed to change. In fact, most agree that change is a necessity dictated by the very principals upon which Epcot was conceived. But changes to Epcot should be consistent with the concepts and themes brought forth by the very talented and remarkable individuals who were responsible for its creation in 1982.

Do I think the Wand was somehow emblematic of everything that’s wrong with Epcot? Of course not. It was just simply a marketing gimmick that had overstayed its welcome.

12 comments:

Glenn Sonoda said...

Hey Jeff,

Just read your column...very VERY nicely said. I was actually thinking about doing a similar article over at mgmstudios.org, but you beat me to it! I agree whole-heartedly with you, it was something festive and interesting to look at during the millenium, but seven years later...its simply time to move on. Well put.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, for someone who's usually positive, I'm VERY surprised at your negative attitude this time.

IMO, it was a bit out-of-character for you to be that mean.

It's like someone hacked into your site and posted something that you probably wouldn't have posted.

Kate said...

Well done article. I love your blog and really enjoying listening to you on WDWRadio.

Can't wait for my chance to do a solo-trip in October and look at some of details in the parks you have metioned.

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Thanks for a "Voice of Reason" post, Jeff.

There is so much going on in the Disney blog-o-sphere about the wand that it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Or the fact from the passion. Sometimes they do go hand-n-hand, though.

I appreciate the fact that you are reminding people about the intention of Epcot. So much is based on experience that we may lose sight of the intention--or may never have known of the intention.

ataylor23 said...

Anonymous, I don't really read this post as mean as much as defensive. If you read 2719 regularly, you will know that Jeff has an opinion and voices it, but NEVER forces it on anyone. The point is to spur discussion, not scorn it. It seems to me (another opinion)that Jeff finds himself having to defend because the thought police disagree with him. In having to be defensive, sometimes your attitude (I prefer 'tone') resonates negatively. It' a so-called 'cost of doing business' when you put yourself out there with thoughs and opinions and Jeff does this regularly.
Not to pick on you though, because I see anonymous out there on blogs quite a bit with negative and mean comments. One of these days, anonymous is going to wake up on the right side of the bed.
I just know it.

Anonymous said...

"Do I think the Wand was somehow emblematic of everything that’s wrong with Epcot? Of course not. It was just simply a marketing gimmick that had overstayed its welcome."
This sentence separates Jeff's passion for Disney from those few sites where Disney can do no right and any changes since Walt's death are awful and everything should be exactly as it always was...blah blah blah. The wand was a mistake, and expensive mistakes aren't easy to just demolish. (If we read Walt's own history carefully, we'll find plenty of mistakes. That's OK, he learned from them.)
I believe Mr. Pepper does make a sound, mature distinction between those ranters who think EPCOT Center stinks because it wasn't Walt's city to begin with, those ranters who have made it their life's mission to bring back World of Motion, and those ranters whose childhood memories are of the most recent past and want things to stay just like that. I believe he cleverly and politely put them all in their place--without insulting anyone.
I grew up watching Disney; I've been fortunate to have been to WDW several times and DL once, and I have yet to experience anything that would keep me from returning. Sure, I miss some old stuff, but I also love the new stuff. It's not my business, so if I care to complain they have a Guest Services for that purpose, or I could stay home. But I'm not going to! :-) I plan on returning to WDW with my family in August. We'll say goodbye to the wand, and we won't be sad about its demise.

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

Jeff,

I enjoyed this article just as much as I enjoy everything you bring to the internet.

I enjoy reading opinions from different sides of the same coin.

I really liked your opinion about your idea of being a purist is one who is wanting the object of your attention is pure to it's meaning. I attempted to convey the same opinion in my piece.

I wrote my own "essay" on the subject at my blog entitled The Grump's Opinion - The Giant Golf Ball

I tried to take a more whimsical approach. Attempting to explain away the decision by EPCOT to sprout the arm and wand as a decision made in one's early 20's, a time of many identity defining decisions, to try and break away from it's geeky nature and fit in better with it's cooler and more hip siblings (aka MK, AK, MGM). Ultimately coming to grips with who they are and how they fit into the family 7 years later and putting the wand away.

Jonathan said...

That's the best passage I've read about this entire situation. Very well said Jeff.

Jeff Pepper said...

Hello all--thanks for all the comments, they are very much appreciated.

To anonymous #1--

I appreciate all feedback, but I have to say I'm at a loss to understand your perception of negativity.

As I stated in my post, the Epcot/wand debates often degenerated into mean-spirited discussions that were long on provocation and short on substance. In a few cases I was personally singled out and my positions misrepresented.

In responding to these discussions, I did not personally name anyone, I did not resort to labeling and name-calling (ie purists, foamers, haters, etc.), I presented my arguments and backed them up with specifics, not broad generalizations.

If I'm reading too much into your remarks then I offer my apologies in advance, but this kind of reminds me of the schoolyard bully who exclaims "Hey! You're not supposed to hit back!"

The Big Fez said...

Jeff,
I'm 100% with on this. It was a gimmick that overstayed it's welcome.

I liked it for the reason it was put up, but when the Millennium Celebration was over, it was time for it to go. It had served its purpose.

Whatever Epcot was to some and is to others really doesn't matter. The symbol of Epcot did not need this addition as a permanent fixture.

Anonymous said...

I have only one word for this. AMEN!

Anonymous said...

While I am usually a purist with most things WDW, and appreciate the vision for the original EPCOT Center, I have to admit that I have enjoyed the evolution Epcot has undergone since the Millenium Celebration (which I got to attend Christmas Weekend 1999). I agree with Michael Eisner's direction of getting more characters in the park. And the Wand seemed to symbolize that for me. I agree that the Wand gave a more festive apperance, but not just for the Millenium, rather for the park in general!

I'll miss the Wand next time we're there. My kids will miss it too. They are 15 and 5 and they have many WDW trips between them, and neither have any recollection of the park without the Wand.

My Purist inclination is more riled up by the Sorcerer Hat "gift shop" in the middle of MGM Studios anyway. I wouldn't miss that a bit!

Thanks, Jeff, for all the effort. Its a pleasure

Keith