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2019 D23 Expo Announcement: Epcot’s Transformation Details

This year’s D23 Expo centered around Epcot news, specifically Future World and the park’s central spine. Today’s announcement informed us that Future World will be no more. Instead the park will be broken down into four lands instead of the classic two. Those four consist of World Celebration, World Discovery, World Nature, and, of course, World Showcase. We’ll break down the news here and will add our commentary on to this post in the coming days. Here’s the Disney Parks Blog post and a link to our post covering the World Showcase additions.

Starting with World Nature, this area is dedicated to understanding and preserving the beauty, awe and balance of the natural world. It will include The Land and The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilions. Journey of Water: Inspired by Moana will also be in this area and is described as a lush exploration trail where the water will have a life of its own. Lastly, “Awesome Planet”, a film about nature, will debut in the Land Pavilion in January 2020.

Moving to World Discovery, this area will bring stories about science, technology and intergalactic adventure to life. The previously announced Guardians of the Galaxy coaster will be named Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. This coaster will take you to Xander and then take you across the cosmos. The attraction will feature a new innovation from Walt Disney Imagineering – a storytelling coaster that rotates 360 degrees to focus your attention on the action, including the first reverse launch on a Disney coaster.

The previously announced space restaurant will be called Space 220 and will open this winter. Space 220 will offer views of Earth from 220 miles away. Also in this area will be the PLAY! Pavilion. In this digital metropolis, you’ll discover an interactive city bursting with games, activities and experiences that connect you with friends, family and beloved Disney characters

Perhaps the biggest change will come to the central spine of Epcot, soon to be known as World Celebration. This area will offer new experiences that connect us to one another. Spaceship Earth will remain a voyage through time but will have a new narration and soundtrack. Along with that, the attraction will have new scenes and could be completely different from today’s version.

Another new pavilion will be coming to World Celebration, seemingly between Spaceship Earth and World Showcase. This pavilion will be three stories featuring a plaza level, a middle expo level, and a park that sits in the sky on the top level. It will serve as the new festival home base.

As we’ve already covered, Epcot will have a new entrance that pays homage to the original park. The other addition to World Celebration will be Dreamers Point where guests exit Spaceship Earth to a view of World Showcase. This area will include some nature aesthetic, as well as a statue of Walt Disney.

Commentary

There’s a lot to unpack here so we’ll break it down into sections, starting with the new neighborhoods taking the place of Future World. Epcot is a tricky subject among Disney fans as many have strong connections to the original version of the park. I wasn’t able to visit the park during its heyday so my connection to the park isn’t as strong. That being said, it’s easy to see just how ambitious the original Epcot (and the first 15-20 years of the park) was. I prefer that version of the park relative to where we’re headed now.

I say all of that with the understanding that Epcot is likely past the point of no return. Future World hasn’t truly been ‘Future World’ in years. There is nothing innovative about the land now and everything about it seems dated. There’s plenty of blame to go around but that’s not really the point of this post. Outside of the great original concept, I think a change in park layout is in the best interest of current Epcot.

The names – World Celebration, World Nature, and World Discovery – are pretty good and should make for a somewhat smooth transition. Many people will always know the front of Epcot as Future World, I’ll likely forget the names many times, but overall I kind of like the new names.

As for what each of these neighborhoods are getting, we’ll start with World Nature as it’s the least significant. Along with The Seas and The Land, World Nature will include Journey of Water: Inspired by Moana. This attraction is an exploration trail with fountains and other water features. We had a lengthy discussion on why this is connected to Moana in our podcast yesterday and it still bothers me. I’d much rather see this just be an exploration trail that explains the natural water cycle instead of shoehorning an IP into it.

The attraction in and of itself is fine, I just think it embodies a larger issue where every little addition has to involve a Disney movie. This takes away from the original storytelling that could be used throughout a theme park. Epcot is not worse because this small walk through is attached to Moana. But it does show how the park has moved further away from its original state, where it trusted an audience to be engaged and smart enough to experience something entertaining and educating without it being related to a Disney-IP. Epcot was distinctly Disney without having IP’s attached, but that is clearly not what the current administration thinks.

Off my soapbox now, the exploration trail and new short film, Awesome Planet, will add to a solid World Nature neighborhood.

World Discovery will reside on the other side of the park. This will include Test Track, Mission: Space, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Space 220, and the Play Pavilion. On first blush, this is somewhat of a hodgepodge of things but most of it works from a discovery point of view.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind remains a point of contention and nothing Disney has said make it anything less. It’s a classic case of the attraction will be a blast but it definitely does not belong there. I like the name and I’m happy that the coaster seems to be innovative and interesting.

I’m more bullish on Space 220, the new space-themed restaurant by Mission: Space. Aside from not knowing if Epcot needs another table-service restaurant, this seems like a cool idea that is pretty unique. Guests will have a meal while seeing the view of Earth from 220 miles up in space. It seems like a good amount of thought went into this story and the restaurant should be a nice addition to Epcot.

Where Guardians of the Galaxy looks like a blast while not fitting in at all, the PLAY! Pavilion just seems like a bad idea all the way around. Everything described in the Parks Blog release seems very simple-minded and uninteresting. When initially announced I was hoping for a compromise of a science exhibition/innoventions space that involved Disney characters. Instead it seems like Disney Quest in a theme park and without the old school arcade games. Along with that, I think the concept art looks pretty bad. Time will tell, but the PLAY! Pavilion drags the rest of World Discovery down on my initial thought. It’s the one neighborhood that I’m pessimistic about.

Where World Nature seems like a win and World Discovery seems like a loss, World Celebration, the central spine of Epcot, is a mixed bag. The redesigned entrance is very exciting as we’ve previously covered. Concept art for that entrance continues to impress.

I’m also excited for Spaceship Earth’s refurbishment. The narration was my least favorite part of Spaceship Earth so I’m excited to hear a new script and see what scenes are added and taken away. I’m hoping that the attraction will keep the climactic look at Earth and the top of the ball but otherwise I’m excited to see whatever changes they decide to make.

The new pavilion that will act as a festival center is also a nice addition and needed. I think the outdoor park on the third level is a cool idea and it’s right up my alley. While the Parks Blog says it will be a perfect place to watch fireworks, I would imagine that guests we’ll have to pay for a dessert party to do just that. But, I’ll enjoy the view during different times of the day.

The area that brings me the most pause is Dreamers Point and the statue of Walt. Dreamers Point acting as a viewpoint for World Showcase will be pretty. All of the little Disney tie-ins mentioned along with the statue of Walt don’t sound as good, at least to me. Maybe I’m being cynical but I view the statue of Walt as Disney saying he’d approve of the changes they’re making to ‘his dream project’. Maybe it’s the number of social media posts that say “Walt will finally get to see his dream” that’s making me so cynical. It should go without saying but this version of Epcot is nothing like the original city that Walt dreamed of. This area seems like over the top fan service that is closer to an eye roll than it is heartfelt.

Ending on a brighter note, I like all of the greenery and color in the concept art. This is especially true in World Celebration. I think this will make for a beautiful, inviting park instead of the empty steel buildings that we currently see. In a way, that’s a better and more optimistic view of the future than the Future World these lands are replacing.

What do you think of all these Epcot changes? Let us know in the comments below! For all of our reactions to the D23 Expo announcements, click here. If you enjoy our blog then please subscribe to the blog and like our social media accounts. You can do both of those things on the right side of this page. Have a great day!

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