Friday, July 6, 2007

The Grump's Opinion - The Giant Golf Ball

As anyone who's keeps up with the goings on in this extremely exciting, entertaining and niche market known as the Disney Community knows, it has been officially announced that the Mickey Arm, Wand and Epcot sign is coming down from the centerpiece of the Epcot park, the Geodesic Sphere known as Space Ship Earth (SSE) or as I like to call it, the Giant Golf Ball.

This has sparked conversations all over blogs and web forums through the ether. One such location was Mouse Extra with their posting entitled Disney Announces an end to the Wand.

In many ways, I’m in the same position as Dave who wrote the article. But I think the best bit from his piece was this:

Now I get it!!! Well purists, you got your 25th Anniversary celebration after all! No more belly-aching about a lack of “Epcot 25” snowglobes or pins. No more whining that there isn’t a special parade for the quarter century milestone, or an eighteen month long celebration with special figment hats. You’ve got the ultimate birthday present this year. The wand is coming down. What more could you have asked for?

Now, some people may wonder where the Grump’s opinion lays. Well, I am a purist but not in the same sense as the others that call themselves “purists”. I am a purist from the standpoint that the theme, purpose and message of the Disney Theme Parks, AS A WHOLE, remains intact. Wand or no wand, I think Epcot is still remaining true to that.

As a child, my family wasn’t big on staying put. We moved about every 5-7 years. It may have been a short move across town or across state boarders. But, we moved. My mom likes to tell the story about how my brother or I would come to them and ask if it was time to move after we had been in one place to long.

Having said that, I had to learn two lessons at an early age:
  1. Change is unavoidable
  2. You can never go home again.
Yeah, they are clichés, but they do hold true. With me, I was always in a new town, new school, or just plain new. But the other one, “You can never go home again.” Was the hardest to swallow.

I would often go back to my old towns to see my friends that I had to leave behind. After the excitement wore off of being back, it was quickly realized that this person, who was your best friend, is not the same person you knew a few weeks or months prior. They had moved on without you. They have changed and done what they need to do to get by.

Well, I guess you are wondering what this means in regards to all of this Disney talk.

Change is unavoidable. Charles Darwin is credited with saying,
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
These parks cannot remain stagnant. Stagnation will lead to death.

Well, if you insert WDW into the cliché as being “home”, my other kernel of knowledge about not ever being able to go home again can apply to WDW. Everyone has a first trip to WDW. You don’t come out of the womb a highly experienced WDW visitor. There had to be a beginning. That beginning, no matter your age, embeds feelings, images, smells into our psyche. I’m sure neurons are rewired just for Disney. Some day, I’m sure, scientists are going to be talking about the discovery of the Disney section of the brain.

Well, those indelible marks shape each successive return to Disney. But, guess what? It’s never the same. Unless you are in that rare minority that gets to travel there several times a year, something is always different. That difference may be minor, or it may be major (i.e. a giant arm sprouting out of the Giant Golf Ball). This goes back to point #1, that Change is unavoidable. Well these differences sometimes grate annoyingly against those memories stored in the Disney section of your brain, thereby causing it to cramp up and fight back. Some people accept point #1 and just deal and force the neurons to continually rewire, others side with their memories and nostalgia and fight for the way things were. Those are the “purists” in the more traditional sense. I have nothing wrong with that. Disney is one of those things in all of our lives that makes us really, really, really happy (why else would be be reading blogs such as this). With things such as Disney that bring much pleasure, there is always a part of every one of us that doesn't want anything messing up a "good" thing. But that is always a subjective observation.

Just like I couldn’t force my childhood friends to stay just like I remembered them, I cannot force Disney to stay the way I remember it.

Some people may have been asking themselves since it’s inception why would Epcot allow this to happen to itself. Here is the grump’s take on this….

When the Giant Golf Ball decided to sprout a wand bearing arm and giant 2000, Epcot was transitioning into it’s 20’s. With the exception of one’s teenage years, the early 20’s has to be one of the most dangerous times. It’s when we really start experimenting with new things to set us apart. Well, Epcot went through this. Trying to figure out where it stood in the family.

So, why an arm and a wand? If I could offer a guess, it would be whimsy. Maybe Epcot was tired of being Alex P. Keaton in a family of liberal ex-hippies. Maybe Epcot was tired feeling like the guy who forgot it was casual Friday and showed up in their suit while everyone else was sporting Hawaiian print shirts and sporting shorts.

Epcot was in really lacking whimsy and it was the key of the other parks. You had the whimsical Cinderella Castle with it’s Fantasyland, zany skippers on the Jungle Cruise and Hitchhiking Ghosts. In the Animal Kingdom, you had a gigantic tree built around an offshore oil rig which has animals carved into it’s exterior and contains a 3D movie house in it’s interior. Finally, you had MGM-Studios which was the home of the Muppets, Indiana Jones and, of course, "The Hat" (another point of contention amongst purists).

Epcot is the geeky child amongst the hip, cool ones. And like many geeky kids, they often want to fit in better than they do. It’s only natural. So it made a valiant effort. This grump doesn’t fault Epcot for trying and doesn’t think less of it for trying to do so. I kinda liked it. I think it gave the Giant Golf Ball some life, but us geeks need to stick together and remain true to who we are.

Well, as much as the purists hated it, I don’t think they were the ones who influenced Epcot to put down the gigantic wand. It’s more of a product of growing older. Epcot is turning 25 and has most likely come to grips with it’s role as being the more geeky member of the family and has decided it’s time to stop trying to be something it’s not and put down the wand and focus on what it brings to the family…education, entertainment, and the occasional heavily sponsored glimpse into the future.

To this grump, Epcot was and still is the Mr. Wizard and the Alton Brown of Disney. It took dry boring subject material and rolled it in Disney Magic and made it palatable. As long as it remembers that is what it’s purpose and message is then I’ll be happy. I think they are starting to remember that.

Maybe the wand was just a gigantic reminder that there is Magic in Epcot. Maybe we don’t need that reminder anymore.

But don’t ever underestimate the geeks. They have their secret desires to be Fantasmic! So every now and again they will do something that makes you shake your head but remember that they may be happy with it. The Wand may be going away, but Epcot’s desire to fit in will not and will break out the whimsical every now and again (aka Nemo, Mission to Space, Figment).


Unknown said...

Great post, Grumpy!

I really like the imagery of Epcot being the geekier sibling. It really puts some perspective on the parks.

But the best thought is that a lot of the current discussion about Epcot is based on that's person's first trip to a Disney theme park.

Great perspective--grumpy or not!

Andrew said...

Wonderful post. I agree that not every twenty something will make good decisions. This makes sense with Epcot as much as any human twenty something.

I stay away from these discussions because I love the wand and I don't want to get peed (pured) on.

Thanks for letting me secretly express my like of the wand. I look forward to more stuff!