Saturday, March 01, 2008

Spaceship Dearth


WE ARE ALL PASSENGERS TRAVELING TOGETHER
ON THIS SPACESHIP EARTH, STUPID.

“I don't believe in talking down to children.
I don't believe in talking down to any certain segment.”
- Walt Disney

I think it is safe to assume that anyone reading this blog frequents other Disney blogs, fan sites and discussion boards, and even if you haven’t experienced the new Spaceship Earth for yourself, you’ve at least read about it. I’m guessing you’ve already heard the new animation in the first half of the attraction looks great and the on-board touch-screen during the descent reduces the climax of Epcot’s centerpiece attraction to a tonally incorrect interactive display.

Let me just say, I agree and I agree--respectively.

Let’s get beyond that and look at the overall philosophy behind this do-over because it says a lot about what some people at WDI think of the average guest.

As far as I can tell, this version of Spaceship Earth communicates that the Walt Disney Company thinks its guests are dumb as a box of rocks.

The original Spaceship Earth was the result of the combined effort of countless artists--among them at least three certified geniuses: Buckminster Fuller, John Hench and the visionary poet Ray Bradbury. Bradbury is a true wordsmith; the man couldn’t write prose even if he wanted to. When he signs autographs, he writes a short extemporaneous poem. And if anyone doubts his visionary status, go back and read Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury warned us against the dangers of valuing immediate gratification (specifically via television) over the pursuit of knowledge (specifically via literature). The society that would result from such values was one which would treat each of its members as if they had the intellect and the curiosity of a lobotomized chimpanzee.

Bradbury wrote the original script for Spaceship Earth, but his carefully chosen words were dumbed down with each successive refurbishment. Spaceship Earth for Dummies now features Dame Judy Dench spouting such awkwardly transparent attempts to be relevant as “Rome built the first world wide web,” and a reference to the preservation of ancient texts as “the first back-up system.” Is it just me or did this remind anyone else of a well-meaning but dimwitted history teacher trying to relate to eighth graders? No offense to the talented actress in question. She didn’t write this stuff. But unfortunately neither did Bradbury. How much did they pay her to say, “Remember how easy it was to learn your ABCs?” The word “condescending” just isn’t strong enough; this language is insulting.

While we’re on the subject of narration, it's important to note show writers removed the word “Islamic” and replaced it with “Arab.” Why would they do that? Aren’t Muslims our fellow passengers aboard Spaceship Earth as well?

There was another odd change in the renaissance scene. A sculpture of a woman with a bare breast has been replaced with a covered-up version. Really? We’re too prude for the renaissance now? Seriously? The renaissance!?

I wish the concealing of marble cleavage was the oddest choice made during this refurbishment, but unfortunately, no. Someone decided a go-go dancer should work on a mainframe computer. Yes, I know she isn’t really a go-go dancer, but come-on. Who dressed that lab technician? Austin Powers? I don’t care if it is the 1970s and you like to climb into a cage at Studio 54 after work, but when you come to work as a lab tech you better dress like a lab tech, young lady. This costume design choice is fundamentally wrong.

I’m afraid we’re going to have to go back and review the basics in order to address this foolishness properly. The next paragraph is solely directed at anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to have a go-go dancer working on a mainframe computer in an optimistic, uplifting, dramatic attraction. Everyone else please skip to the following paragraph.

Every artist makes choices; writers, painters, sculptors, songwriters, set designers. Every artist. Theatrical designers (and theme park design is a theatrical art) must make choices that compliment a unified vision with the goal of eliciting a specific emotion from the audience. When poor choices are made, choices which contradict or distract from the intended message or emotion, it is evident and it pulls the audience out of the moment. The go-go outfit stands out and calls attention to itself instead of reinforcing the message. The show is not about that lab tech, the show is about all of us as the human race, how far we’ve advanced and the exciting future that awaits us. Every artist working on this show should be thinking about how they can reinforce that message with every choice they make. That’s not to say a bit of humor to lighten the mood isn’t welcome. It is. The sleeping monk is a good example, but I don’t see any humor here either. Was the lab tech’s outfit meant to be funny? What is the carefully thought out Henchian logic for that choice?

This brings us to the big choice. As many other bloggers, fans and just plain old park guests have already observed, the choice of reducing the second half of the attraction to a touch-screen interactive, which would normally be relegated to the post show, seems to be a way to save money, but I don’t think so. The cost of those screens was not insignificant. It seems to be more a result of the Company’s current infatuation with “interactivity.” For evidence of that infatuation just check out the recent New York Times article on Toy Story Midway Mania.

Unfortunately this obsession with shoving interactive elements into every attraction is usually at the expense of the fundamental principles that built Epcot and the Disney Parks in the first place. It doesn’t have to be; Disney theme parks have always been interactive experiences. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

I wonder if anyone remembers the last time WDI installed video screens in ride vehicles. It was for a little fiasco called Superstar Limo. Why would anyone want to duplicate any element of that show?

As a Bradbury fan, I can’t help but note the irony that they placed the villain from Fahrenheit 451 (a television screen) right in the ride vehicle. And here, just as in that world, the guests are expected to look at it instead of the world around them. An unintentional metaphor to be sure but I can’t help but read the message as: “stare at your own television, ignore the world passing by you and we’ll protect you from the dangers of marble nudity and big words you don’t understand.”

It’s sad to think that Spaceship Earth has fallen victim to one of the very dangers Bradbury warned us against. It’s downright heart wrenching to think that Epcot is capable of evoking parallels to the distopian future Bradbury warned us might be, instead of the utopian future Walt told us could be.


Finale Scene from Spaceship Earth

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59 comments:

C33 said...

Well put. Another sad loss for those of us still nostalgic for the old Epcot, for Epcot Center in which education and enlightenment were held at equal (or even greater) value than thrills and entertainment.

By the way, wouldn't this actually be version four of Spaceship Earth? I thought the order was (by narrator):

1. Vic Perrin
2. Walter Cronkite
3. Jeremy Irons
4. Judi Dench

And on the Final Scene from Spaceship Earth picture- haha.

Mr Banks said...

Duly noted. I'll change that out right away.

Eric said...

As a man of music, I often cannot find words to express my feelings.

You've stated it perfectly, and I am thankful that someone out there cares as much as I do.

In general terms, it is very disappointing to see the things that inspired me as a boy being whitled away at.

What's wrong with the Disney creative culture that allows this stuff to happen? I thought that we had turned a new leaf with Lasseter?

Jonas said...

Awesome post.

Josh said...

I'd heard there was a major dumbing down of the narration, but hadn't heard any examples until now. Sigh.

This sort of thing irks me more than the "interactive" screens, and that's saying something.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, the seventies was also the time period of this crazy movement that lobbied that a woman could be intelligent and capable enough to run a computer, even if she were wearing a short skirt. And that wearing a skirt didn't automatically make a woman a slut or an exotic dancer. Guess the computer revolution of the seventies stuck more than the feminist, since you can't see past a mannequin's legs.

Richard said...

This has to be one of the most bang on commentaries ever made! It really makes me weep for the future.

Bruce said...

Incredible post. One of the best in a while. I hadn't read any of the new text being used and I'm just appalled. It's so sad to see this once inspirational park dim to a pale shadow of it's glorious beginning.

To Anonymous:
I'd be real curious to see what you had to say about a male scientist doing his job in black leather pants and a tight neon colored shirt. Yes dress does not inform intelligence but not all dress is appropriate for all occasions.

Anonymous said...

If it was period appropriate clothing that was extremely popular for the age, then I would have no issue with male programmers in leather jackets and neon shirts. During the dot com boom when computer guys thought they were gods, that wouldn't be strange at all. I'm not getting go-go dancer from that photo, I'm getting woman in trendy clothes. I wonder if her race and the fact that she's female plays into how offensive you all find her insertion into the ride.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just...Wow. We go from Ray Bradbury (Whose original script was cut because it was too elaborate and required digging a show building beneath almost all of EPCOT Center) to "Do you remember the ABCs?" It's almost no longer Walt Disney World, Referencing an artistic genious' dream of a futuristic city, where every day would be a "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" (eek...I sound like a press release!), to now, Elmo's World, Referencing a small, furry, red puppet that speaks in the third person. Like Sally said in the Nightmare Before Christmas, "I do hope my prediction is wrong!"

I personally find fault less with the exsistence of those dang touch screens (which would be hilarious in a post show area) than with the fact that it's ALL THAT YOU CAN LOOK AT! Couldn't they put in some pretty light tube like earlier in the attraction, or a projection of space? Both of those theories would probably cost a lot less that touch screens. Perhaps as a follow up to everyone's favourite Go-Go dancing lab scientist, the could project thos go-go girls from Rockit' Mountain! (a yucky rock 'n' roll overlay of Space Mountain with lots of lights on, for the uneducated)

And I liked Superstar Limo!

Rant over

Acroyeon said...

anonymous @ 11:43
Bullshit. She has a huge 'fro and a miniskirt. Stop trying to justify a stupid choice. It's laughable and out of place. I saw it and though "it's the mannequin from I am Legend! At NASA!"

Spokker said...

Spaceship what? Sorry, I'm too enthralled with the new Waste Management exhibit at Epcot to even know what this entry is about!

Wee, I'm recycling!

Brian said...

Thanks for the enlightened and spot on post. Not only a commentary on Disney, but society in general. One starts to wonder if the "dumbing" of the Disney ideals and philosophies have gone so far that they will never recover and that we will go the way of Bradbury's work. As Eric says, what's happened to the Disney creative culture?

Out here on the West Coast, John Lasseter and Tony Baxter were supposed to be the saviors of Disneyland. Lasseter seems only to be concerned with the Pixar themed attractions and where's Baxter? I'm sure y'all know that they're putting Stitch and other Disney characters into the Mary Blair masterpiece that was It's a Small World. Do you mean to tell me that Baxter sat there and agreed that was a good idea??

Poor Walt. He was so right on the money - I wonder what he thinks now.

Anonymous said...

While I'm not 100% in agreement with the refurb comments (although I do agree halfheartedly with them) I think that the most amazing portion is the final recognition of the stupidity of the new 'interactivity' crop. I can take interactive surveys at my house if I want to (I don't). I can play games on a screen, or shoot at aliens on my Wii. But to live through a real 3-dimension recreation of a burning pirate village, ride through the history of communications, or walk through an old west environment - that can't be recreated through this crappy form of 'interactivity'.

I worked in the virtual reality lab at WDI and now I'm regretting what we did there. It's a lazy man's approach to the key element that Disney has been failing on for so long - creating an immersive environment to tell a story. No touchscreen will ever do that effectively, and I'm sick of being told to interact in the attractions being put in lately. Take me away on a fantasy, WDI, but stop telling me to hit buttons on a screen. I do that all day for a living, I'm not impressed.

Anonymous said...

First, I love your blog and this is a fantastic post.

This current love of “media” at the parks is driven from the likes of Tom Fitzgerald who only understands how to tell a story using that medium. Seen the video bride in The Haunted Mansion? The video pirate on Pirates Lair at Tom Sayers Island? Has anyone taken a sub through the big screen section of Circuit City . . . Oh I’m sorry, I mean the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage? Wait until you see the thrilling maze of large screens in Toy Story Mania. You’ll be impressed at how you feel like your sitting in your sofa at home rolling passed your large screen plasma television. It’s amazing how the new interactive attractions at the parks have turned the Disney theme park experience into the equivalent of sitting in front of your computer or television playing video games and watching movies. We all have flat screen televisions with surround sound, why do I want that experience when I go to Disneyland. If this is the future of entertainment I’ll rent a DVD.

Long ago we would be amazed at audio-animatronics filled attractions at the parks, now we get to see one, if we’re lucky, strategically placed in the queue line which is followed by a ride through a world of flat projection screens and/or cut-outs. Buzz Lightyear, (with video projected face) in Astro Blasters and now Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story Mania. Arcade game attraction, flat black light sets, projection screens, no animatronic figures, pushing another Pixar property? See a similarity?

And don’t get me started on it’s a small world at Disneyland. As if screwing Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp figures wasn’t enough we get another example the current Imagineering regime hasn’t got a clue. The idea of small world is to show that all of us around the world share the same feelings, hopes and dreams. Now those clever imaginers are throwing in Alice and the White Rabbit in England, Cinderella and the mice in France, Jasmine and Aladdin in Arabia, Mulan and Mushu in China, Simba with Timon and Pumba in Africa, The Three Caballeros in Mexico, Ariel and family in the under water scene, Lilo and Stitch in Polynesia, you get the idea. Now if that doesn’t cause visual nausea, your ears will help you get that sick feeling deep in your gut when it hears the music from each of these movies now playing in the small world attraction. Who are in charge of these projects, idiots?

I had hoped things would improve with John Lassiter and Tony Baxter at the helm, but now I just think it’s an ego thing regarding how many Pixar attractions can we cram in the parks. I miss the days when there was a balance of attractions based on Disney properties and those created because they were just an amazing experience for the guest

Anonymous said...

"Bullshit. She has a huge 'fro and a miniskirt. Stop trying to justify a stupid choice."

I'm not justifying their choice. I'm saying you're being racist and sexist. Sorry, the problem here isn't with Disney's choices, it's with your own ideas of can and can't be a scientist. Glad we've cleared that up. Now I know not to bother with this blog anymore.

Brian said...

Thanks, Anonymous (the one who mentioned Small World). Your post is spot on as well - and you’re right…I just bought a new flat screen with surround sound – maybe I don’t need to visit the parks anymore.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of it except the "go go girl" thing.

Miniskirts in the computer workplace started with Uhura on the deck of the Starship Enterprise in 1967. Check your 67' Viewmaster reels for the silver lame micro mini on the "Moongirl" that was flitting around Tomorrowland in the sixties with Randy Bright. It was c'est normal back then. As someone who worked in an office at that time, minis and boots were normal dress. Like nippled mannequins, some find them distracting, but hopefully most guests are not tittilated by the dummies and just appreciate the show.

Tongaroa said...

To the anonymous who casually calls people racist and sexist.

I wrote the post in question, and I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you missed the point.

I wasn’t looking at this lab tech costume from a political point of view. I was looking at it as a design choice--which I think the text of the article makes clear. But, perhaps to your point this wasn’t just a random design choice. Perhaps, as you suggest, the designers are making a statement about feminist politics in the 1970s.

If that is true, then you are saying these designers are aware of the social implications of their design choices. What do you make of the fact that after 25 years of saying “Islamic scholars saved generations of knowledge from being lost,” they changed the narration to “Arab” scholars? The word “Islamic” survived the ‘86 and ‘94 refurbishment but not this last one. If these designers are as enlightened as you suggest, what do you make of that clearly conscious choice?

By the way, the lab tech was not inserted into the ride. She has been there for years in another scene. Only the outfit is new.

Also, I did not say her outfit was “offensive.” I said it was a poor design choice. At 8-Trax her outfit would be just groovy. The concern over the lab tech’s costume has nothing to do with race or gender or sexuality and has everything to do with being out-of-place. The blog post is very clear on this point. In fact there are other statements in this very blog post that ask for greater inclusion (regarding Muslims) and less prudish behavior (regarding the nude statue).

Please read the post more closely before you make such serious allegations.

Tongaroa said...

"I agree with most of it except the 'go go girl' thing.

Miniskirts in the computer workplace started with Uhura on the deck of the Starship Enterprise in 1967. Check your 67' Viewmaster reels for the silver lame micro mini on the "Moongirl" that was flitting around Tomorrowland in the sixties with Randy Bright. It was c'est normal back then. As someone who worked in an office at that time, minis and boots were normal dress. Like nippled mannequins, some find them distracting, but hopefully most guests are not tittilated by the dummies and just appreciate the show."

It’s kind of ironic that the go-go lab tech is dominating so much of the attention in this discussion, because my complaint was that she attracted too much attention in the attraction (due to the fact that she was out-of-place). Next time I’ll try to pick a less controversial subject while making a point about design.

But I’d like to address the post I quoted above. It doesn’t really matter that the outfit is historically accurate, it’s still a bad choice.

Let me give you an example. You mentioned Randy Bright. Okay American Adventure guy, right? He wrote the Rosie the Riveter scene. He wrote the line for Rosie, “Whatcha do, let the whole Nazi fleet use you for target practice?” Why didn’t he write “German fleet” or “Japanese fleet”? Both would have been historically accurate. In fact, “Japanese fleet” is much more likely in the case of a water battle. But this points out national differences, and perhaps German Americans or Japanese Americans or even visitors from Japan or Germany in the audience would feel offended or even threatened. In short, it distracts from the flow of the show. The loud outfit the lab tech is wearing distracts from the show. We aren’t thinking about how big that computer is compared to the little personal computer being built in the garage (as was clearly intended). We are looking at the lab tech and thinking about how out of place she is, and not even thinking about how technology advanced over such a tiny span of time.

Anonymous said...

Probably the thing that bothers me the most is the poor use of the touch-screens. I hate how we are told we are going to "Create our own Vision of the Future" (which, from the sound of it, is one of the most effective things Epcot guests could do!), and instead we answer a personality test - with questions such as "Do you prefer drinking tea or hot chocolate?" SIGH. The Jib-Jab expedia commercial shown to us is clearly a future that will never happen, the promise of tomorrow is forgotten while guests spend time laughing at their own faces not even knowing what is being said, and the overall message is, "sit back, relax, here comes the future!" Quite the opposite from Epcot's original intent to challenge and inspire.

Anonymous said...

Very good walk through....I wanted to examine the arab vs muslim statement...Did you ever stop to think who is at the top of MOST
major networks/big businesses and such in America? It is common knowledge that the Jewish and muslims don't mix...

Anonymous said...

I may be the lone dissenting voice in this thread, but I have to say this.

I disagree nearly 100% with this post. This is coming from a gigantic fan of the 1994 Irons narrated SSE. Without delving into the details, the only bad spot about the 2008 version of SSE to me is the forgettable score.

The descent after the official re-opening date on 18 February is far from a pitch black curtain. There's the awesome limitless blue starfield after 180top, followed by the still existent "infinite gas clouds" to the right of the track, followed by the currently barely-lit abstract triangles display halfway down the descent corridor. The only curtain currently in place is where the "Global Neighborhood" vignettes stood in the 1994 version.

I am a gigantic SSE fan and I was fuming at the late 2007 soft opening videos. My 4 rides on SSE last week changed my mind tremendously. It simply must be experienced in person. And no, I didn't laugh at my "personalized future" in the descent.

BTW, Power City is a really fun game in the post-show.

Rob said...

My kids, 7 and 9, needed to go on Spaceship Earth as many times as possible this last trip (we compromised at 4). It wasn't because of the trip through time, although they said that was "ehh" and "OK" respectively, it was so they could use the touch screens. (They didn't have much interest in the post-show area, although we did it all the first time).

Later they both agreed that it was their favorite ride at EPCOT - better than Test Track or The California Movie. Generally they were big into all the interactive stuff. We're headed back to WDW in April and the rides they're talking about are: Space Mountain, Big Thunder, Rock & Roller Coaster, Everest . . . and Spaceship Earth. Go figure.

Maybe someone knows something about ride design after all? Now fashion, that's a different story.

B said...

Tom Fitzgerald is the single biggest threat in all of WDI. His lack of artistic ability is striking. It makes me so scared for the future of WDW.

The post forgot to mention the new music too. While the old music was a sort of miniature masterpiece, flowing and creating a coherent piece throughout the entire attraction, the new music simply puts seperate lackluster musical tracks in each room. Pathetic... Why would they waste money on fixing something that was nearly perfect?

Hazelrah said...

Expanding a bit more on Tongaroa's very valid point about the lab tech...

The story of Spaceship Earth is not to illuminate the world history of fashion. It has a very definite focus on the evolution of communication. Any element that distracts from this story is a bad design decision.

Such outfits may have indeed been worn by some black female lab techs in the 60s. Similarly, older white males didn't always wear white coats and glasses. But it is not the costumer's job to capture variety. The costumer's job is to make the scene play to the audience as an 1960s computer lab.

The focus of the scene is not the techs at all. It is the birth of computing machinery. Audiences should be focused on that huge bank of tape drums spinning behind the glass. The techs are just background. They should blend in to the scene. Audiences do not equate mini-skirts with computer lab technicians, so when they spot one, they are taken out of the story of communication and into another story about acceptable human clothing.

Maybe the audience is stereotyping. Maybe lab techs don't want to be known for wearing dorky white coats. But the story isn't supposed to be concerned with such things. It's supposed to be telling us that computers are now on the scene, and they were BIG.

Stephen said...

Just to add to all those who commented on the new score--isn't it hard to believe it came from the mind of Bruce Broughton, an experienced composer with some great work in EPCOT (UoE, HISTA)?

I will say that the loop of his SSE composition that plays throughout the queue is stunning, and an excellent addition to EPCOT's rich musical history. But hearing that only disappointed me further when I heard what a drab wreck the actual ride score was. Perhaps we all just blindly believed he would be perfect for the job without realizing that he's never really composed for such a continuous ride-through before...?

Still...it's inexcusable.

Chris said...

My kids, 7 and 9, needed to go on Spaceship Earth as many times as possible this last trip (we compromised at 4). It wasn't because of the trip through time, although they said that was "ehh" and "OK" respectively, it was so they could use the touch screens. (They didn't have much interest in the post-show area, although we did it all the first time).

Later they both agreed that it was their favorite ride at EPCOT - better than Test Track or The California Movie. Generally they were big into all the interactive stuff. We're headed back to WDW in April and the rides they're talking about are: Space Mountain, Big Thunder, Rock & Roller Coaster, Everest . . . and Spaceship Earth. Go figure.

Maybe someone knows something about ride design after all? Now fashion, that's a different story.


While I respect your kids opinions...

That would be fine except that Spaceship Earth doesn't belong in the Magic Kingdom, like the original EPCOT Center when SSE was built, it was not intended for young kids.

The postshow area would have been just fine for this kind of esurance commercial, but not at the ending of SSE.

I've softened a bit on my stance, but I still believe that the ending does not fit AT ALL with the rest of the ride.

It's clear that Disney is falling over themselves trying to make things kid-friendly these days. But this is the point they reach to? Taking one of the most significant and historically accurate rides in Disney parks and turn it into yet another campy cartoon with a dumbed down narration?

Disney shouldn't be afraid to make or maintain more serious attractions, we've enjoyed American Adventure, the Hall of Presidents, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and I bet no children were harmed during the watching of those great attractions.

A few other points, the music is definitely not as good as the previous Jeremy Irons version, and I'm surprised there has been no mention of the Matrix screen. It's one thing to emulate a certain pop culture thing, but the green lights, the moving random text...I took a friend on the ride last week and she said "did they pay for the rights to the matrix?" It IS that copied.

theatreman said...

There is parallel in the dumbing down of Spaceship Earth and Small World. In each case, the very essence of the original attraction is misunderstood and lost rather than enhanced and updated. I believe the original intent of Small World was clearly to demonstrate the core similarity of many peoples inhabiting a single planet. The evident plea is that we share the world in equality and peace.

Walt Disney chose children as a metaphor of humanity and innocence, and as a symbol of hope. As we know, having discarded several unsatisfactory designs, he finally chose simple dolls with distinct ethnic differences, but inescapable overriding similarities.

He presented these "children" in a panorama of colorful landscapes, and then united them in a spectacular all-white carnival of peace. The figures, unique to this one attraction, have sustained it for 43 years.

The "improvement" would seem to vulgarize the theme and essence of what has given this ride its irresistible appeal for millions and millions of people.

The introduction of the curious Lilo, the mischievous Stitch, the regal Simba and other Disney characters with their distinct attributes and back-stories destroys the unifying and equalizing anonymity of the original Small World population.

They introduce a perverse divisiveness diametrically opposed to the original import of the attraction. Once these VIP Stars appear, the remaining doll population is necessarily relegated to the status of homogenous background players.

The audience, too, becomes divided into the "haves" who have seen many of the films and can play , “Oh, look at....”, and the "have nots" who are left out of the loop: the very antithesis of the attraction's original thrust.

Stitch, of course, is not a peaceful citizen of planet earth, but a blue alien, described by the Internet Movie Database as a “notorious extra-terrestrial fugitive from the law.”

Simba is an animal who has been compelled to kill a relative in bloody battle in order to attain his throne, in a dynastic kingdom ruled by violence: hardly an exemplary citizen for a small human world at peace.

The Disney characters are, of course, one of the Company’s chief assets. But there is an ongoing homogenization of their personalities as the Grimm Brothers’ royals cavort with Minnie, Ariel and Jasmine in the kiddi make-over salons and the merchandising packaging. Their insertion into A Small World seems one more inappropriate and unwelcome over-exposure.

Once the familiar “stars” invade Small World, the attraction loses its individuality. Guests are no longer transported to a unique festival of humanity, but find themselves in a continuation of the milieu of cartoon characters. The ride forfeits its distinct ambience and the park loses a singular different environment.

The ride as originally conceived gives both children and adults a thrilling vision of the possibility of an innocent and unified world at peace, and this theme is clearly confirmed in the farewell salute of "Pax" in many languages. Beneath the beautiful gaiety of the attraction is a stirring, serious and inspiring metaphor and message of hope for the future. Once the ride is reduced to one more panorama of the much-exposed Disney stock company - now with a supporting cast of singing dolls in an incompatible design style - any innocent and important concern is compromised by intrusive celebrity and imposed familiarity.

Curiosity will temporarily inflate the ride numbers, but the alteration could prove in the long run to be a disastrous melt-down of a signal personal Walt Disney achievement.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to recognize there is a generation gap occurring between some of the people posting on this site. There are the older "Imagineers" and Disney fans who like things the old way. Then there are the ones with children. I think the post from the person with the children is poignant and to the point. We must make these parks relate to the young, or we risk losing our future audience.
Secondly, that descent down from the top of the ride has always been problematic for Spaceship Earth.
Third, quit trashing everything in comments. The Nemo sub ride is quite well done. Who cares if its video or animatronics? If it entertains and there's a line I would say it works. Last time I looked no one was going on shows like the Hall of Presidents or Tiki Room any more - both primarily Audio Animatronics oriented shows.
Fourth, I wish people posting here would quit treating Tony like some kind of demi-god. Remember he is the one who foisted the new Tomorrowland upon us with the rocket ride out front of the entrance to Tomorrowland, and lets not forget the Rocket Rods - another failure.

Anonymous said...

I took my 4-year-old on the new Spaceship Earth and she was very disappointed that her face did not appear pasted on the cartoon body like mine did. I figured it was because she was not looking far enough over the railing and her face did not register when the picture was taken. There was no line, so we went on again. I held her on my knee and told her to look at the light when it came on, but when we got to the end of the ride my face appeared and hers didn’t. She was even more disappointed. I asked if she wanted to try again and she said “no.” She wasn’t angry, just very sad. Later we found a interactive kiosk in the Imagination pavilion, which took her picture. Here she lined her face up with the camera and smiled. This is the game where you can put different graphic shapes on your face and make them animate. She was much happier and has no desire to go on Spaceship Earth again. Which is sad for me because it was one of my favorite attractions growing up.

Put the thing in the post show, this parent says.

mr wiggins said...

How is a Spaceship Earth like a Tiki Room Under New Management?

Both define the cynical view that postmodern, marketeer-managed Disney has of its customers. Both pander to the Park guest like a marketing campaign targets a bit of focus group data -- as a source of cash to be controlled, as an audience segment to be manipulated, and as a liability against which the Corporation must protect itself by political correctness and layers of legal vetting.

Both vulgarize the showmanship standards of Disney’s past to pander to the bottom line of Disney's present, with no thought that they are, in fact, squandering Disney's future.

brian said...

Third, quit trashing everything in comments. The Nemo sub ride is quite well done. Who cares if its video or animatronics? If it entertains and there's a line I would say it works.

In a way, this is correct - it does work. But does it work because we're willing to accept merchandising over quality? If that's the legacy that was to be left by Walt, then he could have built another Long Beach Pike in Anaheim and been done with it.

But we're willing to idolize the Britneys, the Lindsays and the Paris' - so maybe it's our own fault.

No, Disney can do better than that. And my guess is if they did, as Walt said, "the quality will win out" and the lines for attractions would be much longer.

Matt Ross said...

Great post. I too am nostalgic for those childhood events that Disney produced, especially the ones that were done right, like Spaceship Earth. I'm glad you pointed out the immediacy and short-lived characteristics of popular culture - always transient, ever-changing; not a good basis for creating memorable, long-lived attractions.

I haven't been to Epcot for close to a year now, and was wary when hearing of the changes that were to be made to this attraction - I've always loved that ride (except for the seats and aging, rough rail - any changes there?).

Also, noting the last time I was there, one of the great things about Disney is the amount of detail they pay to their environments. Although I disliked the 2-hour waits of yesteryear, the elaborate environments that were created to keep you amused while waiting, also built a great sense of anticipation for the main ride. Correspondingly, I thought the NY Times article you referenced did a good job of noting our current society's short attention span. Any thoughts on the ignorance of this artform (by today's FastPass visitors)?

Spokker said...

"Third, quit trashing everything in comments."

I apologize for the intrinsic nature of people to have opinions.

This is the "Disney sucks now so let's talk about how we think it should be" blog.

If this were the "We love Disney oh God we love Disney we love Disney fast and deep" blog I would post the appropriate comments.

Dan said...

“Rome built the first world wide web,” and a reference to the preservation of ancient texts as “the first back-up system.”

How is this an example of "dumbing down"? It sounds like an interesting analogy to me.

Anonymous said...

"We now have the ability and responsibility to build new bridges of acceptance and cooperation between us. To create a better world for ourselves and our children as we continue along our amazing journey aboard this, our Spaceship Earth."

What saddens me most about this refurbishment is that guests are no longer challenged to participate in shaping the future. They are now being taught to think where they want to vacation, what they want to drive, to be selfish. What happened to our Renaissance organization that Ray Bradbury spoke so passionately of? Did it end with WED? What of Mr. Bradbury's Schweitzer Centrifuge? "Set a good example to the world. If you are excellent, if you are of high quality, the world will imitate you."

I cannot begin to express my extreme gratitude for this post. I have quite literally been ranting about this attraction for the months the ride has been opened and take some solace in the fact that others feel as saddened and disappointed as I do.

I would like to say something in regard to the comments that Disney needs to make its parks relate to the young. Did you not read the opening line of this blog? There is a huge difference between reaching out to children and being condescending. Walt was a firm believer in talking TO people, not down to them. My favorite childhood memory of Disney was visiting the manatees at the Living Seas. Yes, I still call it the LIVING Seas. Apparently I was an 8 year old who could appreciate the pavilion without Mr. Ray and Nemo. I also have fond childhood memories of Horizons. And there were no touchscreens to pound on to keep myself occupied. I was fascinated merely by the visual experience and imagination of it all. I guess kids today are either incapable of learning or have ADD. At least, this must be what Disney thinks of children today. Walt would be ashamed.

And as for a generational gap from old imagineers, it's not a matter of thinking that only old things are good, it's about recognizing that QUALITY is good. It just so happens that people of the current generation, Lassetter and Baxter included, just can't design things the way John Hench did or write things the way Ray Bradbury could. If something, particularly a Disney attraction, is done well, people will reach out to it, including children. I'm only 22-- it doesn't take an old person to recognize quality, authenticity, and good design.

And as for Foxy Brown, she's a random small detail which doesn't really bother me when I think of the atrocity of the refurbishment as a whole. However, my parents are both scientists, my mom a pharmacist, beginning her career in the 1970s. To her recollection, she never wore gogo boots and a miniskirt underneat her lab coat. There is period appropriate attire for the workplace.

Also, thanks for mentioning the random covered up boob in the renaissance segment of SSE. The renaissance has always been my favorite part and although covering a portion of a statue is certainly not the worst change they made, it is rather peculiar that one would censor a work of art but never do anything about a rather large structure in Morocco that bears a striking resemblance to a penis.

In light of the recent events, I have taken it upon myself to reread Bradbury's greatest work, Fahrenheit 451. It's sad that Bradbury's ride would become exactly what he once warned us against. I would like to end with a quote which could, sadly, easily relate to Spaceship Earth 451: "Whirl man's mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting though."

Rob said...

Later they both agreed that it was their favorite ride at EPCOT - better than Test Track or The California Movie. Generally they were big into all the interactive stuff.

Maybe someone knows something about ride design after all?


"While I respect your kids opinions...

That would be fine except that Spaceship Earth doesn't belong in the Magic Kingdom, like the original EPCOT Center when SSE was built, it was not intended for young kids."

You respect my kids opinioins? That's more than you can say for me. The only agree to go on POTC, JC and HM because they know Dad loves them. They find them quite boring!

It's not a simple matter to say why they think that way - they love The Land and the People Mover, maybe because those are "reality" rides.

I thought the idea was to create rides the whole family could enjoy, no? Or should I drop my kids off at MK and take the wife to Epcot? If the kids have to sit through the "boring" parts of SE while eagerly anticipating the touchscreens, that works for me.

Jenn said...

I can remember the first version of Spaceship Earth with the people coming through computer screens to be at a birthday party and was interested to see what it looked like after it's latest "renewal."

My friend and I rode it about a month ago and enjoyed the updated animatronics - some of the characters moved so well we wondered if they were real! The computer "thing" on the way down was ok, cute to see what they did with it, but not as much fun as the scenes. I did notice the language seemed tailor-made for today's youth. It did seem a bit silly. I didn't "get" the go-go computer tech, but liked the image of the computer's birthplace of a garage being included.

I have to say that I do miss the "what the future could look like" animatronics that used to close out the show.

Chris said...

You respect my kids opinioins? That's more than you can say for me. The only agree to go on POTC, JC and HM because they know Dad loves them. They find them quite boring!

It's not a simple matter to say why they think that way - they love The Land and the People Mover, maybe because those are "reality" rides.

I thought the idea was to create rides the whole family could enjoy, no? Or should I drop my kids off at MK and take the wife to Epcot? If the kids have to sit through the "boring" parts of SE while eagerly anticipating the touchscreens, that works for me.


Walt was able to create attractions that were safe and accessible for the whole family.

That does not mean that every one in every family will like every ride, only that those who go will find their favorites and skip those that didn't appeal to them.

As I mentioned the other great and dramatic attractions, we don't need Mickey mouse dressed up as Uncle Sam showing up next to Ben Franklin and Mark Twain to make the American Adventure more kid friendly. It ruins the feel and purpose of the attraction the same way these screens and new narration do.

Shellemonster said...

There is such a variety of opinions about the changes for SE, but they all seem to come from the older or much younger generations. I fall right at the end of my teen years and I must say just how impressed with Epcot I was when I visited last time. This was during their soft openings for SE which I did not get to go on, but I did notice the abundance of screen based attractions on that visit. I personally found them generally entertaining, but altogether isolated leaving me feeling detached from the bigger picture that was going on around me. The spaceman game after Mission Space is an outright videogame diversion for crying outloud! Make the person get in some sort of space suit to control the character, not use a computer joystick! Energy city, on the other hand, mixed digital projection interactivity with human interactivity. Consequently I played it twice with my friend whereas I had no desire to play "spaceman" again. Youth likes interactivity, but this interaction is the most compelling when it adds to an experience rather than being the total package.
As a side note, I love the classic rides because they use technology to immerse you in a "real-life" story.
The overall goal for Epcot and all of Disney is to grow and plus itself over and over again. Perhaps these are just the in between steps leading to the next generation. You need hope.

Tongaroa said...

Matt Ross said: “I've always loved that ride (except for the seats and aging, rough rail - any changes there?).”

It did seem a little smoother to me. I hope it can stay that way. They need to keep those maintenance budgets healthy.

Matt Ross also said: “I thought the NY Times article you referenced did a good job of noting our current society's short attention span. Any thoughts on the ignorance of this artform (by today's FastPass visitors)?”

Many many many thoughts. Too much to put down here. Perhaps I’ll put it in a future blog post. The problem is I got a list of potential posts as long as my arm and no time to write them. Some day. Thanks for your interest, Matt.

wackyvorlon said...

My complaint with the narration is that from what you've said, it's, well, wrong. It speaks of the Romans constructing an early version of the world wide web - they didn't. They did establish an early postal system, but even this was used only for military business. To consider it a precursor to the web is a real stretch.

As well, copying manuscripts as a means of backup. That wasn't the purpose. They were copied for distribution. I dislike it when they play fast and loose with the facts. By far my preference would be for them to relay specifics, the reality is sufficiently interesting that these embellishments are unnecessary.

Spokker said...

"It speaks of the Romans constructing an early version of the world wide web - they didn't."

Hey, at least they didn't say it was a precursor to MySpace and YouTube. That might be in the script for the next update though. Gotta stay current and hip you know.

"I dislike it when they play fast and loose with the facts. By far my preference would be for them to relay specifics, the reality is sufficiently interesting that these embellishments are unnecessary."

But then again who are the masters of revisionist history?

*cough*Pocahontas*cough*

Grundel said...

Sickeningly, my neices found the ride boring, and only liked the tv screens at the end. And we couldn't find a single slow day at WDW this year. So Disney Co knows exactly what they are doing. Guess what? America IS stupid. Bush is our leader by choice, TWICE.

I think this latest attempt by the new people in charge of Disney proves that the downward spiral cannot be reversed. Lasseter is throwing money at imagineering, but that only fixes 1 of 50 problems. Enjoy Disney if you can today, because tomorrow it will only be worse.

Let us always remember that as great as Epcot was, it was only a pale shadow of what Walt's E.P.C.O.T. would have been - a revolutionary city that could have changed the world. And always remember what killed it - the corporate stock market, modern, anonymous version of the greedy master-slave system.

Grundel said...

I'd also like to add, I hope the next Walt Disney - if there is one - remembers this lesson and keeps his company PRIVATE or even non-profit.

Imagine what a Bill Gates or Warren Buffett could do if they only had the slightest bit of imagination or vision.

spajadigit said...

I actually LIKE the video projections in the Nemo ride, the video projections of the singing busts and Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion and the pirate over on Tom Sawyers Island.

Especially in the subs- those projections are by far better than the rubber mermaids and limited animation of the crabs, fish and sea monster of the original ride.

While I agree that some things are changing for the worse, other things are changing for the better- Space Mountain has improved, I love the changes they've made to New Orleans Square, the Haunted Mansion updates (with the exception of the bride, who is just done really badly)and though it's not new, the shaman telling the tale of how his people got the flute!

I like the new color scheme on the castle. I like the video falling rock shadows in Thunder Mountain. I like the new Autopia. I like the upgrades in Alice and Mr. Toads.
The new Haunted Mansion in Florida is amazing.

Yeah, sure there's a lot wrong with some changes, but there's also a lot done right, IMHO

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Your assertions are very well thought-out and I deeply appreciate what you say. I must say that I couldn't agree with you more!

Your parallels with Bradbury's warning against automotonization is marvelous! I think that you should print this article and send it directly to WDI President's office!

Disney has lost touch with its founding ideals, namely, Disney has lost Disney.

Bravo to you and your excruciatingly precise and tasteful writing, and above all, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Jenn said:

I can remember the first version of Spaceship Earth with the people coming through computer screens to be at a birthday party

The holographic birthday party (scene 31) was actually part of Horizons (1983-1999).

Troy said...

Count me as another person who finds the Lab Tech Go-Go Girl to be a bit jarring and unnecessary. The first time I saw her standing there in the micro-mini and go-go boots and white lab coat and clipboard, I giggled out loud.

I do think it's important that she is a woman of color, to set the time and place in American society when that demographic was finally entering the profesional workplace in bigger numbers.

But do they really need to make her look like a backup dancer from Laugh In? Couldn't they have toned down the wild fashion and garish colors just a bit? Maybe given her a more profesional hairdo? Maybe make her look just a tad less ridiculous?

As for the removal of the word "Islamic", that's even worse, and far more sinister. Who does Disney think they are protecting with these kinds of changes exactly?

Figment571 said...

When did they stop to dream,
When did the dream of the future die?
What happened to the dreams and schemes thought up in the past.
When did they allow they're imagination and wonder to die.
How did it go,
A future so bright and inspired.
Now childish and mired.
When did they stop to dream?

Digital Jedi said...

All I'll say this time, is I'm reserving judgement until I get to ride it again. If there's anything really wrong with the attraction this time around, I'm not going to fret as much, as it seems they did little more then add some new show dressing. They didn't gut the thing, tear it down and rebuild it in vain image. If it's broken, it's likely fixable.

If I may add my personal note of a portion of this subject. I saw the black girl in the mini skirt in photos. My first thought? "I didn't know there were a lot of black, female computer technicians in the seventies." That's all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

A very well written blog, I really would like to see it published in "Eyes and Ears". If you really disagree with it, then you have been well assimilated into the "New Disney" that exists today.

The only thing I would add (and no one else has mentioned this) is that Judi Dench speaks way too fast for the pace of this ride. The previous version with Jeremy Irons was slow and steady enough that you could listen while watching the animatronics scenes at the same time. Now it seems more designed to someone with ADD, listen, then look. It doesn't allow you to comfortably enjoy both at the same time. This seems to be a horrible new tread with Disney rides for the past few years now. A well-designed ride allows you to get the whole experience the first time and makes you want to ride it again because it was so great. I've noticed a trend now with people having to go on the rides multiple times to get the full experience. To stand in an hour long line and not feel satisfied that you've seen the whole "show" is just wrong, and it just shows a lack of care from the designers who have the luxury of riding it as many times as they need/want to.

Now lets jump on the bandwagon:

Yes the script is extremely poorly written with facts being replaced by someone's opinions. Adapting the original scenes of specific ancient times as the precursor for our modern technology is just weak imagination and plain wrong. The periods of the ages of communication should just explain what they represent in there own time frame. If you're going to go so far as to credit the Romans for the world wide web (I know they are not literally doing this, but it is how that scene is interpreted) why are the cave men not credited with the origins for movies and television? Did they not create the first form of entertainment with stories and wall paintings? Why not credit the Phoenician merchants with the origins of the binary computer code? A generation of children will learn a very skewed version of history from this ride.

I must also add to the traditionalist, like me, that the theme of this ride has been officially changed with the new sponsor and that should be taken into consideration. It used to be the history/evolution of communication, now it is the history/evolution of technology. BIG difference in the message people, they are not the same thing. To change the theme of a ride really requires you to create an entirely new ride, not change the words around so things kind of now fit. It comes off as cheap, especially by Disney standards. I have no problem with them changing the theme, but do it right. Don't give us a ride about communication and then have the two last scenes about technology. Not to mention we are never really shown what the future may hold (or the preset for that matter), unlike the previous version that gave us so much to dream about what the world may turn into. Why not show a prediction of what technology has in store for us? Isn't that the whole purpose of this ride and theme park? Experimental, Prototypes, Our Communities, what Tomorrow holds, any of these words sound familiar? None of this is seen in this ride now. Apparently technology reach's its climax with the creation of the silicone chip and it's use in a PC in the early 80's. Followed of course with no explanation of a short trip in the Matrix, a view of Earth from space, and then blue dots of light into darkness. Confused? So is everyone else that goes on this ride.

And don't try to pass off the cheap flash animation ending as being what the future holds. Drive Time auto insurance has better animated commercials then this ride. I can't believe that people working with Disney resorted to something so cheap and pathetic. When you see life size animatronics interacting with movies of real people in a future world it makes things believable, like this is what will be happing in a few years. Watching a 2D animation with a bad picture of my face stuck on it telling me how I may be living in the future makes me think it'll never really happen in my lifetime and it's nothing worth dreaming about. Apparently the future is a very dark place with pastel block people, nothing at all worth seeing. Pathetic. Oh and that "blue star field" effect is such an old cheap trick that is nothing more then a few LEDs, a mirror and 2 way glass. I was much more impressed with the old lights, at least they changed colors.

And where do the Imagineers get off putting an animatronic of Steve Jobs creating the Apple computer? Is this the new thing, use our rides to kiss the boss's ass? I don't ever recall seeing Walt Disney as an animatronic. And yes making the one girl that looks like Foxy Brown was a mistake, I'm sure it sounded like a really funny idea in the imagineers board meeting. But like all bad ideas it should have been left there behind closed doors.

Now where to place the blame on this monstrosity? I have spoken with two imagineers and one artist that worked on the physical building of this ride and they all agreed that they don't like the final outcome. They did not even enjoy working on it. The true fault lies with the management within imagineering. After all they are the ones that make the final decisions, and also veto the good ideas of the creative designers. The problem is that the power lies with few and they are much more focused on keeping the investors and board happy then the people who they are building the ride for. That is a fact, not my opinion. I used to work within a creative department with Disney and got to see final artist renderings of several projects. People would get excited about the projects, but when the curtain is lifted everyone's reaction is the same, "that's not what it's supposed to look like". This company is in a very sad state.

So congratulations to the executive imagineers, you've taken the shining beacon of EPCOT and dwindled it down to the flicker of a candle.

Topolino said...

Plain and Simple.

My wife and I would ride Spaceship Earth at least once everytime we visited EPCOT. We are Floridians, thus we make the trek to WDW 2 - 3 times a year.

Last week we visited Spaceship Earth 4.0 for the first time.

As we exited the attraction we both had the same response - "Don't need to do that again!". The script is so trite that it doesn't warrant a repeat visit.

We have no desire to visit Spaceship Earth, the (lack of) Imagination Pavilion, Energy, or new movie in Canada ever again.

Epcot use to be a two day park for us. Now we can experience all of the decent attractions in a day.

Thanks Disney, for helping us save all of that money!

Kristy said...

Okay... I always get ripped apart for disagreeing with anyone about anything at WDW but I have to put my 2cents in.

I really really hate Judy Dench's voice but that being said, I don't exactly think using phrases like "world-wide web" to connect the past developments of communication to today's is the same as talking down to guests. I think it is a certain style of looking at things and explaining them but it didn't make me feel like I was being talked down to.

And I don't really understand what's wrong with updating some of the scenes; I find this pretty appropriate considering the theme of the ride and Epcot in general....

I mean, people are saying it's a loss, etc but this ride is still about education and enlightenment. Perhaps the new script is lacking but it is really still based on the same things and I think the update was due because some of the effects, etc were getting "old" and of course we want to keep up with ourselves, refurbishing the older rides is a great way of not making them seem stale (referring to cleaning up and replacing the flashing pictures of action figure caveman with some animation for petes sake! :p)

I just say TG it hasn't been gutted or replaced by some thrill ride (anyone hear the half-hilarious half-terrifying rumour of a roller-coaster being squashed into spaceship earth's interior? as if)... and I dunno but Im pretty happy with the way it turned out and it's beautiful. I think it keeps to the original theme and purpose quite well.

And I will get looks for this but I like the interactivity at the end I think it's neat.

That being said...

I can agree with some of the concerns and I think it's wonderful that people discuss this type of thing because it's so so important.

Just thought Id put my 2cents in concerning the few points I had. thanks for your time.

Walt Mouse said...

The original Spaceship Earth was the best and it's been getting "dumber" with each change. There a great post over at Top10Disney about Epcot rides and the changes they've gone through. http://www.top10disney.com/2008/06/top-10-epcot-attractions-of-all-time.html

Anonymous said...

The good news is...

since SE has gone through four versions in 25 years, at least we know it's not permanent.

Anonymous said...

You just said what I have been trying to tell everyone my opinion for the past year. I completely agree with every single part of this post! But... you didn't mention the change in music. That has to be about 60 minutes worth of reading in itself.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I to think that Spaceship Earth, my favorite, ride has been dumbed down. But that does not really mean that we are as dumb as rocks. And about the statue, Walt Disney World is not just a place for parents or teenagers, but for everyone, including kids. Disney probably had complaints from parents about the statue, so they needed to change it. I am not disagreeing with you, but I will stand with Disney no matter what changes they make to my favorite ride. Sure, maybe the last half sucks, but you still have the first half, and if you look at it, the scenes are really pretty much the same as before.

Also, remember that John Lasseter is just a movie maker, he has almost nothing to do with the rides at Walt Disney World, at least Spaceship Earth. The ride still shows the advance of communication, just in a different way. I have been on the ride 103 times, and it still never gets old. So guess what, shut up about all of this complaning, you can do nothing to change it. And guess what, this is coming from a 13 year old who has ridden Spaceship earth 103 times and has been to Disney World 18 times.