In the middle of the 19th Century, Great Britain and China fought each other in what are known as the Opium Wars, so called because they started with Chinese objection to the importation of opium from British territories such as India. Among the outcomes of the wars – British rule over Hong Kong.
In June 1859, toward the end of the Second Opium War, British and French troops were defeated by the Chinese at the Battle of Taku Forts. A year later, the regrouped British and French returned and fought their way through the Chinese regiment stationed there, making their way north and capturing the capital city of Peking, now known as Beijing.
We will return to the British and French occupation of China.
Exactly one hundred years later, on June 14, 1959, Disneyland held a televised event for what it called its “Second Opening” – a major expansion at the intersection of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland comprised of:
- The Matterhorn Bobsleds
- The Motorboat Cruise
- A revamped Junior Autopia, now known as the Fantasyland Autopia
- The Glacier Grotto, a portion of the Matterhorn through which the existing Skyway would now travel
- The Disneyland Monorail
- and the Submarine Voyage
Just after these attractions celebrated their 50th anniversary, former Imagineer Eddie Sotto tweeted:
Since its very opening in July 1955, moving vehicles have been readily visible from walkways throughout the park. This begins with the entrance esplanade, where the Disneyland Railroad (later accompanied by the Monorail) is the first thing park guests see before even walking through the turnstiles. The Rivers of America, which now skirt three themed lands, is a busy waterway, with its canoes, rafts, paddle wheeler, sailing ship, and at one time, keel boats.
Star Wars is a dynamic film franchise. From Coruscant to Yavin 4, starships fill the skies. On the ground are the movements of AT-STs, landspeeders, swoop bikes, and alien beasts of burden. While they may exist in static form at Galaxy’s Edge, none of these are moving outside the giant attraction buildings in an area visible to the land’s walkways. There is no giant infinity screen (akin to the Orca Encounter at SeaWorld San Diego) to show ships taking off and landing in the skies above. Only once has the blandness been broken – when two drones disguised as full sized X-Wing fighters flew over Galaxy’s Edge in Florida during the opening ceremony for the Rise of the Resistance ride.
Galaxy’s Edge is not the first Disney project to be devoid of kinetic vehicle movement. Even today, the Monorail and Test Track, predated by the brief moment the World of Motion’s ride vehicles exposed themselves in the pavilion’s entrance alcove, are the only exceptions at EPCOT’s Future World.
Much of this has to do with the design of Future World itself, which pulls from the great world’s fairs of the 20th Century, especially the 1939 and 1964-1965 World’s Fairs of Flushing Meadows, NY. The concept is simple – unique, modern architecture that draws in the eye, while creating a mystery of the experience within. One such example: the IBM Pavilion at the 1964-1965 fair, designed by the famous husband-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames in collaboration with the architect Eero Saarinen. Those viewing the giant egg embossed with IBM lettering were unaware of the grandstand that ascended 53 feet into the egg, the 22-screen media presentation inside (unique for the time), or the exhibit area beneath.
Let us now journey to Future World Prime, the EPCOT of 1986, when the last of the original pavilions, The Living Seas, opened to the public. Since this is 1986, newer or modified pavilions may appear in images, but may not be discussed.
At the core of Future World Prime sits Communicore, Epcot Center’s concept of Main Street, comprised of restaurants, an Emporium-style shop, and various interactivities tied to corporate vendors. With topics ranging from travel to computers to information to energy to robotics and electronic surveys, we could consider Communicore as a Sea of Information. And indeed it is, as once we look from above, the subtleness of Futureworld’s symmetry comes into view. Within Future World, the shores of this Sea of Information are delineated by the Monorail track that encircles Communicore. Surrounding it are the seven themed pavilions, with the flagship Spaceship Earth at its northernmost point. It is the compliment to World Showcase’s geometry, with the nations of the world surrounding World Showcase Lagoon and the flagship American Adventure occupying the southernmost point.
If one were to put spokes within the Sea of Information, linking from a pavilion on the east side of the park to one on the west, with the spokes running through the center of Communicore, another kind of symmetry becomes apparent.
- The triangular/pyramidal structures of Journey Into Imagination and Universe of Energy:
- The circular structure of the aquarium tank at The Living Seas and the World of Motion pavilion:
- And the sloping roofline of The Land’s atrium greenhouse roof and the Horizons pavilion.
Within each of the Future World Prime pavilions are key attractions that follow a fairly linear storyline, accompanied by supplementary attractions. In a book, we could consider these epilogues or addendums. All but one of the attractions follow a time travel narrative – starting in the past, progressing to the present, and ending in the future. Some notes:
- Spaceship Earth and Universe of Energy’s supplemental exhibits are housed in Communicore West and East respectively.
- Journey Into Imagination uses a different narrative strategy, with an introduction, a journey through four chapters, and a conclusion. Image Works serves as the addendum and the 3D theater can technically be considered an Image Works attraction.
- Listen to the Land is the key attraction in The Land, with Kitchen Cabaret and Symbiosis being supplemental.
- Rather than a single attraction at The Living Seas providing the journey through time, the entire pavilion accomplishes this. The queue provides a historical perspective, the introductory film The Seas examines the present, and Sea Base Alpha profiles the future.
Now, in our modern time, things are changing. Future World Prime is long a thing of the past, with the majority of original experiences removed and the architectural symmetry eliminated. Horizons was replaced by the very differently shaped Mission: Space, while Test Track expanded on World of Motion’s physical profile. As Disney plans to eliminate the concept of Future World, we see half of the Communicore structure demolished and a huge coaster building attached to what used to be Universe of Energy.
Out are the world’s fair type exhibits. In are Moana and Guardians of the Galaxy. In the time of Future World Prime, it was often said that the only Disney IP (not created specifically for the park) one could find were a Mickey Mouse telephone in FutureCom and some old Disney television programs on screens in a couple of the pavilions.
Sponsorship contracts typically state very specifically what can and cannot be displayed within a pavilion. Sponsors are spending lots of money on these pavilions as a public relations strategy. They want themselves to be marketed within the pavilions, not for their pavilions to market Disney product.
Once the sponsorship is gone, the restrictions end. The big game changer was The Living Seas, which, when it lost its sponsorship from United Technologies, underwent an extensive retheming to the Disney-Pixar film Finding Nemo. Along with this came a Three Caballeros boat ride in Mexico and a Frozen-themed ride in Norway, a pavilion whose corporate sponsors opted not to renew.
But before that, Disney character IP was already starting to find a home in Future World. Some of it, such as Honey I Shrunk the Audience (Imagination), Circle of Life, based on The Lion King (The Land), and Goofy About Health (Wonders of Life) appeared in sponsored pavilions, the latter two being minor attractions and the 3D film acting as a marketing tool for Kodak’s film stock business.
This is just the start of the IP invastion. Prepare for much more Disney IP in EPCOT, including from Marvel, Lucasfilm, The Muppets, Pixar, Blue Sky, and National Geographic.
When a studio property is turned into an attraction, they rarely open at the same time. There’s too much risk if the film proves to be a disaster (does anyone remember Terminator Salvation: The Ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain?). In fact, it’s very rare for a box office failure to have an attraction which succeeds on its own merits, as with Universal’s Waterworld stunt show, which opened along with the film.
In the modern theme park world, big attractions open months, and often years, after the film. They may be developed at the same time, but if the film bombs, the theme park project is scrapped and its cost is often integrated into the write-off for the movie. This is why we don’t see a John Carter or Lone Ranger attraction at the Disney Parks.
The mass integration of Disney IP into Epcot isn’t just about making guests happy by sending them on exciting journeys with beloved characters. As with the corporate sponsors of Future World’s pavilions, it’s about marketing. We are far beyond the “exit through the gift shop days” of ten years ago and into a new era where, under the guidance of Disney’s current CEO Bob Chapek, the theme park units and the consumer goods units were integrated into a single cross-pollinating division. What’s not seen by the theme park guest are the extensive behind-the-scenes analysis, the algorithms and subliminal cross-platform marketing. I’ll give you an example.
In January, EPCOT opened its newest film, Awesome Planet. On the surface, it looks like actor Ty Burrell narrating a tour of the different ecosystems of Earth, accompanied by powerful imagery.
But it’s not. It’s Burrell playing his Modern Family television character, realtor Phil Dunphy, giving a real estate pitch. Subliminally, if you’re familiar with the show, it might remind you to catch it the next time it’s on ABC. Then, while watching it, you’ll see commercials for other ABC programs, Disney+, the latest Pixar film, and that Frozen play set at Target, which perks your children’s interest, because they loved the Frozen boat ride so much. There is, of course, the problem that this is Modern Family’s final season (theme park production schedules don’t always mesh with those at the studios or networks), which is why Disney’s made sure that even after the show’s off prime time, you can still watch the series on demand on the ABC app or on hulu and (as long as you’re not forking over extra money to the mouse to avoid ads) you’ll still see the latest Disney corporate empire commercials.
To better understand how this works, I’ll use an anecdote from Paul Baribault, the President and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global. Some twenty years ago, before he joined the San Diego Zoo, before he lead Disneynature, and before he was leading global marketing campaigns for Disney and Pixar animated blockbusters, I was an IMAX theater manager and I knew him as the Disney guy responsible for marketing the studio’s IMAX releases.
During a marketing panel at one of the giant screen industry conferences, Paul told the story of how, at the 1999 Summer X-Games in San Francisco, they had heard that Tony Hawk planned to do something unprecedented. So Disney, which owns ESPN and produces the X-Games, decided to risk it and run a banner ad across the vertical skateboarding ramps. Sure enough, on June 27, 1999, he performed the first ever 900 – a 2 1/2 revolution or 900 degree aerial spin. And in the background, seen live by a global audience of millions, were two words: Disney and Tarzan. Tony Hawk’s groundbreaking move became an advertisement for Disney’s blockbuster that had opened one week earlier.
But, as the listing for the Matterhorn Bobsleds in the Disneyland guidebook used to say: “Hold onto your lederhosen!” That’s not all. In 2002, another Disney label, Touchstone Pictures, released the IMAX film Ultimate X, filmed at the 2001 X-Games in Philadelphia. Tony Hawk’s 900 from 1999 was added to the film and hundreds of thousands of IMAX theatergoers, in both museums and commercial cinemas, saw that Disney’s Tarzan logo on five story screens around the world. The inclusion of this scene was intentionally part of the advertising campaign on the video release of Tarzan & Jane, which came out a few months after Ultimate X’s release. But our IMAX theater guests didn’t know that. And the EPCOT guests listening to Phil Dunfey don’t realize what’s subliminally happening to them either.
While Future World Prime was designed on the aesthetic of a late 20th/early 21st Century world’s fair, World Showcase is much different. Had it opened in its original configuration, where nations shared space in a single building, it would have closely resembled a smaller BIE*-sanctioned Specialised Expo, such as those in New Orleans and, more recently, Yeosu, Korea, and Astana (now Nur-Sultan), Kazakhstan.
*BIE, or the Bureau International des Expositions, is the sanctioning body for world expos
At the regular, larger world expos, national pavilions tend to be huge structures conveying a sense of design and artistry that represent the people of that nation. Long gone are the little villages that might populate an early 20th Century world’s fair.
This means that World Showcase, though carrying forth the concepts of national representation and international cooperation of a world’s fair, is very much not designed like a world’s fair. The United Kingdom pavilion is a perfect example of how Disney theme parks use architecture in creating a sense of time and place, a practice traceable back to the very beginnings of Disneyland in 1955. This is a very appropriate approach for a park whose visitors in 1982 were already familiar with the design aesthetic of the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland.
But EPCOT’s UK pavilion is a far cry from Es Devlin’s design for the UK pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai:
World Showcase is marketed as a peaceful community of nations. It is, but when you start to look close, hidden patterns evolve, and those patterns tell a story of colonial conquest and of wars fought in the non-EPCOT world. In the image below, the red lines emanate from the France pavilion and the yellow from the UK. I will return to the circles later.
We’ll begin immediately to the right of France and circle World Showcase Lagoon, concluding at the space between China and Germany (the rightmost circle). What follows is an extremely abridged history and I encourage you to research further if interested:
- MOROCCO, 1844: France, trying to increase its North African influence beyond Algeria and Tunisia, goes to war with Morocco. In 1906, the Treaty of Algeciras grants France colonial powers over Morocco.
- CANADA, 1534: New France is established, stretching from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1763, under the Treaty of Paris, France cedes the territory to England and Spain (although the Spanish portion is eventually regained by Napoleon). British Governors rule Canada until passing of the Constitutional Act of 1791.
- MEXICO, 1861: French Emperor Napoleon III invades Mexico, appoints his Austrian cousin Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. Mexican forces under command of Benito Juárez, with the backing of American forces under William Tecumseh Sherman, defeat Maximilian and execute him in 1867. Juárez’s victory at the Battle of Pueblo is celebrated by the Cinco de Mayo holiday (a freebie for tequila shot trivia).
- CHINA, mid- to late 1800’s: France and China battle in Sino-French War of 1884 and 1885 over control of Vietnam. The Opium Wars result in British leasehold of Hong Kong. Similarly, France acquired a leasehold in 1898 for the territory of Guangzhouwan, located just north of the island of Hainan and administered by French Indo-China until Japanese forces began to take control in 1940.
EQUATORIAL AFRICA: On a spot of land between China and Germany there were plans for a grand Equitorial Africa pavilion. Unlike the rest of the World Showcase pavilions, this would have celebrated the cultures of a number of nations. And it would have also been in the eyesight of the United Kingdom and France pavilions.
In the 1800’s Great Britain and France were the two largest colonial powers in Africa, in terms of land acquired. At their peak, the two controlled over 80% of the continent.
At the Convention between Great Britain and France for the Delimitation of their respective Possessions to the West of the Niger, and of their respective Possessions and Spheres of Influence to the East of that River, the UK and France finally determined their colonial spaces, laying out the border between their territories in what is now Nigeria:
This could all be coincidence that World Showcase is laid out for France to keep an eye on its empire. But I’m highly doubtful. The Imagineers are notorious for being intensive researchers, attentive to detail and historical accuracy. For many of them, it’s not just part of the job, it’s something they enjoy in life (follow Joe Rohde on Instagram – it’s a master class in the humanities!). I’ll show you what I mean, back on the overhead.
The black circle is the host pavilion of World Showcase, The American Adventure. It’s at the head of the table. One would expect it to be flanked by its two neighbors, the former French territories of Canada and Mexico. But they sit at the welcome positions at the entrance to World Showcase (this is all pre-International Gateway, of course).
Flanking The American Adventure are the three nations it fought in the Second World War (also the three nations that France and the United Kingdom fought, but they’re not with their ally the United States since they’re off to the side keeping an eye on their other colonies). Japan sits to the West, because, of course, Japan is west of Orlando. To the East, also geographically accurate, are Italy and Germany.
How is this accomplished?
Within The American Adventure attraction itself, there is no mention of Germany, Italy, or Japan, with the exception of a passing mention of Nazis. The radio broadcast of Roosevelt declaring war trails off right before he mentions the “Empire of Japan.” For comparison, here are a video of the most recent version of the show, timed right before the start of the WWI sequence, and Roosevelt’s speech in its entirety.
For the surrounding pavilions, the architecture comes from an older era. It’s pre-World War II, pre-fascist, and the cast members from these nations bring a modern vitality. Whoever was responsible for the final layout of the pavilions (I’m guessing John Hench played a role) knew exactly what he or she was doing – a peaceful standing between the nations of the world, but a wink to the reality of things we dare not discuss in a theme park.
Next stop – we go to war over a corporate mascot.