That’s highly commendable. No sarcasm here. It’s about time someone tell the Consumer Products division of Disney that its “vision” of the Disney Stores as being “the best 30 minutes of a child’s day” is, frankly, not impressive. It’s been a long while since Disney Consumer Products was impressive, and now that Dick Cook at the Walt Disney Studios and Ed Grier at Disneyland have been shown the door, it will be interesting to see how long DCP’s Andy Mooney lasts, since that division has been languishing for quite a number of years.
But this is a blog about EPCOT, not about Disney Consumer Products, so you must be wondering what the two have to do with each other? Well, a lot.
Because while you’re encouraging big thinking and grand ambition for the Disney Stores, the biggest, grandest, most ambitious theme park of any sort, Disney or otherwise, is pretty much languishing.
Many of the people who work for you at Apple and Pixar were — you might be surprised to hear this — inspired by EPCOT Center. They were exactly the right age to have their imaginations sparked back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Disney set a simple-yet-lofty goal: Make sure every man, woman and child in the U.S. had heard of EPCOT. In the pre-Internet, “old media” days, that was not an easy thing to do, and even if people didn’t quite know what it was, by the time October 1, 1982, rolled around, they knew that it was.
In its first decade of operation, EPCOT introduced literally hundreds of millions of people to impossibly futuristic technologies like touch-screen computers, video conferencing, fiber optics and hydroponics. It was the first glimpse many people had of a world of the future, one that we knew was likely impossible but, hey, we could dream, couldn’t we? And over across the lagoon, there was no “West Germany” and “East Germany,” Japan and China weren’t filled with people who “all looked the same,” and Italy wasn’t a formerly fascist country that many people still feared a bit. Nope, World Showcase depicted a planet in which our differences were celebrated, where we worked together to build that idealistic future on Spaceship Earth — which was almost always visible, no matter where in EPCOT you were, reminding us that we were all in this together.
And through it all, there were hardly any Disney characters to be seen. EPCOT wasn’t a place where Disney marketed and merchandised itself, but where a “new Disney era” was coming to life. Perhaps it wasn’t as amazing as Walt would have made it, but it was an honorable attempt. More than that, it did exactly, Mr. Jobs, what you are urging Disney executives to do today — it dreamed bigger.
It’s fantastic and wonderful and terrific and very, very cool that you’ve taken an interest in the Disney Stores, which have been the victim of small thinking and are still trying to recover from having been literally cut away from the rest of the company for several years.
But even as you go about encouraging this laudable renaissance for Disney’s retail stores, I’d like to propose that you encourage the same sort of spirit of innovation, creativity and imagination for EPCOT.
As I mentioned earlier, it would be impossible to deny the huge influence EPCOT had on many of the people who have been instrumental in creating the real-world renaissance of the past decade and a half. It’s become fashionable and fun to bash EPCOT as “boring,” but that simple view undermines the inspiration it brought to people who didn’t find it that way, who conversely found it enormously exciting and endlessly inspiring.
At the Apple Store, you’ve built a retail environment that is all about hands-on interaction, about educating your guests, about letting them see and experience a future that’s not just possible … but possible for them to take home. You’ve created a retail location that everyone in the retail business said was impossible: One that encourages people to visit, to experience, to think, to imagine, to learn … not just to buy. The Apple Store shows its guests how their lives can change thanks to technology.
Basically, you’ve created 273 mini-EPCOTs, albeit with a theme of computers and home technology, but, still … the idea is the same. Now, take that amazing innovation and creative spirit and apply it to the actual EPCOT concept, and the mind boggles.
If Apple’s creative and technological geniuses were to blend with Imagineering, if they were given the canvas of EPCOT and told, “dream bigger” … well, perhaps you can see how easy it is to get excited about the possibilities.
EPCOT is Disney’s diamond in the rough, its pre-existing opportunity to grow its brand in an entirely new direction, to capture the hearts and minds of young people in ways that don’t have solely to do with dressing like pirates and princesses or meeting Ariel and Mickey. EPCOT can be so much more than what it has become.
So, Mr. Jobs, it’s really great that you’ve taken such an interest in Disney’s mall-based retail locations. There’s almost no way that Disney can’t benefit from your inspiration and encouragement. Now, there’s just one favor to ask of you for your next project: Take a look at EPCOT and …