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The Evolution of EPCOT Through The Eyes of Preview Films

How Walt Disney's futuristic dreams grew into Disney World realities in the decades after his death.

by
Chris Queen

Bio

July 18, 2013 - 3:00 pm
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EPCOT concept art by Herb Ryman

EPCOT concept art by Herb Ryman

No other project in the history of the Walt Disney Company has borne Walt’s stamp more than EPCOT. At the same time, no single project has undergone as many changes as EPCOT has. Through the years between 1966 when Walt Disney first introduced the EPCOT concept as the centerpiece of the company’s Florida Project and 1982 when EPCOT Center opened, the company produced a series of promotional films to promote what EPCOT was going to be. Let’s take a look at them and see how EPCOT changed over the years, from theory to reality.

The EPCOT Film, 1966

The first mention of EPCOT – the location as well as the concept – came in this short film. Disney produced the film a year after the first press conference announcing the company’s Florida Project, and the short gave Walt an opportunity to present his grand vision thoughtfully and in detail. It would be Walt’s last appearance before his death in December 1966.

The company first showed the film to Florida legislators and business leaders in February 1967 at a theater just outside Orlando. The showing had two purposes: to reassure these movers and shakers that the Florida Project was still a reality in the wake of its champion’s death and to grease the wheels for the massive legislative push that would create the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the quasi-governmental agency Disney uses to run Walt Disney World without local interference.

Walt commissioned Marty Sklar to write the script for the film, and Sklar does a fine job expressing the EPCOT concept. Additionally, The EPCOT Film explains for its audience the successes of Disneyland and the purpose of WED Enterprises, later Walt Disney Imagineering.

YouTube Preview Image

In the film, Walt’s ideas are more theoretical than practical (except for the theme park). In fact, Sklar himself referred to the Epcot concept as “Waltopia.” The prototype city with its climate-controlled downtown, minimal transportation, and experimental technology in every home would rely on free enterprise to sustain new ideas:

In fact, we’re counting on the cooperation of American industry to provide their very best thinking during the planning and the creation of our Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. And most important of all, when EPCOT has become a reality and we find the need for technologies that don’t even exist today, it’s our hope that EPCOT will stimulate American industry to develop new solutions that will meet the needs of people expressed right here in this experimental community.

[...]

…if we can bring together the technical know-how of American industry and the creative imagination of the Disney organization, I’m confident we can create—right here in Disney World—a showcase to the world of the American free enterprise system.

The EPCOT Film displayed Walt’s exuberant and optimistic futurism in its purest form. Alas, his death less than two months after filming essentially put the kibosh on his experimental city concept.

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