‘ReInnoventing’ Epcot

Since 1982, Walt Disney World’s second theme park Epcot has been capturing the imagination through education and glimpses into the future. At least, that was EPCOT until the last few years. Starting in the early 2010s, the identity of then EPCOT (now Epcot) has been shifting away from education to food, wine, and a few thrills. With the recent closures at Epcot (Ellen’s Universe of Energy) and at Hollywood Studios (The Great Movie Ride and soon One Man’s Dream), it is clear that the leadership and Imagineers of Walt Disney World are moving in new directions compared to the legacy direction the park(s) have demonstrated over the decades. Although it mostly flew under the radar for a large portion of park one-time guests and even some regulars, over the last few years–and increasingly so, over the last few months–Future World’s Innoventions is, much like Ellen’s dinosaurs, extinct.

Innoventions (and the former Wonders of Life pavilion, home of the once-popular Body Wars) housed some of the most entertaining, educational, and interactive show offerings at WDW. The House of Innoventions (later Vision House), Storm Struck, Where’s the Fire, What’s Your Problem, and more struck a fantastic balance between education and entertainment (often referred to as edutainment). Now, all that remains of Future World is Test Track, The Living Seas with Nemo and Friends, Mission Space (recently refurbished), Soarin’, Living with the Land, and the iconic Spaceship Earth. Nearly half as many attractions exist compared to just five years ago. During this time,  Epcot also changed its official name from EPCOT to Epcot. What’s the difference, you ask? Originally, Epcot was an acronym that stood for the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. With the reimagination of the park over the years, and furthermore, the movement away from education and the future, the park officially changed its name to Epcot (no acronym).

Although each of these closures could be analyzed separately, the long and short of it is sacrificing education for thrills and booze. And there is not anything innately wrong with that. Theme parks should be thrilling, and offer a wide array of food and drink options! But what made Epcot unique amongst other theme parks around the country WAS the educational component. Much like the “magic of the movies” and filmmaking was the essence of what made Hollywood Studios the park it was. The introduction of the new Guardians of the Galaxy based attraction in Future World (hmm…this area of the park probably needs a new name, now that I think about it), will undoubtedly breath new life into this waning area of the park, but at what cost??? On the plus side, WDW is able to finally integrate the Marvel property into the parks but it will be replacing a legacy attraction. Legacy. That’s a term you hear quite often when talking about the Disney and Universal parks. The term legacy can be defined as an amount of money or property left to an heir in a will. For theme parks, legacy attractions are those that often opened on the first day or have maintained a presence for a substantial amount of time–so long that generations of people enjoyed them. Waxing nostalgic is a popular pseudo-activity at many theme park attractions. There is no quantifiable means of attributing a value to the ability to experience that same attraction with your kids (or nieces/nephews/grandchildren) that you experienced as a kid, but it is invaluable in a theme park adventure. When legacy attractions are removed, the ability to experience childhood nostalgia dies right along with it.

One of the reasons that it is important for Epcot to innovate a new identity is because it was, and still is to an extent, becoming a museum of what once was. Future World used to be the place to experience emerging technologies and be mesmerized by what we now call STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). When the park did not keep the sponsored attractions coming and updating, it lost that wow factor and was slowly allowed to go by way of the dodo. Since the educational element of Epcot was not continually reinforced or re-imagined, it is necessary to gut and refurbish. I cannot help but think that there was room at Epcot for both the legacy and the impressive new attractions for new and long-time guests to experience. In addition to adding new attractions to bolster Epcot’s offerings, the International Food and Wine Festival as well as the Flower and Garden Festival respectively now offer more food and drinks than ever before–especially Flower and Garden. It is easy to see where the park spends the lion share of its budget. Food and alcohol have been an Epcot staple since the beginning–there are few other places that one could experience food and drinks from around the globe without need of a passport. But over the years, the park has been funneling more money into the festivals and has allowed the attraction offerings to teeter on the cusp of closure.

One way that Epcot could remain connected to the ideas of the future, innovation, and communication that were once at the bedrock of the park itself is to introduce attractions and shows that capitalize on the future-fantasy, science-fiction, and other similar IPs that the Walt Disney Company holds. There are communications and artificial intelligence technologies that are showcased in many of Disney’s movies that could be translated into a theme park experience. Innoventions was not only a place to find the “house of the future” but it was also a place that offered interactive shows. Although park guests are increasingly interested in more thrills than learning, the beauty of what Disney has proven they can do is to merge the two ideas. Epcot is the perfect “experimental” place to continue to inspire park guests through a thrilling experience paired with an educational component as well.

Epcot has positioned itself to emerge as a new park. France is getting a rollercoaster based upon the movie Ratatouille, Norway introduced the Frozen Ever After attraction (that replaced Maelstrom)Soarin got a makeover, and Test Track re-emerged as a Tron meets Test Track, so to speak, a few years ago. It would appear that Future World will increase in its fantasy and science-fiction offerings whereas World Showcase will bolster its attraction offerings as well. Hopefully, there will always be a sense of the future or education at the core of Epcot, but I am scared that both components will continue to dwindle. They certainly don’t have to. There are a lot of emerging technologies in the Disney movie universe that could very well be translated into attraction offerings or even entire new lands (or areas) at Epcot–so “the future is waiting” as Spaceship Earth would put it.

 

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“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol.2” movie review

Par for the course and predictable. This movie review was written by R.L. Terry ReelView contributor and writer/producer Leon Z. Coming to you all the way from Germany where Guardians of the Galaxy Vo.2  was released last week, I thought you would be interested to hear from someone other than me this week–think of it as a fresh perspective. Meanwhile, I will be watching it in Tampa tomorrow evening at 7.

“Set to the backdrop of ‘Awesome Mixtape #2,’ Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand.“
-Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bit of a disappointment when compared to the first one. This might be because the novelty factor the first one had for being a funny superhero movie is gone, or because it’s just very predictable and lacks excitement and emotional engagement. Pretty much all of the CGI action extravaganzas fall flat because there is never any real danger for the characters so the viewer does not care about them. There were times in this movie where the action was pretty much all CG, which I didn’t care much about since nowadays pretty much everything can be done with a computer but audiences don’t seem to get enough of it. But fortunately, the filmmakers are not overly reliant on those scenes. The movies strong points are its humor and character development. Although most of the setup and payoff jokes are very predictable, there are still many jokes that hit. Since the movie is primarily about Peter “Starlord” Quill meeting his father, there is actually some character development; and not just for him, but also for the other guardians–well except for Groot, Rocket and Drax so basically just Gamora, but some secondary characters from the first one like Yondu and Gamora’s sister, Nebula an although some of it is clichéd it still works, mostly.

Most of the emotional moments are genuine, but some of them are a little to on the nose.

The movie also introduces new secondary characters like Peters appropriately named father Ego and his companion Mantis, which are moderately interesting, Mantis probably more so than Ego because her interactions with Drax, which cause a lot of laughter.

What drags the movie’s quality down significantly is that it is just so predictable and cliché, which makes you care a lot less because you already know what will happen most of the time.

Overall, I would recommend this movie to Marvel fans and casual moviegoers; but for more hardcore cinephiles, this movie–if at all–is a one time watch.

Written by Leon

DCA’s Hollywood Tower Hotel Under New Management

TOT_DCA_GGThe recent news of the Guardians of the Galaxy makeover of the iconic Tower of Terror (TOT) ride at Disney’s California Adventure has many, if not most, fans of the attraction up in arms. Apparently, it was not being guarded too well. Suffice it to say, those of us who spend a great deal of time in the parks (for me, it’s the Florida parks mostly), we are accustomed to seeing iconic attractions go by way of Jaws: the Ride. That does not mean that one ever gets used to or accepts it; but the fact is that the theme parks have to evolve in order to keep up with those who bring in the most revenue (kids and teenagers, because of their parents or grandparents). Of course, some evolutions are better left in AutoCad. With the Walt Disney Company unable to integrate the Marvel IP into the Florida parks to any significant extent (in terms of attractions), it seems the only choice is to overhaul the Disneyland Resort (DLR) near Los Angeles…

At first, many theme park enthusiast must be wondering why??? However, exploring this recent news from a critical perspective reveals that it is a business decision, plain and simple. As I have written many times, theme parks are glorified arms of revenue–a business line item–that are designed to be cash cows, instant revenue. Most likely, the DLR company conducted surveys and focus groups concerning a proposed idea to refit the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror with Guardians of the Galaxy. Although it is expected that some attractions have to be removed or retrofitted, there are certain attractions–especially in the Disney Parks–that should not be touched. The Disney Parks more so than the Universal Parks rely upon nostalgia. In many ways, this modification of the TOT at DCA is sacrilegious to the original theme of the parks and will upset many people. With the massive refurbishment of TOT, this leaves park regulars and future tourists wondering what iconic attraction is next. If TOT is not safe, then is any attraction safe from elimination??? But, is retheming an attraction always met with disdain? Certainly not. When the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction at Disneyland Park received its Finding Nemo refurbishment, it was generally met with excitement and praise. That is probably because the soul of the attraction was left in tact. By extension, it could be said that retheming Mission: Space at EPCOT with a Guardians of the Galaxy makeover would actually be welcomed and appreciated as that attraction is getting dated and simply does not see even half the guest numbers that it once did. But should Spaceship Earth get rethemed to a Marvel IP? Definitely not. There are attractions that need to be rethemed or reimagined every couple of decades or so, and then there are those which are best left alone for all to appreciate over the years. But how to know the difference? That’s the question.

Many theme park researchers and fans alike never thought that ToT would become extinct; that is until the rumors began floating around in the last year or so. Much like Universal Studios Florida, Disneyland Resort suffers from lack of room for expansion. Yes, I am aware the Universal has acquired more land recently; but for argument sake, it is important to be able to compare the two. One reason why Universal needed to retheme and replace entire attractions is because it did not have the luxury of expansion until recently. So, the only way to integrate new offerings into the parks was to replace existing ones. Much in the same vein, DLR is also landlocked; and in order to integrate new offerings, it too has little choice but to replace or retheme existing attractions or lands. Accepting the fact that DLR has limited room for geographic expansion, leaves only one alternative: continue to modify the park every 15-20 years or so. The largest source of revenue for theme parks are kids and teenagers. Not that young and older adults do not add large numbers; but the families with kids and teens are the ones who bring in the most revenue due to multiple family members needing multi-day tickets and potentially several nights in a hotel. For every one or two people going to the park alone or together, there is likely one or two families or groups of 4-6 or even more who are also going. Think of it as a 1:4 ratio (and that is probably conservative). Much like Disney’s Hollywood Studios is almost losing its identity with and connection to the magic of filmmaking, with the massive addition of Star Wars and Toy Story Lands, DCA looks like it is also shedding its story of California and Hollywood and dawning the dominant theme of Marvel and Cars. Yes, the parks are integrating movies but not in the same way that the parks were originally designed.

Why is losing its original identity an important part of the equation on whether something is considered a legacy attraction or not? Because once the identity of old Hollywood or the magic of filmmaking is stripped away, then what was once seen as iconic or legacy no longer has that image or appeal. If DCA no longer represents Old Hollywood, gold rush California, or beachside amusements, then the Hollywood Tower Hotel no longer seems relevant. Although many people recognize the Twilight Zone music, it is safe to say that most kids and teens do not know what the Twilight Zone is or was. They don’t know that it was a groundbreaking anthology series in TV’s earlier days. So, if those who are not driving the most revenue into the parks do not understand the significance or nostalgia of the Twilight Zone, if they do not see the park as representing Old Hollywood or filmmaking, and if they have never seen the Tower of Terror movie, then that attraction becomes a prime target for a complete overhaul or massive refurbishment. Essentially, it is like a member of a royal family getting striped of his or her title under a new monarchy. Simply stated, it is apparent that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror no longer qualifies as a legacy attraction at DLR.

We can analyze this decision all day long and arrive at a litany of conclusions or rationale for why this was or was not a good decision; but the fact of the matter is, unless things change, the ToT at DCA is going to become a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. In my personal opinion as a theme park enthusiast and long-time fan, I am saddened to see this attraction get replaced by a newly acquired IP; but, the analyst in me can understand why the company is making that decision. Looks as if the Tower of Terror left it “guard” down. Perhaps the new theme will be a success! However, that success comes at the cost of an opening day attraction that many will miss.

“Deadpool” movie review

Deadpool-poster-2Absolutely brilliant super not-hero film! For those who often get the feeling that I simply do not like high-concept or superhero movies, let this be evidence that there certainly ARE superhero films that I feel are exceptional. And this is definitely one of those movies. As many memes across social media have indicated–and I will reiterate–this movie is NOT for kids (and no, your kids are not the exception). This is a super not-hero [and the not is important, but you must see the movie in order to understand] movie that is written for a mature audience. From the groundbreaking self-aware opening credits to the perfectly paced and strategic adult-humor, this movie is sure to have you laughing from beginning to end. And it’s not just the writing that is super but the visual effects, stunt sequences, and fight scenes are far above par for this action movie genre. Ryan Reynolds captures the character of Deadpool so incredibly effectively that you will swear that he was made for this role. Not your Disney-Marvel movie, Fox and Marvel bring you a spectacular combination of action and comedy to show off this unique anti-hero, so to speak, for fans of the comic and those who just enjoy a super movie.

Former special forces Wade Wilson (Reynolds) leads a very interesting post-dishonorable discharge life as a mercenary. The last man you’d ever expect to fall in love with anyone, Wilson falls for a burlesque dancer (who most likely moonlights as a hooker–let’s be honest). Following months of unparalleled passion and ecstasy, and after the unconventional proposal, Wilson finds out that he has an aggressive form of cancer that is unfortunately late in discovery. Devastated, Wilson has no idea what to do, but does not want his fiancé to have to go down the cancer road with him even though she clearly states that she is in it for the long haul. Acting upon a chance meting with a mysterious and well-dressed man in a bar, Wilson takes the man’s advice and undergoes a treatment from another equally mysterious but more sinister scientist. The results of the treatment will become clear as Wade Wilson becomes Deadpool and develops into the most unusual super anti-hero ever to come to the screen.

Simply from the opening credits, it is clear that this movie is incredibly self-aware and playing to the audience one hundred and ten percent. BEST opening credits ever, in terms of creativity and being an extension of the narrative itself. The idea of a self-aware movie is not a common one to begin with and certainly not a trope of traditional superhero movies. I think that is what I appreciated most about the movie. The brilliance behind the self-awareness is that the film is equally self-aware as it does take itself seriously as a superhero movie. Never before have I witnessed the fourth wall being broken so incredibly much. For those of you who do not know what breaking the fourth wall is, in its simplest form, it is when the character addresses the audience. This is apparently an element that was brought over from the comic, according to my comic and anime enthusiast coworker that went with me to screen the movie last night. What makes Deadpool’s continuous commentary so effective and entertaining is the fact that he says what many of us would be thinking given if we encountered the same scenario. The candor is such a breath of reality within this world of fantasy or augmented reality.

So often a movie will either choose to rest upon its strong writing, impeccable acting/direction, or visual effects; the sheer remarkable innovation in this movie is supported by not one but all the aforementioned elements. Ordinarily, I am able to find flaws in a movie–especially within the superhero genre–but not this time. I suppose, the fourth wall was broken a little too much, but that would be the only flaw I could identify. Sometimes a movie can be a great superhero movie but not a great film; however, Deadpool exceeds expectations both as a superhero movie and as a film in and of itself. At first thought, you may feel that a movie with endless diegetic and non-diegetic commentary may overshadow or steel attention or coherence from the narrative itself, but the writers did such a fantastic job of integrating the narrative and commentary so seamlessly that the movie is doubly entertaining as it would be without the offensive, explicit, hormonal commentary from the earthiest and most human of superheroes. And yes, I realize I am using superhero even though Deadpool reminds me over and over again that he is not a hero, but you get the idea.

Ryan Reynolds is one of those actors who is equally talented as he is attractive, and he gets to show off for this movie in ways that many actors wish they could in movies. But, it does not come off as obnoxious at all. That’s the beauty in the direction of this movie. You’d think that his over sexualizing of himself and the continuous adult commentary that he (or the movie) would play off as exceedingly obnoxious, but you’d be mistaken. There is a perfect balance struck by the writers and director that enable Deadpool to be a total douchebag, but oddly enough, in the most endearing way. For fans of the X-Men comics, 90s cartoon, or the X-Men movies, you will get to witness a crossover of movies in Deadpool. In an ever growing effort to recruit Deadpool to join the elite mutant force lead by Charles Xavier, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead confront Deadpool. This subplot is an important elements to Deadpool because it helps to build Fox’s X-Men universe by bringing two franchises.

Without getting into a lot of IP (intellectual property) rights discussion, despite the procurement of Marvel in 2012, as long as Fox keeps making X-Men movies, Sony makes Spiderman movies (even though he is appearing in the Avengers series), and Universal Studios Florida keeps modifying and improving attractions, then Disney does not have the rights to use the respective characters in movies or rides. Now, IP rights are a little more complicated than that, but I wanted to provide you with a general idea. Back to the crossover. Including the X-Men in Deadpool is strategically important for three simple reasons: (1) as I mentioned earlier, it helps to rebuild and reinforce the respective timelines of both franchises (2) it builds the foundation for a larger character universe, much in the same way Disney is doing with the Avengers and related movies and (3) part of what makes Deadpool so incredibly fascinating is his ability to play the anti-hero off of legitimate superheroes or, as Fox is able to officially call them, mutants.

If you are a fan of Disney-Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and you are NOT a kid, then you will definitely enjoy Fox-Marvel’s Deadpool. Prepare yourself to experience a superhero-action movie like no other. From being mesmerized at the stunning visual effects and editing to the incredibly funny writing and acting, you are sure to be entertained and will definitely crave more. Good thing that Deadpool has already received the green light for a sequel.