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Saturday Matinee


Disney Cartoon
#3:
"The EPCOT Film" (October27, 1966)
by Albert Gutierrez
This week's Saturday Matinee is unique, as I've decided to pick a short that was never screened in theatres and went largely unseen in its entirety until 2004.  In fact, less than half of the film is animated, the rest is live-action material shot in Disneyland and with Walt.

The EPCOT film was one of the last projects that Walt Disney worked on, and was a basic outline and proposal for his lofty Florida Project.  It was intended to create a futuristic and ideal community, designed with a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic areas of commerce, and pedestrian-focused residential areas.  The film is quite fascinating not only from an animator's perspective, but from economic, business, and urban planning perspectives as well.

It starts with a narrated look at Disneyland, offering us a nice and contemporary (for 1966) view of the park and its many lands.  Its focus is on how Disneyland has been hailed as the "greatest piece of urban design in the United States" (James W. Rouse, 1963), as it had become one of the best planned communities, by raising the standards and performances of what a theme park is.  From there, we move on to the "Florida Project" room, as Walt gives his own introduction to the project.  He explains how EPCOT will benefit from a lot of things that Florida has to offer: the sheer size of the property (over 27,000 acres), the two highways that can bring in tourists, the new theme park, the electric-powered transportation system, etc.  But most of all, he focuses on the city that has been designed as the centerpiece of the entire "Disney World": EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

At this point, we get to see the plans for EPCOT.  Sketches of the city and limited animation allows us to see how such a community would function, based on the "radial plan" that was used in Disneyland.  It's quite a sight, especially when you consider how New Pedestrianism practically dominates the entire design.  The use of electric-powered vehicles like the PeopleMover and the Monorail also show the evolution of transportation and an opportunity to move on from the reliance on gasoline and other polluting fuel.  What really struck me the most, however, was the residential areas.  Although they are a part of EPCOT, they also feel like their own sub-community.  It's very much like the suburban sprawl that develops in growing cities, although it is much more organized, pedestrian focused as mentioned earlier, and less concentrated in terms of number of homes per-square-inch.

After the spiel and summary of the EPCOT city, we also get a very brief discussion of the Industrial Park, which for all intents and purposes would gradually evolve into the "Future World" attractions that we have at the Epcot park.  A showcase for future technology, although the proposed Industrial Park is more business and technology minded than the theme park is, as it is proposed to be fully-functional work plants and factories.  Finally, we return to Walt, who says some closing words and then enthusiastically ends with, "We're ready to go right now!"

As lofty as the EPCOT film is, it sadly did not come to fruition the way that Walt ever dreamed.  True, we did get a theme park and monorail system, and EPCOT Center did open in 1982.  But a planned community on such a scale was sadly never accomplished.  Celebration, Disney's planned community in Osceola County, is nowhere near the lofty vision that EPCOT ever was.  As such, the EPCOT film is rather bittersweet.  It captures one of Walt's last dreams, which sadly still goes unrealized today, although there is always hope for the future, which is what EPCOT was all about.  Given the size of Disney's Florida property and the scope of the Disney corporation, I firmly believe that one day, EPCOT as Walt envisioned will one day be a reality.

For those interested in viewing the EPCOT film, it's available on YouTube, but I recommend purchasing it in "Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrow Land", as it also includes several technological/future-themed episodes of "Disneyland", an interview with Ray Bradbury, and a very insightful interview between Leonard Maltin and Marty Sklar, the Disney Legend and Imagineer who wrote the script for the EPCOT film.

 

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