Friday, November 24, 2017
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Looking Back: Epcot Center, If Walt Disney can dream it, Imagineers can do it (June 13, 1982)

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As the Disney powers that be continue to stray from Uncle Walt's original vision, (fans of The Maelstrom know what I'm talking about...), here's part two of a three-part series of stories on the construction and grand opening of Walt Disney's Epcot Center. A full year after construction started there was a discussion of ticket cost ("probably $15"), technical advancement (a walking audio-animatronic Ben Franklin) and future additions to the park (Spain, Morocco, Africa, Israel, Venezuela and Denmark were all planned for World Showcase.) Tickets are now $99 (on value days), Ben Franklin manages 3 awkward steps and only Morocco made it to World Showcase.

Epcot will celebrate its 35th anniversary on October 1st, 2017.

This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on June 13, 1982. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with previously unreleased photos taken by Times staff photographer Fred Victorin.

EPCOT: Disney's latest venture more than just another Magic Kingdom

By Helen Huntley

Times staff writer

WALT DISNEY WORLD – Deadline is approaching for the Disney magicians putting together a new combination amusement park and world's fair that promises to elevate Disney entertainment to a new plateau.

Fewer than four months remain until their workmanship goes on public display at Epcot Center, the grandest project in Disney history, an $800-million venture more than twice the size of the Magic Kingdom.

On the 600-acre site near Orlando it's obvious the 4,200 construction workers and thousands of Disney magic makers have plenty of work left to do. However, Disney officials say they intend to be ready for visitors when Epcot's gates open Oct. 1.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

What those visitors will find is a park far different from the Magic Kingdom two and a half miles to the north, but with the same renowned Disney flair for doing things first class.

The peculiar name Epcot comes from the late Walt Disney, who dreamed of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a model city where 20,000 people would live and work.

The real Epcot won't have any residents, but Disney officials hope that next year it will attract 8- to 10-million visitors looking for a good time and a glimpse of the Disney vision of the future.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Epcot will be two amusement parks with one admission price (probably $15 for adults) – Future World and World Showcase. In the former there will be huge pavilions dealing with educational themes like energy and transportation. In the latter there will be exhibits focusing on different countries, with entertainment, restaurants and shops.

The package is intended to be "a ton of fun and only an ounce of education," according to the Disney formula.

The hundreds of mechanical figures that will populate Epcot Center – in Disney lingo they are known as audio-animatronic figures – are the most lifelike ever made, according to Disney publicists. One figure (Benjamin Franklin) will be the first in Disney history to walk.

More than 52,000 costumes in 1,400 different designs are being created for Epcot, making it the biggest costume-design job in history, according to costume director Bob Phelps.

The films used throughout Epcot will feature the best work of 16 teams that spent two years traveling the world, riding camels in the Gobi desert, climbing mountains in China and battling North Sea storms on an oil rig. They took more than 1.5 million feet of motion-picture film in 30 nations.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Their work will be used in more than 135 movie and slide projection systems throughout Epcot. One 4½-minute film, which will be shown on a giant 32-by-155-foot screen in the energy pavilion, cost more than $2-million to make.

In the transportation pavilion, the films will allow visitors to vicariously experience heart-stopping thrills such as bobsled racing and plummeting into a "black hole" in outer space.

For music in some of the pavilions, Disney officials called on Richard and Robert Sherman, who have written more than 200 songs for Disney movies. The Sherman brothers also are the composers of It's a Small World, the catchy tune that sticks in the memory of anyone who visits the Magic Kingdom attraction with the same name.

Sight and sound weren't enough for Disney, however. A "smellitzer" cannon will add smell to many scenes in Epcot. Volcanoes will look, sound and smell like volcanoes – without having any of volcanoes' nasty side effects of searing heat and destruction.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Landscaping has been another huge task – there were 12,500 trees and 200,000 or so shrubs to plant. And there was also the sod. Many World Showcase pavilions contain plants similar to those grown in the country represented. There's also a 40-acre lagoon that had to be dug and is now being filled with water from the Disney World canal system.

The initial Future World pavilions will focus on the themes of communications, energy, transportation, food production, computers and creativity. Pavilions to open later will deal with family lifestyles and the sea.

The initial World Showcase pavilions will represent the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Japan, China, Italy, Germany and Mexico. Coming in Epcot's second phase will be Spain, Morocco, Africa, Israel, Venezuela and Denmark.

Instead of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and pals, Epcot will be populated by a new cast of characters who will stroll around shaking hands. The characters range from William Shakespeare at the United Kingdom pavilion to Figment, a mythical dragon, at the imagination pavilion.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

In addition to entertainment, World Showcase will provide visitors with many opportunities to spend money. Those who like to eat will be able to choose from treats like fettuccine Alfredo, Yorkshire pudding and Canadian salmon. Those who like to drink will be able to compare the merits of English ale, French wine and German beer. Those who like to shop will be able to buy authentic goods from every country represented – figurines, toys, books, crafts, perfumes, art work and other merchandise.

Of the $800-million involved in Epcot's first phase, about $300-million is coming from about 30 outside corporations – including some giants like General Motors, General Electric, Exxon and Coca-Cola.

What they will get for their money primarily is valuable exposure to the millions of expected Epcot visitors. The big corporations will get their names on the pavilions they sponsor and, in some cases, will get some marketing rights within Walt Disney World. As a result of Coca-Cola's participation in Epcot, Pepsi is getting kicked out of restaurants and snack bars throughout Disney World. Some smaller corporations, many of them from other countries, will operate gift shops or restaurants in World Showcase.

Sponsoring The Land pavilion in Future World was a natural for Kraft Inc. because of the company's interest in food and in education, said Richard N. Courtice, a Kraft vice president stationed at Epcot. He said Kraft officials believe visitors to the pavilion will leave with a positive attitude about food and food production.

"Hopefully there will be a warm ruboff as far as Kraft is concerned," he said. Courtice said the association with Disney fits right in with Kraft's advertising policy of no sex, no violence, no political involvement and no religious controversy.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

In addition to regular Epcot tickets, Disney officials plan to sell multiple day tickets that cover admission to both Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. A three-day pass for use after Epcot's opening currently sells for $30, but the price is scheduled to increase by $5 on Aug. 1. Passes for four and six days also may be offered, Disney World spokesman Bob Mervine said.

Disney officials also are considering offering annual passes to Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, something they have never done. If that happens, however, the price probably will be around $100 a year, Mervine said.

Epcot will have its own 6,000-car parking lot and its own exit on Interstate 4, although the exit may be only partly finished on opening day.

Visitors to Disney World this summer can get a look at the Epcot construction site by riding the monorail from the transportation and ticket center to the Epcot entrance. Tickets are free to Florida residents with the purchase of a Magic Kingdom ticket. Otherwise they are $2 for adults and $1 for children. The Epcot monorail operates from 3 to 8 p.m.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

WHAT YOU'LL SEE AT EPCOT THIS FALL

Planning a trip to Epcot Center?

If you visit this fall, here's a sampling of what the Disney people say you'll be able to see:

SPACESHIP EARTH: This 180-foot-tall, silvery-gray sphere dominates the landscape at Epcot. Ride cars will circle the sphere's interior. On the way up visitors will glide past scenes depicting the history of communications, from cave paintings to space-age technology. The animated figures on display range from Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel while reclining on a scaffold to a typical American family watching television while seated on a floral-patterned, living room sofa.

At the top of the sphere, visitors will find themselves suddenly propelled into a planetarium-like area of "Outer Space," then turned around and beamed back to Earth in the darkness. The exhibit is sponsored by Bell System.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

JOURNEY INTO IMAGINATION: This pavilion will offer a fantasy experience in special effects that begins with a ride past animated sets and includes three-dimensional film that requires the viewer to put on special glasses. Two new Disney characters will act as guides – Dreamfinder and Figment. The focus will be on imagination and creativity in the arts, literature, science and technology.

In one area of the pavilion, "Image Works," visitors will be able to conduct their own experiments in light, sound and color, using electronic devices. The four-acre pavilion also will have an outdoor "picture garden" where picture-taking advice will be available from Kodak, the sponsor.

Courtesy Walt Disney

THE LAND: This six-acre attraction includes a boat ride, a movie, a revolving restaurant and an animated show similar to the Country Bears Jamboree in the Magic Kingdom – only featuring singing fruits and vegetables instead of bears. Visitors will learn a smattering about farm history, good nutrition and the latest agricultural techniques.

The boat ride crosses a rain forest where riders won't get wet, a desert with a simulated sand storm and a prairie. The idea is to show that nature left to its own devices can be pretty wild. The boats will also ride through a giant greenhouse with plant experiments set up by University of Arizona researchers. Visitors interested in learning more will be able to return to the greenhouse for a guided walking tour. The pavilion is sponsored by Kraft.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

EPCOT COMPUTER CENTRAL: This pavilion is "real" in the sense that visitors will be able to see the real-life computers that help run Epcot Center, doing jobs like synchronizing rides and the movements of animated figures.

Disney visitors, of course, expect to do more than just look at a computer. At Epcot they'll have everything explained to them by a 2-foot-high character who magically appears and disappears. Computer terminals will be set up in one area of the pavilion to allow visitors to try a variety of challenging tasks taken from real life, like matching up airline passengers and their luggage. The sponsor is Sperry Univac – the company that made Epcot's computers.

Courtesy Walt Disney

AMERICAN ADVENTURE: In this pavilion visitors will see a 26-minute patriotic and inspirational play about American history. The actors will be Disney's famous animated figures costumed as characters from the past – along the line of Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom, but improved by music, film and special effects.

The figures, which Disney people say are the most lifelike ever produced, will include Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twin, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and a host of lesser-known Americans. The show is sponsored by American Express and Coca Cola.

Courtesy Walt Disney

Read Part 1 of Walt's Epcot dream.

To order reprints, license or download any Times image from this gallery, or to see other Epcot photos, please visit the Times image archive.

Jeremy King

Twitter: @TBTimesArchive

e-mail: jking@tampabay.com

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