The Ranting Wren The Wren Forum Banner
The Glorious Wren The Movie Wren The Photo Wren Old Man Wren

Walt Disney is constantly called a visionary, so much so that I have become numb to hearing it. I’ve never particularly had any reverence for the man, though I have admired much that he created.

Well, thanks to EPCOT Central, the blog that has nothing to do with the guy whose name I can’t mention, I saw something that got me truly believing that, had he lived even another 10 years, Walt Disney would have impacted the American cultural landscape in much more far-reaching ways.

I’m going to steal that link from Jo— er, Epcot82′s blog, though you can read the post from whence it came here. The link leads to Walt’s purportedly last movie… last movie he was in. (I don’t say “purportedly” because I doubt that it was his last film, I say it because I like to confirm things myself, and I’m not going to go off and research that now because I should be in bed instead of writing this.) Ah, so, the link…

Here it is: Walt’s Last Film [UPDATE: This link no longer works. But the film is available on YouTube. This one is in pieces, but has better audio than the full one. —Oct. 1, 2010]

The movie is Walt announcing and selling Disney World and, mostly, EPCOT, to potential partners in its creation. It’s an astounding, broad vision, the kind of thing no one in their right mind could even begin to dream of today because the world is simply too wrapped up in itself and in money to allow for the actual execution of such a vision. Not that it wasn’t a huge endeavor in 1967, but if you think about how expensive and slow it is today to even get a stupid, cheap block of condos up, imagine trying to create an entire city. In 2006, it’d be impossible.

The movie is 24 minutes, but incredibly engaging. First, there’s the dated announcer and pace of the film. A movie like this would, today, be no more than 9 minutes long, contain more fancy effects and editing than content, and ask more questions than it answers (to, you see, engage the audience!). So the luxurious but non-wasteful meandering of the movie is worth seeing. But once the film gets past the history of Disneyland and a bunch of stats and puffery, it delves into EPCOT. And, holy cow, if this thing had come to fruition… my God.

Sure, there’s something creepy about a planned society. Certainly, the Stepfordesque Celebration that Disney, the company, finally did end up creating in Florida creeped me out because it was not looking toward the future, but trying to re-create the past. Disney does not own Celebration any more. Were the same fate to befall a planned city with a futuristic vision, disaster might ensue were it left to fall into disrepair. Futuristic dystopias tend to be more frightening than old-fashioned ones. (Here’s one of my favorites: High Rise by J. G. Ballard.) If Disney’s current inability to maintain its properties to the same standards it once held is any kind of indication, an old, worn EPCOT would be a depressing tragedy. Such neglect would be entirely assured had Disney sold the city off at some point.

Imagine, however, what might have happened if EPCOT had been created to Walt’s standards. Even if the city was destined to fall into decay 30 years later, a brand-new, shiny, successful EPCOT would have created untold bounty in the realm of urban planning. This is where the trickle-down effect really happens. A successful EPCOT city would have brought technologies and styles and concepts to many, many other places around the world. On a smaller scale today, look at what’s happening with Los Angeles: Mixed-use complexes are going up everywhere. Someone thought it would be smart to put living and work and commerce together in the form of condos, apartments, offices, and shops. The Grove is sort of this way, though the mall and the luxury apartments are across the street from each other. Both have been so shockingly successful that a trend has begun. West Hollywood and Glendale have already started their mixed-use projects. Downtown will have its own version, located, almost ironically in this sense, next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The mixed-use idea is not new, just a re-hash of a very, very old practice that fell out long ago. EPCOT, too, is a version of the kind of planned cities envisioned by thinkers from long before Walt’s time. But Walt could have pulled it off. It would have been a huge kick in the pants, a jump-start for convenient, well-planned urban design.

And if EPCOT didn’t succumb to ruin and instead became what Walt described as an ever-evolving, always-updated, modern community? If Disney the company and its partners had stayed the course and continued to coddle and nurture and imbue EPCOT with attention, time, money, creativity, technology, and quality? Holy cow, that’s the thing that gets my mind going. That’s what gripped my imagination. That’s what made me wish that Walt had stayed on a while longer to show us things no one could have imagined. The Disney company today loves to toss around phrases like “beyond imagination,” but it’s all marketing. Walt might have been able to show us that you can keep reaching and challenging the norm.

Whether EPCOT worked or not, and whether or not I can buy into the unsettling notion of a community planned by a company, the fact that Walt had the dream and was poised and ready to go with it is as impressive a vision as I can imagine. I guess Walt was a truly unique visionary after all.

3 Comments

The guy with no name Expounded Thusly:

If it were up to me, viewing this movie (which is now available on DVD, thanks to the insistence of Leonard Maltin, one of those many kind and smart people who help ensure that WALT Disney’s legacy [as opposed to that nebulous "Disney legacy"] lives on) would be mandatory for all current executives of The Walt Disney Company, if not all employees, period.

You know, it’s becoming easier and easier to forget that the place is called The WALT Disney Company. Recall that for generations, the company now simply called “Sears Holding” was called Sears, Roebuck & Co. Poor Mr. Roebuck. For that matter, poor Mr. Sears; no one remembers he was ever around.

That’s the reason, you may remember, that Roy O. Disney insisted that what Walt himself intended to be called “Disney World” should be renamed “Walt Disney World.” He said, “Everyone knows the Ford car, but not everybody knows it was Henry Ford who started it all. It’s going to be Walt Disney World, so people will always know that this was Walt’s dream.” I fear they are forgetting.

My point? It’s this: You’re right. Walt Disney was a visionary. There are many who continue to insist on trying to recast Walt Disney as an arch-conservative, an anti-Communist, an anti-Semitic, a union buster. Well, he may have been any or all of those things, he may not — most likely, he was incredibly complex, and like most of us (who are, as Whitman said “huge (and) contain multitudes”), he probably held lots of conflicting views and ideals. But, boy, the man knew how to dream and design and plan BIG, BIG things.

More than anything, he never was happy with how the world defined him. When he was the animator who created Mickey Mouse, he moved on to Silly Symphonies. When he was the man who made cartoons, he moved on to animated features. When he felt he had mastered those, he moved on to feature films. When those became old hat, he moved into televsion. When that had been conquered, he moved into theme parks.

And that’s when he died. But the incredible, amazing, tantalizing thing is, he left us a record of what he was planning next — and it wasn’t like anything anyone expected him to do.

He truly did want to address the problems he saw in American society. He did want to become political, though by creating and acting on his thoughts, rather than trying to turn his ideas into legislation. He wanted to explore transportation and urban planning, to figure out a way to make the world better.

You can take the simple view and say, “Yeah, he wanted to create Stepford,” but Walt probably would have given you a stern look and gotten a bit testy that you weren’t thinking big enough by diminishing the concept. He likely knew much of what he wanted to do would not work out the way he envisioned, and it’s probably that what we saw of EPCOT in October 1966 would have been very different when it was finished in, say, 1974 or so.

But he was leading the charge to create the Monorail and the People Mover, to design new methods of laying out cities and moving people through them, to expanding the concept of indoor shopping malls (something that had appeared in the U.S. only 10 years before his death).

I’ve said this before, and I believe it: If Walt Disney had lived just two or three years longer, you and I and everyone reading your blog would probably be living in a substantially different way. Remember, when John F. Kennedy was killed, the world started changing. King and Robert Kennedy were killed two years after Disney died, and things really got scary. But had Walt lived … he most certainly would have spoken up, tried to actively address the social unrest that followed, tried to find ways to incorporate the issues into EPCOT.

Almost certainly, had he lived, mass transportation would have developed in a very different way, downtown re-development would have been considered much earlier across the U.S., and educational issues would have been addressed with greater vigor. Walt probably would have worked hard to keep the government’s eye on the problems at home instead of focusing so much on Vietnam.

I’m completely hypothesizing, of course, but it’s all to Steve’s point that Walt was truly visionary. Putting movies out on video, making plush toys, opening new theme parks and producing too-expensive movies would almost certainly not have been enough for him. If he were to return (heheh), I think it’s a pretty safe bet that, while he might not be upset with the way his company has turned out, he’d be disappointed that it hadn’t followed his lead and achieved much, much, much more in 40 years.

Friday, June 23rd, 2006 • 11:40pm • Permalink

Steve Expounded Thusly:

I have so much to say and wonder when I’ll get the time to put it all down. I may never get the time, considering my current schedule, but I can toss out a few of the things nibbling at my mind.

In my post, I realized that I should not have said, “to show us things no one could have imagined,” but, “to show us that what we imagine can be made a reality.”

It is indeed The Walt Disney Company. Somehow, that name has survived in this age of truncation and simplistic instantaneous conceptual mindshare capture techniques. (I think that’s a course of study at Stanford.) The company itself, though much more complex across a spectrum of endeavors today than it was, is, as Jo— GRRRR! Epcot82 says, really much more simplistic. Walt would have shaken his head at the stagnation of the imagination.

But can you blame anyone these days? Who could afford to build a dream the size of Walt’s EPCOT? Well, I know, many people and companies could do so, but it’s simply not good business to do so. But I said this already. I become repetitious.

The sparkly-eyed me wants to imagine that a Disney-company-run EPCOT cold have maintained that pie-in-the-sky perfection of an ingeniously-designed city. I want to believe that, if Walt had his way, all the stuff that’s creepy about a company-owned and -run city would never have surfaced. Today, we are constantly barraged by privacy concerns thanks to technology. Could Walt have balanced the two? Or would he have ended up, out of modern necessity and the bottom line, been forced to turn over the data on the 2006 EPCOT citizen roster to the government, or sell it to a separate concern who would, in turn, compromise the data?

I wouldn’t trust a single company or organization or public figure today to create a community and not take advantage of the power controlling same community creates.

As for Walt being a conservative, as I have learned in the last 6 years, Bush and the current power grid are beyond conservative, nearly around full circle into the realm of leftist despotism. Instead of communism leading to over-control, abuse of power, and selfish financial gain, neocons want to build the same top down: over-control, abuse of power, and selfish financial gain leading to communism. (Communism with a “c,” more in the sense of what the root of the word means, as opposed to Communism with a “C.”)

For all of Walt’s assured conservative, free-market-born beliefs, he would, I’d hope, find our current situation in this country appalling. Walt strikes me as being a perfect Ayn Rand character. He, I imagine, was staunchly pro-market, pro-individualism, creating one’s own power and own rules because the world is too small-minded to not do otherwise. He created an empire, yet, as the EPCOT concept shows, he was willing to use his empire to create something better for the world he lived in. Better odds at individual success create more successful people, and thus a more successful, vibrant society with less slouchers and freeloaders. So Ayn says, and so, perhaps, would Walt have said.

Or maybe he was just good at hiding his greedy, selfish ambitions behind a curtain of color and magic. I don’t know. It’s almost 3:00 AM, and I might not be thinking so clearly any more. If ever I was.

Which reminds me: GOOD NIGHT, and THANKS FOR DISCUSSING!

Saturday, June 24th, 2006 • 2:46am • Permalink

Steve Expounded Thusly:

I posted an update about this here. Just a few extra observations over 4 years later.

Friday, October 1st, 2010 • 11:28am • Permalink

 

Write Your Own Comment Thingy