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Exit ArchiveArchive for June 22nd, 2006

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.