A Tribute to 95 Years of the Walt Disney Company
(Note: This is the final part of a 3-part post. You can find Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.)
“Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney… and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney’s dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring joy and inspiration and new knowledge to all who come to this happy place … a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn together.”
Roy O. Disney, Walt Disney’s brother and lifelong partner, stood in front of dozens of cameras on October 25th, 1971 as he dedicated the Walt Disney World Resort. Roy had always been camera shy, and it wasn’t easy for him to be the center of attention. That was always Walt’s thing. But now Walt Disney was gone. Roy had lost his best friend and business partner five years earlier, and although half a decade had passed, Roy still missed him terribly. It just wasn’t the same without Walt.To honor his brother, Roy, then acting as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, had decided to officially rename Disney World as Walt Disney World; a small but powerful change that reminds the world who it was that started the Disney magic in their hearts. Roy decided to do everything he could to ensure that his brother’s final dream came to be. If Roy had anything to say about it, EPCOT, Walt’s final dream for a utopian city, would come true. He would make it a reality, no matter how much the board protested.
But sadly, it was not to be. A mere two months after he gave the dedication for Walt Disney World, Roy passed away. On December 20th, 1971, Roy Disney died at age 78, and the Walt Disney Company was left without the stable leadership of either of its founders.Due to this, EPCOT would sadly never come to be. But that does not mean that all the ideas which came with it had to die. In fact, although we will probably never get to see Walt Disney’s final dream come to fruition, we can still see sparks of it in the final design of what became Walt Disney World.
3: Revisiting Utopia
It wasn’t as if nobody tried to make Walt Disney’s dream of EPCOT a reality. Even after Roy’s death, members of the board who believed in Walt’s dream still championed the cause. In the late 1970’s Card Walker, Disney’s CEO at the time, even tried to get the board interested in the concept again. But every time the concept was brought up, it was shot down as too risky. Perhaps it was risky without the guiding vision of Walt Disney. With Walt Disney, nothing had seemed impossible. But after his death, the company was thrown in to turmoil, functioning on a “what would Walt do” philosophy, but without the actual vision and endless enthusiasm that the man himself had. It was a rough time for the company.
The result of this philosophy led to a sort of compromise. The Disney Board would allow the Walt Disney World resort to expand and add another theme park in honor the idea of EPCOT, but they would not actually build the city. So, the Imagineers, many of whom had known Walt Disney personally, decided to pour their hearts and souls into this ‘new’ EPCOT. Even if it wasn’t going to be the dream that Walt had in mind, they were determined to pay tribute to it as much as possible.
A team of dedicated artists and craftsmen poured over the plans for EPCOT, trying to see what they could keep from the concepts and what would have to be removed. They settled upon the seemingly opposite concepts of technological innovation and honoring world culture. On one side of the park, Walt’s idea to show off the latest technology to visitors around the globe was repurposed as Future World. On the other side of the park, Walt’s idea of having a common place where the history and culture of every country could be honored and practiced came to be reimagined as World Showcase.
The Monorail went on to become the major transportation system for the entire Walt Disney World Resort, even if it wasn’t used quite the same way it was originally planned. The PeopleMover sadly never became the traffic-eliminating system that it was intended to be for future cities, but it was beautifully realized in the Magic Kingdom where guests can still get a taste for Walt’s vision for ease-of-access transportation today.
Even EPCOT’s major means of funding was derived from Walt’s original plans. Partnerships with the world’s leading corporations, and even with the governments of the countries that the Imagineers would honor, led to the creation of a sort of permanent world’s fair and helped make sure that EPCOT would have the money it needed to get started. The leaders of industry from around the world would make sure that EPCOT would be up-to-date with the latest technological wonders and attractions, just like Walt had planned for the homes of his original concept.
It’s hard to tell if EPCOT as it was originally intended would have been a success, but Walt Disney proved time and again that he was a man who could accomplish the “impossible”. It would have been fascinating to find out if that would have been the case in this instance. Even though EPCOT evolved into something different from what Walt originally planned, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t good! In fact, EPCOT was a resounding success and a phenomenal park; proof that the spirit of Walt Disney lived on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him. So, next time you visit the park, take a moment to stop and imagine what might have been, and allow yourself to be inspired by Walt Disney’s final dream. (<<PREVIOUS PAGE) (<FIRST PAGE>)