EDITORIAL: EPCOT’s Festivals and Hope for the Future

EPCOT is probably my favorite Disney Park, maybe even my favorite place I’ve ever visited. I’ve always loved its celebration of humanity, both in our diverse cultures and our imagination to solve the challenges of tomorrow. I always leave there feeling better about my place in the world than when I go in. Most of all, I love how it celebrates the real world, and offers a glimpse of the future grounded in reality rather than fantasy. That’s why I’ve loved writing about the vintage park documents we’ve been publishing throughout the parks closure. It’s been an incredible journey back in time to see the origins and the ideas that fueled the creation of EPCOT that’s given me, at least in my estimation, a deeper appreciation for the ambitious purpose of the park.

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that EPCOT is very much a park in flux at the moment. As popular Disney characters like Remy, Moana, and Mary Poppins begin to take hold in the park, I’ve started to become more concerned that the celebration of the real world is starting to come to an end. The imagination is still there, but it seems to be aimless beyond mere entertainment. Has the original intent of EPCOT disappeared, lost in a mass of marketability? Is there anything that tethers it to the spirit of honest, grounded hope for our future and global understanding? I’d like to think there is. Some of the original attractions remain, like Spaceship Earth, Living with the Land, Impressions de France, and The American Adventure, though many have undergone changes both big and small over the years. But the one thing that gives me hope for EPCOT’s future, believe it or not, is its roster of festivals.

I know some folks may disagree with me, and I can understand why. For some, festivals have become a cash cow, bloated with an excess of food and merchandise options. As someone who has become well-versed in them while writing for WDWNT, I don’t necessarily disagree. But there’s something about their very core of them, in their concepts, that I absolutely love. They cover elements of the human experience that we all share: food and drink, the beauty of nature, the creative arts, and our community celebrations.

No matter who you are or what your background is, one thing makes every person on the planet the same: we all need food. Every culture, every nation, has a cuisine that has made use of their region’s plant and animal life and more. How we all do things differently is one of the great joys of life, and I believe the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival handles this masterfully, bringing the cuisines of nations from World Showcase and beyond in an attempt to bring the world a little closer to guests, removing the boundaries of distance to broaden minds. Making items like githeri from Kenya, Schinkennudeln from Germany, and moqueca from Brazil available just steps from each other and showing different ways we’ve managed to create our food in Future World are a celebration of our diversity, our creativity, and our unity.

Even though we may experience them differently, everybody on Earth goes through the four seasons, which means we all have a springtime. No matter the environment, plant life everywhere blooms and survives, reminding us of nature’s awesome might. It provides our sustenance. We literally couldn’t live without it. We are meant to respect the land and cherish it. And every spring, the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival does just that by inspiring our senses There are dazzling topiaries for the eyes, pleasant music for the ears, dishes inspired by the season for the mouth, and we’re reminded of the beauty of this planet we call home.

The desire to create is part of what makes us special. How we express ourselves and inspire others is at the core of the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts. It pays tribute to the master artists that have captivated generations with classic art photo ops and merchandise, while celebrating our “one little spark” of imagination by including Figment as one of its endearing icons. Food is presented in creative and unique ways, and Broadway stars show their skills and ability to “wow” a crowd. This festival, possibly even more than its counterparts, is a reminder of human achievement, and everything we’re capable of creating. And in the end, isn’t that what EPCOT is all about?

Every culture celebrates something. A good harvest, a moment of religious awe, or even just a new year. And as the year comes to a close, we celebrate our diversity once more at the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays. In a time of year where we wish for “peace on Earth,” the park goes further. In bringing our traditions together, we’re reminded of our similarities. Faith is celebrated in the Candlelight Processional, while traditional holiday foods evoke family and love. And if we realize what unites us and we all wish for “peace on Earth,” maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to achieve. That truly would be a testament to the hope EPCOT was built on.

Are the festivals an excuse to make Disney more money? I suppose it is, if you choose to look at it that way. As for me, I see celebrations of the human spirit, and the humanity that will be needed as we move into the future. To me, the festivals are extensions of the very soul of EPCOT. And that’s something worth being festive about.

MORE:

See EPCOT Center Under Construction in 1980 With This Article From Orlando-land Magazine

Go Back to the Official Opening of EPCOT Center’s World Showcase with this Festival Program From 1982

Discover “The Spirit of EPCOT Center” and Uncover the Park’s Roots With this Cast Member Booklet from 1982

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Frank
Frank
23 days ago

I could spend every day at Epcot and be very happy.

Mike
Mike
23 days ago

Great look at the role of festivals in EPCOT. I hope to see more work like this.

LivingWithTheLand
LivingWithTheLand
23 days ago

Not to be that guy- but Disney needs to set a Food and Wine Drink limit. It’s appalling to see all of these drunk people schlepping around Epcot while families are around. I think Walt would be mortified to see hoards of tipsy adults running around his park.

Bob
Bob
22 days ago

I’ve always loved Epcot, even throughout all the changes, but I think it can be argued that marketing was always a strategy in this park, which has relied on corporate sponsors from day one. If I have to see a thinly veiled commercial for General Electric or Kodak incorporated into my entertainment, then I’m okay with some Disney IP being tossed into the mix, especially if it’s used well. It doesn’t necessarily feel like self-promotion on Disney’s part when it’s an IP that’s already been around forever. It just feels like a familiar comfort. To me, anyway.

Ken G
Ken G
22 days ago

Great article Matthew, and I grew with you. I’ve never been to any of Epcot’s festivals because I live near Disneyland and go there all the time (we’re APs) so we’ve experienced all the California Adventure festivals. However, I’ve been to Disney World many times and was at Epcot on opening day in 1982. As you Amy recall, even from the start Epcot had an identity problem. I recall being there that first week and seeing families baffled as to why Mickey was not there. And there was that controversy between John Hench and Marty Sklar about bring in the… Read more »

EWinMB
EWinMB
20 days ago

Enjoyed the article. Thanks for posting your thoughts. I always spend time at EPCOT when I make a DW trip. I think Walt was always going to embrace changes. Of course, those decisions are now made by others and some of them may not be interpreted by guests as being in the “spirit” of Walt’s vision when he conceived the idea of what this place should represent. When I went to my first Food and Wine festival (late 90’s) it was a pleasant experience, but I don’t go during that time anymore because the last 2 times I went it… Read more »

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