Entrance Plaza
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Walking Distance

David Larrabee, Age: 30, Occupation: Multiple. A man in search of something. A tired individual with little to no time.Tired of a 24-hour existence, reality television, 140-character soliloquies, plot-less movies, and thousands of television channels devoid of entertainment value. A substantial soul encircled by the superficial masses. A man wishing for not a simpler time, but a time that was lost, and soon to be found…

I feel very fortunate to live in such close proximity to the greatest and most popular tourism destination in the world. And yet with two jobs, a weekly column, and mountains of responsibility it comes as no shock that I do not visit it often. Stressed over deadlines, financial concerns, obligations and responsibilities I decided to journey down the road and gain some perspective, if not some fresh air.

Got in my car, turned-on the radio and began to listen to some Lady Gaga. In a few minutes after turning onto EPCOT Center Drive I began having reception problems when Vogue by Madonna began to play, an older song but still great. Then “Ice Ice Baby” and “Forever Your Girl”. “Funny, I didn’t have the Best of the 80’s & 90’s station on,” I thought. After proceeding through the toll plaza, deeply entrenched in thought I failed to notice the clues around me.

I parked my car and started towards the gate. The first thing I noticed was that the perpetual celebration banners were missing. Then something really caught my eye, or rather my ear. For the first time in ten years, I heard the orchestral version of “Fun to be free” echoing throughout Entrance Plaza. Was this something WDI just slipped into the current loop as an homage to the long dead attraction? Well, whatever it was, I was certainly glad to hear it again. Once I reached the gate, I noticed the lack of Security. “Well, Bid Laden is dead maybe it’s about time to stop those (largely for show) bag checks? A great cost savings measure.” Another interesting feature was the ticket booths, not that they had ever changed, but the ticketing information was decidedly Retro. They even had the original Park Hopper; Tigger representing the ticketing feature. A cool, if understated, feature of the soon to be 40th Anniversary I surmised.

Then things got really strange! Once I went through the turnstile, things began to look very different; the biggest of all changes was the original Tri-Prismatic Fountain in front of Spaceship Earth! It seemed as if the 40th was turning-out to be quite an event, at least for Epcot. And the original music was still playing! Then, I began to notice things that could not be explained by marketing, management, or even Imagineering. Everyone around me looked a little out of place. Every other guy was wearing a logo mesh ball cap, visor, teal & magenta oversized T-shirt, or all of the above. And most of the girls were rocking bigger hairstyles and bright make-up that made Boy George look tame. “What is going on today!? Did I miss some sort of Flashback Day announcement? Or did everyone with bad taste visit the park today?” I had seen that last one happen before, but everyone?

I finally decided to pick-up a times guide. (Mostly to see which of my favorite attractions would close early and when.) It was then that it hit me. I took a bright shiny silver guide map and on the cover… the logo was the 20th Anniversary “Surprise Celebration”. Wait a Minute! That was 2-0 not 4-0. Somehow, someway I had been transported back to the year 1991! OMG! How exciting was this?! Now it all made sense! The out-of-date fashions, the music, the fountain, everything was coming together.

Just to make sure (and since I was already underneath the thing) I decided to test this by riding Spaceship Earth. Sure enough, no touch screens, and sponsored by AT&T. Hearing Tomorrow’s Child and Walter Cronkite’s voice inside the geosphere again was inspiring and uplifting. Thoroughly excited, I knew there was just one place I had to go next… Horizons! Briskly, walking through the trap-free (excuse me tarp-free) Future World Plaza, and under the streamlined CommuniCore East Building,the park seemed so pure and harmonious. Even as one who studies it, I forgot how beautiful and uncluttered the World of the Future was.

Standing in front of the gem-like Spaceship of Horizons was enough to bring tears of joy. The longing to be inside its blessed angular walls was so great over the years, that many times in the queue and in the exit I found myself just standing there in amazement. Almost as if I was trying to download the experience directly into my brain. The rest of the afternoon was spent practically running from pavilion to pavilion trying to do as much as I possibly could before the park closed. The understated humor of World of Motion, the subversively serious Universe of Energy, Listening to the Land, getting-down with the Veggie Veggies and the Fruit Fruits, watching the serenely well-crafted The Seas film, and even taking the time to talk with Smart-1, a truly busy day filled with futuristically-fun things to do.

Finally, (around 8:00pm) after taking a particularly misty-eyed Journey with a Dreamfinder and his baby Dragon, I climbed the spiral staircase to visit the “Creative Playground of the Future” once again only this time in a more lively state.  Stepping on Tones, Coloring books made of clouds, and playing Digital Illustrator, I came to my favorite part of the exhibit. But stopped dead in my tracks! There I saw him, a little boy conducting the orchestra like Stokowski.  Without him even turning around, I knew those gestures and that build better than anyone else.  Yes, it was a very young me!

But how was it possible that we would be there on the same day and just happen to run into each other? Well, it was very possible… that year. For that year, above all others was my most important. Among other events, it was the year of my first Annual pass and even though I lived several hours away one weekend out of every month was spent in one of three parks.

So there I stood, in front of my younger self. What was I to do? I couldn’t see my parents anywhere nor would I want too (as two extreme emotions would come into play). I didn’t want to frighten him, nor crush his dreams with a “reality check” from the future. And saying anything too specific could be disastrous for MY present! Ultimately, I struck-up a casual conversation with him.

“So you really like this game, Huh?” I said.

 “Yes, it reminds me of my favorite film, FANTASIA” the boy said awkwardly adding “isn’t this an awesome song!? “

“Yes, it very much is” I replied smilingly.  Then I knew the one thing that would get him off the game and pay attention. “Hey, Son I work for Disney and I’d like to tell you something.” He quickly, stepped off the mini-podium and looked right at me.

“Where’s your name tag?” he questioned.

“I’m off today” I responded (honestly). We walked into the early evening-lit atrium and sat on a bench. Then he started asking me several questions, all at once, while telling me his (rather silly in hind-sight) aspirations. Finally, I interrupted him and said “I just want you to know that right here, right now is the best it will be. Soak in as much and as often as possible. You’re going to need it in the years ahead” Although a little shocked at the implications, the boy understood.

“Well, it was nice meeting you! I better find my family, now” he called over his shoulder.

After that, I felt sad for him, and optimistic for the man I was still to become. My cell phone alarm inexplicably, and startling went-off. The moment I looked down to shut-off the phone the music in the atrium stopped. And the still silence of the space was only interrupted by the breeze-like air of the AC system. No one was there, no one in the whole building. I went outside to be greeted by the red and orange painted concrete forms of the Imagination Institute.

No more Rainbow Corridors. No more trips to Brava Centauri. No more Sea Bases Alpha. No more Electronic/Orchestral masterpieces played on hundreds of well-spaced carefully-concealed speakers. No more “Center”.

When I returned home, and while empting the contents of my pockets I pulled out that same vintage guide map.

David Larrabee, age: 30, Occupation: Multiple. A Portrait of a man in conflict. For while others get to sit under crooning flowers and travel through delightfully haunted estates, he and his generation has had the memories of their youth walled-over, gutted, sealed-off, or  demolished. There is precious little in the way of solace right now, except that mistakes of the past seem to be subsiding so the next time you decide you’ve got a better idea than the old masters, give a little thought to the millions out there who treasure the things you get rid of. A lesson to be learned in… The Imagineering Zone.


I live very close to Epcot. I mean very close. From my front door to the front gates of the park, it takes me a little over 15 minutes. A cool statement to make, but the Epcot I’d most like to visit is much, much further away. Twenty Years away in fact!

The title of this article is taken directly from a first season episode of The Twilight Zone. In the Episode, a world weary business man takes a trip backwards in time to his childhood town of some twenty to thirty years ago. During the course of events, the man meets his younger self and his now dead parents. In a futile way, he chases his younger self to deliver a message basically stating that this is the best time of his life and he should enjoy every moment of it.

The Episode is filled with physiological undercurrents of nostalgia for both the writer, Rod Serling, and the prose of Ray Bradbury, (the author Rod is emulating). In the end, just about every episode of the series is an exploration of morality and the human condition. Nostalgia is a double edged condition that can convey ether pleasure or pain and in most cases a little bit of both. Walt Disney was one of the most positively nostalgic people ever to walk the face of the Earth. Instead of taking trips down “memory lane” and lamenting times-gone-by, Walt took his love for the past and decided to recreate. But not only did he re-create the past, he Perfected it! Main Street USA is every town of the turn of the century. And yet, it’s like no street that has ever existed.

In much the same way, the online EPCOT Centered community has a longing for the past. Whenever I visit Epcot, my mind goes through a half-second process of excitement for visiting things like the Image Works, riding any past version of Spaceship Earth, or experiencing Horizons and then I remember it’s 2000-something. I still like Epcot, but not nearly to the same extent as EPCOT Center. As much as, I and many others would love to visit the EPCOT of 1989 for a day, it would just be for a day. I don’t think that any of us would want to live without the technological advances of our time.

In Walking Distance, the Business Man eventually leaves the past and returns to the present refreshed and with a new perspective on the life that he now leads. What we have today is something of a historical rarity, (if not a temporal paradox), “Nostalgia for the Future”.  The things we miss most are not the attractions but the messages behind them, the tone, and the optimism associated with them.

It is often said that “you can’t go home again”, but in this case that statement does not apply.  Walt Disney was able to visit a perfected form of his hometown Marceline, and he did so in 1955. It is my hope that EPCOT Center will soon return to Epcot, only this time a perfected vision of tomorrow with design rooted in the past using the technologies of today.  This is a thesis I’m working on for the future of the park itself.

The other historical rarity is that with the technologies available today we could relive Classical Epcot Attractions with a relatively small investment of funds.  I, as well as many others, look forward to the day that long deceased attractions can be revisited in high-definition miniature-OmnImax experiences in one of the many cavernously large unused or underutilized spaces of Future World. The truly cool thing about those experiences is that the day this happens the number of attractions of Future World will expand to nearly double its size. A high-tech “Looking Back at Tomorrow” Attraction, might even become the most popular attraction in the park, after all it would not be just be one attraction but EVERY attraction that came before it. Then we will indeed bridge the gap of time so that Epcot and EPCOT Center will both be within Walking Distance.


It’s very good to see that the “Legacy” section has sparked some discussion! 

Recently, Becky Cline (Head of the Walt Disney Archives) stated that the objective of the Archives has been expanded to not just preserving the Company’s history but to share it as well. She also stated that she and her staff are hard at work digitizing the entire collection. This has two purposes. 1. It increases the amount of preservation by having less human hands touch priceless artifacts. 2. (And this is the Big One!) It allows everyone to have access.

This is a monumental development in the history of Disney History. It’s the company’s equivalent of the “Freedom of Information Act”. As to what extent of the access and what platform of delivery, no one can say. However, I personally consider this announcement, to be one I’ve waited decades for.

For Years, my biggest (read that- only) complaint about the Archives, is that it has functioned like a vault for almost 40 years. (The Disney version of Warehouse 13) I would much rather it be analogous to a public library.  Sure, this is Walt Disney Company/Family property, and its way too important and precious to let just anyone get their hands on it. However, the Walt Disney Company’s historical assets have become far too important to world culture to only be experienced by a select few.

Fortunately, this dichotomy of distribution and preservation will at last be solved through the miracle of modern technology. I look forward to the day when I may skim through Walt’s letters and story notes. I simply can’t wait to search through every Disney News publication for research or inspiration.

I’m saying all this because the problem discussed by “Walking Distance” will almost assuredly be solved within this decade. It’s important to note here that the Walt Disney Archives and Walt Disney Imagineering are about as separate and distinct as Coke and Pepsi. Both have enormous libraries but WDI’s assets not only contain things that were, but also things that never were (and the “never were” does have a habit of become inspiration for next year’s attraction). So unquestionably there are complications, but certainly “things that were” are perfectly “safe” to share. 

Think about it. If we could “ride-through” flawless recreations of retired attractions on our computers, home theaters, or in-park custom formats, how completely satisfying would that be? In comparison, the great thing about film is that, after the theaters, the movie lives on through VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray and Holographic Cubes. Why can’t theme park Attractions have the same longevity? ! Oh how nice it would be to end the day by popping-in a Blu-ray for the Original Universe of Energy with Multi-Angled features, commentary and retrospectives! And just think of how much money such an enterprise would generate, (and not just initially for I can see parents taking their Children on a 1983 Journey into Imagination well into the future). Listening Tom Staggs? 

When Tokyo Disneyland’s longtime nighttime parade Fantillusion! was going away, they didn’t just stop at a special edition pin. No, they released a DVD documenting the entire parade, so that those who would miss the well-loved entertainment would have not just something to remember, but something guests would never forget.

This should be the standard practice of all soon-to-be retiring attractions. With today’s technology and Imagineering’s resources, there should be no reason to definitively say “good-bye” to the treasured memories of experiences gone by. Sure, we can never ride the original again, but I think all of us would be quite satisfied with an "At Home" HD simulation. So let’s hope that WDI recognizes the profitability of such an enterprise in the not-too-distant future.

Reader Comments (7)

I love "Walking Distance." One of the Zone's best ventures. I have had many daydreams about a similar incident: going back to classic EPCOT or even a 60's Disneyland. Like you, one day would be enough. I'm glad I'm not alone in this dream. I think we have the technology now to re-live the experiences. Sadly, the Walt Disney Company is just that, a company. The suites don't seem to be changing any time soon. Its up to those few people in the system such as the ones who rely on delivering retro-looking EPCOT merch that we can count on. A very moving piece, sir.

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Reese

Yes, what a fun fantasy to go back in time to the vintage park or parks of your heart's desire. To see the Mickey Mouse Review as I saw it in 1974, or reignite the passion I have for what, at the time, most people considered a pretty lame ride - the classic Adventure Thru Inner Space at Disneyland. Of course, most of would go directly to Horizons, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just get back in line at the Futureport and head back 'home' to Mesa Verde. I even have nostalgiac longings for rides I never went on, like the Mine Train and those Rainbow Caverns. Never went on it, but I can hear it (via the Musical History of Disneyland set) and see it, somehow, in my mind's eye. So, as soon as someone really does invent the flux capacitor, I'm not going to One Million Years BC to see dinosaurs or to November 1963 to see what was going on in that grassy knoll... I'm headed to Horizons and points beyond. Thanks for reigniting the fantasy with today's post!

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRick Greene

Well done, the EPCOT Center we grew up with will forever live in our hearts and minds. There seems to be a lot of dead space in Innoventions right now, I think that a Future World past exhibit would be the perfect fit. I think just even virtual rides through the original pavilions would add so much to the park itself. There are many young Disney fans that have only seen Horizons through a grainy Youtube video or have never met Dreamfinder personally. They need to experience these things in a better light. I really hope for something to bring together Future World once again.

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNick

What a cool story!

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfutureprobe1982

You were transported to 1991 because the car you were driving was a DeLorean.

April 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

LLOL! ! !
(Literal Laugh Out Loud, ©JLH)

Well, I do drive down Epcot Center Dr. going about 88 mph just about every day...
and my car is silver...
Now It All Makes Sense!

Thanks for Clearing that up Jessica:)

April 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterJoshua L Harris

I have long thought a virtual recreation of the parks as they were at specific times would be a HUGE seller!! Who wouldn't pick up a copy of "Epcot Center 1989" for their PC or even home game console! XBOX 360s Disneyland Adventures was actually pretty cool except for the fact that it was only controlled through the Kinect and didn't recreate any interiors. But a step in the right direction. If there is anyone working on something like this, please let us know where we can help out!

July 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterScott Marchino

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