Entrance Plaza
« Sponsorship in the 21st Century | Main | 2032 — Overture »

Adult Discourse

As one of the most unjustly corrupted words in the English language, “Adult” (a term that technically meaning “A person who is fully grown or developed”) for all its banality, carries with it some extremely negative connotations. When you hear the word used in conjunction with almost anything else it typically doesn’t help matters - Adult Subject Matter, Adult Language, Adult Entertainment and a host of other descriptors all summon images of depravity, immorality and behaviors that frankly we don’t even discuss in public. Even if someone is told to “act like adult” that’s somehow interpreted negatively. And its substitutes do precious little to help make the word/concept any more attractive. “Mature” carries most of the same subversive imagery but adds the unpleasant concepts of age, elderly, decrepit, and even death!  It’s really no surprise that the last term any marketing firm, organization, or company would want to associate themselves with (either intentionally or otherwise) is that…one… word.

The unfortunate part of all this is that (even with the allegedly fun vices excluded) being an adult and doing adult things can be the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of humanity; the freedom to do as you please, the independence to make one’s own decisions, the ability to interact with those of like mind or listen to contrasting viewpoints without physical confrontation and the sheer joy of existing outside those oppressive intellectual prisons we erroneously call public “schools”. And these are just the basics of adult life. If you’re a productive member of society (and if you’re reading this you are:) then the experience of life beyond childhood is infinitely more enjoyable with pursuits of mind, like progressing the sciences, arts, communications, and generally making life on this planet better for ourselves and each other.    

Shortly before his death it was clearly evident that Walt was heading in a direction that was as far removed from entertainment (let alone children’s entertainment) as one could possibly be. As an emerging urban planner, Walt (assisted and supported by many others) was tackling some of the most serious issues facing society during his time.  Not exactly the kind of subject matter that children latch onto… Or do they?   

When it came time to reinvent the EPCOT concept into a permanent world’s fair, CEO Card Walker and Marty Sklar were perfectly situated and completely aligned to Walt’s intellectual aspirations for a place where human achievements could be cultivated towards the betterment of all mankind - a mission statement that’s as far away from Fantasyland as possible. To Card and Marty’s way of thinking EPCOT Center complimented The Magic Kingdom and was never meant to supplement it. Even in Epcot’s present state most of the differences between the two parks are self-evident, but during EPCOT Center’s first ten years, an even greater distinction existed and unfortunately (due to changing administrations) eroded in an unofficial (but very real) initiative to appeal to a much younger audience.  In the past 20 years nearly ALL of the enhancements, (additions, subtractions, renewals, etc.) have been designed with this ever dwindling demographic in mind.

This is not to say that EPCOT Center wasn’t “kid friendly” or that any of the park’s experiences were inaccessible to children. In fact, Disney’s most adult theme park was probably more engaging before the “Kidcot Era” than after it! Although its final form is in sharp contrast to Walt’s original concept, a lot of his visions for future living were embedded into the Center and imbued with his own philosophies including his treatment of children…

“I do not make pictures for children, at least not just for children. I won’t play down to them. […] The American child is highly intelligent human being — characteristically sensitive, humorous, open-minded, eager to learn, and has a strong sense of excitement, energy and healthy curiosity about the world in which he lives. Lucky indeed is the grownup who manages to carry these same characteristics over into his adult life. It usually makes for happy and successful individual.” — Walt Disney

Well, that might be a great way of thinking from a man long gone but times are different now. And children’s entertainment (not to be confused with family entertainment) is one of the most sought after demographics in the industry. And let’s face it Walt’s ideas, about creating aspiring (rather than degraded or timely) entertainment rarely turned any kind of a profit… right? No, for all of his higher ideals was still a shrewd businessman and knew the dangers of solely pursuing such a young demographic….

“You’re dead if you only aim for kids. Adults are only kids growing up, anyway.”
—Walt Disney

But, once again, that was a man speaking from first half of the twentieth century when the birth rate was considerably different… It Was Higher! According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics release only 43% of American households contain children under the age of 18. And when you take into account that Disney’s typical demographic is much younger than 18, this means that well Over 57% of the population is being under utilized for its marketing potential.

From a mathematical perspective, if Epcot was allowed to develop into a fully “grown-up” experience it’s not unrealistic to predict that it could easily surpass its older sister to become the most visited theme park in the world. Furthermore, such an event could have happened much earlier if Wayne Szalinski, Timon & Pumba, or even Nemo never took-up residence and the experiences in the Magic Eye, Harvest Theater or Sea Base Alpha were merely enhanced with cutting-edge technology, more dynamic storytelling, and independent creative assets. Finally, creating “adult friendly” oasis in an otherwise oversaturated, homogeneous market of central Florida theme parks could only enhance the popularity and success of (what was once called) the “experimental prototype theme park for adults”.

As to what such a park would contain or (much more importantly) how it would behave is a fascinating question. I have my own answers, but would love to hear yours first! 

(Click on the image to use as a full size background!)

Reader Comments (7)

Interesting analysis.

When Disney's California Adventure opened in 2001 it was introduced as being a more "adult" theme park; with "adult" apparently being predominantly defined as easy access to wine and liquor, bare-bones theming, and awful puns plastered across faux buildings. Interestingly, other adult elements of that original incarnation of the park - things like the Seasons of the Vine and Golden Dreams (to an extent anyway... Whoopi Goldberg's starring role always perplexed me) - struck me as more reflecting EPCOT Center in character and, also, very enjoyable and yet very educational.

Granted, my experience of "old" EPCOT Center has been limited to the videos and pictures that remain (and to a great extent Joshua's work), but even through Hi-8 video recordings the original character of the park seemed to reflect the best elements of a so-called "adult" park. And in many ways it still does. In many ways EPCOT succeeds everywhere DCA failed because it took its audience seriously... and yet it still managed to allow alcohol to be sold on site.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCirclevision91

The difference between the two, for me at least, was that I never remember DCA being offically billed as an adult park. Obviously I enjoyed EPCOT Center far more than DCA.

Wonderful article, Josh. Watching the online Disney community grow, it was quite a change for me to realize how many people my age loved the original EPCOT. I grew up having an individual love for it as every other kid I knew found it "boring." It's ironic now that that those that once found it boring like it for the thrills, and those like us that liked the educational exhibits find less to like about it now.

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Excellent article. I've always been bothered by the connotations of the words "adult" and "mature;" terms that should indicate a level of sophistication instead are used to indicate something obscene or illicit. I also agree that EPCOT works best when it's not talking down to its audience or trying to shoe-horn in unnecessary elements to appeal to kids.

That being said, I don't think that having some level of content that allows kids a greater sense of involvement in the park without being overly juvenile is a bad thing. Especially the World Showcase section of the park which is sparse on attractions and even more sparse on rides, while highly engaging for adults, can be a bit dull from the perspective of a child. I'm all for finding ways of getting children involved in these areas of the park without speaking down to them. While the execution of it is debatable, the idea of an interactive game that highlights areas of World Showcase is really a great one, you've created a motivation for kids to explore what World Showcase has to offer rather than simply want to ride Maelstrom over and over.

Another thing I think could really shine if its surroundings were more focused is Turtle Talk with Crush. Here you have a character from a film that is beloved by adults and children alike engaging an audience and sharing information about aquatic life in an accessible way. Yes, the success of this is largely dependant on the skill of the performer and the script often leaves a lot to be desired, but in theory this could be a great way to convey information in a way that appeals to both adults and kids.

Circle of Life; Honey, I Shrunk the Audience; Journey into Imagination with Figment; and The Seas with Nemo and Friends all feature some combination of completely missing the point and being inherently terrible, but I think Agent P's World Showcase Adventure and Turtle Talk with Crush show at least the potential ways in which you can involve kids in the experience of EPCOT while staying true to its core ideals and not being overtly juvenile.

June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIllusionOfLife

Thanks for the comments and insights thus far guys!

I have to echo Aaron in saying I was never aware of DCA’s billing as a more adult theme park. (All I heard beyond the press releases was the-not so-subtle subtext of: “Yeah! Were going to make so much money! Practically nothing to do, tons of shops and Money, Money, Money it will pay for itself in merchandise sales within a year!”) So I might have tuned-out afterwards toward the meager level of positives.
I do love Seasons of the Vine it’s a wonderful little “tone poem” much like “The Seas” film with a great score! And I agree Golden Dreams has a very EPCOT Center vibe in mood and presentation.

Interesting observations, I too find that perceptions of EPCOT Center are filled with contradictions. For a park that was so “boring” a lot of its “children” who are now in their 30’s hold quite an affectionate (some passionate) view of those more “adult days. (My little site get’s 2K+ visitors a month alone!) When I visited the Center, the last thing I would ever want to do was Universe of Energy, I (and my now Jurassic Park obsessed little brother) loved the Dinosaurs and hated the films. Fast-forward to today and the reverse is true! I’m infinitely fascinated with the wedge-shaped pavilion and its now (pre & post-Ellen) grossly dated films. Admittedly, this is probably due its unintentionally mysterious past, but that’s a whole different topic.

You’ve given me quite a lot to ponder as to the nature of childhood experiences in a theme park setting. Towards the end, I might have come-off as being against children. But, one point I failed to mention is that the reverse of Walt’s statement: “Adults are only kids growing-up anyway.” Is also True. (Children are also Adults in a state of becoming.) I mean, EPCOT Center has been my favorite theme park since I was 5 so I’m sure in its more adult focus, they were doing something right (beyond Figment) to attract my diminutive demographic.
I don’t think I’m alone saying that when I was younger, one of the most fascinating subjects for me (as a child) WAS adults – situations, occupations, responsibilities (also a word with a bad rap), and freedoms. I think that’s one of the most attractive things about EPCOT Center, it didn’t play-down to me, and it treated its ENTIRE audience with respect. Adults and children were set as equals, and EPCOT Center had important messages to share that were more engaging and applicable than anything being expressed a couple miles northwest of the park.

“…all feature some combination of completely missing the point and being inherently terrible,“

That’s an awesomely worded statement! The Agent P experience is great for kids while the parents are shopping, and (although I have not done this version) I would imagine it’s much like Kim Possible, where the missions are just that “missions” (go here, do this) and don’t integrate into the countries beyond a series of landmarks. If the system/story presented interesting cultural absorptive activities/facts with architectural points of interest, it might be on the level of classic Center presentations.

Thanks again for sharing guys!

June 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterJoshua L Harris


I completely agree on that last point. I should have perhaps been more clear that I think the idea of these two attractions are sound while the execution is often iffy. An interactive game through World Showcase to highlight its features and engage kids on their level is a great concept, but the fact that it currently ignores the point of World Showcase (exhibiting elements of cultures from various nations) and instead opts to focus on the unrelated adventures of a certain cartoon platypus is unfortunate. Similarly the of a sea turtle sharing with an audience facts about what it's like to live under the sea is a great one, but depending on the performer it doesn't always succeed in execution.

June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIllusionOfLife

Nevertheless think about if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more, "pop"! Your content is excellent but with images and video clips, this website could certainly be one of the best in its niche. Terrific blog!

July 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterxnxx

I must admit that I found this website merely by accident and have been so excited to find that I am not alone in this EPCOT Center love affair that I have spent the past several days consuming EVERY jot and tittle right down to every guest's comments.........and I am hungry for more! In 1983, my dear mother worked an extra job (two, in fact) all summer to save enough money for a 3-day visit to WDW: a day at MK, one at the EPCOT Center, and one split between the two. I was 12 yrs. old, and from the moment that my parents told me about the upcoming trip, I dreamed about it, made models of it (or at least my imagination's version of it) in my bedroom, and counted down the days.

The MK was great, and I sure did love the three Mountains, but experiencing EPCOT Center was far beyond anything that my grossly imaginative mind could ever conceive. I saw vegetables growing in midair, visited other countries, petted a purple dragon (the lovable one, not his evil twin), learned the history of communication inside a massive shiny globe, etc, etc,etc. That 3-day experience changed my like forever. By the way, like you, Josh, my favorite was playing and learning in Image Works. It is what "sparked" my desire to study Mechanical Engineering. I also hold degrees in Fine Arts and Business Administration. Why? I think my desire to contribute to the EPCOT experience (or something like it) drove me to do so. Though I still have not realized that dream and have resigned to be an Annual Passholder as a distant second, that young boy with his whole future ahead of him saw the possibilities held by the prophetic EPCOT Center and said, "If I can dream it, I can build it."

I never felt like the EPCOT Center "attractions" were to boring, over my head, or devoid of entertainment. Heck, what could be more entertaining than dreaming?! However, now I feel that the EPCOT of today talks down to me, and more importantly, my children. I hope and pray that this website is visited by those at WDI and WDC that not only hear the clarion call but are inspired to create more little dreamers as in the recent movie, Tomorrowland, rather than be satisfied with hords of old and bitter George Clooneys wandering about the park asking, "What happened to my purple friend?"

October 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>