I love old Walt Disney World souvenir videos. They give us a brief glimpse at a very different resort from the one we have today. Marketing sold the actual rides and shows, not just the “magic” of the experience. The vintage presentations are wonderfully cheesy, but not in terms of princesses and pirates. EPCOT Center in particular was so weird in its first decade! Seeing all the pavilions in a 30-minute package reinforces the amazing strangeness. Released in 1991, A Day at EPCOT Center shows the park near the end of its original heyday. The original framework remains in place with some extra thrills added to spice up the day.
This VHS movie was available for purchase at Disney World and now is very cheap online. You can also watch it on YouTube, and I definitely recommend spending the time. It’s better as a nostalgia piece than a way for newer fans to see the park, however. The main reason is that the voices from the attractions are all different. There’s no Walter Cronkite or the actual Dreamfinder audio from the ride. Instead, we have flat voices that don’t convey the same charisma. It’s especially bad in the World of Motion and Horizons clips. They just sound like a generic narrator reciting the same words as the more nuanced original speakers.
What makes this change so jarring is the large amount of ride video that’s included. We observe scenes that are familiar to EPCOT Center fans yet fall apart with different voices. The classic Living Seas movie doesn’t work if the narrator can’t sell it. I still like seeing all the footage from the extinct attractions, including post-show areas like the ImageWorks and TransCenter. The visuals from those pavilions are still refreshing without the sounds. It just seems weird that Disney sold a video in the parks with such a dramatic change. It was probably due to a rights issue, but I’m surprised that wasn’t worked out when the park opened.
The Model EPCOT Center Guests
A Day at EPCOT Center takes its concept seriously and introduces guests that we follow through the attractions. They aren’t the only people that we see in these spaces but there are frequent appearances. In Future World, a really happy guy with a ridiculous yellow camera shoots footage of the park and a group of kids in his party. It’s hard to get past that camera, which was probably high-tech at the time. We even see a few POV shots of places like Spaceship Earth and the Imagination fountains during the visit. I’m basically that guy when I visit Disney World.
It’s interesting to note the focus on kids in Future World. We see them running happily through the tunnel in the ImageWorks. I don’t doubt that EPCOT Center works for kids. I loved it so much starting with our first visit in 1984 when I was eight. There was nothing else like it anywhere, and that magic remains. We also see quite a lot of Mickey, Minnie, and other characters. They’re wearing futuristic garb but are there to bring more families to the park.
Disney’s focus at World Showcase is even more obvious in this video. Their prime subjects are two senior citizens ready to shop, dance, and eat. The focus on older guests makes sense in contrast to The Magic Kingdom. The challenge is that World Showcase looks so square when viewed through the lens of this couple. They’re up for anything but don’t expand on the park’s reputation as a boring place. It’s an unfair label, yet Disney still leans into it here.
We follow “Ed and Martha” (my names for them) as they acquire passport stamps at each country. They begin at the International Gateway and just do a counter-clockwise tour of World Showcase. No time for Future World! Again, the lack of the original narrators (and music) hurt the Circle-Vision films. Impression de France in particular is strange without the amazing soundtrack. It’s still cool to see the countries with fewer drink carts and clutter. There’s lots of space to wander and thin crowds, except for when the live entertainers start performing.
When Walt Disney Designed EPCOT Center…
Disney regularly connects modern choices back to Walt Disney. Even so, I was surprised to hear the phrase “When Walt Disney designed EPCOT Center” at the start of the film. His idea of a forward-thinking community was quite different from the theme park version. It’s one thing to cite Walt as inspiration for the park; saying he designed it is something else. I hate to be too critical of a souvenir video. This line just seems like an unnecessary stretch.
Despite some odd choices, A Day at EPCOT Center still is worth your time. There are many hilarious moments, and it’s fun to look back at the park before it changed. At CommuniCore, the narrator really sells the excitement when guests can see how phone companies manage long distance calls. He also tells us to first see Symbiosis when we visit The Land. I know it’s upstairs, but there’s no way I’m stopping before Kitchen Kabaret. Wonders of Life revels in the chance to ride a stationary bike and see a video of Disneyland. We also catch a few moments from the Anacomical Players, who I never had the joy of seeing in the pavilion.
How would recent Disney World fans view this video? I suspect they’d laugh at rides that seem very dated on first glance. The replaced audio does the attractions no favors. I know that my love of EPCOT Center is partially due to nostalgia. It could also be great, however. The ambitious and cohesive theme of Future World still inspires me today. I love the forward-thinking look and whimsical view of our past. Bob Chapek recently announced that big changes were coming to Epcot, and I don’t expect positive results. Anything could happen, and I’ll keep an open mind for now. Until then, I’ll remember the past glories and enjoy the best parts of the current park.
A Day at EPCOT Center is easy to buy or watch online via sites like YouTube. If you’re looking to check it out, here’s one good option on YouTube.