Few things embody my feelings about EPCOT Center better than an idealistic, cheesy song with a voice excitedly saying “the future belongs to you” while a Monorail glides on the screen. The narrator speaks of “dreams of the future” while early ‘80s piano music sells the idea. It’s laughable yet unabashedly proclaims an optimistic future. This song opens The Dream Called EPCOT, a 15-minute preview video presented at Walt Disney World in 1981. It sold a genuine excitement about technology and our future that permeated the original EPCOT Center.
I finally caught up with this charming promotional movie thanks to an old upload from Michael Crawford of Progress City, U.S.A. on his YouTube page. When a title card appears at the end saying “The 21st Century Begins October 1, 1982”, I believe it. It says a lot that the concept art and models are still so impressive today. This isn’t a situation where we snicker at the dated effects of a retro era. I want to visit the place that we see in this video. I did go there as a kid in 1984 and many times afterward, but that park’s feeling that anything is possible isn’t so strong today.
A Glimpse of New Horizons
The Dream Called EPCOT opens with animation of the sun rising over the Earth and futuristic images of space stations and sea colonies. They’re basically videos that come to life on Horizons. The narrator joins to bring us into the real world and explain how Disney World embodies Walt’s original ideas about EPCOT. While it’s not exactly convincing, it’s cool to see the Utilidors and solar energy station alongside the PeopleMover. The resort was innovative for the ‘70s, and that creative use of technology continued at EPCOT Center.
I adore the shots of the workers at WED Enterprises prepping for Future World. This isn’t the typical glossy footage we see today from Disney. The crew members look like engineers working diligently to meet the deadline. These shots connect to the stressful environment described by Steve Alcorn and David Green in their book Building a Better Mouse. They also hint at the excitement guests would see when they visited EPCOT Center in 1982.
After the effective introduction, it’s time to dig a little further into the attractions. The segment on Spaceship Earth gives us a close-up shot of the famous painting that remains at the front of the attraction. There’s also stunning concept art that’s even better than the real thing. The models are something to see, particularly an intricate look at the greenhouse in The Land. A detailed set-up of the traffic jam on World of Motion is also remarkable. The glimpses of Horizons are enticing, and the concept art of The Living Seas (while optimistic) sets the tone correctly.
Another surprise in this section is the different versions of the attractions’ familiar theme songs. “It’s Fun to Be Free” and “Universe of Energy” are pretty close to the final tunes, but they’re a little too powerful (especially with the vocals). The big change is in the Horizons song, which includes a few moments from “Reach for New Horizons” by the Sherman Brothers. With all due respect to the legendary duo, I think Disney made the right choice in the end.
The World Showcase portion takes a strange route around the lagoon. We begin in France and step over to Britain, but our next stop is Germany. The narrator even says that it’s just a few steps away, which is true only for giants. Next, we venture through Italy, Japan, and China before reaching Mexico, but that’s not the end. I understand why Disney would conclude with Canada and The American Adventure; why not spotlight the home country and its neighbor? Visitors in 1981 wouldn’t realize the jumbled tour was happening, so it’s not really an issue.
All of the previous scenes were really just a set up for a rousing final song. The few that remember this video likely recall the singer passionately declaring “We’re almost ready!” and then closing with three extended shouts of “We’re getting ready for you!” over shots of Imagineers hard at work to make it happen. I love the joy in declaring what’s on the horizon for this park. It’s a ridiculous song that can’t help but make me laugh, but it’s still great. Why not be excited for a theme park unlike anything we’ve ever seen? Don’t undersell it!
Are They Still Ready?
What draws me to The Dream Called EPCOT (and EPCOT Center in general) is the idea of a community of people working together to build something amazing. There’s a sense of fun in developing something more than we expect from the parks. That thrill helped to make the original Disneyland succeed and was present in 1982. The old criticism about EPCOT Center being boring missed the fun that emanated from it. It was inspiring because Disney ignored the conventional wisdom, even compared to The Magic Kingdom. Does that willingness to step outside their comfort zone still exist at Disney? If it appears again, we’ll be ready for it.
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