We’re on the verge of massive changes to the Walt Disney World resort, particularly with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge arriving in 2019. Pandora is just settling in at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and a lot more is coming in the next 4-5 years. While E-ticket attractions are exciting, I hope that Disney can address secondary areas that need attention. This is especially true at Epcot, where certain attractions need immediate help. A perfect example is the Magic Eye Theater at the Imagination pavilion. This important space has so much potential and needs an upgrade.
The original inhabitant of the Magic Eye Theater was Magic Journeys, an opening-day 3D attraction at EPCOT Center. This eerie, clever film showed the different sides of imagination, including a few scenes that scared me as a child. There was nothing else like it at Disney World, and seeing it on the big screen was quite affecting. It wasn’t just a way to escape the Florida sun, particularly in the first year when the Journey into Imagination ride was still under construction.
The Magic Eye Theater was a key location at EPCOT Center from the start. In the book Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center: Creating the World of Tomorrow, Richard R. Beard describes Magic Journeys‘ 3-D system in this way:
“A large measure of the film’s magic is due to the use of three different 3-D systems. One of them, custom-made for Disney, is designed to give pictures of a clarity and wealth of detail rarely, if ever, seen before. The 3-D system simulates human vision by using two cameras, each recording the object from a different physical plane.
Magic Journeys only lasted four years in Epcot, but it played in several other spots until it closed in 1993. Captain EO and Honey, I Shrunk the Audience drew crowds for many years afterward, though excitement waned by the mid-2000s. It was fun to see the return of Michael Jackson in 2010, though that “limited” engagement continued for five years. Instead of creating a new attraction to replace it, Disney now plays familiar short films there. It’s a lazy way to fill a Future World spot that deserves better. Here are five ideas that would make better use of this space.
Preview Upcoming Epcot Attractions
I’ve organized these changes from the simplest to the most complex in scope. Each choice also is a bit more exciting for me, though any would improve greatly on the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival. This first idea is similar to the Blue Sky Cellar in Disney California Adventure, which helped to build interest in Cars Land and other projects. The Magic Eye Theater’s pre-show area could include models and concept art for upcoming attractions based on Guardians of the Galaxy and Rataouille. Disney could also inspire more interest in the space-themed restaurant, new China film, and Future World landscape updates.
Disney masterfully used preview centers to raise excitement for upcoming expansions in the pre-Internet era. Despite the availability of information, nothing beats seeing the materials in person. The Magic Eye Theater could screen a short video with Imagineers discussing future changes. Instead of promoting short films that don’t connect to Epcot at all, Disney can actually build anticipation for this park. The capital investment to make these changes would also be small. It wouldn’t make full use of 3D and theater effects but would still draw guests if presented well.
Create a Tribute to EPCOT Center
Epcot just celebrated its 35th anniversary, and large crowds flocked there to celebrate the anniversary. In that spirit, Disney would create an exhibit to give tribute to EPCOT Center’s remarkable achievements. They often pay lip service to the original pavilions, but it seems hollow when the replacements fall short. Many guests know little about what the park was like in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Why not showcase the optimistic future depicted by the original version?
This exhibit would do more than just include the concept art we’ve all seen countless times. Early films like A Dream Called Epcot could play in the preview area and give a complete picture of what made EPCOT Center special. The Magic Eye Theater would present an all-new tribute film that takes us inside the attractions that no longer exist. The 3D theater could even help recreate famous parts like the speed rooms in World of Motion. Disney keeps talking about a “renaissance” for Epcot. Looking back to past successes for inspiration is rarely a bad idea.
Rotate the Previous Films (and More)
In a similar vein to the previous idea, I’d love to see Disney rotate their catalog of 3D films each day. Epcot draws quite a few locals for its annual festivals, and they’d likely enjoy having a variety of options in the Magic Eye Theater. The obvious choices are Magic Journeys; Captain EO; and Honey, I Shrunk the Audience; but that’s just the basics. Disney could put together films of past theme park material that fans haven’t seen for years. I’ve called in the past for rotating Circle-vision films in Tomorrowland, and this follows a similar pattern.
Disney could use this approach and combine it with the tribute exhibit from my previous idea. The pre-show would pay tribute to Epcot, and the rotating films would continue that trend. Epcot has become more of a hangout park in recent years, and this move leans into that fact. Instead of showing film previews that don’t really move the bottom line, why not celebrate the parks? Disney could also shoot a new 3D film and incorporate it with the vintage movies.
Produce a New Movie Starring Dreamfinder and Figment
Fans have shown repeatedly how much they love the original Dreamfinder and Figment. A perfect example is the success of the graphic novels from Disney Kingdoms. Those stories used a steampunk aesthetic to present the origins of the beloved characters. I’d love to see a new film in the Magic Eye Theater that expands on that idea. It would connect to the pavilion’s original themes and use the latest theater effects to draw audiences. It’s a no-brainer.
Despite the presence of Figment in the ride next door, I still believe that Disney undervalues the potential for the character. People endure a mediocre attraction now because they love Figment. Let’s give them something that connects to EPCOT Center but isn’t just a retread. Disney seems unlikely to invest the capital necessary to overhaul the ride. A film that will please old-school fans and create new ones makes sense in all fronts.
Replace It with a Giant E-Ticket Attraction
Since I’m just dreaming here, why not think big? Part of me wants to retain multiple attractions inside the pavilion. However, the current Imagination pavilion falls short with each of its three options. Why not start over? The DVC lounge can remain upstairs, but the entire first floor will become an E-ticket attraction. Dreamfinder and Figment can star in a high-tech journey through imaginative worlds. It will include callbacks to the original but offer a new experience.
Disney has less interest in restoring complementary attractions under Iger’s leadership. It’s all about the big splash with large-scale expansions. Instead of hoping for Disney to provide a minor upgrade, I’ll go further and request a total change. Bring in Tony Baxter as a consultant and watch the imagination flow! They could even make it a trackless ride. A 15-minute attraction with a large capacity would also alleviate the pressure on nearby Soarin’ and Ratatouille in World Showcase. There are so many reasons for this idea to work; the only hurdle is the cost.
What do you think Disney should do with the Magic Eye Theater?
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