When it opened, EPCOT Center’s Future World tried to capture the ideals that went into Walt Disney’s original plan for future urban communities. Since that opening many of the pavilions have taken on new focuses or been left to age. While time has taken its neighbors in different directions, The Land pavilion has not only maintained its focus but the spirit of the original EPCOT plan.
Learning With The Land
Future World was built around a unique style of “edutainment” that was meant to inform and inspire visiting guests. With each pavilion focusing on a different area, passing tourists would be able to learn a little bit about different areas. The Land took this one step further and actually attempts to learn as well.
The pavilion entrance is at the top of a large hill so that visitors feel like the two-floor structure drops into the earth itself. The top floor has remained little changed since opening day featuring a circular walkway bringing guests to stairs and escalators lowering them down to the ground level. Overhead a skylight brings natural light into the main floor and highlights “balloons” that represent the earth and its four seasons.
Like all other parts of Future World, The Land was built in partnership with a sponsor. Kraft Foods brought their corporate focus into the pavilion and most of the pavilion focused on our relationship with the earth and how it can sustain us. For the most part, all of the attractions have retained that focus since the pavilion opened.
The longest running attraction inside the pavilion, once called Listen to the Land and now known as Living With the Land, has gone through the least amount of changes and also highlights the most unique aspect of the pavilion. After a short boat tour through simulated environments that are common to the American landscape, guest enter the on-site greenhouse and laboratory. Here, Walt Disney World has maintained a working horticultural research facility that uses experimental techniques for farming. On top of that, the produce made there is actually used in the restaurants throughout the resort.
As a child, entering the greenhouses filled me with awe. The ride itself had no more thrills than It’s A Small World over in the Magic Kingdom but the main difference here is this was something quite real and active. Visiting Walt Disney World through the 80s and 90s showed you all types of animatronic simulations but The Land brought you a very real laboratory. You got to actually pass through a very real scientific environment using futuristic techniques that you didn’t learn about in school. Future World truly came alive here. It gives me the most hope for the future that it has remained mostly unchanged.
The other attractions were quite different but could easily tie in to this featured attraction. Kitchen Kabaret was a show that spoke about nutrition through food-based animatronics putting on a musical about making dinner. This shared the ground floor with the marquee boat ride. Upstairs in a theater was Symbiosis, a film about our relationship with the land and how technology and progress affects it.
Two wildly different attractions actually stitched together by the gentle ride through a laboratory. Kitchen Kabaret taught guests the importance of the food we harvasted while Symbiosis taught us the importance of maintaining the environment. The importance of these lessons would carry over into their replacements.
New Sponsorship Brings Refurbishment
In 1993, Kraft Foods ended its sponsorship deal and Nestle stepped in to take its place. This change in sponsorship brought about a series of updates to the pavilion that would change all three of the attractions to varying degrees and modify the aesthetic of the pavilion. New color schemes brought a different feel to the area and new names for the table service and quick service restaurants came.
Listen to the Land became Living With The Land but featured very little in the way of significant changes. Kitchen Kabaret gave way to Food Rocks, a similarly themed show that leaned more on pop music parody rather than a variety show style. Symbiosis moved out and was replaced by a similarly themed film taking advantage of the success of the Lion King entitled Circle Of Life: An Environmental Fable.
For another 10 years, the Land would remain little changed. They would offer up some of the more diverse dining options within Future World, continued to educate and discover, and remain a recognizable place in EPCOT.
Take To The Skies!
In 2004, the biggest change to the pavilion came in the form of Soarin’. This new ride replaced the Food Rocks show and for the first time the pavilion had changed the theme of one of its attractions. This also made the Land the only pavilion with two functioning rides. Nutrition education was forgotten and people were given a thrilling exploration of California landscapes.
This ride proved far less educational than any previous attraction but still managed to showcase a variety of ways that we relate to the earth. However, this was localized to California for its entire run until the current refurbishment. The ride did more to put guests in awe of the splendor of the earth rather than teach anyone about it.
The main floor was reworked to be a bit easier to navigate and seat diners visiting the quick service Sunshine Seasons but the rest of the pavilion has remained fairly the same. And that brings us to today. This pavilion, finding its proper way to evolve in the EPCOT Center model into the modern Epcot ideal. The educational components have been mostly maintained, it has changed enough to keep it relevant, and it manages to still house an active laboratory.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The beauty of how the Land has stayed so true to its original form and purpose while also adapting to the times makes me wish that it were so with its neighbor pavilions. But while other pavilions may have lost their way, the Land seems to lumber its way into always being relevant. So what can the future hold for such a pavilion?
We already know that a new world-wide focused Soarin’ is on the way and that will be great to show more of the globe. Though nothing has been announced, it would be nice to see an educational component attached to this so we can see how the scenes used in the new film affect agriculture through the region.
The one area that is in need of an update is the Circle of Life film. The theater has gone through a minor refurbishment recently but the film itself has been airing for over twenty years and uses one of the oldest projection systems on property. Simba, Timon, and Pumba are great but they could use a little refresher. Or possibly give way to someone new, like a WALL-E shows, warning of the dangers of overconsumption.
But aside from changing the way we are introduced to the information, I hope that over the next 30 years we continue to see the same ideals maintained in this stalwart pavilion.