The EPCOT Film

Trying out a new thing here, cataloging some pieces of research and inspiration related to the project I’m working on, much of which concerns the “experimental prototype community of tomorrow” Walt Disney once proposed building in Florida and the town of Celebration that the Disney company ultimately created. 

As far as said research goes, the 1966 “EPCOT” film Walt created just two months prior to his death is my Rosetta Stone, the artifact from which so many threads of understanding and inspiration have spawned. Designed as a pitch piece to encourage the participation of American corporations in developing (and bankrolling) the EPCOT idea, it was not officially released for public viewing until 2004 (as part of the Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland DVD set), but some of the segments have been percolating in my mind for decades thanks to Disney’s unparalleled practice of repurposing Walt footage (in varying contexts) ad nauseum.

If you’ve ever spent any time at the EPCOT that Disney did ultimately build, you’ll likely note a stark contrast between it and the EPCOT the company did not build (which is probably part of the reason this film was held back so long). The futurism of EPCOT Center fascinated me throughout my childhood, but even with no knowledge at the time of the project’s more ambitious origins, I yearned for it to be something more — an actual city, a thriving metropolis populated with residents. The discovery that Walt himself had wanted the same thing, that this had been the original intent, was almost as painful as it was gratifying, but it was through that discovery that I first started to understand that Walt’s grand idea was not a singular notion but the culmination of interest and experience in multiple fields — filmmaking, themed entertainment, architecture, urban development, etc.

"Everything in this room may change time and time again as we move ahead," Walt says of the plans outlined in the film, but take a look around that room; the maps, the models. Some of the details may be preliminary, but the thoughts behind them are clearly not. As the film references, the path to EPCOT is a public case-study on the evolution and intersection of ideas; from the forward-thinking "Tomorrowland" films of the ’50s to the radial design and transportation systems implemented at Disneyland to the debut of "Progress City" — the model that would inform the look and layout of ECOT — at the 1964-65 World’s Fair. 

In a way my fixation with Walt’s city of the future mirrors this dynamic. I’ve returned to the EPCOT film dozens of times as I’ve gotten older, always from a slightly different perspective, with each viewing yielding new relevance. But it was only recently that a link between it and various other concepts began to form into an idea I could work with — an idea that, as Walt predicted for EPCOT, will probably change many times as I move ahead.