Will The New Guardians of the Galaxy Coaster Be Anti-Epcot?

Theme Park University reader Tom wrote in to ask, “I have been following your page for a while now and I like your thoughts on different happenings in theme parks so I have a question. The Guardians of the Galaxy coaster in Epcot seems to go against the idea of Epcot. Granted there are several rides, Test Track, Mission: Space, etc, but they have a sciencey type of theme. I know Epcot needs new rides, but why link it to a movie? Thanks for your input.”

Guardians of the Galaxy Coaster

I absolutely love this question, Tom, and it’s a sentiment I’ve seen echoed by many Disney and theme park fans since they announced the new Guardians of the Galaxy coaster at the 2017 D23 Expo in Anaheim. Let me preface this by saying, understanding your target audience is key. As an example, the target audience of Theme Park University is those who are interested in learning more about the industry.

While it may seem crazy, the number of theme park fans who follow Disney’s every move and know all the history is very much in the minority of visitors who visit Walt Disney World annually. Meaning, I know my response to this question will face a lot of criticism from those who are Disney fanatics. And that’s okay.  Because at the end of the day, Epcot had over 12 million visitors in 2017. Meaning they have to cater to the Disney aficionados, the guests who only come every few years and those who have no idea that Epcot is even a theme park, they just want to visit “Disney World” (whatever that means to them). Who is Epcot’s target audience? Any human being with a pulse who can afford to visit.

As we approach Epcot’s 40th anniversary in 2022, I think it’s important to look at how it has evolved over the years. Personally, my fondest theme park memories of Epcot was from the 80s and early 90s where the mission was to “entertain, inform and inspire” and indeed, on paper that is still the mantra to this day.

However, if you really look at how Epcot has evolved, it has been veering from its main focus almost from the very beginning. For example, one of the first things Michael Eisner did as CEO of the Walt Disney Company was to add characters to EPCOT Center. Originally, EPCOT was going to be a unique place where only Dreamfinder and Figment (who was created for the park) would live. The idea that Mickey and friends only live in the Magic Kingdom has been a permanent fixture ever since Eisner made this change in every Disney park that has followed and it has indeed proved to be popular.

In 1987, the Daredevil Circus performed in Future World having zero to do with Epcot’s Mission, anything future related or even the Disney brand for that matter. While shows like this or The Magical World of Barbie (which debuted in 1994 at the America Gardens Theater) aren’t exactly permanent, the idea of giving guests something different than Epcot’s core concept has been around for decades.

Probably the biggest change was in the actual name of the park. Starting in 1994, EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was changed to “Epcot 94” and then “Epcot 95” the following year. The idea was to showcase what was new at Epcot every year and with Innoventions opening a constantly rotating list of new exhibits, it was a new marketing strategy.

Then in 1996, it happened. EPCOT Center was officially changed to Epcot. Thus, officially, what does Epcot stand for in 2018? Nothing. It’s just a word. The move to an all-capsless version of the word means the acronym is in fact dead.  And really, the theme park that opened was very loosely a “community” at all. Sure, World Showcase featured nations from around the globe living side-by-side, but then again so does Frontierland and Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom and you wouldn’t exactly call that a community either.

At the end of the day, Disney is a business and in 2018 and beyond, you have to constantly ask: what drives ticket sales? How do you grow as a theme park to the broadest possible audience? If the answer is: stick to the original plan and make every Future World attraction revolve around science and discovery, the park would most likely be a ghost town at this point.

Sure, you certainly can continue to keep the main focus as science and discovery, but to what end? For the most part, only hardcore Disney fans really care about the focus of the attractions in the parks. Your average family will see “Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster” and then have a conversation amongst themselves. “We love Guardians of the Galaxy and we really like roller coasters… let’s go!” It’s really that simple. The ride could be at literally any Disney park and they’d go because it sounds fun to them.

Now take that same notion and let’s say they decided to create an attraction on science and Guardians of the Galaxy… does it have the same appeal? Even if it was a roller coaster? For better or worse, in 2018, if you advertise that you’re going to teach people something as part of their vacation, it loses it’s appeal to the masses. Vacations, especially to Disney Parks, are a sense of escapism. And sometimes that means escaping having to think about anything beyond “How does this FastPass+ thing work anyway?” Your thoughts?

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