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Hear Me Out: Why The Spaceship Earth Redesign Could Be Both Cool And Controversial

Walt Disney explaining the original EPCOT idea

Spaceship Earth might not be the most popular attraction at Walt Disney World's Epcot; the simple dark ride doesn't have the thrill of Test Track or the connection to a popular film like Frozen Ever After. However, by being located inside the iconic geodesic sphere that is the symbol of Epcot as a park, the attraction will always have a place in the hearts of fans. However, this love can take different forms. When any attraction is due for a significant refurbishment, it creates an excitement for what's to come, but also a feeling of loss for what is about to go away. But in the case of the pending Spaceship Earth update, which is still set to take place at some point in the future, we could be gearing up for something that is likely to split Disney World fans even more than a new attraction.

Currently Spaceship Earth is an omnimover dark ride that takes guests through a story that follows advancement in human communication through the ages, from cave paintings and the printing press to television and the internet. Each step in the story is told through animatronic characters while a narrator, currently Judi Dench, tells us this story. The new version of Spaceship Earth will tell a similar story in a similar way, but rather than chronicle the story of human communication, it will focus on the history of human storytelling. It's something that Disney knows something about, which is why I'm going to predict that when that ride finally does arrive, it will include an animatronic version of one very important storyteller in particular: Walt Disney.

Walt Disney with birds from the Enchanted Tiki Room

A Walt Disney Animatronic Makes Too Much Sense

I was riding Spaceship Earth myself on a recent trip to Walt Disney World, and I was thinking about the new version of the attraction when I realized how much sense this all made. We know that while some aspects of the current ride will be saved for use in the new version, new show scenes will also be created. I began to contemplate what those scenes could look like when I realized that if Disney is going to create a ride about storytelling, then Disney will likely want to include its own, not insubstantial contribution to medium. And while Walt always said "It was all started by a mouse." the truth is that it all started when Walt Disney, and Ub Iwerks, created that mouse.

Now Walt Disney could be represented in the ride through video footage. There's plenty of that to use, and there are some scenes in the current Spaceship Earth that use video. But considering that Walt Disney oversaw the first use of audio animatronic technology at WED Enterprises, it's fitting to use that same technology to bring Walt Disney, and perhaps Ub Iwerks as well, back to life in a way only that technology can. Audio animatronic technology has always been impressive, but the newest creations are more lifelike than ever.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot

Why A Walt Disney Animatronic In Spaceship Earth Would Work

From movies to TV to theme park attractions, everything Disney does is focused on storytelling, and so a new version of the Spaceship Earth attraction highlighting that makes a lot of sense. Because story means so much to Disney, an attraction focused on it absolutely should talk about it, and you can't have that conversation without talking about Walt Disney himself. By his own admission, Walt wasn't the best animator. His handling of his animators' strike in 1941 shows that he wasn't the world's greatest studio head. Walt would have said himself that his great strength was as a storyteller, and the evidence supports that.

The creation of audio animatronic figures in the first place was to aid in storytelling. Having these lifelike characters that could move and speak like people allowed for stories to be told in new ways. And there is a real feeling of life to them that simply can't be found elsewhere. An animatronic Walt Disney would be able to bring the man into the park he helped inspire in a way he never was able to do. Walt died years before Magic Kingdom was completed, never mind Epcot. And Epcot, while the theme park is certainly not what Walt envisioned, was the man's ultimate dream. If we can bring Abraham Lincoln, arguably this nation's most important president, to life using technology, certainly we can do the same with Uncle Walt.

Walt and El Grupo

Why A Walt Disney Animatronic Could Be Controversial

At the same time, while there's a lot of reason to believe a Walt Disney animatronic could be a lovely tribute to the man, I won't pretend that I don't see another side to the argument. Just because such a thing could be done does not mean that it should be done. Perhaps including Walt Disney in a dark ride about the history of storytelling would be a bit too self-congratulatory. It's one thing to recognize the man and the company's commitment to the concept of telling stories, but the rest of Walt Disney World, never mind the rest of Disney as a whole, already does that. So this could be a case of Disney patting itself on the back a bit too much.

While some might see an animatronic of Walt Disney as a way to honor the legacy of the man, it could also just be seen as bad taste. Perhaps trying to bring Walt "back" in this way would be seen as using Walt's legacy in the wrong way. Most animatronic characters in the parks are of fictional people. Those that are based on real people, mostly inside the Hall of Presidents, include individuals who, for the most part, were either long dead or were alive at the time and able to give approval. Those that have given their voice to an animatronic, as one expects an animatronic based on Walt Disney almost certainly would, recorded themselves specifically for that purpose, which wouldn't be the case for Walt.

While I understand the potential arguments against it, I, for one, would love to see Walt Disney make his animatronic debut. It doesn't seem like an extreme statement to say that a Walt Disney animatronic appearing at some point in some place is likely. Of all the places where such a thing could happen, an attraction inside Epcot, dedicated to storytelling, feels like the right place. Walt Disney was an important storyteller and his contribution to the art form should be specifically recognized. Do you agree? Sound off in the poll below.

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Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.