Epcot’s 35th Anniversary is Celebrated with Magic and Memories!

October 1 marked the 35th Anniversary of the opening of Epcot.  The park marked the occasion with a 35th Anniversary Ceremony on the Fountain Stage featuring Mariachi Cobre and the Voices of Liberty, commemorative parks maps and buttons,  “I was there” merchandise, and a special fireworks finale following Illuminations.  D23 added to the festivities with a Fanniversary event in the morning and progressive dinner through some of the Epcot’s corporate lounges.

The day started off overcast and rainy, but lucky it cleared up minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to start.  After the stage was quickly dried off, Mariachi Cobre performed for the large crowds that had gathered.  George Kalogridis, President of Walt Disney World Resort, and Melissa Valiquette, Vice President of Epcot, then spoke about the history of the park and how it will be moving forward into the next 35 years.  The Voices of Liberty closed out the ceremony with a medley of classic Epcot songs.  They were joined on stage by some Disney characters while singing “We Go On” from Reflections of Earth.

The D23 Fanniversery event began in the World Showplace building shortly after the conclusion of the 35th Anniversary Ceremony.  The first presentation, Epcot Attractions of Yesteryear, was hosted by Special Effects Imagineer Daniel Joseph and historian Michael Crawford.  It was a look back at all of the attractions that are no longer around and the impact they had on current attractions and technology in general.

They started with the old City of Tomorrow decent on Spaceship Earth.  In particular, they pointed out the scene where the children are seen teleconferencing.  This was something very futuristic and forward thinking at the time, but now is included on every modern smartphone.  They also talked about how the post show of Journey into Imagination was the birth of interactivity in the parks.  An example of this was the virtual coloring books in the post show which used touch screens to let guests color an image of Dreamfinder.  Touch screens were something so new at the time that they needed a video of Figment to educate guests how to use them.  Again, something that is commonly found on cell phones.  Additionally, interactivity in theme park attractions also seems to be something that is common place for new attractions.

They also talked about how the preshow of Cranium Command was directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale.  These two directors later went on to direct “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”  Another famous director was also involved with this preshow film.  A young Pete Docter (Director of “Monster’s Inc.,” “Up,” and “Inside Out”) also interned as an animator on the pre-show film.  They also touched on how Universe of Energy was using solar power way before it was so ubiquitous that it can be found on residential homes.

A presentation on Epcot attractions of the past wouldn’t be complete without Horizons.  Horizons probably embodied the spirit of Epcot more than any other attraction.  It was revealed that it was actually a Part 2 of the Carousel of Progress.  Horizons was also the first attractions to use scents and digital projection.  The scent canons used in Horizons were capable of shooting smells up to 200 feet and were the predecessors of those used on Soarin’ and Flight of Passage.

Disney Legend Tony Baxter and Imagineers Jason Grandt and Diana Brost were up next with a presentation called 35 Things You Didn’t Know About Epcot.  Some of the facts were probably common knowledge to avid Epcot fans, but I did learn a few new things.  Here are some of my favorites from their presentation:

  • One of the names considered for the park was “CONCEPT”
  • The Imagination pyramids are actually modeled after silver halide crystals.  Tony Baxter explained that crystals are a natural occurring form which would help the building to achieve a more timeless quality.
  • Horizons let guests choose between an ending that would take them to outer space, a desert farm, or a sea base.  However, there was an option for an urban ending very early on in the planning of Horizons.  It would have taken guests through a modern urban society featuring a maglev train.
  • There was an idea for a France omnimover attraction where guests would be served food while on the ride.
  • The Three Caballeros audio-animatronics in Mexico are actually older than the Magic Kingdom as they were originally created for a press tour leading up to its opening.
  • There is a letter in the Moroccan Pavilion from George Washington to the Moroccan King thanking him for being one of the first to recognize the United States’ sovereignty.

The next presentation, Dreamers and Doers, was a panel of Imagineers and Epcot management from throughout the years hosted by Jason Grandt.  The panel consisted of Walt Disney World Senior Vice President Jim MacPhee, Disney Legend Bill Sullivan, Future World General Manager Rick Allen, former Imagineer Patrick Brennan, and current Imagineers Zach Riddley, Wyatt Winter, and Alex Wright.  This was a fun panel with these guys mostly just recalling stories from their time at Epcot and talking about some of their favorite parts of the park.

The final presentation, Epcot Entertainment Through the Years, was hosted by Epcot Vice President Melissa Valiquette and featured show directors Marsha Jackson-Randolph and Forrest Bahruth, Mariachi Cobre leader Randy Carrillo, and Epcot Entertainment General Manager Christopher Stewart.  They talked about how spectacular the Opening Ceremony was 35 years ago.  Representatives from around the world poured water from their home rivers and oceans into the Fountain of Nations.  They covered some of the highs and the lows from the past 35 years, including the Daredevil Circus and Barbie Birthday Party (definitely one of the lows).  Melissa and Monica talked extensively about how they’ve recently put an emphasis on more authentic entertainment such as Bodh’aktan.  Monica also talked about the newest Epcot festival, The Festival of the Arts, and the success of the Disney on Broadway concerts.  They also talked about putting more of an emphasis on entertainment as part of the new Festival of the Holidays coming to Epcot in November.  

Unfortunately with the dinner selling out in seconds, I was not able to attend. After eating our way through some of the Food and Wine Festival, we got our spot for the Illuminations with the 35th Anniversary finale.  Illuminations was great as always and the additional five minutes of 35th Anniversary fireworks did not disappoint.