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Monday, March 11, 2024

EPCOT Part Seven: The Dream Is Over

After Walt Disney’s shocking death, Roy Disney quickly took full control of the company. Dismissing talk of a sale, Roy insisted that the company would remain independent, Disneyland would stay open and he would personally see to it that his brother’s last dream- “Disney World” in Florida- would be built and open in five years. In fact, he officially started calling the Florida Project “Walt Disney World” to show the world that it was the fully realized dream of a real person- Walt Disney. Except- it wasn’t.

While Roy claimed he was making his brother’s final dream come true, his very first action as the sole leader of Walt Disney Productions was to permanently cancel Walt Disney’s plans for an experimental prototype community of tomorrow. EPCOT, as designed and dreamed up by Walt Disney would NEVER see the light of day. Even though Walt’s imagineers hadn’t been too enthusiastic about EPCOT when he first started the development and design process, they had grown to accept and embrace it. They weren’t happy when Roy pulled the plug on the project and ordered them to start working on the theme park. They became even more disenchanted with Roy’s vision for the park itself.

By 1971, Disneyland had 16 years to “grow up” into the fully developed theme park that it had become. Walt Disney had planned to build out “Disneyland East” to be a mostly carbon copy of Disneyland with the same number of attractions. Roy, on the other hand, figured that the newer park could open with much fewer attractions than Disneyland had and build itself up over time. His most controversial decision was to build a bigger castle with a taller Main Street. In his mind, this would show everyone that the company now had more money to spend and could afford to build a bigger castle than the one at Disneyland. Except, the castle at Disneyland was not built the way it was because of money issues- it was built the way it was because Walt Disney wanted a friendly, accessible castle. He felt that only tyrants built large castles to intimidate the peasants and purposely had his castle designed to be kid-friendly.

Even worse, Roy Disney chose to not fix the part of the park that Walt Disney was always self conscious about- Fantasyland. Walt had originally wanted Fantasyland to look like a European village. Budget cuts forced him to compromise and design what was referred to as a “Medieval Fair” look that featured brightly painted, flat decor. While Roy’s tyrannically sized castle loomed large, it concealed a Fantasyland that wasn’t all it could be. (Disneyland eventually fixed this issue in 1982. Florida’s Magic Kingdom has never bothered to fix it at all.) Rolly Crump, whose whimsical artwork inspired the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland left the company after he became disenchanted with the design of the Disney World project.

In 1971, Walt Disney World, which was more of Roy’s dream than Walt’s by this point, lurched towards its opening. Severely under-built, the resort only had two hotels and a campground in addition to its theme park with an underwhelming lineup of attractions. Would Roy’s EPCOT-less resort prove to be a successful draw? Only time would tell.