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  • Jerome Kocher

#20. Disney World - What a Ride!

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

Admittedly, Disney World is for kids or kids at heart!

For Walt Disney, imagination was the life source that courses through that heart. He once said, “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in . . . I want them to feel they are in another world.”

With my recent trip to Disney World, I am reminded that park attractions are all meant to stimulate, amaze or even thrill the guest. That’s why we go. They take us into delightful fantasy or simulated danger. You leave with either a sense of awe or survival. Sometimes both.

And the rides appeal to different parts of our human psyche. Floating inside “It’s a Small World” conjures up childhood innocence, charm and magical thinking. When riding a banshee in Pandora’s “Flight of Passage” you wonder at the colors and fantasy of an exotic world, while diving down vertical cliffs or plummeting through a forested landscape and sea of bio illuminance. When you adventure around and through the Tree of Life from Lion King you are immersed with the beauty of carved animal life emerging out of and dissolving back into the sculpted roots and massive trunk. At “Galaxy’s Edge” you are catapulted into the future where life is surrounded by decaying concrete bunkers and the mechanical sounds of grunts and groans from cables and droids. In the neighboring universe of Toy Story Land, the comfort of Andy’s voice reverberates through a tinkertoy infrastructure transporting you back to a childhood where toys were wooden and had no warning labels.

But then there’s EPCOT, a totally different park. It’s meant as a mini World’s Fair where different countries like postage stamps mark the landscape. It’s slower, older and more of a thinking person’s park. If Disney were the PGA, this would be the Senior Tour. It’s signature architecture is the massive multi-faceted silver globe at the entrance which houses one of the best rides - “Spaceship Earth.”

But no thrills here. No screams. No speed. No danger. Instead, darkness. You ride back through history to witness seminal moments of human consciousness evolving. As if in a dream sequence, the scenes are shrouded in shadows, depicting the human emergence of communication and language. It starts with ancestral caves and the first images of ritual art and storytelling painted onto stone walls. Of course with Disney, there may always be a hint of humor, a wink so to say. To those who look closely one of the cave paintings has an ever slight movement to it, an animated presence, foreshadowing a far future.

Then ancient Egypt appears, turning stone into papyrus using hieroglyphics to record daily as well as eternal life. The seafaring Phoenicians emerge with the “phonetic” code of a basic alphabet that can be adapted to most languages. The philosophers of Greece step forward out of the dark to formulate the first academies and teaching of math and philosophy. All this is burned to the ground as the ruins of the library of Alexandria in northern Africa pass before us, the reminder of a tragic loss of knowledge from the known Western world. But all is not lost, as Jewish and Arab scribes of the Middle East become guardians and safekeepers of the wisdom in those lost scripted texts.

The Romans then arise out of the shadows through ionic columns and a charioteer appears ready to travel a network of roads connecting all the Roman Empire - the first World Wide Web for commerce and communication. Medieval monks are seen recording sacred scripture with embellished calligraphy. Another nod to Disney humor shows one monk fast asleep, head down on his writing table, snoring. Next, the Gutenberg press using movable type now mass produces books in a pre-industrial foreshadowing.

Then, a jump to scientific labs of the 1940’s reveals the language of binary coding with early computers the size of rooms. Darkness settles in again outside a garage in Silicon Valley where the personal computer (with mouse, but no ears) is being developed by an ambiguous figure of either Steve Jobs or more likely his bearded geek friend, Steve Wozniak. It then ends by melting into a starry gaze of the night sky before one returns from this dreamland to a daylight consciousness. Almost fifty years old, this moving exhibit is the signature piece of the Disney EPCOT geosphere which opened in 1982. Although updated a few times, this journey into the human experience of language and communication is timeless.

Move over Pandora and Star Wars, there is an “old kid” in town that deserves our respect. No thrills. No screams. Just a thinking person’s ride through the evolution of human consciousness. Don’t get me wrong! The Avatar “Flight of Passage” is the best ride of all the parks. That alone is worth the price of admission. But for the mature mind that reads and thinks, there is more to life than speed and physical sensation. The Human Mind! The Art of Language!

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