Among the three minor attractions that just opened at Epcot is a short film that creates a Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along. It’s only 14 minutes long and doesn’t introduce any new characters.
But this twisted tale — LaFou is the hero of this version — is one of the first projects to be completed in a makeover that signals a new direction for Disney World’s second oldest park.
The makeover itself is extensive — “the largest transformation of any park we have ever undertaken,” says Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.
And it’s timely: Long the second-place Disney World park in terms of attendance, behind Magic Kingdom, it was overtaken by Animal Kingdom in 2018 with the opening of Pandora — The World of Avatar, and it could be bumped into last place by the 2019 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios.
Many of the changes are to be completed by Oct. 1, 2021, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Disney World, but if not, there’s always the 40th anniversary of Epcot — Oct. 1, 2022 — to shoot for.
While some major attractions are being added, the biggest change will be to the tenor of the park. Fictional characters and settings from Disney movies will play a much greater role at the new Epcot. That’s a big switch in a park that historically has featured the cultures and customs of other countries in World Showcase and rides that emphasize discovery and adventure in Future World.
Put another way, Epcot has mostly been a venue for nonfiction and adventure, while Disney World’s three other parks focus on fiction and intellectual properties like Star Wars, Donald Duck and Mary Poppins. Putting Beauty and the Beast in the France Pavilion is not the first step in that change, but it demonstrates the Walt Disney Co.’s enthusiasm about bringing fiction to Epcot in a big way.
New attractions will include both. Among intellectual properties are the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster and Ratatouille dark ride, which are already under construction; and a Mary Poppins attraction that Disney has not revealed details about.
On the education/discovery side are a walk-through trail, Journey of Water, inspired by the movie Moana; a pavilion that will be the new center of Epcot’s popular festivals; and a play pavilion, which Disney describes as “an interactive city bursting with games, activities and experiences.”
When Chapek announced the Ratatouille and Guardians of the Galaxy rides 2 ½ years ago, he said they were part of changes that would make Epcot “more timeless, more relevant, more family friendly, and more Disney.” Disney executives have been using that line to describe the new Epcot ever since.
The newest application of that phrase is to Future World, which Disney announced last year will be reorganized into three lands themed as nature, discovery and celebration.
If you stood at the Future World entrance, facing in, World Nature would be on your right, featuring the natural world, including Soarin’ Around the World, the Seas with Nemo & Friends and the future Journey of Water attraction.
To the left would be World Discovery, which will bring science, technology and intergalactic adventure to life. It will include Mission: Space, the new Space 220 restaurant, Test Track, the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind roller coaster and the play pavilion.
And in the center is World Celebration, “which will offer new experiences that connect guests to one another and the world around them.” It includes Spaceship Earth, which will be significantly upgraded; a three-level pavilion that will be home base for Epcot’s festivals; and a revamped entrance and plaza.
Completion dates for some of the projects haven’t been announced, especially those tied to the reorganization of Future World. Here’s what we know about the timeline for the makeover:
Three films debuted Jan. 17, which was also opening day of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts:
- Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along in the France pavilion is a short, twisted version of the 1991 film and will lead guests through five songs from the movie’s score. It will alternate with a second film in the France theater, Impressions de France. “Given the success of the Frozen Sing-Along at Hollywood Studios, we wanted to do something unique,” Tom Fitzgerald of Walt Disney Imagineering told a group of journalists who got a sneak peek at the film last month. One of the biggest challenges, he said, was “How do you take this story that is so beloved” and pare it down to a short story? Don Hahn, producer of the 1991 film, also produced the 14-minute film, which combines new animation with old. The story still revolves around a beautiful girl and a hideous beast who fall in love and break a spell, with narration by Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury). The twist? In this version, LaFou brings together Belle and the Beast.
- Awesome Planet, which is about Earth, replaces Circle of Life in the pavilion called the Land.
- Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360 is an updated version of the previous O Canada film with new scenes, a new musical score and new narration. It appears in the Canada pavilion.
The opening of Space 220, a space-themed restaurant next to Mission: Space, has been delayed and now is scheduled for an unspecified date in February. The restaurant, supposedly set on a space station 220 miles above Earth, will have panoramic views of space. It is accessed by an elevator with a view down its center that shows Epcot getting smaller as the elevator rises. It is billed as offering modern American cuisine.
Spaceship Earth is to be refurbished and is to get new scenes, new narration and a new musical score that will involve temporarily closing the attraction. A news release says guests will follow a magical “story light” that brings the entire experience to life in dynamic ways, giving each scene energy and beauty that tie the entire journey together.
Disney has not said when it will close or for how long, but park watchers say it’s likely to start the first quarter of this year and take two years or longer.
Liberty Inn in the American Adventure pavilion is being replaced by a barbecue restaurant, the Regal Eagle Smokehouse, inspired by Sam the Eagle, the Muppet known for his patriotism and strict sense of duty. An opening date has not been announced, only that it will be this winter.
Epcot’s long-running light and music show, “Illuminations,” closed last fall and was replaced by a temporary new show, “Epcot Forever.” That show is slated to end and a permanent new show, “HarmonioUS,” will open in May at the World Showcase Lagoon. With technology 20 years newer than “Illuminations” had and closer to “Rivers of Light” in Animal Kingdom, “HarmonioUS” will feature large floating set pieces, custom-built LED panels, kites with special effects, choreographed moving fountains, lights, pyrotechnics and lasers, according to Disney.
The construction going on at the France pavilion will more than double its size, with the addition of the new ride, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, and a new restaurant, La Creperie de Paris.
Guests will ride in bewhiskered mouse-shaped cars on a trackless course. Disney pixie dust will shrink riders to the size of a rat, and they’ll see Gusteau’s Restaurant from a rat’s-eye point of view. As they skid along the floor in trackless vehicles, the same technology used for the escape in Rise of the Resistance in Galaxy’s Edge, riders will see giant food — 7-ton hams and 25-foot fish hanging from the ceiling, giant apples and oranges and enormous containers of olive oil.
“We’re trying to tell the story of Remy cooking for guests,” said Mike Davie, an Imagineer. “It is one of the most immersive environments I can think of.”
Disney hasn’t announced debut dates for the other attractions underway at Epcot, but here’s what’s in the works.
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind: This roller coaster is promised by the 50th anniversary of Magic Kingdom in 2021. It will be the first of its kind and will feature cars that can turn up to 360 degrees to bring riders face to face with the action. It’s a dark ride that runs through the former Universe of Energy pavilion as well as a new 12-story building that is well along. Disneyland in California has a completely different Guardians ride that took over that park’s version of Tower of Terror. In Orlando, Tower of Terror is untouched.
- Mary Poppins: Disney hasn’t said what this new attraction will be, only that it will be on Cherry Tree Lane, which will be added to the United Kingdom pavilion. Guests will enter the attraction — we don’t know if it will be a ride or something else — through the Banks family home at No. 17. Although the original Mary Poppins movie premiered 55 years ago, this will be the first Mary Poppins-inspired attraction at any Disney Park. There hasn’t been a hint of an opening date, but since it involves construction of a new building or buildings, it’s likely to take at least two years.
- Journey of Water: A new attraction to be built in the World Nature section is “inspired by Moana,” a 2016 animated film set in the Polynesian islands. A Disney release described the attraction as a lush exploration trail where guests can play with water and learn about its importance. It appears that ground clearing for Journey has begun by the Seas pavilion.
- Play pavilion: This celebration of play, as yet unnamed, will go in the former Wonders of Life pavilion in World Discovery. Among the activities will be opportunities to interact with characters. For example, guests will be able to help Edna Mode, the eccentric fashion designer from the superhero film The Incredibles, rid the world of uninspired design, or get in a water balloon fight with Huey, Dewey, Louie and Webby.
- Festival pavilion: With Epcot’s festivals running more than 35 weeks a year, it might be time for them to have their own pavilion. This one will be near the new exit from Spaceship Earth and will have three levels, with a park on the top tier.
- China film: The China pavilion is getting a new CircleVision 360 movie, to be named Wondrous China, replacing Reflections of China.