The corporate sponsorships that EPCOT Center opened with were a feature, not a flaw. While it's easy to think of The Walt Disney Company as the modern multimedia conglomerate, in 1982 Walt Disney Productions was a much smaller company with a failing animation studio, a live action studio that hadn't had a big hit in over a decade, and two theme parks. Including major sponsors not only allowed the park to have a bigger scale and scope than Disney could have done alone, but it also lent a level of gravitas and legitimacy to the experience beyond Disney's solo abilities.Hoooooo! Let’s spend a ridiculous amount of money on sponsorships and make sure no one is aware that we’re doing it! Yeah!
And why did you turn this a discussion about Epcot? While your point is easily disproved - I already posted Marty Sklar’s comments that Horizons was all about selling GE - I’m talking about about Disney’s entire history as a theme park corporate shill in blatant and subtle ways. The whole point is that people are complaining about IP because it’s ruining the purity of the parks or the resorts or whatever. And I’m saying that Disney has never, ever been pure, but no one complains about that. Elsa is ruining World Showcase and Moana is ruining the Polynesuan but Monsanto’s commercial in Disneyland was adorable! It’s ridiculous.
(I still can’t get over that you think that the commercialization wasn’t absolutely blatant in Future World, though. Gobsmacking. World of Motion had an actual *Eastern Airlines reservation desk* as riders got off. Must’ve been a coincidence! Can’t imagine how they’d have gotten the notion to book a flight on Eastern Airlines!)
Anyway, that’s my perspective, YMMV, and I’m not gonna derail this thread any further. Have a great one.
The Future World sponsors were the titans of the American Free Enterprise System, at a time when they were at the top of their game. This was an era was GM was "too big to fail," just before international manufacturers would provide serious competition in the middle-class market. SSE was sponsored by Bell Systems at its peak, just before Ma Bell was broken up. Exxon had the energy crisis in its rear-view mirror, and it would be years more until the Exxon Valdez oil spill would bring an immediate negative connotation to the company's name. In short, yes it was advertising, but these sponsors all brought a level of respect that simply doesn't exist for mega-corporations in 2021.
Additionally, sponsorships and cross-promotions were much more widespread during that era. For example, Mutual of Omaha is still tightly associated with its wildlife television show, years after it went off the air. This type of "soft power" (as modern audiences may call it) has evolved over the years, but was done in ways that were mutually beneficial to both parties, which is certainly the case with Future World's sponsors. Similarly, the World Showcase sponsors added (and continue to add) a level of authenticity that Disney would be unable to achieve on their own, while reaching customers who might not otherwise have access to their products.
A ride about living under the ocean and in outer space runs a very real risk as coming off as a silly fantasy, but with the endorsement of GE it suddenly has an air of credibility. GE on its own may seem like a faceless corporation, but showcasing their vision for the future helps create positive affiliations and build anticipation for products that won't be available for many years. There are tangible benefits for both parties.
On the flip side, so many recent character additions only serve as a distraction. Does having the Up characters in the DAK bird show add anything to the experience? Does having a Mary Poppins Returns-inspired color palette enhance Citricos? In nearly every application, the characters are either so heavy-handed that they serve as a distraction, or they're so subtle that they add nothing of value yet still quietly undermine the placemaking. Instead of creating a mutually beneficial relationship where the characters and the park both benefit from being associated with each other, as EPCOT's sponsors did, they are often included to the detriment of the overall experience simply due to lazy design.
And although in many ways today's Disney has the ability and resources to tackle more serious subject matter on their own, their increasing reliance on cartoon characters in every new experience only reinforces the notion that their products are just a silly fantasy for kids. Sure, Disney alone could come up with a more whimsical vision of what the future might hold, but it wouldn't have the authority behind it to say that it could actually become reality, which ultimately makes it less interesting. It's that basis in reality that originally made EPCOT so engaging and stick with people long after they left, unlike typical amusement parks where the thrills come easy and are easily forgotten.
As much as the Future World architecture or synthesizer music, the park's sponsorship model is a reflection of the era in which it was created, and would have been done very differently if it were built from scratch today. But it also doesn't mean that the sponsors were a detriment to the park; on the contrary, they were what allowed it to become a household name so quickly.