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Farewell to the Land

Farewell to the Land

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"You've probably heard people talk about conservation. Well, conservation isn't just the business of a few people. It's a matter that concerns all of us. It's a science whose principles are written in the oldest code in the world, the laws of nature. The natural resources of our vast continent are not inexhaustible. But if we will use our riches wisely, if we will protect our wildlife and preserve our lakes and streams, these things will last us for generations to come."

-- WaltDisney from a television public service spot from the mid-1950s.

On October 29, 1966, just six weeks before his death, Walt Disney received from the American Forestry Association an award "for outstanding service in conservation of American resources."

For Walt Disney, it was just another in a long line of recognitions and awards from groups like the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the American Humane Association and so many other organizations acknowledging Walt's lifetime commitment to the environment and all the creatures who live there.

That commitment began in Walt's childhood on a small farm in Marceline, Missouri where his interactions with animals and nature shaped his philosophy. On that farm in a distant field by a small spring was a towering cottonwood tree which Walt called his "Dreaming Tree" and he would spend many hours in the tree's shade, looking into the high branches and dreaming dreams no one had dreamt before. He called these adventures "belly botany".

When Walt returned for a visit in 1956, he had become concerned that with the rapid growth of the cities, American children would grow up with no understanding or appreciation of the environment. So standing underneath the Dreaming Tree, he made plans to buy land there and create an area where children and their parents could come and experience first hand the joys of nature. It was to be called "Walt Disney's Farm" and when it was suggested that the location was too out of the way for a steady stream of guests, Walt smiled and replied, "Just wait until I mention it in my television program a few times and you'll have more people than you imagine."

Walt was the first Hollywood producer to speak out about the importance of preserving our environment and it is reflected in the animated films he made. In the film "Bambi", Walt wanted the audience to fall in love with the forest and its inhabitants and then be horrified when they discovered it was man's carelessness that threatened this beautiful world.

Ever the passionate storyteller, Walt spent a good amount of time during a story meeting emphasizing that one of the scenes he wanted to show at the end of the film was that the hunters and their camp had been burned down because of their own carelessness, that there were consequences to not being a good steward of the environment.

One of the animators was a little puzzled and raised his hand. "Walt, when we draw those burned hunters, do we draw them medium-rare or well done?" The scene never made it into the final film but the implication remained and before Smokey the Bear was created, there was a nationwide campaign with posters featuring an adult Bambi and his friends warning of the dangers of forest fires.

Walt made thirteen nature films in the 1950s known as the True Life Adventures series. Eight of them won Academy Awards. They were shown in public schools for decades and judging by correspondence received by the Disney Studio, many young people went into the forestry service and related fields because of the influence of these films.

To show you how naïve the audience was at the time about nature, Walt would get questions like "how did you train those animals to move in time to the music?" not realizing that Walt shot film of the animals first and then added the music later. At one dinner party, Walt joked with an amazed crowd that he created these films by taking "our most intelligent prairie dogs and gave them very small cameras and sent them down into the burrows."

In the True Life Adventure Films, Walt combined entertainment and education to make a mass audience aware and appreciate the necessity of protecting the environment. One of Disney's feature length TRUE LIFE ADVENTURE films was entitled "The Vanishing Prairie" about how the wilderness was disappearing while we were not paying attention and we were in danger of losing it for our children and our children's children.

So it is not surprising that when "The Land" pavilion opened at Epcot in October 1982, publicity material stated: "The story of the land and its potential in partnership with man comes closest to the philosophy, purpose and image of Epcot, according to the designers of the project". Imagineer Marty Sklar has been quoted as saying that "The Land" was the one pavilion at Epcot that truly represented Walt's vision.

"The Land" is the largest pavilion at Epcot. In fact, you can take all of Fantasyland from the Magic Kingdom and it would fit comfortably in the area that contains "The Land".

The original sponsorship by Kraft forced a re-design of the pavilion. The façade was originally to look like the exterior of the "Imagination" pavilion but with the sponsorship by Kraft, the approach to how information about the land was going to be shared was shifted.

As difficult as it might be to believe today, there are photos that exist that show lines of guests waiting to get into "The Land" and those lines stretched beyond the breezeway and ended near the Fountain of Nations. "The Land" was also the first of Epcot's pavilions to undergo extensive renovations beginning in November 1992.

Originally, there was a boat ride called "Listen to the Land" that drifted through the four greenhouses. "Living With the Land" with some significant updates opened in December 1993.

"Kitchen Kabaret" was an Audio-Animatronics stage show lead by Bonnie Appetite and included acts of the Cereal Sisters, The Stars of the Milky Way, Hamm & Eggz, The Kitchen Krackpots, and The Colander Combo and The Fiesta Fruit. Disneyphiles fondly remember the song "veggie,veggie, fruit, fruit". "Kitchen Kabaret" closed in 1994 when Nestle took over sponsorship of the pavilion from Kraft to make way for a new show called "Food Rocks". "Food Rocks" closed last year to become the waiting area for "Soarin' ."

Harvest Theater was home to the film "Symbiosis" until 1995 when it was replaced by "Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable". "Symbiosis" was an eighteen minute film that explored technological progress in the environment and the partnership between people and the land. Today, the "Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable" film features "Lion King's" Timon, Pumbaa, and Simba in a twenty minute film spotlighting many of the dangers facing the environment and the responsibility people have to take to preserve the land.

The food court used to be called "Farmer's Market" and was themed in more of a farm-like presentation with browns and oranges. Today it is called "Sunshine Season Food Fair" and is themed with brighter colors. The different food stands have also changed to offering more combo meals. The sit down restaurant has had name changes since opening as "The Good Turn Restaurant", then being called the "Land Grille Room", and today is called the "Garden Grill".

While "The Land" has been a location of change over the years and is now in for another major change before the opening of "Soarin'", one of the things that upsets me is with the changes happening in the pavilion today, there is little acknowledgement for the subtle theming elements that are being gutted without a second thought.

Did you notice the hot air balloons that floated up and down overhead inside the pavilion? Why would Disney have hot air balloons in a pavilion devoted to the land? The center balloon, of course, represents Mother Earth and you'll notice on each side there is an image of a sun. One is male and the other is female. Many cultures see the sun as a male figure, while others, like ancient Europe and the Eskimos, believed it to be female.

The blue balloon represents North, Central and South America with an Eskimo, Aztec and Inca sun illustrated. The green balloon represents Europe with suns depicted from Norway, Switzerland and Russia. The yellow balloon represents Africa and the Middle East with suns depicted from Egypt, Nigeria and Babylon. The orange balloon represents Asia and the Pacific Islands, with suns from China, India and New Guinea.

Even the umbrellas downstairs are internationally themed as well, each one representing a sun from a different area of the world.

While you were eating at the "Sunshine Season Food Fair" under those umbrellas, did you pay attention to the music that was playing? All of the songs are about the sun or the moon: "Allegheny Moon" "Blue Moon" "Carolina Moon "Got the Sun" "How High the Moon" Moon Medley "Moon River" "Moonlight Bay" "Moonlight Becomes You" "Moonlight Serenade" "No Moon at All" "Old Devil Moon" "Paper Moon" "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" "Sing in the Sunshine" "Sonny" "Sunny Side of the Street" "Sunrise, Sunset" "Sunshine on My Shoulders" "Wait 'Til the Sun Shines Nellie" "You Are My Sunshine" and "You are the Sunshine of My Life".

All of those charming story elements are long gone now along with other story elements that have been destroyed over the last few years like the Crystal Arts sign on Main Street, the destruction of the story in the Tinkerbell Treasures shop, the loss of the "No Toons" sign next to the "No Actors" sign at Disney MGM Studios and so many more storytelling touches that have been casually removed over the last few years because no one, including some Imagineers, understand the story any more and so the story is slowly being chipped away bit by bit, just like the environment.

Once upon a time, the major difference between a theme park and an amusement park was that a theme park told a coherent story. It is hard to maintain a coherent story if the story is not understood or remembered.

As "The Land" changes and we say "farewell" to some of the things that we enjoyed, one of the things that has never changed was Walt Disney's personal commitment to the land. As Walt said, "Physical America - the land itself - should be as dear to us all as our political heritage and our treasured way of life. Its preservation and the wise conservation of its renewable resources concerns every man, woman and
child whose possession it is."

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