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The Russians are coming !! The Russians are coming !! ... to Epcot ?!

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The Russians are coming !! The Russians are coming !! ... to Epcot ?!

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To paraphrase Al Jolson (the immigrant son of a Russian Jew) : "You ain't heard nothin' nyet ! "

How many of you recall the Disney Decade? That grandiose expansion for the theme parks that Michael Eisner announced back in January of 1990? One of the real highlights of this event was Michael revealing that the Imagineers had a Soviet pavilion in the works for World Showcase.

Mind you, at this press conference (which was held at the Disneyland Hotel) Eisner wasn't exactly long on details when it came to this proposed Epcot addition. In an interview with the New York Times, Michael admitted that the Walt Disney Company had only just begun negotiations with the Soviet Union. And as for the pavilion itself, a company spokeswoman explained that " ... ''We only have vague renderings, onion domes, spires, that kind of thing.''

But WDI continued development of this project. And over the next year, a handful of renderings of the Soviet pavilion did eventually emerge from Glendale. As did a brief description of this proposed Epcot addition:

Imagineering has recenty completed blue sky concept work on a Russia Pavilion for World Showcase. Marqueed by the spectacular onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral, it will feature the spellbinding attraction, "Russia - The Bells of Change." This innovative theatrical experience will combine Audio-Animatronic characters, animated sets, film, and a live actor to surround guests with the personalities, achievements and volatile history of this vast land. Also planned for this new pavilion is a ride-through attraction inspired by one of Russia's best loved folk tales, "Ivan and the Magic Pike."

According to the original construction schedule, site prep of the project was supposed to have begun in late 1997 / early 1998. With the pavilion itself and all of its rides, shows and attraction not opening to the public 'til October of 1999.

Yeah, if all had gone according to plan, Epcot's Soviet pavilion would have been a fitting finale for the Disney Decade. Given the thousands of people who have asked -- ever since EPCOT originally opened back in 1982 -- why World Showcase didn't have a Soviet pavilion ... For the Imagineers to finally deliver the goods here would have been one hell of an accomplishment.


Copyright 1991 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Unfortunately, the Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991. And given that the Russian economy slid into the toilet in 1998 ... Well, that meant that Disney was unable to find a Soviet corporation with deep enough pockets to cover the cost of constructing this World Showcase addition. Never mind underwriting the Soviet Pavilion's operating costs for its first 10 years. Which is why this eagerly anticipated project wound up gathering dust at 1401 Flower Street.

Well, what a difference a decade makes. Russian's economy is booming right now. And given that this country's rapidly expanding middle class has lots of disposable income ... That makes the Soviets (More importantly, their offspring) a prime target for the Walt Disney Company.

Mind you, Mickey has been slowly advancing on the Russian front for 17 years now. But over the past three years, the Mouse really stepped up its efforts. Take -- for example -- that elaborate event that Walt Disney International staged right in the heart of Moscow back in December of 2005. Where 2000 Russian children and their parents partied with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White inside of one of the ballrooms at the Kremlin Palace.

Then in March of 2006, the Mouse named Marina Jigalova-Ozkan to be the managing director of the Walt Disney Company (Russia). This Harvard Business School graduate was put in charge of seeking out new business opportunities for Disney within that country. And late last month, Marina delivered in spades. Ms. Jigalova-Ozkan was part of the team that actually persuaded Russian state broadcaster Channel One to sign a multi-year deal with Disney-ABC International Television. This then gave Russian state television the right to show numerous Disney-produced movies, animated and live action series.

And the way I hear it, one of the incentives that Disney used to close the Channel One deal (Which would now give the Mouse access to tens of millions of TV viewers that the company hopes to quickly turn into Disney fans) is that the corporation promised to revive the Russian-pavilion-for-World-Showcase project. Turn that proposed Epcot addition into a huge Soviet showcase.

And indeed -- based on what WDI insiders have been telling me since just before Christmas -- the Russia pavilion is now back up on WDI's active projects board. It's actually one of the projects that managers mention these days whenever they interview would-be WDI recruits. Saying things like " ... we're going to need to hire lots of new artists to help design Epcot's new Russia pavilion."


Copyright 1991 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which -- FYI -- suggests that the pavilion that WDI designed back in 1991 (You know? The one that was inspired by St. Basil's Cathedral?) may be chucked in favor of a brand-new pavilion that better reflects the Russia of today. That oil-rich nation that's anxious to prove that it's once again a super power.

Of course, given what Premier Vladimir Putin has been up to lately, there are going to be those who won't be all that enthusiastic about the idea of Epcot adding an Russian pavilion to its World Showcase line up. But given that the Walt Disney Company is determined to strengthen its ties with this newly affluent nation (As Andy Bird, president of Walt Disney International put it: "Russia is a priority country [for Disney right now.] We see the potential for growth for several years down the line") ... What Moscow wants, Disney will try and deliver.

And from what I've been hearing, what Moscow wants is a World Showcase pavilion similar to Norway. Which -- since it opened back of June of 1988 -- then convinced tens of thousands of WDW visitors to plan a trip to this lovely Northen European country. Reportedly Russian officials are hoping that a similar sort of pavilion at Epcot would have the same sort of positive impact on tourism.

Now as for a construction timeline for this recently revived project ... Sorry, folks. That information's under very tight wraps right now. Though I have heard whispers that Bob Iger may allude to this proposed World Showcase addition at this year's shareholder meeting when he talks about everything that the Walt Disney Company is doing right now to strengthen its ties with the Soviets.

But what do you folks think? To borrow a phrase from Ian Fleming, will you greet the Russians with love should they set up shop along the shores of World Showcase Lagoon over the next few years? Or given Premier Putin's recent activities, will you say "Nyet" to visiting this proposed Epcot addition?

Your thoughts?

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  • "Sorry Jim, I really enjoy reading these kinds of stories, but I'm really not buying it anymore. How many times can we read stories like these, and then nothing comes of it? I know there are LOTS of loose threads involved in bringing some of these projects to fruitiion and actually getting them off the ground. But, it's wild stories like these that never turn out to be anything that makes others chuckle or roll their eyes when the name "Jim Hill" is mentioned on other sites. I'm really hoping that one day, one of these stories actually turns into something tangible. Until then, I'll just remember to leave reality at the door when I come to this site."

    SO, AH.... JIM ISN'T SUPPOSED TO REPORT ON THESE THINGS UNTIL CONCRETE IS BEING POURED?   THAT'S NOT THE WAY JOUNALISM WORKS.  SORRY TO BURST YOU BIG BEAUTIFUL DISNEY BUBBLE BUT THE COMPANY IS LIKE SO MANY OTHER AMERICAN CORPORATE GIANTS; THEY START PROJECTS, WASTE MONEY ON THEM AND LOOSE INTEREST OR TOO MUCH TIME PASSES AND IT MAKES THE PROJECT UNFEASABLE.

  • Interesting reactions to this story.

    1. Just because something doesn't wind up happening does not mean it's either A) Jim's fault or B) He shouldn't have mentioned it. One of the cool things about this site is the behind the scenes info. I, for one, enjoy hearing about the things the company is thinking about doing.

    2. When Jim says, "Unfortunately, the Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991", maybe he just meant how it must have affected the people. Yes, the change was for the better... but it doesn't make the transition any easier for those going through it. When your government is in transition, the economy is in the toilet, sections of the (former) country are splitting off... I feel okay saying it was unfortunate for the people to go through.

    Or maybe he just meant that it was unfortunate for EPCOT.

    3. I am happy with the possible addition to World Showcase... IF they do it right. If it indeed is just some fake facades, a store, and a resturaunt... then count me completely against it.

  • You can't rip Jim for reporting rumors ... I mean that's one of the main reasons his site exists.

    People need to understand how WDI operates. They frequently have projects that they pursue that, for one reason or another, don't come to fruition. I'm quite sure Jim only reports rumors that he feels are credible (I find it hard to believe he isn't deluged with dozens of rumors on a daily basis).

    Yes, his track record (or more appropriately his sources' track record) hasn't been good lately, but he's just doing what a Disney webmaster does ... he reports what he hears. The rumor stuff, regardless of whether or not it ever materializes, is one of the main reasons I visit JHM.

    Now stories like the one about the HM script changes the other day ... that was overdone and a little misleading. Those kinds of stories I can do without. And I will say I'm still struggling to figure out why Jim is avoiding the Spaceship Earth story.

  • It'll be interesting to see who in Russia has the stability and deep enough pockets to sign on as sponsor, WDW usually asking for a minimum 10- to 20-year commitment. Aeroflot? Gazprom? Governments generally have done little for the pavilions other than offer their stamp of approval. To my knowledge, only one WS pavilion has been built without commercial sponsors signing on, that being Morocco.

  • "SO, AH.... JIM ISN'T SUPPOSED TO REPORT ON THESE THINGS UNTIL CONCRETE IS BEING POURED?   THAT'S NOT THE WAY JOUNALISM WORKS.  SORRY TO BURST YOU BIG BEAUTIFUL DISNEY BUBBLE BUT THE COMPANY IS LIKE SO MANY OTHER AMERICAN CORPORATE GIANTS; THEY START PROJECTS, WASTE MONEY ON THEM AND LOOSE INTEREST OR TOO MUCH TIME PASSES AND IT MAKES THE PROJECT UNFEASABLE."

    No,  but how about some real news with real facts instead of "lets re-run the Spain story from a couple of years ago and change the country and make up some "inside" source quote so we can have something new on the front page today". Or how about finishing all the promised articles that keep getting recapped in Coming Soon articles but never seem to materialize...

  • "Lifthill said:"

    Wow ... thanks for the contribution ...

  • Pickstar:  "What's the problem??? How about the fact that entire descent portion consists of staring at a circa-1970 Jetsons looking cartoon with some pointless "interactivity" excercise? How about the fact that the walls are nothing but black curtains?? How about the fact that, after the top of the ride, there is NOTHING to look at??"

    Honestly I thought the cartoons were entertaining.  However they ARE still working on them because now they take your picture and plug it into the cartoon, which makes it even funnier so don't judge till you've seen the finished product.  And of course there's nothing else to look at, they want you watching the cartoon!

    Pickstar:  "And you call the narration "funny"??? Yeah ... exactly ... that's part of the problem too. They took what used to be a majestic and inspiring Jeremy Irons narrative and replaced it with that insipid, condescending, blather that Judy Dench spouts off (no offense to Ms. Dench intended ... I'm sure she didn't write it)."

    This is more of a subjective matter of opinion.  I find the Judi Dench narration more entertaining and the old Irons' narrative boring so to each his own. :shrug:

    Pickstar: "Virtually 100% of the people I've talked to who rode it hated it. It literally looks like they ran out of money when they hit the top of the ride and just slapped some piece of crap together to keep you entertained on the descent.

    Horrid ... the worst attraction re-do WDI has done since Imagination ... or Stitch ... I can't decide which is worse ... "

    Well everyone in my family loved it so dock down your "100%" down a few percentage points.  Whatever eight people would represent in your polling.  And worst attraction re-do since Imagination?  Well I'm not exactly sure what's been done since that atrocity but comparing this to Stitch is just silly.  I mean that...  whatever you want to call it is the worst thing ever put in a theme park!    At the WORST this is about 80% as good as the Haunted Mansion job and it's not finished yet!  Maybe you should give it another shot in six months or you just really LOVE the old Spaceship Earth but I find this one way more interesting and entertaining.  I mean I used to so bored on that ride I once made a phone call when it broke down near the top. (I had four bars!)  So to each his own but I still say it's no atrocity.

  • if this is true i am glad that a new pavilion is being added.  A russion pavilion would be nice then maybe this will generate interst to start filling in the rest of the gaps on the aging world showcase.

    There are a couple of backstage expansion pads ready for attractions to be added to some countries.

  • I too think the "Soviet" comment in the article is odd. I hope that isn't some wishful thinking on your part. The Soviet's made the Nazi's look like a warm up party. 20 million dead under Stalin alone, yea, there is a pavilion I want to see.

    What's the first attraction? Wait in the bread line. Fun and games with the KGB. Or how about rest and relaxation in the Gulag?

    Give me a break.

    Now a Russian pavilion is a different story.

  • Maybe Jim's mention of the "Soviets" means that Disney is not the only place he has inside sources...Russia and Belarus are about to reunite, who knows what may come next...

    I'm wondering where this pavilion may go. In between China and Germany would be perfect, because Russia is geographically so big that is it actually in between Germany and China, but who knows. Hopefully they don't try to shoehorn it between Japan and Morocco or any other smaller pad.

  • Could be interesting.

    As for Spaceship Earth, I'm very mixed.

    I give the rehab a B+.

    The ride portion looks great, as do the AA's. And the new scenes are a VAST improvement over what was there, and I have no problem with the naration.

    Now the descent is bad. The idea of the cartoon should be a post-show thing (although it is a modicum more entertaining when the picture effect works)

    But, the descent doesn't kill the rest of the rehab for me at all.

  • I'm pretty sure Jim's use of "Soviets" was simply a result of his synonym-happy writing style, like how Ratatouille is always "this Brad Bird film" from Pixar ("the Emeryville-based studio").

    It's not a very good attempt at a synonym, and it stood out to me, but that's what I chalked it up to.

  • If Jim didn't report on possibilities to the parks, then everyone would be screaming that his page is no more than anyone could get at any other media outfit.  And I am sure that is not what people want.

    Concepts, talks, and negotiations by their very nature will not come to pass 90% of the time.  I'm very surprised that some people here don't understand that . . . Grumpyfan, do you or the company you work for take action on every single solitary thought that gets mentioned publically?  No?   . . . .   Hmm, maybe we should chuckle and roll our eyes at you then.  Sound good?  How about you, Megadisney?  Never brushed off an old idea and given it new consideration only to take no action, or had an idea for something you wanted to do and put it on the backburner?  I thought you might, so let's point at you and tell you how worthless you are, shall we?

    It's very simple, kiddies, if you don't like the idea that Disney doesn't go through with everything they think about, or that Jim is kind enough to tell folks about MAYBES and POSSIBILITIES that just end up not happening through no fault of his own, then stick to the official Disney website.  It'll still be wrong sometimes, but at least then you'll be taking your words out at the right company.  No one holds a gun to your head and makes you come here every day.  ;)

  • I can think of a number of countries that would make for beautiful and interesting pavilions. Countries that aren't run Cold War-style by quasi-dictators like Putin.

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