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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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  • @GrumpyFan: I also miss Millenium Village.  The space is still available; I would like to see some sort of rotating exhibit.  An "Innoventions-in-World-Showcase" sort of thing - with food, of course. :D

  • Ooh, I hope this does end up panning out. However, I too am wondering where this pavilion will be placed. Did it say in the article and I missed it, or did it not?

    Also, I liked the additions to Spaceship Earth, and I held the old one very near and dear to my heart. But no matter how near and dear it was to me it was in desperate need of a refurbishment. I also liked the little animation bit at the end with the "choose your own future" thingy. Also everyone in my group enjoyed the new ride and the animation bit as well.

  • Oh please, who cares what the government is doing? When I visit a pavilion, I'm thinking of that country's architecture, culture and history. Not about its government. That's not what Disney is about, nor should it be a deciding factor on whether a pavilion is built. The whole point of World Showcase is to show how unique, yet similar we are in this world; bone-headed politicians be damned.

    Now speaking strictly from my layman position on all things Disney, it seems to me that if Russia wants a pavilion that is as compelling and charming as Norway, then they need to make certain it has ride. Not a movie, not a show. But a charming ride reflective of some aspect of the better parts of its culture.

  • I care.

  • Then, I have to ask, what difference does it make? World Showcase is about celebrating the world's diverse culture. Not quibbling over the temporary politics of an ephemeral political figure whom people will forget about in five years. The country is no less beautiful, no less educational, and no less worthy because of him. Why should every one else pay the price for Putin's politics?

  • Jim, thanks for all that you do to keep us Disney fans abreast of the latest happenings at WDI.  You asked what we thought, so here's my take not only as a fan, but as a company shareholder, too.  (Hey, theme park profits made up close to 40% of revenue last year--we need to invest in our domestic parks--especially with European tourists coming to the United States due to the weak dollar!)

    Looking at Google Earth, it seems that there are four slots still available for new pavillions in World Showcase.  (Possibly more, but some support buildings would need to be demolished and relocated to clear other slots.)  I am all for Disney corporate spending money to add the first major addition to World Showcase since Norway and Malestrom (I think that I'm right about this--late 1980's was the construction??).  After all, I'm sure that Disney is well aware that Universal's IOA will be adding the new Harry Potter world by late 2009, and I'm hoping that marvelous project by Universal may work in our favor... forcing the higher up's at Disney to announce some major expansions--just as they announced some for the Disneyland Resort a few months ago.  I hope the Russia pavilion is one of those choices, and I HOPE THAT IT WILL HAVE AN ATTRACTION/RIDE, not just restaurants and shops.  I agree with my fellow Disney enthusiasts, as they  mentioned in their comments, the WDI masterminds need to add a major ATTRACTION to this new Russia pavillion, and not just some buildings, as nice as the architectural design may be.

    I have to commend Bob Iger on his first few years as CEO, because it seems that he has focused on quality, not quantity... and I think he is moving the company back to Walt's vision of what a family company should be... going back to his original vision of Disneyland.  My hope is that this Russia pavillion will be one of those QUALITY achievements, and not just a few more shops and a restaurant for the sake of QUANTITY.  But WDI can only envision and carry out what corporate management allows it to do in regards to spending.  I hope that an ATTRACTION comes with the finished product!!

    We could use another pavillion as well... what happened to Australia?  I would get very excited to see construction on two pavillions at the same time, each with E-ticket attractions (or at least a ride of some sort) instead of films!  Epcot still ranks in attendance as one of the top 5.  World Showcase is almost 20 years overdue for new construction, to keep it competitive and well-visited.  Invest well for the future of the parks, please!  Bring on one or two new pavillions!  If not now, when??

  • World Showcase is a major yawnfest. Pretty? Yes. And the scale is so small that grand places in the world become sideshows with cliche portrayals of the countries. And NOTHING to do but eat and watch movies. Of course that is very popular at WDW as I have observed.

    Maelstrom and the Rio ride are not exactly great, but they both have a movie! Thankfully you can walk past the Norway movie.

    This entire section needs more rides. If the only way they will add rides is to add new pavillions, great! Do it. Poor EPCOT needs help. It is morphing into something else in futureworld so it would be nice to add new countries and ride to World Showcase.

  • Ooh!!! I sincerely hope that Russia is added. Given it's history and culture (before communism) it would be a great addition. ^J^

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