Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

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

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

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

Rate This
  • Comments 38

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?

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • Somebody signed a deal with a foreign broadcaster - yawn. It doesn't take an advanced degree, it takes a pen.

    Disney Co can add any pavillion it wants to EPCOT right now - today - no negotiations. They can add Beastly Kingdom without talking in any foreign languages.  Villains Volcano can bubble up on the remains of 20K. They just need to part with some cash. If they don't want to do that, then they have to provide some return on investment for the outside sponsoring company. Today all those sponsoring companies also employ folks that went to business school, and they know, or can easily find out, Disney Co doesn't really put as much effort into maintenance as it once did. It's the same old thing - quality sells. Parallel Universe Example - Tokyo Disneyland has no problem getting corporate sponsors, since the sponsors know they will be associated with quality. When dealing with the TDL folks, you just don't hear the excuse, "we can't do it cause we don't have the $$$ or we don't have a sponsor."

    Regardless of the pretty pictures, if it gets off the drawing boards (thanks to hiring new imagineers so they can quickly be fired at the end of the project) you'll get faux buildings, a gift shop, a restaurant, and (gasp) a film. AA figures are no longer an option at the new Disney Co.      No thanks.

    Save the multiple roundtrip business class tickets and fix the huge number of things in WDW that don't need multi-national cooperation.

  • Sounds interesting But I have an idea for a pavillion. How about this: "Walts Original Idea for Epcot Pavillion."

  • If they actually manage to add a quality pavillion, I don't care what country it is.

  • If they want authenticity, have a shop in the pavillion that sells pirated cd's for pennies, a few self important machismo oligarchs in Hummers and shiny suits, a group of loud men projectile vomitting vodka, and, uh, a number of "working girls" offering services in the area.  Disagree with anything in the pavillion and you get the rubber gloves/garden hose treatment from one of Mr. Putin's friends.  Yeah, and a Borat ride... that would rock.

  • I'd have to agree with curmudgeon. We here in the states usually get the short end of the stick when it comes to really great new attractions.

  • China is just as much a threat as Russia if not more and it has a pavillion. If what I've seen recently in some of the new attractions then what we'll get is more plug and play or clones. No new ideas. Cheap.  

  • Just a side note before I get to my comments, Jim ... I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to call Russians "Soviets" anymore ... that was a term used strictly to describe them during the communist reign ... there are no more "soviets" to the best of my knowledge ...

    Anyway ... if they do it right, great. I welcome it and I'll certainly attend. If they follow the Disney Decade plan and install a show that sounds similar to American Adventure and a ride through ... great.

    But they won't ... we'll get a pavilion of some sort, a restaurant that now accepts the Disney Dining Plan (tip not included), three gift shops that sell faux Russian fur hats, and MAYBE a movie. Or maybe not ... most of the pavilions in WS have no attractions at all save for gift shops and overpriced restaurants.

    Or even worse ... maybe they'll slap together some "interactive" disaster like the new ending for Spaceship Earth!

  • Anything that will help de-stagnate the World Showcase section of Epcot would be welcome.

  • Agreed, Pickstar on the whole "Soviets" thing. That was one of my first thoughts when I read this piece.

    As for some others comments, was EE done that long ago that no one remembers what WDI can do with a clean slate? While I agree that their rehabs may be hit or miss  (HM vs. SSE) they can still deliver on some great, immersive attractions if given the opportunity (and budget).

    Hopefully this isn't just another look at a "blue sky" concept that never leaves WDI's offices. I think it would really be a great addition to the WS.

  • I hope that the Epcot Pavillion gets made- it'd be exciting to have a new country to visit in Epcot.  I agree, though- please have an attraction, be it a movie, ride, or an informational walk-through.  Please just provide the guests with something that doesn't require purchasing food or a gift.

  • I really don't understand the trash talking on the new Spaceship Earth.  I've ridden it twice and enjoyed it both times.  Somebody explain the problem to me because I really don't get it.  The narration is funny.  The animation at the end could be better but it's entertaining.  The AA's are WAY better and the new scenes are cool.  What's the problem?

    Oh, and a Russian pavillion would ROCK!  Just expand Illuminations again along with it.

  • Tuckenie said:

    "I really don't understand the trash talking on the new Spaceship Earth.  I've ridden it twice and enjoyed it both times.  Somebody explain the problem to me because I really don't get it.  The narration is funny.  The animation at the end could be better but it's entertaining.  The AA's are WAY better and the new scenes are cool.  What's the problem?"

    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??

    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).

    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 ...

  • As long a there's an AA of Nikita Kruschev banging his shoe on a table and shouting, "I vant to see Disneyland," I'm cool.  

  • I don't mean to sound like a naysayer, but haven't we heard all this before? I mean, not too many months ago, supposedly Australia was being considered. More recently, there were rumours to adding a big, new attraction to Japan. And then, a couple of years ago they were supposedly in talks with Spain for a pavillion.

    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.

    On a similar related to Epcot note. I had a thought about Epcot and World Showcase, and wondered why it's so stagnant. Why can't it be refreshed more often? Why aren't more countries involved? You would think that the tourism councils from other countries would be dying to get some sort of presence in World Showcase to attract American dollars to their country. You would think that Disney could easily sell or lease space to the tourism councils to set up "mini" pavillions within World Showcase. Didn't they do something like this with Millenium Village back when they were doing the 2000 celebration. From what I saw and remember of Millenium Village, I thought it was a neat idea. I thought something like that could make a great permanent type of attraction where they would have different countries that would set up booths and advertise their counrty.

  • "Unfortunately, the Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991"


    What ARE you talking about?:)

    Mind you, mind me, mind everybody, the Soviet Union was not a very fun country. Somewhat like Nazi Germany.

    There's nothing unfortunate about something like that collapsing.

    Not even when a themepark attraction doesn't get build because of that.

    Mind you.

Page 1 of 3 (38 items) 123