Does Disney’s “Project Gemini” give us clues about the future of Epcot?

"Blue Sky" artwork of the re-imagined Epcot Future World from D23. (Disney)

At this year’s D23 Expo, Disney announced some big changes coming to Epcot in Walt Disney World. In addition to several new attractions being announced, Imagineers unveiled some “blue sky” concept art of what the future of Future World may look like.

But what if we told you that it looks eerily similar to a radical overhaul of Epcot that was proposed in the early 2000s?

Back in 2003, Disney insider Jim Hill broke a story about “Project Gemini,” which involved changing Epcot’s Future World so dramatically that it would warrant a new name – Discoveryland.

From Jim Hill…

How big a change are we actually talking about here? Well, let’s start with the name of that the Imagineers initially came up with for this part of the Park: Future World. As of October 1, 2006, that name will be a thing of the past. From that point forward, the front half of Epcot will be known as Discoveryland.

Why “Discoveryland?” To be honest, this name change is mostly coming about because the Walt Disney Company is tired of flushing millions of dollars down the drain in its attempts to keep Future World futuristic. So — since the Mouse has spent the last couple of years trying to position Epcot as “The Discovery Park at Walt Disney World” — the Imagineers thought: “What the hey. Why don’t we just make this message extremely clear to the public by renaming the front park of the Park ‘Discoveryland’? Then we won’t have to keep struggling to keep all of Future World’s exhibits continually on the leading edge of science.”

Obviously this didn’t come to pass in 2006, and Epcot’s Future World started to look more and more like the World of Yesterday.¬†Although the thought of renaming “Future World” as something that would age better is pretty ingenious. One has to wonder if Epcot’s aging attractions would’ve been cut a little more slack had the land not had “Future” in the title.

Now, here’s where the abandoned Discoveryland concept might mesh with the current plans for Future World.

Hill continues…

Of course, in order to sell the public on Future World’s brand new name, it’ll be necessary to give Epcot’s Discoveryland a bold new look. WDI plans to do this by tearing out much of the neon and the expanses of concrete that make up the heart of this part of the Park and replacing them with trees. Hundreds and hundreds of trees.

You can see those trees for yourself in the original mock-up of Epcot Discoveryland below…

Epcot Discoveryland was a proposed overhaul of Epcot’s Future World. It was planned for 2006, but never came to pass.

Those trees where the Central Spine is currently located should look somewhat familiar. The concept art of Epcot’s Future World from this year’s D23 showed trees… hundreds and hundreds of trees.

In fact, a poster named “kadybat” on the WDW Magic forums makes it even more explicit by enhancing what appears to be a “hedge maze” in the new concept art. The original Discoveryland plan called for a “Hedge Maze” in front of The Land.

The similarities cannot be denied.

Disney seldom abandons ideas completely, and it’s very possible that some what what WDI has planned harkens back to ideas from nearly 15 years ago.

Goodbye ‘Spaceship Earth,’ Hello ‘Time Racers’?

It’s interesting that some of what was proposed actually did come to pass. Disney did indeed bring Soarin’ over from Disney California Adventure, and it’s now a fixture of Future World. And while The Little Mermaid didn’t make it into The Living Seas, it was re-themed with another oceanic IP — Finding Nemo.

The plan also called for a massive overhaul of Spaceship Earth into an attraction called “Time Racers.”

According to Jim Hill, Time Racers still dealt with the history of mankind, but ditched the slow moving journey in favor of something more… thrilling.

So what’s the name of the exciting new attraction that will zooming around inside Spaceship Earth once October 2006 rolls around? “Time Racers,” Epcot’s latest and greatest thrill ride, sponsored by Microsoft. And what’s “Time Racers” supposed to be like? More importantly, what’s this attraction supposed to be about? Well, you can say “good-bye” to that herky-jerky omni-mover trip through the Ages of Man that AT&T used to sponsor. The next attraction to make its home inside “The Ball” will literally send Epcot visitors racing across time. Using time lapse photography as well as cutting edge technology, the Imagineers hope to give WDW guests the impression that they’re fast-forwarding through all of human history. Rocketing forward from the time when we were all still living in caves right up today’s modern age … and beyond.

With Siemens suddenly pulling its sponsorship dollars out of Spaceship Earth, could Disney take another look at turning Spaceship Earth into some kind of roller coaster? Let’s hope that never happens. But it’s clear that even the icon of Epcot is no sacred cow to Disney and could change along with the rest of Future World.

The Future of Future World

It’s clear that Disney is just beginning with Future World, and that everything that’s being planned has not been officially announced yet. The numerous unnamed buildings in the concept art offer some intriguing glimpses into what Future World might one day become. “Project Gemini” wasn’t that long ago, and it’s highly conceivable that today’s Imagineers would pull from the brainstorming sessions of yesterday.

What is unclear is why “Project Gemini” was abandoned. It’s possible that Disney felt an overhaul of [then floundering] Disney California Adventure was more pressing, and spent the dollars accordingly. Or maybe the timing just wasn’t right for a variety of other reasons.

Whatever the future might hold for Epcot, we’ll likely be looking an entirely new kind of park experience when it’s completed.

[Source: Jim Hill Media]

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I've loved Disney as long as I can remember. As a former newspaper editor, web developer, and Disney comics freelancer, I'm able to combine that experience into writing about Disney online. I'm also the co-host of a Disney fan podcast called 'Pirates & Princesses.' Opinions mine.


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