According to Variety, Disney is planning a showcase of “rare and never-before-seen clips, photos, and art,” during its first ever “Fanniversary” show, a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience that will roll out this spring/summer. The concept behind the awkwardly titled “Fanniversary” is to celebrate shows, cartoons, movies, and theme park attractions that are experiencing their anniversary this year, the biggest being the 30th birthday of the opening of EPCOT Center in Florida.
Other events worth celebrating are the 1937 debut of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” the first-ever feature length animated movie (derided at the time of production as a costly folly but now seen as a groundbreaking, magnificently entertaining classic) and the launch of the George Lucas/Disney simulator ride Star Tours (Variety erroneously reports its opening of 1997; it actually debuted at Disneyland in 1987, a year after the first Lucas/Disney collaboration, the 3D Michael Jackson sci-fi musical “Captain EO“). Another event that the Fanniversary will celebrate is the 1967 opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, a single attraction that would go on to spawn one of the largest cinematic franchises of the last couple of decades (as well as inspire countless terrible Johnny Depp-as-Jack Sparrow impressions).
It’s the promise of “never-before-seen” material that has us salivating the most, especially when it’s tied into EPCOT Center, a project that started out as a very real blueprint for a radical “experimental prototype community of tomorrow.” As Neal Gabler writes in his definitive biography of Walt Disney, “The appeal of Disney World to Walt – it’s only real appeal to him – was that he would finally have a chance to build a utopian city adjacent to the theme park as a place where employees of the park might live.” Walt himself said it would be a “living, breathing community.” By the time EPCOT Center opened in 1982, Walt had guessed that 20,000 residents would already be living there.
Walt died before his dream of EPCOT could be realized, and the eventual EPCOT Center (now, simply, a Disney-owned proper noun called Epcot) initially embodied many of the core utopian principles of the larger, Disney-led project – an interest in bettering the community through technological advancement, a sense of historic place, and a boldly futuristic design aesthetic that, over time, hasn’t aged so well. People still covet the 1982 version of EPCOT Center, mostly because it comes closest to resembling Walt’s initial concepts about the centerpiece of his “Florida project.”
The transition from EPCOT the bubble-enclosed future-city to EPCOT Center the amusement park where Ellen DeGeneres teaches you about the wonders of energy, is a fascinating one that has never been truly illuminated, and hopefully some of the material in the Fanniversary will do it justice. It’s a uniquely American story and evidence of the tremendous scope and ambition of the company even after the confusion and chaos following Walt’s untimely demise (think about this: in Florida alone EPCOT Center opened ten years after the Magic Kingdom and in the same decade the Disney-MGM Studios would open a little bit down the road; a new park hasn’t opened in Florida since Animal Kingdom in 1998).
Whatever the Fanniversary ends up being, you know that we’ll be there and will report back accordingly. Its first scheduled stop is April 27th at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, followed by stops in San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Walt Disney World. The tour will conclude on June 24th at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Tickets for the event go on sale on Friday.