Aaron Wallace on his new book, The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: EPCOT

"...That’s the goal of Epcot, after all, right? Edutainment..."

Walt Disney’s magical legacy has created millions of fans that span the globe and generations. However, few fans are anything like Aaron Wallace. With a law degree from Wake Forest University, Wallace has an analytical mind that he uses to highlight details about Disney properties that only increase one’s ability to enjoy the Disney magic. I last interviewed Wallace about his book, Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Disney’s Halloween Classic. I was able to recently interview Wallace again to discuss his latest book, The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: EPCOT.

To learn more about Wallace, check out his homepage and follow him on Twitter @aaronwallace.

Nicholas Yanes: Since I last interviewed you about your book on Hocus Pocus, what have you been up to?

Aaron Wallace: I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since last Halloween! Since then, I’ve written and released this new book on Epcot and EPCOT Center. I’ve been promoting that and the Hocus Pocus book. I took a trip to all the Disney parks in Asia (Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai), and of course to Disneyland in California. Walt Disney World is a weekly routine.

The life of a Disney fan… it’s grueling. (Haha!) Thank you for asking!

Yanes: You were at this year’s D23 Expo. For those of us who have never been, what is D23 like compared to a comic con?

Wallace: I haven’t been to SDCC or any of the other major conventions, so I don’t have a great frame of reference. This was my second time attending the D23 Expo and doing book signings on the floor there, and both have been among the best weekends I’ve ever spent. Nonstop fun, meeting more hardcore Disney fans than I would maybe meet in any other context… it’s a blast.

My experience of the D23 Expo is always a two-for-one because I’m doing the author thing but also the guest thing, so it’s a lot of running back and forth between booths and events, but it’s honestly the best kind of craziness. I already can’t wait for the next one.

If there’s anyone on the fence about attending the D23 Expo, I’ll just say that my reaction after the first one was, “I don’t ever want to miss being a part of this.” It’s a special thing.

Yanes: On this note, the first D23 Expo was held in September. It is now held a week before the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). What are your thoughts on the relationship between D23 and SDCC?

Wallace: A lot of people go to both. In fact, there was talk of a chartered bus going between the two this year. I’m not sure if that actually happened. But fan culture keeps growing, and I think it’s a really good thing for the soul. It fosters connectivity, community, and new friendships. It also gets us to deeper appreciation not only for the things we love but also (and here’s the important part), why we love them.

That’s really the driving mission of my books, The Thinking Fan’s Guides, too, so I think these kinds of fan conventions are really a perfect fit.

Yanes: On this note, do you foresee a future in which the D23 Expo becomes so big that Disney pulls all their properties from SDCC?

Wallace: Mind you, I’m no authority on planning conventions, but I wouldn’t think so. D23 Expo sold out its banner day in record time this year, and unless they find a new facility, they could hardly bring in a significant increase in attendance.

Why compete with something like SDCC? Both are good for the fans and for the brand. I think we’ve seen the D23 Expo emerge as the place for big breaking news on everything from Disney and “Once Upon a Time” to Marvel and Star Wars, and that’s as it should be. They’re all under the same umbrella. But the pie’s big enough for serving slices at multiple events.

Yanes: Your latest book is The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: EPCOT. What is your earliest memory of EPCOT? Moreover, when did you become a fan of this park?

Wallace: My memories of Epcot date back to maybe 1989, 1990, when it was still very much EPCOT Center, and like a lot of kids who went there then, the place really made an impact. It’s funny; I only remember some of the rides from those early days with any real clarity… but I remember the experience of EPCOT Center so, so vividly. I remember the clean lines, the open spaces, the sense that this was something different and grand and important and inspiring.

I also remember being a little bored with some of it too, because I was a kid, and that doesn’t mean EPCOT Center was missing its mark (far from it… the place was damn near a masterpiece), but I think it’s something we should be honest about, and that’s one of the key tensions I work through in this book.

In fact, that’s a big part of this Epcot book: identifying all these tensions boiling under the surface of Epcot and then showing readers how they can work through these big questions about the park for themselves – but in a way that’s fun to read and think about, not in a way that’s bulky or imposing.

That’s the goal of Epcot, after all, right? Edutainment. I hope the book is edutaining. I think it is. I get the sense readers have felt that way, and that makes me feel really satisfied and proud.

Yanes: While writing this book, what were some cool facts that you learned about EPCOT?

Wallace: So much! The cool thing about Epcot is that, even though it’s 11 years younger than Magic Kingdom (which was the subject of my first book), it somehow has even more history. A few facts sitting on the top of my head right now:

  • One of the three chefs who co-founded Les Chefs de France in Epcot’s France pavilion was later the inspiration for the Gusteau character in Ratatouille.
  • Buddy Baker, who worked on so much Disney music in his career, including some classic Epcot music, actually taught Jerry Goldsmith early in the latter’s career. Goldsmith went on to become a famous film composer, and he eventually did the theme for Soarin’, so it all came full circle. There’s another interesting layer in that story too, because Goldsmith influenced and collaborated with Bruce Broughton, who’s also done a lot of important Epcot music. And when Epcot introduced the new version of Soarin’, Goldsmith had sadly passed away, so they brought in Broughton to rearrange Goldsmith’s iconic score.
  • No one really knows who originally narrated Spaceship Earth. There was this weird confusion over it. But with the help of the great people at the Disney Archives and Imagineering, I think we’ve finally settled it in this book.

This isn’t just a trivia book, but there are so many of these great facts. We’re all students of Epcot. There’s a lot of this stuff in the book. It’s in the main body of the book, but I also really encourage people to take a look at the Notes section in the back, which is so much more than just citations. It’s actually packed with all these nuggets of factual treasure I uncovered during the extensive process of researching.

Yanes: Several attractions at EPCOT have come and gone. What defunct attraction at EPCOT do you miss the most?

Wallace: Probably Horizons or the original Journey into Imagination.

You know, it’s funny. Whole generations of people have discovered and fallen in love with Epcot despite never having experienced these two attractions that are widely considered to be among its best. The book does a lot of things; one of those is elucidating for fans who never got to ride these: what made these rides so special and important? And that’s a question I really engaged with even for myself during the writing process. I knew I loved and respected these rides. But why? What made them special? I think those answers come through in the book.

Trying to understand and explain and illustrate the imagination? I mean, wow. Scientists today can’t even do that. And here was a theme park ride doing it in 1983, and in a lot of ways, knocking it out of the park. How can you not be impressed by that? That was EPCOT Center, man. Bold.

Yanes: EPCOT is known for representing the cultures of several nations. Which nation would you like to see added to the park?

Wallace: Readers ask me this often, and it’s such a hard question to answer. I welcome any opportunity to learn about any corner of the world. Aside from maybe some political sensitivities, I don’t think there’s a country I wouldn’t want to see added.

From a purely personal perspective, a lot of my family heritage traces back to Portugal, so I’d love to see that. And it might help to dissuade U.S. Americans from sometimes conflating Portugal with, say, Spain or Brazil (and vice versa). But then there are probably other regions in the world that aren’t as well represented in Epcot as Europe currently is, and Portugal is part of that – of Europe and the EU and the West.

One of Imagineers’ great challenges is: how do you pick one or two countries out of hundreds and say, “You get a spotlight.” But you can’t build every country there, nor can you cover every culture. That’s another of these fundamental tensions in Epcot, and it’s been there from the beginning.

Yanes: When people finish reading The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: EPCOT, what do you hope people take away from it?

Wallace: With all my books, I want people to have a fun time reading it, and then close the back and find they love the thing even more now — whether that thing is Magic Kingdom, Hocus Pocus, Epcot, or whatever it might be.

They’re honest books, but they’re also positive books. They’re fandom-affirming. They’re packed with a lot of info, but more importantly, they’re about offering new perspectives. New ways to look at and think about a thing you appreciate… new tools for appreciating it more.

You can’t spend 200, 300 pages reading about a specific niche topic and not come away with a new perspective. What an honor to be able to create and provide that. I hope the reading experience includes some laughing, some sentiment, some introspection… all that good stuff.

Yanes: Finally, what are some other projects you are working on that people can look forward to?

Wallace: There are a few things in the works. Some of them are things that, if you have followed my book series and my Disney podcast, which is now the longest-running Disney podcast on the web, you could probably look ahead and take a good guess. Some of them you wouldn’t guess, but they’re exciting. The great thing about this book series and the response it’s gotten from readers is that there are so many places I can take it. I’m excited. But nothing I can announce just yet. There’s an email newsletter on my website, AaronWallaceOnline.com, where anyone can sign up and get updates as they come. So stay tuned!

Remember, in order to learn more about Wallace feel free to check out his homepage and follow him on Twitter @aaronwallace.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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