Monday, March 27, 2023

Contextualizing EPCOT’s Guardians of the Galaxy

by Joe Kleiman

Known as the Wonders of Xandar and advertised as the first “other-world” showcase pavilion at EPCOT, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind’s main attraction is a rotating roller coaster ride through both space and time. The entrance to the pavilion, which formerly housed the Universe of Energy pavilion, is highlighted by a full-size Starblaster patrol ship from the fictional Marvel Comics planet Xandar. Once inside, the attraction’s queue entails a storyline that the people of Xandar are sharing their culture and commonalities with Terrans in much the same way that real Earth nations do in the park’s World Showcase neighborhood, albeit some of the Xandarians’ understanding of human culture has been distorted by the characters of the Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise.

There is a defining point at which the attraction splits from its EPCOT-style preshow to the ride experience, a demarcation line marked by moving from a preshow room where guests are told they will be transported to a space cruiser orbiting Earth for the final part of their Xandarian experience and the next room, where they are actually “beamed” aboard, whereupon mayhem ensues.

Guests in the queue for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind enjoy exhibits based on Xandarian culture. Photo ©Disney

It is the first portion of the pavilion which most directly links to EPCOT’s past, paying tribute to Van Romans and his teams of curators and registrars who brought a sense of realism to the original romanticism of EPCOT.

As Executive Director of Cultural Affairs for Walt Disney Imagineering, Van Romans worked with international governments and museums to collect cultural display items for EPCOT’s World Showcase galleries as the park was being developed. He also oversaw The Disney Gallery attractions at Anaheim’s Disneyland Park and Tokyo Disneyland, both of which showcased concept art for Disney’s theme parks. At EPCOT, he was responsible for incorporating authentic items into the simulated environments being constructed, initially in the World Showcase pavilions.

The model of showcasing exhibit quality pieces in attraction buildings worked and began to spread into EPCOT’s adjacent land: Future World. When The Living Seas pavilion opened, artifacts were taken out of a traditional gallery setting and integrated into the queue for the attraction. While waiting for their hydrolator ride to SeaBase Alpha, guests were able to examine items like an 18th-century diving dress or 11- foot model of the Nautilus submarine. This concept of integrating actual items into queue design continued with Mission: SPACE and both the original and current versions of Test Track.

Romans also worked on the development of the Disney/MGM Studios theme park (now known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios) at Walt Disney World. The animation walkthrough featured Oscars from the Walt Disney Archives, while The Great Movie Ride included actual props within the queue, including a rare pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, along with historical movie props within the attraction scenes themselves.

EPCOT guests learn about Xandarian culture in the Xandar Gallery. Photo ©Disney

The Xandar Gallery, part of Cosmic Rewind’s queue, continues this tradition of attraction and exhibition design initiated by Romans and his teams. The queue, through its use of models, costumes, and “holographic” displays, addresses important issues of sustainable communities and international (or intergalactic) peace. At one point, a scene from Walt Disney’s 1966 film explaining his Florida project to state lawmakers pops up on a screen, showing the similarities between Xandarian city design and Walt’s original concept for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a planned city better known by its acronym of EPCOT.

The queue for Cosmic Rewind serves an important purpose. It is placemaking for the attraction, acting as a bridge between the EPCOT of the past and the EPCOT of the future. While the artifacts may not be authentic in the same way as those described above, the exhibit introduces audiences to the attraction story, engages them in pertinent topics, and ultimately pays tribute to the legacy of EPCOT, Van Romans and the countless artists, designers and curators who helped to imagine it. •

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

Related Articles

Latest Articles