I was very happy to receive such positive feedback on my interview with Lonnie Hicks, the wonderful Cast Member who introduces one of Epcot’s greatest attractions, The American Adventure (located in the World Showcase pavilion of the same name). Even Brad Rex, VP of Epcot from 2001-2007, commented, reiterating that Lonnie is one of Disney’s outstanding Cast Members and an “Ambassador” of American Adventure. I’ve corresponded with Lonnie a few times since, and have been pretty happy to able to converse with one of my favorite Cast Members in all of Walt Disney World (come to think of it, in all of Disney). However, his most recent email to me didn’t start off well.
We are definitely not happy Disney World Cast Members at Epcot’s “The American Adventure” pavilion.
In the near future, we will (unfortunately) no longer portray “Colonial Gentlefolk” and represent hospitable residents of the magnificent Georgian mansion which houses the unique Epcot Audio-Animatronic theater show known as “The American Adventure,” because some Disney executive has decided to take away the appropriate period costumes from the Cast Members. This arbitrary change (after 30 years) seems like a misguided and ill-informed decision.
|The interior of the “Colonial America manor house” — American Adventure|
I immediately replied and offered my support, since I too felt that this decision seemed rather arbitrary. With Lonnie’s permission (and probably blessing), I decided to post excerpts of his email here on The Disney Project. He has already sent the same letter to several other folks, including the current VP of Epcot. For the purpose of clarity, Lonnie’s words will be in italics.
Instead, we Colonial Folks will wear modern suits and dresses, closely resembling air-flight attendants (perhaps these uniforms were discarded from the failed Disney/ABC-TV series “Pan Am”?). Yes, the color combination will indeed project a red/white/blue USA color scheme, but the same color comment could also apply to France, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Where is the distinct design and style?
When the Imagineers were designing World Showcase, great care was given to the “American section.” Walt Disney World is obviously in America, so they had to figure out a way to feature our great nation, without vastly overshadowing its neighbors. On the other hand, Americans would be less than pleased if Disney’s native country was under-featured. The design would be colonial America, as that was arguably the most important time period in our Nation’s history. It was a very good choice, and as always, costumes would be paramount in maintaining the theme. Disney knows this, as theming is something they do better than anybody. Can you imagine Pirates of the Caribbean Cast Members running around in a polo shirt and khakis?
Gone will be the classic period theming and atmosphere which has always ranked as a distinguishing hallmark of the various Disney theme parks. Where’s the story, the living narrative, the character, the heritage, the culture, the attention to detail? The popular attraction’s official Operating Guide clearly states that three years of extensive research were used, “… to obtain information as complete and as accurate as possible …” from historical experts, libraries, and archival resources. Surely these modern uniforms will visually nullify the ambience which the original Disney Imagineers so carefully created and cultivated. Who will be next: the Fife and Drum Corps or the Voices of Liberty?
Ironically, in a recent edition of “Orlando Attractions Magazine” [Summer 2012, Volume 5, Issue 3] Richard Taylor (former Vice President of Walt Disney World Entertainment and Costuming) makes this statement: “One of the main components of the Disney experience is the meticulous attention to details, often in places that the public don’t really notice. Costuming is one of those places, and it’s the costumes of all Cast Members that really themes the parks.” He then continues to detail how Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was specifically constructed with utility corridors underground to solve the problem of Cast Members appearing in areas where their costumes didn’t fit, a situation which troubled Walt Disney himself at Disneyland. Won’t these contemporary costumes destroy that illusion of definite time and place?
|Lonnie in the traditional male Cast Member costume for The American Adventure|
Through the years WDW Guests have come to anticipate and appreciate the personal interaction and appearance of the appropriately dressed World Showcase countries inhabitants. One of the Guests’ (as well as we Cast Members’) favorite frequent activities is to pose for souvenir photos with the attraction’s Colonial Folks. These picture opportunities seem especially important to visiting school groups and tourists from other nations. They often comment on how much they like or admire the historical-appearing clothing from America’s proud past. What Guest will want to pose with a contemporary airline steward? What performance role will we now play if we don’t look the part? Will these new contemporary costumes create Guest disappointment and dissatisfaction?
I have to imagine that these new costumes aren’t going to be a hit with guests. Lonnie didn’t have a photo to show me, but based on his description, they indeed sound oddly out of place. And perhaps more puzzling than the ‘what’ is the ‘why’. Is it about money? Were some guests confused by the costumes, so much so that they flooded Guest Relations with queries and/or complaints? I hardly think so. Any kind of modern suit for Cast Members in the Colonial-themed American Adventure, regardless of its quality, is not going to in any way improve the motif. Odds are it’s going to detract from the experience. At absolute best, it would only seem “a little weird” to some guests. So, again, why do it?
This whole modern costume situation at Epcot’s “The American Adventure” attraction seems so sad and pointless, particularly since nobody was consulted or surveyed, not even management (If so much money readily exists in the current budget, new seat covers in the theater would have easily qualified as a much better project). But for now, we Cast Members directly affected are not happy about our future portrayals at Epcot’s “The American Adventure” attraction.
Sincerely, Lonnie Hicks …
16 year Disney Cast Member and a Partners in Excellence honoree