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Critics sure to find Epcot's decision on sign wand-erful

Orlando Sentinel

Original Article »

July 06, 2007

The mighty hand of Mickey that has towered over Epcot's signature attraction for nearly eight years is coming down.

Epcot Vice President Jim MacPhee said Thursday that the time has come to remove the Mickey Mouse arm, glove and wand that have served as a colorful, lighted Epcot sign -- and as a lightning rod for criticism from many longtime Epcot fans.

Installed in 1999, the 257-foot-tall appendage can be seen for miles around the Walt Disney World property, appearing to lean on Epcot's iconic structure, the Spaceship Earth pavilion, a 180-foot-tall geodesic sphere.

The dismantling of the 50-ton wand-waving tower begins Monday and should be completed shortly before Epcot's 25th anniversary Oct. 1. Also coming down are the colored stars splashed across Spaceship Earth's roof.

Disney officials maintain that Epcot visitors love the flashy sign and that Mickey Mouse's arm has helped foster a family-friendly image. MacPhee said the wand was a popular symbol that served the park well.

Spaceship Earth will close Monday for five months to complete an updating and overhaul of the ride, which is now sponsored by Siemens AG.

Considering that project, and Epcot's 25th anniversary this fall, MacPhee said, "We think the timing of the removal is right."

Many of Disney's more-critical observers have called for the arm's removal for several years. Independent Disney-forum Web logs such as TheDisneyBlog, MiceAge, Re-imagineering and EpcotCentral have criticized it as tacky. John Frost, editor of TheDisneyBlog, called it "clutter."

Epcot about 'futurism'

"Epcot in its original form from 1982 was about futurism, hope and optimism, and the wand and hand speak instead to the company's cartoon history," said Orlando author Kevin Yee, who writes about Disney in books and Internet postings, including on his own UltimateOrlando blog. "I think Disney knows that removing the wand will please its hard-core fans."

The giant structure, which went up for Walt Disney World's 2000 millennium celebration, initially featured the numerals "2000." When the millennium promotion ended, the word "Epcot" replaced the number "2000," and the arm and wand became symbols of the next campaign, "100 Years of Magic," commemorating Walt Disney's 100th birthday.

Publicly, Disney officials never said much about the wand's long-term prospects. Even as the tower was being constructed, George Kalogridis, then Epcot's vice president, when asked whether it were permanent, said, "We're not sure." As recently as April, a Disney spokeswoman declined to discuss the sign's future.

Another enduring Epcot project that dates from Disney's millennium celebration, "Leave a Legacy," already has closed, though its imprint will stay.

The "Legacy" exhibit features dozens of granite slabs installed between Epcot's entrance turnstiles and Spaceship Earth. Since 1999, thousands of visitors have paid to have their pictures laser-etched onto steel plates mounted on the slabs. But the "Leave a Legacy" sales office closed in June, MacPhee said.

Towering over Disney

When the wand tower went up, it became the tallest structure in any of Walt Disney World's four theme parks. Once it comes down, the tallest theme-park structure, according to Orlando Sentinel research, will be the top of the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney-MGM Studios, at 199 feet. The new Expedition Everest mountain in Animal Kingdom also might qualify; Disney has released its height only as "just under 200 feet." The tallest point in the Magic Kingdom is Cinderella Castle, at 180 feet.

The wand tower is not the only controversial Walt Disney World symbol that is relatively new. The Mickey Mouse Sorcerer's Hat at Disney-MGM Studios, installed in 2001 and considered popular by many guests, has also been denigrated by many of the same critics of Epcot's wand tower.

When asked about the wand's removal, for example, Mike Scopa, a writer for the MousePlanet blog, said he welcomed the news, then added, "Now if they can only get rid of that sorcerer's hat."

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