10 Countries Epcot should put in World Showcase

It’s a small world, after all!

As I’ve pointed out in all my posts, I’m an American.  I have not traveled beyond Mexico, Canada, and the Bahamas.  Regardless, I have met more than a few friends from around the world during my tenure at Walt Disney World.  Despite my lack of traveling experience, I am happy to go anywhere in the world, sample the local cultures, the indigenous dishes, the music, and the folklore.  Though, again, being the dumb, white, passport-less American that I am, the best I have been able to do is Epcot’s World Showcase.

For those not quite in the know, World Showcase is precisely half of the Epcot theme park.  Fixed around a large 40-acre lagoon, eleven countries are represented as small pavilions: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada.  Each one has a restaurant, a few gift shops, a few have travelogue films, and only two have actual rides (A third one coming to France soon!).  The pavilions are operated by a regiment of young adults from their respective countries to provide some authentic flavor, as well as selling merchandise indicative of each culture.  It’s also a great way to incorporate their various Disney IP’s that don’t quite fit anywhere (like Aladdin and Jasmine’s home turf of Agrabah is most likely somewhere in Iraq or Saudi Arabia, but sure, let’s put them in Morocco.  That works, too!)

Now of course, that’s not to say World Showcase doesn’t have its share of…issues.  As I outlined, it’s often characterized as full of reductive stereotyping and whitewashing.  It’s often renowned by tourists to partake in “drinking around the world” more than cultural exposure.  You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking Disney is just exploiting the international cast members for cheap labor.  I respect its original intent, as a means to introduce what little authenticity they can scrounge up to share with the Americans who think Taco Bell and Panda Express are the same thing as visiting Mexico City or Beijing.  There really is no way to make cultural exposure easy to understand, especially for those who don’t care to learn.

Now, I want to make one thing abundantly clear:  I have nothing for or against any of these countries, much less the ones I left out.  I have no particularly strong love either, much less my home country of the United States.  I scaled this list as countries that deserve to have their cultures showcased and would make the most sense for Disney.  As a dumb American, I have no real bias, not even by my heritage.  Really, I gauged these entries by potential to show off architecture, music, food, costuming, and IP insertion.  If I skipped over one you think I should have included, know it wasn’t in bad faith or with racial contempt, just my tip-of-the-iceberg perception of these nations.  I’ll try to validate my reasons as best as I can, but again…take my perspective with a grain of salt.

10. The Caribbean

But will there be pirates?

Aruba, Jamaica, ooh, I wanna take ya, Bermuda, Bahama, c’mon pretty mama, Key Largo, Montego…you know, that whole region.  Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Martinique, St. Kitts, Dominican Republic, Caymans, the Virgin Islands…yes, all of them!  Ideally, I think each individual island nation should have their own World Showcase pavilion.  I don’t condone mashing multiple cultures into one grab bag, but between having to choose a single island nation over all the others and trying to find a way to do as much justice to as many countries as possible, I’m going to try to be as inclusive as I can.

I shouldn’t have to tell you the cultures and traditions of the various nations in the Caribbean are colorful and vibrant.  Everything from the culinary aspect to the shopping experiences would be perfect for Epcot patrons.  Just imagining a Caribbean marketplace would be an extraordinary thing to see.

There is almost no IP tie-in potential.  At best, Disney can draw ties to Jamaica with both Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid and 1993’s Cool Runnings, neither of which are substantial enough to really do much with them.  Though building a bobsled ride would be ideal and promising, it just wouldn’t make any thematic sense, unless…unless they base it off their first trial run?

Eh…tempting, but maybe not the best fit.  Still, a Caribbean pavilion?  I’m down with that.

9. Scotland

Bless me bagpipes!

I wanted to put Ireland on this list, seeing as it’s certainly its own sovereign land with a truly unique and renowned culture, but the more I pondered this, the more I realized if Disney ought to add a realm from the British Isles as its own World Showcase pavilion, it’d have to be Scotland (Sorry, Wales).  The reason it’s number nine on the list is unlike Ireland, Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom.  But hey, Scotland has its own flag, culture, language…that’s got to count for something, right?

Kind of a sore point for some of them…

Although, really, it’s pretty obvious why Scotland is really on this list:  2012’s Brave.  It’d probably go without saying that a Scotland pavilion would feature a Merida meet-and-greet and maybe a recreation of castle Dunbroch.  Maybe inside, you could meet another notable Scottish resident, all the way from his home in Dismal Downs, Scrooge McDuck.  Still another representation is the nineties series Gargoyles, where Goliath and his clan are from castle Wyvern.  Just add at least a few statues of the Manhattan Clan atop the castle would elate many a fan.

Scotland is more than just where Disney has delved into for fictional creations, of course.  Just recreating or displaying some of their most treasured landmarks like Stonehenge or Loch Ness would spark many a fascinating travelogue or presentation.  But if I were to further tie Disney into this, Disney has put Nessie in some of their projects.  At least twice:

The top one is from the 2011 cartoon, The Ballad of Nessie, narrated by Billy Connolly.  The bottom one is from a 1974 featurette called Man, Myth, and Monsters, where he was voiced by My Hero Sterling Holloway.  If they were to have a film or show that included the famous loch, I would bet the wee lassie from the more recent portrayal would be the more endearing depiction.

8. Tanzania

African?  More like AfriCAN DO!

First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Yes, Disney already has the African Trading Post tucked between China and Germany, but that’s hardly the same thing.  We Americans can barely name more than five African countries, let alone discern the cultural differences between them.  Heck, I freely admit I’m just as equally guilty of that.  And yes, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the nearby Lodge may indulge themselves in African art, architecture, and cuisine, but it’s not entirely specific as to which country they’re representing.  DAK’s Africa section alone, authentic as it may be, is a fictional African town called Harambe.

Why Tanzania?  Well, Tanzania is home to the tallest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro.  That and it’s also home to the Serengeti National Park, one of the world’s best safari reserves, and between its waterfalls, lakes, coast, and jungles, is one of the most diverse landscapes on the continent.  It goes without saying that the IP inclusion would be The Lion King and Tarzan (Though the latter is most likely in east Africa, but hey, if Aladdin can hang out in Morocco…focus, man.  Focus)  However, let’s try to avoid the reductive representation to just animals:  Tanzania is also known for its unique paintings called Tingtinga and its music, bongo flava.  Both are distinctly Tanzanian and would both celebrate the quintessential qualities of Africa Americans are familiar with but also allow representation specific to the region.

7. Russia

Ra-Ra-Rasputin, Russia’s greatest love machine!

When Epcot opened in 1982, there were only 9 pavilions.  Since then, Disney added Morocco in 1984 and Norway in 1988.  There were plans, of course, to add more countries, like Costa Rica, Spain, and Israel, but these, obviously, never came to be.  Just like in Future World, Disney relied on sponsorship to pay for the opening and operation of the pavilions, which meant when some countries’ governments weren’t willing to pay, nor could they find a company from said country to do so, the plans ultimately fell through.  Russia…er, the Soviet Union was one such plan.

The really sticky part of this exercise is to avoid the nasty politics and the relations with America.  While it probably was for the best to avoid a Soviet pavilion in the eighties, and we don’t have a great relationship with them right now, it’s still a nation with it’s own unique history and culture and it’d be shame to pretend it didn’t exist.  Besides, who wouldn’t want a replica of St. Basil’s cathedral along the World Showcase lagoon skyline?

In terms of IP inclusion, Disney has very few options to represent Mother Russia.  In the 1946 package feature Make Mine Music, one of the many sequences was a Disney retelling of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, narrated by My Hero Sterling Holloway.  It’s hardly well-known in the Disney canon, and the artistic design is animator Freddy Moore’s signature cute, rounded, bouncy style, but it is distinctly Russian.  The only other one that is of note is 20th Century Fox’s Anastasia.  Would Disney include meet and greets with Ana, Dimitri, Bartok, and Rasputin?  Probably not, but it’s either that or the aforementioned Peter and the Wolf cartoon, which almost no one recognizes.

Still, at least having a Russian ballet show would be a spectacle.

6. Denmark

It’s a great Dane to be alive!

This lovely little peninsula of northern Europe might seem like it may be a touch redundant considering the park already has a Norway pavilion.  In fact, for a while, there were some Denmark-themed restrooms before the Norwegian pavilion opened. But actually, there are a few unique touches that make it distinct.

First, though others try to claim credit, Denmark is the home of the amusement park that really inspires Walt Disney to forge ahead with his Disneyland plan: Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.  It’s said the cleanliness and high standards were exactly what Uncle Walt was looking for when he sought inspiration for his new theme park.  This alone would be an enticing section or even backdrop.

Second, Denmark’s best-known commercial export is one childhood’s favorite toys that isn’t a video game: LEGO.  Like I said before, when Disney failed to get funding from their respective countries’ governments, they were able to secure sponsors though companies based out of them.  Even if LEGO weren’t willing to fund a Danish pavilion, there’s no denying the enticing appeal of this toy, which already has its own store at Disney Springs.

Third, one of Denmark’s biggest claims to fame is it was the home to author Hans Christian Andersen.  Andersen’s many writing credits have appeared as Disney projects, such as The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, and The Little Mermaid.  Might they recreate the famous statue in Copenhagen?  Maybe.  Might they use it to have Ariel and Eric do meet-and-greets?  Perhaps.  It might be a thin connection, but these three times might be just enough to produce a truly interesting pavilion!

And dang if World Showcase doesn’t have enough stegt flaesk!  (Yes, but cheese danishes are actually from Vienna, so try some fried pork served with potatoes and parsley sauce, darn it!  I’m trying for authenticity here!)

5. Greece

I’m holding out for a gyro.

This famous European nation has incredible history, renowned architecture, beloved culinary cuisines, and gorgeous scenery.  Just trying to replicate the architecture, even if Disney weren’t using the template for the ancient Greek structures, like the parthenon, would be striking and beautiful, to say the least.  Just the rich history and food alone warrant it’s very existence at Epcot.

Of course, Disney’s biggest incentive to add Greece is one very distinct IP: 1997’s Hercules. One the plus side, Hercules is certainly popular enough to warrant meet-and-greets there, and possibly some type of show or film, maybe even a ride featuring Wonderboy. Now, there are a few issues: one, the Greeks called him “Heracles”, as Hercules is the Roman pronunciation, so already there’s that cultural incongruity. Second, as much as Hercules is an iconic Greek export, the animated film is not exactly culturally reverent. Much like The Emperor’s New Groove, the setting of the film is less of an insightful look into a foreign culture and more of a backdrop to hang punchlines off of. Sure, Mulan and Brave may have some anachronisms and implicit modern western perspective, but in Groove and Hercules, you never feel like the artists wanted you to appreciate landscapes or traditions they incorporated. Even directors Ron Clements and John Musker admitted the movie took inspiration from Greek art and artifacts to parody them with Herc’s athletic endorsements and consumerist viewpoint.

If the point of inserting a World Showcase is to educate guests about Greek culture, it may not be apropos to feature a movie starring a character whose name was an appropriation, based a myth originally HIGHLY inappropriate for all ages, which treats their culture like a comedy routine. That’d mean Heracles and Megara would probably have a limited presence, so as to maintain a standard of reverence and education. But still, every other aspect about Greece would make it a fantastic addition to World Showcase.

4. Australia and Oceania

Be more Pacific about which one.

I think this one’s tricky…I do think Australia should have its own pavilion – Heck, it deserves its own land at Animal Kingdom – Australia is just one part of a general region that encompasses most of the Pacific islands. And yes, like the Caribbean entry, these cultures vary from nation to nation that would be incredibly difficult to squeeze into one pavilion. However, Australia does tend to take all the credit and dwarf neighboring New Zealand, and if New Zealand’s to be lumped in with the Aussies, then why not include Fiji, Palau, Tonga, Papau New Guinea, Easter Island and…yeah, it’s a lot, but it’d more accurate than the nearby Polynesian Resort.

There’s a handful of IP’s that would fit here, particularly The Rescuers Down Under for Australia. But more importantly, Australa has landmarks such as Ayer’s Rock and the famous Sydney Opera House. But if there were a through-line connecting Australia to the rest of the region, why not cite Finding Nemo and depict the Eastern Australia Current weaving in and around each section on the ground, representing the Pacific separating the isles?

In addition to the cultural representation of the Polynesian islands, this would also be a great place to have areas for Moana and maybe even Lilo and Stitch. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about how easy it would be to replicate everything from the Tonga Toast to the Dole Whips from the Polynesian Resort.

3. India

In an attempt to curry favor.

For starters, Disney gets so many travelers from the second-most populated country in the world they actually have maps in Hindi for them. I mean…c’mon.

Second, India is absolutely a distinct culture that is unmistakable from any other. In fact, what sparks my imagination most is a Bollywood stage show, as a huge, colorful, eccentric musical extravaganza is perfectly in line with Disney theme park standards. Again, sure, Disney already has Anandapur in Animal Kingdom, but aside from it being more based on Nepal, again, I want to try for non-fictional authenticity.

Speaking of authenticity, much like Greece, there’s really only one notable IP tying it to Disney, and it does their culture even less favors: The Jungle Book. Now, I love the 1967 animated cartoon. But let’s not kid ourselves, Hercules at least uses Greek culture as part of its story. At best, you can look to Louie’s ancient ruins or what little of the man village we see at the end. Even the film’s main character, clearly an Indian boy, frequently changes his skin tone to look more caucasian than south-central Asian. What’s worse, The Jungle Book novel was written by a white colonist from England, so it’s not the most politically correct thing out there. Especially when you consider Bagheera, Hathi, Shere Khan, and the vultures all have British accents. Really kind of twists the knife, don’t you think?

Still, if they were to have a place to eat murg makarhi themed to Louie’s ruins, or even like the famous Taj Mahal, I think that’d be cool.  India is not short of inspirations to go on this.  I just can’t list that many because I’m, as I’ve pointed out, not a very cultured white American man.  Just being honest, folks.

2. Switzerland

I’m not neutral about this.

Funny thing…Switzerland was, in fact, considered years ago.  In fact, plans were made to not just make a Swiss pavilion, but bring over a ride Walt Disney World guests have been waiting for for years: Matterhorn.

Yes, but is there a basketball hoop in there?  Didn’t think so.

Yes, back in the planning stages, one such World Showcase plan was to revive Walt’s original concept of having a Swiss village at the base of the famous summit.  However, despite the obvious parallels, it wasn’t the same ride as the one in California.  Granted, it was conceived to have two simultaneous tracks, but that’s really where the similarities end.

The idea of this Matterhorn was to have guests enter a command center for the bobsled tracks, and much like Pirates of the Caribbean or Jungle Cruise, featured numerous sight gags as your bobsled zinged in and around the peaks.  The second half of the ride was a labyrinth of ice crystal caves and even called for a near-miss with the other ride track before pulling into the station, complete with elated cheers that you completed the track in record time.

World Showcase has only ever had two rides: the one in Mexico and the one in Norway.  At the time of this writing, the Ratatouille ride in France is still under construction, and the Mary Poppins ride for the UK pavilion was delayed indefinitely due to the COVID pandemic.  Still, Disney had plans to add rides to pretty much all the countries (The Rhine River boat ride, the Mt. Fuji roller coaster, the Italian boat ride, a Shinkansen train simulator, a Japanese “Meet the World” show, a Venezuela gondola ride, an African safari ride, the list is appallingly long.), but they all fell through due to lack of funding.  Now, I’m just as down for any of these ideas, but let’s be honest, a newer, bigger, faster version of the Disneyland favorite is a very attractive idea, even if they decide not to put a Harold the Yeti in it.  Plus it’d be World Showcase’s only thrill ride.

1. Brazil

“How big was that fish that got away, Jesus?”

When Walt Disney was approached by the American government in 1941 to fly to South America, he didn’t like the idea of going there to shake hands as a diplomat.  He only agreed to it because he could gather ideas for new film projects.  Walt and his limited staff (Dubbed “El Grupo”) flew to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Mexico, fully embracing the various cultures and finding new and interesting ways to portray them in their animated films, 1943’s Saludos Amigos and 1945’s The Three Caballeros

Over the years, Donald and friends Panchito Pistoles and José Carioca have had numerous appearances, but there has been an odd consistency.  José gets lumped in with his American and Mexican friends, even though he hails from Baia, Brazil.  As of 2007, he and his fine feathered friends join forces at Mexico’s Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros, and it’s one of my favorites.  But Jose seems to be losing his Brazilian heritage.  In recent media, like the new DuckTales and The Legend of the Three Caballeros, Jose is actually referred to as “HO-say” instead of the Portuguese pronunciation of “JO-say”.  This needs to change.

Of course, there’s more than just returning José Carioca to his home country.  Every year, Walt Disney World welcomes hundreds of enthusiastic young travellers, often from various South American nations, but mostly from Brazil.  And they are not hard to miss.  Unlike Americans (United State-ers, I guess? I mean, “South America” still means America, right?), Brazilian youths often dressed in similar shirts, carrying a flag, often chanting or singing, and are basically every New Yorker’s nightmare: unapologetically cheery and are cool with physical contact.  It only makes sense that Disney try to return the favor and set aside a slice of home to honor their patronage.

I’m not sure Disney would have the courage to feature Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue due to their strive to stay secular, but if it’s their most famous landmark, why fuss? Especially if they take advantage of one of Brazil’s most beloved attractions, the Sugarloaf cable cars: the gondolas that take guests high up Mount Sugarloaf. This could easily be made into a simulator where it escorts you beyond Rio’s borders, over the Amazon, by a World Cup Futbol match, and conclude by arriving in Rio just in time for Carnival. Yeah, it’s basically the template for Soarin’, but if it ain’t broke…

So there you have it. What countries did I skip over? Who also deserves a spot? Egypt? Venezuela? Ireland? The Phillipines? Guatamala? Korea? Thailand? U. A. E? Spain? Israel? Hit me up with your suggestions and undoubtedly irate corrections!

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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