Mandelson goes in search of Mickey's magic

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The Independent Online
Peter Mandelson, the minister without portfolio, is visiting Disneyworld and the Epcot centre today on a fact-finding mission for the Millennium Experience. The prospect of a postcard from "Mandy" about his meeting with Mickey Mouse has Westminster agog.

The Millennium Dome is unlikely to sprout two big black ears even if Mr Mandelson, finds it hard to avoid a photo-opportunity with the most famous resident of Disneyworld.

The minister is keen to avoid suggestions that the Millennium Experience is going to be turned into a Disney theme park or a Mickey Mouse project.

The aim of his visit to the world-famous tourist attractions in Orlando, Florida, is to learn some of the lessons for attracting millions of visitors to the Millennium Dome in Greenwich. He is due to visit the Magic Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon and the MGM studios where the films were made, but Mr Mandelson is likely to spend more time in the Epcot Centre with its "future world" pavilions of the Living Seas, the Universe of Energy and the Land.

He will also see the "world showcase" at Epcot (experimental prototype community of tomorrow) depicting life in 11 countries as visualised by the designers of Disney, including a typical English pub, the Rose and Crown, and a mock-up of Anne Hathaway's cottage with thatched roof made of plastic to meet the Florida fire regulations.

The Elizabethan Olde Worlde, red telephone boxes, and the Lords and Ladies china shop may be as remote from reality as the Never Never Land in Disney movies, but Mr Mandelson is looking at the way the message is put across as much as the content.

Having persuaded the Cabinet not to cancel the Millennium exhibition, Mr Mandelson has appeared vague about what he intends to put in it. A select committee reported: "From what we know so far, the Millennium Experience is not so much a journey through time as ... a journey into the unknown."

Mr Mandelson may learn that it took even the skilled practitioners of fantasy at Disney took at least a decade to make their centres the success they are today. With only two years to go before the Millennium Experience is opened, he may return wishing he had Mickey's magic wand from Fantasia.