?By Kevin J. Guhl
Despite what the tram guides might tell you, EPCOT does not stand for “Every Person Comes Out Tired.” EPCOT Center (now just Epcot) was based on Walt Disney’s dream of building a utopian town called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Disney died without his dream realized, and his successors decided to instead build a theme park that focused on Disney’s ideas of celebrating human innovation and promoting a promising vision of the future (as well as knowledge and the cultures of the world).
Granted, projections of what the future will look like have changed since 1982. The future we’re living in doesn’t necessarily match what forward-thinking optimists envisioned back when the Commodore 64 was named Time Magazine‘s “Man of the Year.” As the decades wore on, some of EPCOT’s attractions were removed as they became obsolete and, more importantly, lost their corporate sponsors. The sad truth is that many of the rides you may fondly remember from your childhood excursions to EPCOT are now nothing more than rubble in some Orlando landfill. This might be the most depressing list we’ve ever run on Topless Robot, so please stand back from your windows and put away your steak knives. These are the Top 10 EPCOT attractions that no longer exist.
10) Millennium Village
The World Showcase at EPCOT has thankfully survived throughout the years without many changes to its whirlwind tour of recreations of Mexico, France, Norway and other nations. But to celebrate the new millennium, Disney added another pavilion from late 1999 through 2000 that included cultural performances and visual tidbits from other nations that weren’t normally part of the World Showcase, such as Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Scotland and even Easter Island! While obviously never intended to be a permanent feature, the Millennium Village added some needed diversity to the World Showcase’s somewhat limited and stagnant collection of countries.
9) The Living Seas
The Living Seas, housed in a building that looked like a seashell with water swirling around it, isn’t totally gone. What was once depicted as a visit to Seabase Alpha and a tour of the surrounding ocean (with real sea life) has been converted to Finding Nemo-palooza. EPCOT has always been the Magic Kingdom’s brainier cousin, but in this case the more scientific aspects were toned down for a larger emphasis on a well-known cartoon character. Anyway, The Living Seas also used to include a model of the Nautilus submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a popular Magic Kingdom ride that Disney closed in 1994 and totally demolished ten years later. We’re still bawling over that one.
8) Captain EO
Looking back at Captain EO with adult eyes, maybe it hasn’t held up so well. It featured Michael Jackson as an unconvincing spaceship captain leading a band of cuddly misfit aliens in a pretty boring and ridiculous adventure to bring an angry alien empress the gift of a mediocre song (“We Are Here to Change the World”) and a dance that was no “Thriller.” However, it’s worth recognizing what a big deal Captain EO was at the time. It was an approximately 20-minute 3-D movie that cost a whopping $30 million to make and was directed by Francis Ford FRIGGIN’ Coppola. Disney had scored themselves an exclusive extended-length video from the King of Pop! Captain EO ran at EPCOT from 1986 to 1994, although there have been pleas to bring back the attraction following Jackson’s death. Disney’s response to the idea has been lukewarm.
While it still exists in spirit as Innoventions, Communicore (which stood for Community Core) is a quaint memory for many who were there during its 1982-1994 tenure at EPCOT. Located in two semi-circle pavilions, Communicore was the EPCOT version of an arcade. There were tons of hands-on and interactive games that allowed you to experience the latest technological innovations. There were educational and groundbreaking video games, a constantly updated U.S. population counter, an interactive picture-phone, a presentation about how Disney’s animatronics worked, learning stations about energy, and a HUGE gift shop, among many other things. The star of Communicore was undoubtedly SMRT-1, an adorable blue robot who responded to your voice and would play trivia games with you. It’s funny to think that pretty much everything you could find in Communicore is now in some way available on the average computer.
6) Wonders of Life
Opened in 1989, this was perhaps the most interactive of EPCOT attractions, offering several stations like bicycle simulators, a personal health quiz and a sensory-bending crooked room that taught you more about how your body and mind work. Body Wars let you basically shrink down like Dennis Quaid in Innerspace and take a motion simulator ride through someone’s blood stream. Continuing the Martin Short connection (as Quaid traversed his innards in Innerspace), the actor starred in a horrifying movie called The Making of Me in which he told you about how his parents conceived him, depicted with amorous cartoon sperm and sexy eggs, culminating with live action birth footage. After stealing the innocence of many stork-believing kids with apathetic parents, Wonders of Life closed for good by 2007, the golden dome that housed it now providing space for various events. The giant DNA strand that sat outside the pavilion has been removed.
5) Universe of Energy
Don’t panic, the animatronic dinosaurs – which are the only part of this exploration into fuel sources that kids really cared about – have not gone extinct. What has been lost is this attraction’s atmosphere and mood. It used to have loud, awe-inspiring movies about energy that surrounded you on shifting mosaic screens and giant wraparound screens. The journey into the past to see the dinosaurs was both exciting and frightening; it really felt like you had traveled back in time. Sadly, in 1996 this ride was changed to Ellen’s Energy Adventure and featured Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye the Science Guy playing it for laughs. Jesus Christ, there’s even an animatronic Ellen fending off a dinosaur! Ruined! Sure, it’s probably more entertaining, but the epic nature the ride once possessed is gone.
4) The World of Motion
Described by the excellent website Lost Epcot as “a road trip through the evolution of transportation,” The World of Motion (sponsored by General Motors) presented a version of history that was much less accurate than it was wickedly hilarious. Hopefully, no kids used The World of Motion as the basis for a history report, as the ride included such scenes as cavemen blowing their feet cool after running; early transportations methods like the flying carpet; early engineers puzzling over why triangular and square wheels don’t work; a used chariot lot; man’s first encounter with sea serpents; an impatient Mona Lisa waiting for da Vinci to paint her while he’s busy tinkering with a flying machines; and a horse being visibly pissed off at being replaced by the horseless carriage. The ride also thoroughly chronicled man’s mishaps with various forms of transportation, featuring comical carriage and bicycle accidents. After passing by some sweet classics cars, guests rode through an IMAX-like tunnel that passed through the woods, the sea, outer space and then seemingly time, which resembled the software landscape in the movie Tron. The grand finale was when guests arrived at a sprawling, blacklit city of the far future, an excellent example of huge Disney model-making. Your tram car would also appear to turn into a futuristic car due to a mirror trick. After the ride, guests could check out some badass concept cars, an educational display on aerodynamics and the unlikely comic duo of a cigar-chomping toucan and a robot assembly line arm. The shiny, circular World of Motion pavilion was closed in 1995 and now sits beside its replacement, Test Track.
3) Kitchen Kabaret
When tasked with coming up with a way of selling the four food groups to kids without boring them with some nonsense about a pyramid, Disney’s Imagineers came up with a solution that was perhaps not the most obvious but was nonetheless awesome – a Vaudeville show featuring singing food items and non-stop puns! Located in The Land pavilion, which from the outside looked like a landed UFO, visitors entered an oversized art deco kitchen and were greeted by its owner and the show’s host, a comely blonde named Bonnie Appetite who sang sexy songs about eating a balanced diet. She then introduced such performers as a Frank Sinatra-like milk carton named Mr. Dairy Good and his back-up singers Miss Cheese, Miss Yogurt and Miss Ice Cream – a trio so sultry that adults found themselves having impure thoughts about dairy products. Another highlight was the comedy duo Hamm and Eggz. But the most memorable part of the show was the Colander Combo and the Fiesta Fruit (including a broccoli stalk wearing sunglasses and playing the bongos) that sang, “Veggie, Veggie, FRUIT, FRUIT!” Following the show, parents could purchase Kitchen Kabaret swag for their kids in the gift shop Broccoli & Co. After educating, entertaining and titillating for 12 years, Kitchen Kabaret closed its doors in 1994 and was replaced with the similar but less stellar Food Rocks. That show went on for a decade before being shut down, and failed to be replaced with Yo, Food Rapz! or anything else of the sort. Ah, if only I had the money to track down Kitchen Kabaret, purchase it from whatever warehouse it’s stored in and set it up in my living room…
2) Journey Into Imagination
The Imagination pavilion, a pair of glass pyramids, has remained in place since 1982 but the main attraction has gone through three incarnations. The original, which closed in 1998, was the best. It featured the Dreamcatcher, a Willy Wonka-like character who sported a big moustache and was far less creepy. He flew around in a dirigible that vacuumed up ideas that were floating around in the sky (proving the Imagineers were once on drugs) and used them to create a purple little dragon named Figment. The audience followed Dreamcatcher and Figment to the Dreamport, where ideas are sorted, and guests experienced surreal representations of different parts of the imagination that concern arts and sciences. The section of the Dreamport for suspenseful and scary tales was a hellish landscape full of lighting, sea monsters and organ music straight out of Phantom of the Opera; it rivaled the Haunted Mansion in the number of traumatized toddlers. After the ride, guests were allowed to play in Image Works, a psychedelic playground that included floor tiles that played musical notes, a hallway that fluctuated with a rainbow of colorful lights, and electronic coloring books. Figment became an iconic Disney character who lasts to this day (aside from a brief, misguided deletion from a later version of the ride). Journey Into Imagination also had an amazingly catchy theme song, “One Little Spark,” that is impossible to forget: “Imaaagination, Imaaaagination. A dream can be a dream come true, with just that spark in me and you!”
Most science fiction predicts a bleak future for humanity. Even Star Trek, touted for Gene Roddenberry’s vision of human advancement and cooperation, required people to suffer through World War III to get there. And when they did reach the stars, the Klingons and Space Abe Lincoln were waiting for them.
Horizons was really the core of what EPCOT was all about, as the attraction offered a wonderful view of what humanity might have in store for itself if it overcomes its problems. As the slogan said, “If we can dream it, we can do it.” It took up a whole pavilion, memorably designed to look from the outside like a road to the stars. Through the use of animatronics and creatively designed scenes, visitors were first treated to some of the visions of the future held by previous generations: Jules Verne floating around space in a Victorian rocket ship; 1930’s rich people with robotic manservants; and a neon cityscape as imagined in the 1950s; etc. After discussing modern innovations such as actual space travel, microprocessors, solar power and unlocking the secrets of DNA, Horizons vividly depicted what life in the future would be like as families live in space stations, underwater bases and terraformed deserts. Laughably, though, Disney predicted all of these wonderful things as happening in the 21st Century. In the end, you had a Choose-Your-Own Adventure type moment when you got to take a flight through one of these environs. Horizons opened in 1983 and remained for a decade, after which it was only periodically open until the pavilion was torn down in 1999 and replaced with Mission: Space.
What’s really sad about Horizons’ absence is that the attraction really wasn’t obsolete, despite its overly optimistic predictions for 21st Century life. The vision of humanity’s future it presented, complete with all the sights, sounds and smells (mmm, orange groves), was so full of hope it was intoxicating. That’s something that never gets old. Most people experienced the ride and came out wishing they lived in that world. That’s something kids should still be able to see, especially in a time when the world around them isn’t as promising. It’d be great if, for EPCOT’s 30th anniversary in 2012 (a year with ominous connotations in popular culture), Disney could open a new version of Horizons to not just entertain future generations of kids but inspire them with a positive depiction of the future.