Thursday, November 30, 2006

Another Chance to Wonder


No doubt most of you reading EPCOT Central are aware of this, but Disney has announced that the Wonders of Life pavilion will be open “seasonally” during the holidays.

While I’d love to applaud Disney for this effort, the fact is that there’s no good reason for the pavilion to be closed in the first place.

When Disney makes billions off of the sale of its media assets, as it recently did, and can rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from its movie business, there’s no logical business reason that it can’t fund the refurbishment and maintenance of its theme-park attractions itself, absent a corporate sponsor.

Although MetLife long ago pulled its sponsorship of the Wonders of Life pavilion (thereby removing the Peanuts characters from Walt Disney World!), Disney’s decision to completely shutter the pavilion was a lunkheaded move that spoke volumes about its commitment to its theme-park business. Letting a major component of Epcot fall by the wayside, claiming that operational costs needed to be shared by a sponsor, should serve as a rather alarming indication that Disney is not particularly committed to the creative health and long-term quality of its parks, only to the assurance that it will realize as much profit from quarter to quarter as possible.

I’m thrilled that guests will have the opportunity this winter to experience the Wonders of Life. However, it will be in a “stripped down” version, with the food-service and stage areas of the pavilion closed off. And, of course, it will be in the shape it was in when it closed – relatively uncared-for, with attractions that feel rooted in the 1980s.

Nonetheless, Wonders of Life is a pavilion that is essential to the thematic success of Epcot’s Future World. While other pavilions explore the world around us, Wonders of Life explores the world within.

As we learn more about (and experiment more with) genetics, biotechnology and human health, there would hardly be a better time to update the Wonders of Life with exhibits and shows that demonstrate how much there is left to learn about the way humans work – and how we are making discoveries every day.

Pick up any recent copy of Time or Newsweek magazine and you’ll see how far health issues have moved into the “mainstream.” The Wonders of Life has the opportunity to bring today’s ever-evolving issues into the minds of guests at Epcot – it’s a fantastic opportunity that is sad to think may be wasted by Disney’s corporate mindset.

If you do visit the Wonders of Life this winter, be sure to write to Walt Disney World at wdw.guest.communications@disneyworld.com and let them know how much you value the pavilion, even if Disney itself does not!

25 comments:

Twirlnhurl said...

I'm going this saturday to see it (if my brother doesn't get sick). I am excited to see it, because I have only been in it once, and all I did was Body Wars. I don't remember much of it, because it was over 6 years ago. I'll tell you what I see when I get there and stuff and hopefully some input of my own as to how the park should handle the pavilion after I see it for myself.

Ivonne R. said...

I too am going to get out there soon to pay my last respects. I can't help but feel pessimistic while Epcot is in a steady decline. I will make sure to tell them what I think at Guest Relations when I'm at Epcot.

Epcot82 said...

If you take photos, please send to my e-mail address -- epcotctr82@yahoo.com. I would love to be able to share them with readers!

Geoffrey said...

Unfortunately your right about the recent decline of Disney Theme Parks as a whole..though the fact that some of the World Showcase Pavilions ARE currently under reservation, espescially the Chinese Pavilion, the park as a whole is on the decline.

Maybe now that Siemens has taken sponsorship of the park things will start to change for the better, enjoy the new fireworks display as always its spectacular, even moreso than in previous years...

UNforutnately wheni was there wonders of Life pavilion wasn't open, nor do i remember it being on a park plan, if they want people to attend this "seasonal" reopening they sure as heck have a funny way of showing it.

Claudia said...

When I was at the park last month it *was* very sad to see the WOL pavilion shuttered, closed, abandonded, unloved. I know that it is a little behind the times but, as you said, health issues are at the forefront these days so why not take the chance to have a place where this can all be showcased?

Especially considering Disney's latest move towards more healthy meals - it seems ironic that the one pavilion actually dedicated to "health" is closed more or less permanently.

It is sad to see the park with so many attractions and areas shut: WOL, Odyssey, The fountain view cafe...

Josh said...

Perhaps because it was such a late addition to EPCOT, but I never really enjoyed the Wonders of Life pavilion (with the exception of Cranium Command, which I loved!).

While I agree that a pavilion showcasing modern scientific, medical marvels is a great idea and a worthwhile addition to EPCOT, the current pavilion has never done that for me.

I think a dark ride through the body would be infinitely more engaging than a movie in a simulator. And there should be other C or D Tickets in that pavilion as well, not just a bunch of A Tickets all haphazardly thrown in together.

For my money, the Wonders of Life Pavilion should be rethought completely. I just hope that rethinking this pavilion leads them to put the Future back in Future World and that they can turn that space into something truly inspirational.

Geoffrey said...

Can anybody explain the "A ticket" "B ticket" thing to me?

St. Chris said...

geoffrey, see the E-ticket entry at Wikipedia.

kcnole said...

For the tickets question, when Disney first opened you had to purchase tickets to ride different rides. The biggest rides such as Pirates, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain required an E-ticket. The smaller dark rides of fantasyland required C tickets, and the small more carnival like rides such as dumbos were A and B tickets. They got rid of the ticketing system, but the connotation of A, C, and E tickets stuck.

Now to Wonders of Life. I've seen quite a few pictures and video that has been taken of this pavilion recently. If I have time I'll go look those links back up and post them here. Suprisingly, the pavilion itself is in fairly good shape although the films are not. It's been sad to see the lack of interest in this pavilion since it's been reopened. Maybe that's due to it not being on the map, or maybe its because the pavilion is currently horrible.

This pavilion out of all of them has the potential to be THE best pavilion in all of Epcot if its just done right. I for one hope that Disney will truly at some point invest the money to completely redo this pavilion with all new attractions about the body. Its a shame to see it so empty though since I remember a time when Body Wars was the most popular ride in the park and with lines that stretched all through the pavilion.

dean said...

It's my understanding that the tickets originally only went from A thru C. D and E tickets were added as the attractions became more sophisticated. Looking at one you will also notice that they are actually called "coupons".

WOL desperately needs to be made over -- take out all the overdone post-modern crap and replace with a fresh and clean modern design that still creates a welcoming atmosphere. Disney needs to put some money into these pavilions to keep the guests coming back.

captain schnemo said...

I have to agree with Josh on this one...as much as it sucks to have an inexplicable dead building in a theme park, I really never thought much of WoL. I did think Cranium Command was very well done, and very funny even on repeat visits, but the all-star 80s cast had a built-in expiration date.

I never liked Star Tours or Body Wars...I don't think putting you in a box and showing you moving images on a small screen makes for a good simulator. It feels very cheap compared to the dark ride that was originally supposed to be in WoL. The promotional art for Body Wars (that was in the Epcot guide books) looked awesome...much more along the lines of Adventure through Inner Space.

The only potential advantage to that kind of simulator is that the film could be changed for minimal cost to make the adventures more diverse and entertaining for repeat guests, but they never took advantage of that.

I thought the Martin Short movie was unwatchably bad.

Most of the side shows were sort of boring, although I have no problem with that kind of design. The Communicores had this set-up originally, and I liked the small mixed with the big, and the ability to have hands-on interaction in a more personal way. There were some really cool things there, though, like the magic wand effect, the hot and cold poles, the trick where you had to say the color of the words, etc. These are things that still stick out in my mind as fun and interesting.

There is great potential for this theme, though, and there's nothing inherently wrong with the pavilion itself. The DNA sculpture is still appropriately iconic.

We can always hope for the best when it comes to an update, but since every single pavilion update for the past dozen years or so has been a failure (from an original Epcot fan's point of view), I can only imagine what sort of horribleness they have planned. I guess we should be happy that Ozzy and Drix was not a Disney movie.

Twirlnhurl said...

I just got back home from Epcot. We arrived at the park at 3:30 (After a morning at the Studios and a fun lunch at 50's Primetime Cafe.) and went directly to Wonders of Life. I was suprised at how much was there and how good it was. The pavilion had very few people in it, probably because the trees that normally block the bath were simply pushed to the side of the path instead of taken away. Also, the pavilion is not listed on the map (It is in the picture still. I have the map if you want me to scan it in the computer, but it's the same map as was there since the summer when they switched to the smaller formaqt), so the only people who knew it was open were inquisitive guests and passholders/disney geeks.
First thing when we got in was Body Wars, a ride which I had been on once before about 6 years ago. The queue (and the rest of the pavilion, for that matter) looked almost new. The preshow video and ride film was in far better condition then Star Tours, and both suprised me with how recent they looked. The preshow lackes the crazy hair and makeup of Star Tours, and the special effects of the ride film work better then those in Mission Space. We were allowed to pick our row, so we picked the back and I got the right corner. This ride is extremely rough and far more intense then Mission Space can ever dream to be. I love it.
Next up was The Making of Me, which was highly enjoyable and kinda funny. The film quality was pretty good, but the background music was a lot louder then the dialogue track.
After that we went to Cranium Command, which was very good (I love the 80's comedians) and quite funny. The only bad thing is that the anematronic main character seemed messed up. I have never seen the show before, so I don't know how it is supposed to be. Overall, though, it was lots of fun. We decided to play around with the minor exhibits, most of which were working. The hot and cold poles weren't quite working right (the hot poles weren't hot) and the tuch screen stuff was worn), but it was still fun. We decided to reride Body Wars, and this time at the end of the ride the doors didn't open. After a few minutes they tell us the bridge is stuck. Luckily it is fixed after another 3 or 4 minutes. They ask if we want to reride, but everyone other then my party declines. We get to ride all by ourselves a third time.
We rounded out our trip by rewatching Cranium Command and Body Wars one more time before we funally left. We walked out at 6:30. I really think this is a worthwhile pavilion and I like it more then Universe of Energy and Imagination combined. I hope that Disney changes their mind and reopens it for good, but judging by the far from record crowds, I doubt it.
On a side note, we did both Sounds Dangerous and El Rio, and my whole party liked Sounds Dangerous better.

Twirlnhurl said...

Forget that part about El Rio. That's off topic and I was tired when I wrote it as a joke. But the fact that it was a joke doesn't come accross in the post.

Isaac Thomas said...

I kind of like the fact that Wanders of Life feels rooted in the 1980s. Its one of the last areas of the park in it's original condition and still perfectly represents everything EPCOT used to stand fot.

Twirlnhurl said...

One thing I think could be done to change the datedness of Cranium Command would be to animate the films while keeping the voices from the current film. What do you guys think?

Agapanthus said...

The food court at the Met Life Pavilion was the best fast-food. I remember when it had venison stew!

They need a sponsor and they need to publicize the pavilion's charm. Everything else is in place, with the possible exception of Body Wars, a simulator that can trigger motion sickness in some!

Actually, the pavilion is a winner all the way around because the structure creates a unique staging -- welcoming, gentle, friendly, and airy enough to fly a large remote-controlled blimp. It's a place to linger a little longer in a more serene environment.

The dubious part is indulging a sponsor who wants to get negative about health issues. It is pissy to get preachy about "issues" like health, or the environment, or anything else for that matter. People don't come to get nagged.

They come to enjoy themselves, shop, eat, and explore. Epcot's charm is/was? its pollyanna-ish view as a dreamer of human potential.

Epcot is unique and has a worldly pace. It's part strolling-garden, part world bazaar, and part (potentially) ongoing world fair on food production, space technology, medicine, transportation, electronics, undersea technology, and anything else appealing.

One big danger is getting preachy with the slow stuff and blowing the E-ticket budgets on showpiece thrill rides that physically alienate most guests.

But ... With optimistic vision, committed sponsors, and unique shopping and food options (like a fast-food counter that serves venison stew, or a store with somewhat quirky but delightful merchandise) ...

... the place could pop.

Agapanthus said...

And Twinhurl, with all due respect, why change Cranium Command? It ain't broke! Why mess with it!

Maybe Body Wars needs something. But it IS fun and campy, if you can take riding a simulator that tries to recreate a liquid environment!

*There goes that veniso ... veniso .. venison s-t-e-w!*

;^ )

Twirlnhurl said...

I mention changing Cranium Command because many complain of it's datedness. I think the only source of that sentiment is the all-80's comedian cast. (I love the cast, but it definately distracts some audiences) That said, the writing is excellent and all the actors have distinct, unique voices. The original audio with cartoon characters speaking it would keep the attractions strength and comic timing, but remove it's tendency to feel aged. This would also add consistency to the show, as the preshow is all-animated, and some of the animated characters appear in the main show as animated, next to live action characters. That said, I think the show is great as is, and doesn't NEED to be changed. I just think that it might be more accessable if it doesn't scream it's age.
Body Wars is interesting, though. I like it far better then Star Tours, mostly because it's obscenely rough. Dinosaur has nothing on it in the ability to shake it's riders. It is my favorite ride in the park. I am in a minority on this ride, though. I can't imagine anyone else in my family being able to enjoy it like me and my friends (and uncle). Changing Body Wars would be good for the pavillion, but not for me.

Anonymous said...

My family is going to Epcot on December 24 and we're going to try to see the WOL pavilion. I was there for the opening way-back-when. My twin nieces are the baby in the Making of Me movie. They are now 17 and just about to graduate high school!

I remember when the WOL pavilion opened that the Disney folks were very concerned about people's reactions to the movie. At the time the Southern Baptist fight with Disney was in full swing. And the movie seemed to me more evolutionary than creationist.

I was at Epcot for its opening and knew couple of friends that were working at WED in California. When I saw them at the park they were rushing from pavilion to pavilion trying to keep things working.

Epcot seems like a very nice park with lots to see and do. What Epcot was never was able to attain is a World's Fair level of exhibit in Futureworld. For that they would have to partner with someone like Make Magazine (http://www.makezine.com/) to keep the rides fresh and current. That doesn't take a lot of money, but it does require a staff of Imagineers that are into technology, as opposed to the current team that are into experience.

-Frank Cohen
http://www.pushtotest.com

Anonymous said...

I had some good times in WoL as a kid, I enjoyed the bikes with the video that rode you around WDW. I also enjoyed the bars that you grab, one hot, one cold then you grab the middle one that is room temperature...there was lots of hands-on stuff that I loved. Hands on is always fun times.

Unfortunately as a kid WoL bored me to death after my first visit for some reason. I think it was the atmosphere under the dome, it just felt cold and, well, empty! It is sad to see the pavillion sit there and die, but ultimately I won't be sad to see it repalced.

I would love the new pavillion (assuming there will be one) to maintain the health theme as I think it is important for people to be aware of their health (God, there are so many dangerously over-weight people at WDW now). However it all depends on sponsorship and who will pay the big bucks. Maybe Apple will lend their Boyfriend Disney some money for a shiny new iPavillion (I think I just barfed in my mouth.

-ian
http://scholarlywdi.blogspot.com

Lidstrom said...

They aren't even going to use the "savings" from the outsourcing they are doing around WDW to bring Wonders of Life back to life. Disney is doing its best to be just another crummy company. I'm sure Walt and Roy would be so proud.

Twirlnhurl said...

I went to Epcot again yesterday and rode Body Wars another 10 times. They were only running 2 simulators (makes sense because even at half capacity, each simulator would have maybe 8 to 12 riders.) They were running Probes 2 and 3, and because of how much we rode, we noticed several differences between them. Probe 2 was in much worse condition then 3. Probe 3 was in better condition then the simulators in Star Tours, but Probe 2 was literally creaky. At the end, it made loud moaning noises, and in 2 places (where the scientist gets into the sub and at the end) it shook far more violently then Probe 3. This made the ride far more fun, however I think it should be fixed for everyone's sake but mine. The operators were great and let us reride without getting off when no one was in line for our row. We also saw The Making of Me and Cranium Command once each, and my comments from the previous week still stand, I think.

Epcot82 said...

Thanks for the update, Twirlnhurl!

Lidstrom said...

I wonder why they are even bothering to open it. They must only be giving it one last hurrah for the faithful who can make it there to give it a send off, because not updating or maintaining anything can hardly be a way to give it a chance to pull itself back up. If they are trying to prove that it doesn't get much support, they've definitely stacked the deck against the pavilion and its attractions. They should at least give it a fighting chance and it doesn't sound like they have.

I don't think I could be any more down on Disney than I am right now. It's tough to type that because of what it was like during the last years of the Eisner reign, but at least I knew what to expect then. Iger fooled me into thinking differently and then popped the bubble. I'll certainly never think of Disney as anything more than a corporation ever again, for the rest of my life. There is no magic there. Just clever marketing that seems a little less clever as time goes by.

captain schnemo said...

My guess is that it was opened merely as a crowd sink. Disney isn't interested in giving attractions a fair goodbye. They've been known to close attractions days before the scheduled closing, just to be sure there are no protests or other gatherings they don't like the look of.

And letting something deteriorate to the point that guests complain about it and then using those complaints to justify the closure seems to be a common MO for anything they don't want to maintain.

Sadly, I also agree with your final paragraph. I had a sliver of hope that Lasseter would do the right thing, but it's apparent that he's only interested in shoving his Pixar creations into as many places as he can, without regard to proper theming or respect for the parks or the audience. Just a whore of another sort, hiding behind a Hawaiian shirt.

It's all terribly disappointing. I wouldn't say there is no hope, but there is so little hope that it is painful (and probably foolish) to even expend the effort.