Sunday, December 10, 2006
A Lack of Energy
What’s with the Universe of Energy pavilion?
It was once the single most ambitious, epic, over-sized efforts in an ambitious, epic, over-sized park, yet today – from start to finish – it’s one of the most lackluster and unimaginative offerings in Disney's theme-park portfolio.
Although I happen to think Ellen DeGeneres is a fabulously gifted comedian with a wonderful, unique delivery, 10 years of her is more than enough at Epcot. Moreover, she’s teamed with Bill Nye the Science Guy, a former Disney “property” whose TV show was only a modest hit … more than a decade ago.
Then, you’ve got a much younger version of Alex Trebek hosting Jeopardy! on a comparatively ancient version of the game show’s set in a not-very-funny little sketch co-starring an actress, Jamie Lee Curtis, who recently announced her retirement.
Calling this show dated is like calling Nicole Ritchie a little on the thin side.
And then there's the simple fact that it's just not entertaining anymore.
It's got a tired, listless quality (with the exception of the Audio-Animatronic dinosaurs at the heart of the show – which remain exciting and fun) exacerbated by C-list celebrities and humor that would barely warrant a laugh-track response on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Most bothersome and frustrating about Universe of Energy, though, is how it demonstrates Epcot’s unwillingness or inability to keep up with the most basic of world issues, to change, grow and educate based on what we know today about tomorrow, not what we knew a decade ago.
Communications, transportation, the oceans, space exploration and health are all, without doubt, major topics that affect the entire planet. They were chosen to be represented at EPCOT Center for a reason, and it's a pity that Disney's latest incarnation of lower-case Epcot has been so creatively lazy and financially frugal when it comes to updating them. (Unless, of course, there's a chance to make them cartoon heavy or turn them into meaningless thrill rides.)
That's particularly true when it comes to energy.
Now, I know virtually nothing about this topic, I’ll be the first to tell you. Still, I am aware that global warming is an energy-based subject that is increasingly in the news and increasingly accepted by scientists of all political stripe. I also know that finding personal vehicles that don’t consume gasoline is a subject that even Detroit and Washington are beginning to take seriously. Likewise, I know that heating and cooling my house has become increasingly expensive, and that I am becoming aware that there are alternative options.
My point is, I’m pretty much in the dark about energy, but I’d like to know more, I’d like to get an idea of where we’re headed in the next 20 years, and I’d like the kids in my life to be aware of the issues that are going to be confronting them.
Does that mean Universe of Energy has to become a boring, staid lecture on energy? Absolutely not.
If anything, it means that this attraction -- more than any other -- stands the most to gain from a complete overhaul that could see it become truly revolutionary. Universe of Energy can and should be one of the most exciting and mind-expanding Epcot pavilions, not one of the most dull and sparsely attended.
It is nothing short of astonishing that Disney pays such little heed to the original mission of Epcot that it allows Universe of Energy to impart old, outdated information that has little, if any, relevance to the lives of the guests who visit it. Rather than offer an experience that presents the most cutting-edge, up-to-date information in a compelling way, Universe of Energy offers stale, underwhelming information in an environment that actually seems more dated than the 1980s stars of Cranium Command.
The novelty of Ellen and Alex Trebek wore off years ago. (For the huge number of non-U.S. guests who visit Epcot each year, was there ever any novelty at all in seeing such quintessentially American pop-culture celebrities?) The discussions of solar and wind power are meaningless in a world that is more focused on hybrid vehicles and global-warming issues.
It’s far past time to give Universe of Energy the infusion of, er, energy it so sorely needs.
Come on, Imagineering – this is a great chance to thrill us again and to remind everyone, particularly Disney itself, what Epcot can and should be.