Continuing our tour where last we explored World Celebration, now we come to World Discovery to explore parts in our galaxy unseen.
In 1983 Epcot introduced the dark ride Horizons, which was a futuristic sequel to Tomorrowland’s Carousel of Progress, but it was shut down permanently in 1999 due to technical problems, although losing General Electric as a sponsor didn’t help either.
A pavilion that simulates the experience of being an astronaut being sent to Mars called Mission: Space took the place of Horizons in 2003. This attraction sent you on a simulated voyage to Mars aboard the X-2 Deep Space Shuttle in the year 2036 after preparing at the International Space Training Center and watching a briefing video hosted by Apollo 13 actor Gary Sinise (Sinise was replaced by Firefly’s Gina Torres in 2017). After being assigned either a navigator, pilot, commander or engineer and given your tasks, the mission will begin. As you orbit Earth from inside your rocket, things may or may not go smoothly, depending on how well you perform your tasks, but that adds to the excitement of the attraction. The realism of the flight simulation has caused motion sickness in some guests, especially among the easily nauseous and those with heart conditions, so Disney added a toned-down version of the ride as a result, with the less intense version called Green Team and the ordinary version called Orange Team. So now even more people can enjoy this trip to Mars.
One of the first attractions that opened in Epcot’s Future World was World of Motion, where guests were taken through the history of transportation from the wheel to the rocket. The humorous aspects of the attraction, such as the memorable world’s first traffic jam, sprang from the mind of Disney artist, animator and director Ward Kimball, who designed the attraction.
World of Motion closed in 1996 and was replaced in 1998 with the high-speed Test Track, a General Motors-sponsored attraction that simulated that company’s procedure for testing vehicles, with the biggest highlight being the thrilling high-speed finale around the building, the fastest ride in Disney park history. A refurbishment in 2012 that was sponsored instead by Chevrolet allowed guests to design their own cars, or “SimCars,” and take them for a ride to see how your mechanical skills fare on the road.
Another attraction that was at Epcot on opening day but was recently overhauled is the Universe of Energy pavilion. That area explored the subject of energy and how mankind has harnessed it through the years, all told by way of animation, animatronic dinosaurs and dioramas. The educational show dwindled in popularity by the nineties and it was finally replaced in 1996 by Ellen’s Energy Adventure starring comedian and sitcom star Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and featuring Jamie Lee Curtis and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. This new version tried to look at the history of energy sources like fossil fuels, solar and hydroelectric power in a fun way with more colorful sets, livelier music and a bigger emphasis on comedy as Bill Nye tries to help Ellen expand her knowledge of energy so she can become the Jeopardy! champion and best her college rival Judy Peterson (played by Curtis).
Ellen’s Energy Adventure lasted longer than the original Universe of Energy, but by 2017 it finally closed with Disney announcing their intention to replace it with a ride based on the Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy at that year’s D23 expo. In 2019, they announced the name of the attraction was Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, to be one of the longest enclosed roller coasters in the world, and it finally opened at World Discovery in 2022, the name of the pavilion that holds it changed to the Wonders of Xandar pavilion, Xandar being the home world of the Nova Corps, the militia group who the Guardians of the Galaxy team up with to stop Ronan the Accuser from destroying Xandar in the first movie.
The pavilion features exhibits showcasing the history of Xandarian culture. Meanwhile, Xandarians refer to our home planet as Terra, so throughout the attraction they will refer to all Earthlings as Terrans. The leader of the Nova Corps, Nova Prime Irani Rael (played by Glenn Close) seeks to showcase their culture to Terrans by utilizing a cosmic generator that allows them to teleport across the Galaxy, but the generator soon gets stolen and Nova Prime calls the Guardians of the Galaxy for help retrieving it, soon finding out that it was stolen by a Celestial named Eson (Celestials being the first life forms to exist in the Marvel Universe, showing up on screen in the Guardians of the Galaxy film series as well as Eternals). Eson seeks to transport Terra to the dawn of time to wipe out our existence. The ride begins once you are ushered into your evacuation shuttles and follow the Guardians on a jumphole-filled trek through space and time, all to the sweet retro beats of Peter Quill’s mixtape, which could play “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire or “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps, or one of four other random song choices. Terry Crews plays the original character Centurion Tal Marik while Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña and Dave Bautista all reprise their roles as Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax the Destroyer. Obviously Rocket Raccoon and Groot show up too, but they are not voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel for some reason.
One pavilion that used to be in the World Discovery area that is completely gone now is Wonders of Life, which was devoted to the human body and health care. It first opened in 1989 and it closed in 2007 but I’ll still discuss it because it has an interesting history too. It was originally supposed to be an opening day pavilion in 1982 but Disney had trouble finding a company willing to sponsor it until 1989 when MetLife came along, the two main attractions that year being Cranium Command and Body Wars.
Cranium Command featured an animated presentation and a humor-filled script by Disney writer Jenny Tripp with animation directed by Jerry Rees (The Brave Little Toaster) and a pre-show directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale (before Jeffrey Katzenberg tapped them to direct the film Beauty and the Beast). The show began in a 200-seat theater designed to look like the inside of a human head, depicting a typical day in the life of a 12-year-old boy who goes to school, gets into a food fight, meets a girl, etc., with all his real-life interactions seen through the POV of his brain pilot the bumbling soldier Buzzy (voiced by Scott Curtis) who must steer the boy’s mind in the right direction under the command of General Knowledge (loudly voiced by Corey Burton). While the show was playing, Buzzy was an audio-animatronic and the boy’s POV was shown on the eye-shaped screens, while the various body parts (voiced by various comedic actors) explained their problems in each scenario of the boy’s routine, all the while Buzzy tried to keep calm to handle each situation. The voice cast for the body parts included Charles Grodin as the Left Brain, Jon Lovitz as the Right Brain, George Wendt as the Stomach, Jeff Doucette as the Bladder, Bobcat Goldthwait as the Adrenal Gland, Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon doing their Hans and Franz voices from Saturday Night Live as the Left and Right Heart Ventricles, and even director Kirk Wise as the Hypothalamus. The cinematics in this attraction were some of Pete Doctor’s earliest animation assignments and the future Pixar director would credit this attraction as an inspiration for the movie Inside Out. Leo Matsuda, director of Disney’s animated short Inner Workings, would also acknowledge Cranium Command as an inspiration.
Body Wars, Epcot’s first thrill ride, was a motion simulator attraction in which guests were miniaturized and sent inside a human body Fantastic Voyage-style on a rescue mission while fighting off blood cells, featuring Tim Matheson as Captain Braddock and Elisabeth Shue as Dr. Cynthia Lair with direction by Leonard Nimoy.
Other health-themed Wonders of Life attractions included Goofy About Health, Coach’s Corner, Fitness Fairgrounds, Sensory Funhouse, Wonder Cycles and the 1989 16-minute short film The Making of Me, starring Martin Short and directed by Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting), which tells the story of how we are born with details about sperm, egg cells and the fertilization process. But all these attractions disappeared when the Wonders of Life pavilion closed down permanently in 2007. After that, the building that houses that pavilion became used as a center for festivals, but it was announced in 2019 that a new pavilion would come in 2021 (later post-poned because of the pandemic) which would be known as Play! and will be themed as an interactive city where guests can talk to Disney characters, with plans for an animation academy run by fashion designer Edna Mode from Pixar’s The Incredibles as well as interactive games, arcades and appearances by characters from the movies Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Inside Out and Zootopia.
In my next blog we will explore the land and the sea in World Nature.