I had a request this weekend to talk about the Universe of Energy / Ellen’s Energy Adventure. I’ve shared some opinions on this pavilion before, but I think I’m going to ignore those, not even look at what I’ve written before, and try and come up with some thoughts off the cuff. That way it’s hopefully a take that is fairly reflective of my current thoughts.
While my take will be fresh, my overall opinion on the pavilion itself hasn’t really changed. The Energy Pavilion is one that I just don’t feel has ever really hit the mark. Not in original Universe of Energy version, and not in the Ellen’s Energy Adventure version. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and both I think just never measured up to the bar of the other pavilions in Future World, and with the topic itself.
Now, looking back at the original pavilion, we were treated to a pavilion about Energy sponsored by Exxon. In the early 80s, this might have made sense. Aside from us "Riding on Sunshine" in our theater cars from the photovoltaic cells all over the roof of the pavilion, that seemed like a novelty, oil/coal was king. The pavilion was innovative for it’s time, the huge moving theater cars being something of a novelty, turning to face different screens, moving through the Dino-rama, the not-quite-a-circlevision theater. It all was something different than what we’d experienced previously at theme parks. It didn’t seem to matter then that they were taking a dry topic (Energy) and making it even dryer by way of the movie-dino-movie format, because everyone was wowed by the dinosaurs. And of course it was dinosaurs, because everyone knew that oil was just old dinosaurs that had been fermenting for millions of years.
My memories of this pavilion was one that was very similar to today. It was a’ight. It was air conditioned. There were dinosaurs. The likelihood of a nap was fairly high. Nod off before it moved, wake up for Dinos, nod off for the final movie. Rinse, repeat.
The preshow film was notable for it’s moving mosaic screens, something that was quite interesting for it’s time. A huge series of screens, and a film created to take advantage of this innovative technology. You still were sitting on the hard carpeted floor to start with, looking up and getting stepped on by a fellow tourist sliding past you. The benches at the back of the room, or the wall space, was something hoarded by the experienced Epcot traveler. The preshow was just long enough that your butt-cheeks would fall asleep right before you had to get up and head into the ride/theater room.
Once you were seated in the theater seats, this is where the attraction proper kicked in. The animated film was beautiful to watch, but honestly, IMO, dry and misleading. Again, dinosaurs didn’t make oil. The percentage of dinosaur vs. other organic material in your tank is likely unmeasurable. So, a good 60% of the attraction was basically “Hey, look, kids love dinosaurs!”.
The final film was again, a bit dry. I’m a dude who loves a good science documentary. It’s something I’ll watch pretty much anytime over some form of network television. I loves a good documentary. It is however not the most effective way to communicate science to the masses. And again, while it does cover some of the non-fossil-fuel based solutions, it’s basically a big “we need to find more oil” documentary.
Added together, you had a numb ass, a dinosaur cartoon, a slow ride through a diorama of dinosaurs, an oil commercial, and then you’re back into the sunshine. This is why you’ll find people devoted to just about every original Epcot Center pavilion, but not too many dying to get Universe of Energy back.
Oh, and the theme music! I’ll cover music in another post, but I cannot stress deeply enough how important music was to early Epcot, and this pavilion had some fantastic stuff. Just go listen to Universe of Energy, go ahead, I’ll give you a few minutes to go out and listen. It was just top notch.
Still, it made sense to update this attraction. I have to give them credit, but this attraction was one of their more successful Epcot updates. Their heart was in the right place! Make it more entertaining, make it more of a story. It (almost) worked. Ellen is genuinely funny in this attraction. The Jamie Lee Curtis cameo is great, and everyone loves a good Trebek-based story.
One thing that I will give huge props to is the inclusion of Bill Nye. He was and still is the right fit for this pavilion. I would like to see him continue to be a part of this pavilion for a long time into the future. He is one of the best science communicators we have in the world today. Think about the names of science related people that you can name off in the past few decades, for people who really stand/stood out. Sagan, Nye, Cousteau, deGrasse Tyson, Cox, Kaku. I’m probably missing one or two there, but Nye fits in there without question. And his delivery is just what this pavilion needs to engage people in the topic of Energy, and it’s also something he has a passion for. I mean, his upcoming book is about climate change, I think that he might be willing and able to create an engrossing and passionate pavilion about Energy. More on this later, but just read the beginning of the description on his book, it sounds like it comes directly out of Epcot Center:
Just as World War II called an earlier generation to greatness, so the climate crisis is calling today's rising youth to action: to create a better future.
In UNSTOPPABLE, Bill Nye crystallizes and expands the message for which he is best known and beloved. That message is that with a combination of optimism and scientific curiosity, all obstacles become opportunities, and the possibilities of our world become limitless. With a scientist's thirst for knowledge and an engineer's vision of what can be, Bill Nye sees today's environmental issues not as insurmountable, depressing problems but as chances for our society to rise to the challenge and create a cleaner, healthier, smarter world. We need not accept that transportation consumes half our energy, and that two-thirds of the energy you put into your car is immediately thrown away out the tailpipe. We need not accept that dangerous emissions are the price we must pay for a vibrant economy and a comfortable life. Above all, we need not accept that we will leave our children a planet that is dirty, overheated, and depleted of resources. As Bill shares his vision, he debunks some of the most persistent myths and misunderstandings about global warming. When you are done reading, you'll be enlightened and empowered. Chances are, you'll be smiling, too, ready to join Bill and change the world.
The update was needed, and came this close I think to being a good attraction. What hamstrings it is the required inclusion of the moving theater and the dinosaurs. It forces the story to center around it. The side-trip to dino-land is an unneeded part of the narrative. They didn’t want to change the ride mechanism, or the dinosaurs, so they were stuck building a story around it, and it really doesn’t work in my opinion.
Also, and here is where if anyone was actually reading this blog I’d be likely to get feedback on, I think that the current version pussyfoots around climate change
Ellen in Dream: Whoa! What about global warming?
Bill Nye: It's a hot topic, with lots of questions. And it's one of the big reasons scientists are working on ways to burn fuels, like coal, more efficiently than ever. Ellen, what do you know about gas?
Today’s Bill Nye would bitchslap that Bill Nye in the face for that epic sidestep. Global Warming? Oh, let me talk to you about coal and natural gas, because the attraction sponsors want me to. Nope, nope, nope.
Energy is one the most important topics, now and in the future. It’s so important that the fact that this pavilion is basically an air conditioned nap is a travesty.
I know that there is a segment of the population that does not believe in climate change. I know that it’s a “political” topic and some people think that political topics shouldn’t be a part of a Disney theme park. The fact that science is not political is lost on most. Still, people have said to me "Epcot shouldn't touch climate change because it's political".
Not to be too crude about it, but f-ck that noise. Science is Science. Facts are Facts. Because there are people who want to politicize science is exactly why Epcot should take it head on. The designers of Epcot didn’t shy away from talking about limited resources, way back when global warming was something that almost nobody was thinking about. The fact that there is so much misinformation in the population is what the Energy pavilion should be about.
The great thing about Epcot is that it would be the perfect setting for a discussion about Energy, one that is scientific, honest, entertaining, and capture the multifaceted nature of solving the energy needs of an exponentially growing human population without massive world changing impacts to our environment. This is exactly the kind of thing that Epcot should be doing. It is what Epcot Center was all about!
I have an idea, one that is only half-baked, on how to achieve this. I think that the time of the dinosaurs is at an end. We can move the dinos over to Animal Kingdom and fit them into Dinosaur, or a new attraction in Dinoland USA. We need Bill Nye in full on “Change the World” mode, leading us in an exploration of the impacts that our energy consumption has had on the Earth, and then in an entertaining way talk to us about the patchwork network of energy solutions that are likely going to all play a part in meeting our energy needs in an effective and environmentally sound way.
I need to do some research on the feasibility of this idea, and maybe do some bad artwork again, so I don’t know if I’ll get to this later this week or not. Who knows. The Manifesto is ongoing, and until Epcot has been fixed, it will continue to grow.