The Living Seas. In some of the DisNerd community, this is a major rallying point for people against the "toonification" of Epcot. This term is being used as a derogatory term against bringing characters into Epcot. It seems like this would be something that I would be right there rallying against, yet in theory, I am not. How this is done in Epcot today is a different beast all together. I was originally going to talk about Toonification in this post, but I think I’ll save it for a full post for a deeper exploration. Let’s stick to The Living Seas of yesterday and today.
For background, The Living Seas as a pavilion when it opened in 1986 consisted of the following:
You would walk in, past the existing rock-work water feature with the crashing waves. No seagulls screeching “Mine – Mine” obviously, just the occasional crashing waves, the sound and sight setting up a quiet trip to a rocky seaside. The story starts here.
The queue wound through the queue fairly similarly to what exists now, but as you walked, you were taken past historical pictures and examples of human kind's exploration under the water. Graphics showing the design of early snorkles, diving bells, actual early dive suits. This pavilion was not about the ocean, it was about oceanic exploration. Our quest to understand the mysteries of the seas.
I’ll likely include a supplemental post again with more detailed information, but think about this. The Homo Sapien has been on this Earth for estimates that go well over a million years. Until the late 1800s, it was thought that ocean life could not physically exist under 1800 feet due to the pressure. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the first successful trips down below 500 feet. Less than 100 years in an existence that stretches back millennia. The invention of the Bathyspehere in the early 1900s is the first time we were able to explore oceans at any real depth.
The queue brought you to section that served as a waiting area for a preshow film. You were then taken into a small theater to watch a short film, which I'll once again admit a deep and undying love for and bias towards. The film, entitled “The Sea”, in 8 minutes covered the creation of Earth, the creation of the oceans, the importance of the oceans to life, and the fact that we know next to nothing about them and that we are still discovering new things in them.
Pausing for a brief moment, as a child (I would have been 10 in 1986), this is the first time that any of this had ever even come into consideration for me. I had never thought about how the Earth was created. I had never thought about how the oceans came from rain. RAIN! There are so many lines that stuck in my head during this film, but the one that always had it's intended effect on me is "...waiting in a world where we've spent less time than on the surface of the moon." It was meant to convey the idea that there is so much there yet to be discovered, and it worked like gangbusters on me. I have an audio version of this film, and I honestly listen to it in my car when driving, and it still excites me every single time.
Once you left the film, you were ushered into another room to await boarding your hydrolator.
Now, that is an odd word. Hydrolator. I'm guessing they made it up for Epcot, but I have never researched it. Anyway, you boarded what amounted to a fake elevator. This was going to "take you down to Seabase Alpha". The floor shook, bubbles went up, an effect was made to look like the we were scrolling past rocks on our way down deep under the sea, and a minute later, the other door opened up and you were under the ocean. The effect was simple. You know what, as a kid, it worked like gangbusters to me (to show how well it works, just look at Universal in their brand new Gringott’s ride, that elevator is just a spruced up Hydrolator). I don't remember how many years I truly believed that those things really did move, even if it was just taking me down one floor or something. My disbelief was suspended enough to really buy into the fact that we were on a seabase under the ocean, even if I knew it not to be true. You boarded a clam shell vehicle which took you on a quick ride into the Seabase itself, and it was kind of useless as a ride honestly.
Once you arrived in the area that now makes up the post-ride pavilion, it was themed to be an actual seabase. Do you see how the story is continuing. We arrive at the seaside. We are talked to about oceanic exploration. We get a sense of the importance and mystery of the ocean. We then go to a “seabase” that is being used for undersea exploration and scientific study.
The huge aquarium was not just an aquarium, but it was part of the show. These were windows from the seabase out into the ocean. This is a point I cannot make strongly enough. The entire idea of the aquarium was that it was the ocean, the scientists (and us by our luck in being able to visit a working scientific research station) used these windows out into the ocean for their research. Again, this is not something that had to be beat over our heads. It was not overly explained. It just was.
The little side alcoves had different things to see and do. I remember a little cartoon film in one that I used to love, with Atlas explaining plate tectonics. Again, it was the first I learned of Pangea, the super-continent.
A lot of the rest of the pavilion is very similar to what exists now. Things to see, learn, do. Touchscreen computers, a section about undersea exploration robots and suits where kids could get in a suit and try and manipulate the pincer hands. The main room had the big water tube, and divers would constantly be coming and going from there into the main aquarium space. The research station with the manatees all lived within the seabase theme.
All together, it added up to one pavilion, one purpose. You were arriving at a seabase, which was being used to explore the world under the ocean. It taught and entertained.
So, we look at the pavilion as it stands now. We have the Nemo ride itself. The queue in my opinion is well done and fun as it relates to the current attraction. I enjoy the idea of walking down the beach and under the water. For what it is, I'm ok. I obviously prefer the previous version, but I accept that the queue is well done for it's designed intent.
The ride itself feels like an odd bird. It is telling some weird version of the original film story, with Nemo missing again, taking us through a "greatest hits" of characters. The video technology is cool, but the ride just feels slapped together, ending in that Blue World song that they used from the Nemo musical. It's an odd mix between a Fantasyland "book report" style dark ride, but it’s a different story, but a story that is a rehash of the film, but not the film... It just looks like they said "Well, what if Nemo got lost again and we asked all his friends to find him, but the little guy is just playing hide and seek so there is no actual drama in the ride, since the only people who think Nemo are lost are his family."
The pavilion itself is ok, standard aquarium fare. The Shedd Aquarium here in Chicago is better.
I enjoy Turtle Talk with the kids. I have no problems there aside from the fact that it really doesn't tie into the story of the pavilion more than it's related to Nemo, and it could have easily (If this were still a seabase, having a window which we can speak to Crush is part of the story!!).
The biggest problem is that the huge aquarium here feels like an afterthought, not the focus. Here you have a 5.7 million gallon aquarium that does not feel like the star attraction. I'll bet there are plenty of people that don't even walk out to the observation area, they ride the ride, look at a couple tanks, and walk out the door. There is a massive aquarium that was perfectly themed to look like the ocean floor, with the sparse nature of the underwater habitat meant to look like an ocean disappearing out into the distance. Since we’ve lost the seabase story, we’re now looking at an aquarium that looks like a second-rate city aquarium.
Where does that leave us? I can pinpoint what I think that the faults are in the existing attraction. The ride has such a poor story, it looks cheaply made, and it has no tie-in to the rest of the pavilion. I wish that undersea exploration were still the focus of the pavilion. I wish that it tried to inspire people to want to think about how we explore and use our oceans in the future. I wish that this pavilion is where they had chosen to partner with James Cameron, as his love for undersea exploration is well known. Cameron could have knocked it out of the park in his sleep. Even I have some ideas for what could be done which I’ll explore later, the main one (GASP) includes keeping Nemo associated!
Mainly, I think what is missing is that sense of purpose. The previous version was meant to teach you about the ocean, while making you think "Why don't we know more about something that makes up 70% of our planet? Will we know more in my lifetime? How cool is would it be to go in a submersible?"
The new one feels, to me, more like "come ride our ride, maybe look at some fish, and buy some Nemo merchandise on your way out". That to me is a massive waste of a beautiful and important pavilion.