Was Wonders of Life Wonderful?

I’ve started, deleted, restarted, redeleted, put off, made up excuses (some legit, some not), and basically ignored writing this next blog post for weeks now.  To be fair, it’s been busy lately, at work and at home, with annual review stuff, digging out of a work-related hole, sick kids, and various other things that have made finding time to start writing difficult.

But, being honest with myself, that is not the only thing that has really stopped me from writing.  You see, I know what the next target on my Imagineering plan to remake Epcot (Plan Alpha) is, and I’ll admit something here, don’t tell anyone: I never formed a real emotional bond with Wonders of Life.

It is one of the most beautiful of all of the Epcot buildings.

It is one of the most beautiful of all of the Epcot buildings.

There, I said it.  I admitted that there is a pavilion that is associated with Epcot Center in it’s peak that I just didn’t connect with deeply.  If anyone were lead to believe that I thought that early Epcot could do no wrong, you should take note of this.  Let me try and dig into why this pavilion never fully connected with me, because I feel like there are a few factors at play.

First, there was the timing of the pavilion’s opening.  The pavilion was opened late in 1989, nearly 1990.  If the rest of Epcot Center hit me at just the perfect time in my life to make a significant impact (ages 6-13), Wonders of Life hit at just the wrong time.  At age 14, there were other things on my mind that, biologically speaking, took focus away from learning about health.  The Making of Me was in line with my thought process, yet decidedly not the kind of film about sex that I was looking for at the time.

The pavilion itself also suffered from the fact that the main E-ticket attraction, Body Wars, was the second attraction added in as many years that for me didn’t live up to the expectations/hype that surrounded it.  Maybe Disney just set themselves up for failure by creating so many stellar attractions in Epcot Center prior to 1988ish. 

Maelstrom opened in 1988, and by the description in the Birnbaum books, and by those given out by Disney Marketing, I remember going in thinking it was going to be the new gold standard for floating attractions.  Something Splash Mountain would soon become.  What it turned out to be was something slightly different, a short, enjoyable yet vaguely underwhelming attraction. 

Body Wars again from my memory was sold as a phenomenal simulator experience.  The timing between Body Wars and Star Tours is a bit fuzzy in my mind.  A trip out to Disneyland must have hit between the opening of Star Tours and Body Wars, because I remember how much I had loved Star Tours when I was hearing about Body Wars, but I believe Body Wars actually opened before MGM Studio’s version of Star Tours.  That means that the one trip to Disneyland and the many, many trips on Star Tours left quite an impression on me, which as you may recall is no surprise due to my love of Star Wars.  I can still remember waiting in line for Body Wars expecting my world to be rocked.  Well, it was rocked, to the point of motion sickness, but that’s about it.

Back and forth... back and forth...

Back and forth... back and forth...

Body Wars, a Star Tours-esque simulator attraction which, in Fantastic Voyage style, you were shrunk down and inserted into a person’s body.  As one would expect, the normal planned simple trip faces problems and a madcap race through the body is made, taking you through the heart, lungs, and brain, before at the last second getting out of the body.  It should have worked. 

I think that there were a few things working against it.  Mainly, I think that the motion simulations were too harsh for most riders.  I’d never been one to get motion sick on a simulator ride before, but that back-and-forth pulsing of the beating heart really did a number on me.  As people prone to motion sickness might tell you, it’s hard to enjoy yourself when you feel on the brink of vomiting. 

I also think that the loose tie-in to Fantastic Voyage / Innerspace, while not really picking up much of the story felt a bit on the lazy side honestly.  I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but it just did. 

Having a lackluster E-ticket in your pavilion does not really help people form an emotional connection with the pavilion.  Of all the pieces of that pavilion that existed, the one that really stood out the most was Cranium Command, which was stellar.  The trip into the mind of a 12 year old has obvious impact on the company of today.  Pete Doctor animated the pre-show, and later would go on to direct a little movie called Inside Out, one of Pixar’s best films in a stable of stellar films.  The show really hit on so many levels, with spot perfect casting of the different organs in the body.  The show was brilliant, and stole the show of the entire pavilion.

The rest of the pavilion seems, at least to my memory that was always on the look out for an attractive girl to stare at and do absolutely nothing about, like standard science-museum fare.  I remembers spending a lot of time riding the stationary bikes that let me ride around different places via the video screens, a technology that would later make going to the gym almost tolerable.

Does this thing get ESPN?

Does this thing get ESPN?

All added together, the pavilion had one great attraction, one underwhelming (and sickness inducing) attraction, a film I never saw due to not wanting to think scientifically about sex at the time, and a bunch of smaller little fun distractions that took your time for a minute here or there.  With Horizons and World of Motion right next door, it just didn’t get a lions share of my time.  Added to that, I had a bit of a hiatus in my Disney trips, only having a small handful of trips between 1994 and 2004.  So Wonders of Life really only had a few years, a couple of trips, to try and compete with the other Future World pavilions for my emotional connection, and it just didn’t take.

Quite a few words there to basically make an excuse for why it’s taken me so long to write this post, and let’s throw another excuse in here.  I really don’t have what I’d consider a great idea for what to do with the Wonders of Life pavilion.  I’ve got a few ideas that I’d consider a’ight, but nothing that has truly struck me like lightning the way that some others have.

It means that more than most pavilions, when I get around to writing up further ideas, Plan Beta, Plan Tres, etc, I’ll have a list of things to work with.  That also means that more so than most, I’ll have a lot of waiving my hands at some vague concepts that are not in any way fully-formed or interesting.  Ohhh, with words like that, I’m sure you’re drooling at the next part of this post!  Wait, don’t click close yet!  At least give it a try.

Ok, now that we’ve lost the non-committed, let’s talk a little about what the pavilion should be.  While an idea I have that I’ll hit another time turns the focus away from the health and life sciences, I do think that this pavilion should keep it’s original focus.  The amount we’ve learned in the past few decades about how the human body works, what it needs to live a healthy life, and the limited knowledge that most people have in this area makes it almost a crime that Epcot does not cover this anymore.

Now, the challenge, how to make this topic both entertaining and educational, without just rehashing what existed before.  

First, I’ll point back to an old post that I wrote about how I don’t hate the idea of involving characters in Epcot, as long as that character interaction is done in a thoughtful and well-executed manner.  So far, Disney hasn’t done a good job of this in Epcot, the characters that have been included have been done so in a haphazard way, just seemingly thrown in without much thought at all.  I’m strongly against this.  I am however not against the idea of incorporating characters at all.

With the recent success of Inside Out, both critically and at the box office, it’s pretty easy to imagine the film fitting in well in a revitalized Wonders of Life pavilion.  It’s almost too easy to see how Disney could do it in a poorly conceived fashion as well.  Hey, let’s just throw the characters in a Meet and Greet, maybe a half assed reboot of Cranium Command, and call it a day.  Heck, I think I’ve even suggested the second one in the past.  That would be doing a disservice to the film, and to Epcot though.

A film as creative, and as thoughtful, as Inside Out should have an attraction that does the same.  Boy do I wish I could come up with an idea to do it justice!  Here’s the thing though, it shouldn’t be that difficult in some respects to do this, and to still take the time to teach a little as well.  One of the things that I found most interesting about Inside Out was how it did try and work within the constraints of some of what is known about thought, and how our brains process it. 

I can picture an attraction, a mix of screens (ugh) and physical animatronic characters that could walk us through a situation in Riley’s day.  Don’t just remake the film in a The Seas with Nemo way, “oh no, we lost the core memories again, let’s go and visit the same things we did before in the film you loved, only without a sense of drama or insight!”.  Find a way that we could explore the thought process.  Maybe the attraction all takes place on a single day in school.  We get the opportunities to explore learning, daydreaming, a crush, peer pressure, etc.  I can see in my mind a physical set of the control room, memories rolling around, the emotions playing off each other, but still describing how the brain is processing the world around it.  How a good teacher sparks interest and leads to learning.  How a teacher that just throws on an outdated filmstrip sparks boredom and daydreaming.  How the emotions play off each other in social situations.  It all seems like, if given the keys, Pete Doctor could write a simple yet impactful “sequel” to Inside Out, in attraction format.  I’d like motion to be incorporated, I don’t want it to just be a show like Cranium Command, so likely there would be some aspects of the story that would help turn it into more of a screen-assisted dark-ride.

In parallel to the new attraction, I think that a mix of the science-museum style hands on exhibits and some sections that allow for easily updatable information would round out the pavilion.  There are so many interesting things that could be covered, a ton of which I barely know the tiniest bit about.  3D printing of human tissue, prosthetic advances, cancer treatments via immunotherapy, a section on how vaccination works (yeah, I’d steer right into that so-called controversy).  I’d love a little area with a large screen that was constantly updated with new advances in science and medicine.  Something you could stop in for a few minutes each time, and learn something you never knew existed.  Something like this would play really well with the inspirational message that old Epcot Center used to have, inspiring the next generation of scientific researchers and doctors.

I’d also like an exhibit, maybe a film like The Making of Me, about positive body image.  Something that investigates and explores the idea of what it means to be healthy and how being “Skinny” isn’t always the same thing.  Something that helps educate people in health topics, while encouraging people to be comfortable in their own skin.  Promoting healthly lifestyle choices while also promoting loving the shape that they are in.

At one point early on, I had started a pinterest board where I’d pin interesting health topics that popped up.  I’m not a good pinterester though, so I nearly never add new info to it.  Still, just a brief look at it gives an idea of what some of the potential topics to be explored could be.

 

I think that Wonders of Life deserves to be resurrected, in order to inspire everyone to invest in their body, their mind, and to keep looking forward to help us all gain a larger appreciation of the amazing piece of machinery that we are all inhabiting, the human body.