There's a certain mystery to the closed portions of the Walt Disney World Resort property. Urban explorers and Disney enthusiasts alike have ventured into areas such as the abandoned River Country water park and the defunct Discovery Island zoological exhibit in order to see a side of Disney normally blocked from public view. These are places that were once “on stage” in Disney parlance, and now they are not. What has changed? Are they still how we remember them? Could Disney reopen them if they were so inclined?
In October of 1989, the Wonders of Life pavilion opened at Epcot. In January of 2007, it closed for good. And yet, despite its doors being opened to the public for occasional events, including the annual Flower & Garden and Food & Wine Festivals, the current state of the pavilion is largely unknown. Yes, portions of it are used for seminars and classes, but what about the rest?
There are rumors strewn across the Disney-centric corners of the internet suggesting that some of its former attractions have been removed. Some, allegedly, are still operable. The status of others is completely unknown – immune even from rampant internet speculation.
Which rumors are true? We will likely never know. So rather than try to speculate on what the Wonders of Life pavilion is like now, let's look back at what it was – remembering some of the most charming and unique attractions Disney ever offered.
5. The design
The original plan for Epcot included a life and health pavilion, but a lack of sponsorship pushed Disney to hold off on the plans until 1989. Nowadays, Epcot's pavilions are mostly home to singular attractions (i.e. Test Track, Mission: Space, Spaceship Earth, arguably), but Wonders of Life was different. It featured two marquee attractions and a number of smaller diversions, activities, and films.
The pavilion took on the look of a carnival or a fair – bright colors and big-top-style architecture gave it a sense of festivity and fun. Imagineers must have thought that something as sterile and cold as health would be off-putting to vacationing families if it weren't couched in an aggressively “fun” visual aesthetic. Personally, I remember loving the pavilion as a kid, so in many ways they were successful in that aim. But, considering how poorly the building aged (seriously, look at all that teal – could it be any more 90s?), that particular design choice may not have been the best one.
4. The main floor
The main floor wasn't just aesthetics and a place to shuttle you from the door to the attractions – there were experiences here for guests to enjoy as well. The Sensory Funhouse was, as its name suggests, an exhibit designed to stimulate guests' senses and explore how people are affected by touch, sight and sound. Coach's Corner offered interactive video training in various sports such as tennis, baseball and golf.
Perhaps the most visually appealing exhibit on the main floor was the Wonder Cycles, which were stationary bicycles with TV screens attached. The screens played a video that would be synchronized to the speed of the bicycle, speeding up and slowing down as the guest did the same with the pedals. This created the sensation of actually biking through a scene. The bikes had multiple course options for the guest to choose from, including the Rose Parade in California and a ride through Disneyland.
The main floor was busy, both literally and in terms of design, but the effect was something like a jolt of energy – which was fitting in the pavilion about life and health.
3. The shows and films
In addition to the diversionary exhibits, Wonders of Life featured a few smaller-scale shows and films. Goofy about Health was a clip-show-style movie that used segments from the classic Disney shorts to teach guests about the importance of staying active. The Anacomical Players were actors who played health-themed theater and improv games, usually to the amusement of the gathered crowd.
But the central film in Wonders of Life was The Making of Me, a 16-minute movie starring Martin Short. In the film, Short explained the human reproductive process by telling the story of his own creation, from his parents' meeting until his birth. Shortly after its debut, Disney made sure the theater featured plenty of warnings about the content of the film, as some families found it too frank in its discussion of human sexuality. It was mostly comical, and didn't go too much into detail, but still guests were warned about possible objectionable content.
All in all, it was a pretty ambitious project for Imagineering – one that would only have been undertaken then, when Epcot was still primarily a park designed to educate its guests, rather than simply entertain them.