Cranium CommandImage: Stuart Newsom, Flickr (license) Though the film Inside Out gave a face to human emotions in the summer of 2015, Cranium Command did it first at the Wonders of Life pavilion. This audio animatronic show allowed guests to sit inside the "control center" of the brain of a 12-year-old adolescent boy while animatronic character Buzzy facilitated communication (via screen) between different parts of the boy’s body, including the left and right brain, the heart's right and left ventricles, the stomach, the adrenal gland, and even the bladder, all while trying to deal with typical 12-year old problems like love interests, bullies and school. This show was fairly short, but it continued the theme introduced by Body Wars of viewing our own bodies from a new perspective, and was a great way to showcase the amazing way our brains manage every single part of our bodies. Though the way our brain processes information is obviously a little bit more complicated than just checking in with various organs via screen, Cranium Command helped bring the complex world of neuro-function to a wide audience via this simplistic conceit, and was yet another attraction that really proved that EPCOT was a place where guests could be entertained and learn something as well.
The Making of Me
The Making of Me was a short film housed in the Fitness Fairgrounds’ Birth Theater about conception and childbirth, starring Martin Short. When it was first opened in 1989, it caused a bit of a stir, as the topic of human reproduction was considered to be one unfit for a theme park. However, it seemed that a pavilion dedicated to human biology and life science simply couldn't exist without some mention of human reproduction, and even though EPCOT had to include a parental advisory warning, The Making of Me actually went on to become a highlight of the Wonders of Life pavilion.
The 14-minute film begins with Martin Short wondering how he was created by his parents, and then transports viewers back in time, showing how his parents enjoyed life as young adults (with Short stepping into the role of his young father). After some lighthearted courtship, the film gets down to the science stuff with a fun animated segment that shows cartoon sperm trying to win a "race" to get to a female egg. From there, the film goes on to show footage of actual fetal development in utero. Though the film ends with birth, nothing graphic is shown, and young viewers typically came away with a new appreciation for the process of human reproduction (even if some of the specifics were deliberately left out!)
Loss of sponsorship and the end of regular operation
While Wonders of Life was definitely a popular pavilion in the 1990s (with Body Wars becoming a headlining attraction at EPCOT), after Wonders of Life celebrated its 10-year anniversary the pavilion hit a major roadblock, one that would lead to the pavilion's decline and ultimate closure several years later: the loss of sponsor MetLife.
In 2001, just 12 years after it publicly committed itself to maintaining Wonders of Life, MetLife abruptly ended its sponsorship of the pavilion, reportedly after a dispute about extending life insurance benefits for Disney employees. The loss of the sponsorship was felt almost overnight, with updates to the pavilion ceasing immediately and the pavilion switching to seasonal operations just three years later, in 2004.
During this seasonal period, attractions were still essentially frozen in their 2001 state, and exhibits like Frontiers in Medicine (which had previously been updated quite frequently to include recent developments in the world of medicine) began to fall out of date. Guests also reported that other attractions that needed maintenance during this period were often ignored, leading many to skip over this pavilion as guests never knew what attractions would be working on any given day.
Ultimately, Disney was unable to find a replacement sponsor after MetLife's departure in 2001, and the pavilion closed for good on January 1st, 2007. Though the closure of this pavilion was certainly crushing for those of us who knew and loved Wonders of Life, in some ways the worst was yet to come, as this pavilion would fall further into disrepair in a truly bizarre case where Walt Disney World used the bare bones of this former structure almost immediately for something that actually had nothing to do with life science or even Future World...
Standing but not operating
In October 2007, nine months after Wonders of Life closed, the golden domed building that formerly housed the Wonders of Life pavilion reopened…as the Festival Center for that year's Food and Wine Festival. As you can see in the image above (taken in 2007), almost all of the former attractions were left standing in place, with signage for Body Wars even up and illuminated in the background. However, despite being right in view, none of these attractions were ever operational after the pavilion's closure, and guests wanting to peruse the various offerings at 2007's Food & Wine Festival had to walk around the former non-working attractions to get to the Food & Wine Festival demonstrations, which was particularly painful for those who were still reeling from the loss of this pavilion.
In an even stranger twist, some of the former attractions were retrofitted for use during the 2007 Food and Wine festival. For instance, the entrance of Cranium Command was turned into a stage where wine seminars were held. Though the attraction itself still existed behind this entrance, the front was converted into a makeshift stage and used for several years while the screens and animatronics used in this attraction simply sat behind walls.
Another part of an attraction that was retrofitted for Festival Center use (though not in 2007) was the former extended queue for Body Wars, which is instantly recognizable thanks to its half-circle topped archways and was eventually used as a holding area for guests who want to check out demonstrations as part of the Flower and Garden Festival. In fact much of the queue for Body Wars is still intact even now...but has been reduced to being used for storage.
Check out the video above for a look at how the interior queue for Body Wars looked just last year...