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5 Key Moments that Led to the Decline of Innoventions

3. A change in culture

Innoventions

Image: Disney

As Disney ceded planning for the world of tomorrow in exchange for commerce, they shifted the focus from predictions to celebrations. The 1994 reboot of CommuniCore as Innoventions included oddities such as the Sega line of videogame products. Not coincidentally, Sega sponsored this wing of Innoventions West. At the time, the company was trying to upend Nintendo to become the number one videogame console, which reinforces just how much has changed over the past two decades.

Rather than educate theme park tourists on the mechanics of videogame manufacturing, Innoventions instead highlighted the technological marvels of videogame hardware like the Sega 32X, Sega CD, Sega Pico, and Sega Saturn. Even Sega’s hardware design team didn’t think any of these were worthy of chest-thumping. You’ll find them on many lists of worst console concepts ever. And that’s the underlying flaw with the reboot of Innoventions.

Walt Disney loved corporate sponsorships. On the opening day of Disneyland, his ties to Pepsi were called into question by angry park guests. They were thirsty yet the park lacked functioning water fountains. He got Pepsi, Ford, and other companies to pay for all his work at the 1964 World’s Fair. Michael Eisner wasn’t doing anything the founder of his business found untoward. He just didn’t do it well. His attempts were heavy-handed, and they alienated people.

4. Another disappointing sequel arrives

Sum of all Thrills

Image: Disney

From the beginning, Innoventions suffered from an unpleasant reputation. The replacement for CommuniCore was no longer about innovation despite its name. Instead, it was about product placement. Imagineers bristled at this reputation. They performed a lot of hard work in adding new exhibits to the Pavilion. Some of them like the Live Wire Theater Audio-Animatronic were creepy, while others such as the toilet of tomorrow seemed like their heart was in the right place but they failed to anticipate audience engagement correctly.

The list of failed attractions at Innoventions is long and uncomfortable to read. Innoventions East currently hosts only three attractions, one of which has roots dating back to CommuniCore. That’s The Sum of All Thrills, a roller coaster designer Disney eventually mimicked at another failed endeavor, DisneyQuest.  And that’s what passes for the triumphant attraction from either CommuniCore or Innoventions. The other two operating attractions today are StormStruck and Colortopia. Yes, the best ideas that Innoventions has at the moment are a depiction of how inclement weather affects a home and…a Glidden paint simulator.

How did Disney reach this point? At its inception, CommuniCore stood as an accentuation of Future World, the front half of EPCOT Center. It was the literal hub of the park. Then, Disney tore down the inside of both buildings and started over again with Innoventions. In 1999, they showed enough pride to remodel it for the Millennium Celebration, and then they tried again with more renovations starting in 2007. They even duplicated a portion of it at Disneyland in 2008. So, there was at least some optimism at various points over the years.

5. The beginning of the end

Colortopia

Image: Disney

In 2015, all optimism faded away. Disneyland closed its Innoventions exhibit in March. Less than two months later, Epcot closed Innoventions West, thereby abandoning half the exhibits. In its place sits a character meet and greet, a stopgap measure to use central space in Epcot for something useful to park guests. Few of them realize that the spot where they’re standing was once the pride and joy of the Imagineers who built EPCOT Center as a tribute to Walt Disney. It’s impossible to imagine that he’d feel any sense of gratitude, though. All the ambition and optimism of CommuniCore gradually diminished and has now completely evaporated.

So, what was the cause of the implosion of CommuniCore and Innoventions? Did Disney incorrectly project the future? Well, if they could have done that successfully, building a few theme park attractions would’ve been a huge waste of their gifts. Was their rededication to commercialism a key contributing factor? Absolutely. Then again, Test Track is the sluttiest attraction at Epcot due to its Chevrolet sponsorship, and it’s still claiming one of the longest wait-times at the park. So, park visitors aren’t entirely averse to sponsorship as long as the attraction itself is entertaining.

And that’s the true failing of Innoventions and CommuniCore before it. Neither one of them ever found the hook that would sell park guests on the Future World premise. The closest either version of the Pavilion ever came was…a roller coaster simulator. That speaks volumes about how Disney simply misunderstood their target audience, a rare failing for one of the savviest companies in the world.  They sold out one of the core concepts of EPCOT and Future World, a celebration of innovation and invention, in order to let sponsors buy space for products that demonstrated neither quality. The Sega 32X is the New Coke of videogame consoles, yet Disney tried to pass it off as an amazing technology. Park guests can accept corporate sponsorships when they’re as seamlessly incorporated as It’s a Small World, but the shameless ones at Innoventions created such a negative stigma that Disney could never overcome them.

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There is 1 comment.

I remember the Sega space being absolutely packed. It wasn't a failure. Kids loved it and would play in there for hours at a time in an otherwise boring park.

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