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Behind the Ride: Spaceship Earth

The Experience: Relaying seminal moments in history in easily consumed parcels

The Trick: Keeping the dialogue fresh with Dame Judi Dench

While the set pieces largely lack dialogue, Disney’s always employed a narrator to tie the experience together. In the earliest days, Vic Perrin explained the history of mankind as shown on the ride. You may not know who he is, but his casting made perfect sense at the time. He was Control Voice on The Outer Limits, which means he handled one of the seminal audio clips of the 1960s.

Perrin’s role at Spaceship Earth lasted only four years. There was nothing wrong with his performance. Park planners simply decided that they wanted someone with more stature. They chose legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite. Disney also added a cheesy song called Tomorrow’s Child to accompany the ride.

I’m of the opinion that this move distracted from the presence of Cronkite, one of the most trusted voices in broadcasting, but it’s a minor gripe. The important aspect is that Disney viewed Spaceship Earth as the signature attraction at Epcot. They updated it only four years after the park’s opening, changing the later section to reflect the new theme of Tomorrow’s Child. Then, they altered it again multiple times over the next several years.

One of those changes was to swap out Cronkite for Jeremy Irons in 1984. Only a dozen years after Spaceship Earth’s debut, Disney added a dozen new scenes, making the entire ride feel reborn. They also eliminated the Tomorrow’s Child portion, accepting that it hadn’t worked quite as well as intended.

Irons maintained his role for 13 years, making him the current holder of the longest tenure title on Spaceship Earth. In 2007, Disney replaced him with the current narrator, Dame Judi Dench. They also altered several scenes and added new ones. Most importantly, Disney…well, we’ll get to that in the next section.

The purpose of Dench, Irons, Cronkite, and Perrin has always been the same. The narration fills in the space between the set pieces. Disney can explain the importance of each sequence without boring the audience. It makes each standalone story feel like part of a larger tapestry, the evolution of humankind throughout history.

The Experience: Choosing your own adventure in the future

The Trick: Upgrading tech to make the ride down as engaging as the ride up

With the 2007 update, Disney finally found the perfect ending for the attraction, the downward phase that’s always been problematic. Imagineers added an element that gamified this section. They did so to honor the new sponsor of Spaceship Earth, a forward-thinking corporation named Siemens, who came onboard in 2005. While the sponsorship ended in 2017, the ideas from it remain fruitful to this day.

On the current iteration of the ride, you can use a touchscreen to choose a few aspects of your future life. Once you’ve completed the interactive questionnaire, Spaceship Earth produces an adorable animated video that displays a better tomorrow, one where technology makes your life easier.

The “choose your own adventure” portion is the missing element that this attraction always needed to exemplify all phases of the Epcot dream. Now, the ride starts with a visual, informational section before segueing into an optimistic take on life a few years from now. It’s the perfect mix of understanding yesterday while looking forward to tomorrow, precisely what Walt Disney did when he announced the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow more than half a century ago!

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There is 1 comment.

Nice article, but a few factual misses. The first narrator wasn't Vic Perrin, as confirmed by Marty Sklar in a 2008 interview, but was Lawrence Dobkin. Also, it says Jeremy Irons took over in 1984 but that's incorrect and likely a typo as it was 1994.

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