Over the past few years, we’ve been working hard to build a library of Lost Legends, telling the in-depth behind-the-scenes stories of beloved-and-lost rides from around the globe. We’ve survived Disney’s scariest attraction ever, Alien Encounter; ventured 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to revisit the sunken Magic Kingdom classic; taken flight to relive the lost experience of Soarin’; toured the skies of Walt's Tomorrowland aboard The Peoplemover; we’ve even merrily raced along to Nowhere in Particular aboard Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Across the site, keep your eye out for links to other Lost Legends, or set course for your favorite in our In-Depth Features Library.
But today, we return to what may be the international capital of closed classics: Epcot. It seems that rides at this uniquely futuristic park are doomed from the start, and a number of our Lost Legends resided here once upon a time. Today’s entry earned its place in Disney Parks’ history books by being the first thrill ride at EPCOT; a unique fusion of education and entertainment in a shuttered pavilion.
This can only be the story of BODY WARS, the would-be classic that nauseated a generation en route to an unfortunate and unusual closure. Even today – a decade after its closure – Body Wars is sealed away behind closed doors, rusting and awaiting its own demolition. In today’s in-depth entry, we’ll explore the history of the doomed Wonders of Life pavilion, the experience of its headlining thrill ride, and what became of it. Brace yourself, because this ride is not for the feint of heart… or stomach.
Origins of Life
Frequent readers know by now that the story of a Lost Legend invariably begins years – sometimes decades – before the ride even opens. In this case, the story of Body Wars starts with the origins of EPCOT Center. The park was a conceptual marvel, dedicating massive themed pavilions to areas of science and industry, each pavilion sponsored by a mega-corporation who fit the theme and could foot the bill. Each pavilion would be populated by multiple rides, shows, attractions, even restaurants all meant to convey its central topic and the whims of its sponsor.
Think of it this way: it's as if "science and industry" were sliced into a pie-chart, with pavilions representing each slice: from oceans to agriculture; imagination to communication. Even among these grand, abstract concepts brought to life, at least one topic was conspicuously missing... While less conceptually enormous than the topics covered elsewhere in Future World, the idea of the human body was no less important. And even if there were no pavilion dedicated to life when the park opened in 1982, from the very earliest Blue Sky plans for EPCOT, designers always intended for the park to host a pavilion themed to health and the human body.
In fact, by 1978 (four years before the park was open), Imagineers had already designed a Life pavilion. This circus-themed pavilion would invite guests to learn more about themselves in a number of attractions jutting from the Midway of Life. For example, Good Health Habits was to be a Carousel of Progress style revolving theater; Head Trip would feature animatronic emotions to humorously explain “the data handling and communication capabilities” of our nervous system; Tooth Follies was planned as a musical-mouth revue.
But the headlining attraction for this massive pavilion would be The Incredible Journey Within. Following the template laid out by EPCOT’s best Lost Legends: Journey into Imagination and Horizons, this spectacular dark ride (using a suspended vehicle system like Peter Pan’s Flight) would’ve sent guests through the inner workings of the incredible human machine.
The pavilion's overarching theme? Fun! Life is a carnival; a joy; a wonder!
Lead by Disney Legend (and at that time, president of Walt Disney Imagineering) Marty Sklar, Disney even hosted a Good Health in America conference to bring together leading MDs and CEOs of international health organizations) to piece together the message for this brand new pavilion. By his own admission, Sklar believed the health pavilion would be “more controversial than any subject we’ve taken on, because theories about health care and how you manage your own body have changed a lot.” That’s why their pavilion would need to be about personal choice and not preaching... and why it would need a sponsor willing to invest in keeping this pavilion ever-changing, fresh, and alive.
By time Disney secured a sponsor to foot the bill for the development of a life pavilion, things had changed. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (better known as MetLife) had come on board to finance the $100 million pavilion and as Disney readied itself to build the new E-Ticket Incredible Journey Within, they ran into a snag – their plans were too ambitious.
Sklar and his team reportedly mulled endlessly over how they could realistically build and maintain the massive set pieces that such a journey would require. “If you can think of moving a section of lung, for instance, that was 30 feet high on a continuous basis as people ride through… you can imagine how ponderous and difficult that turned out to be.” Indeed, the physical limitations of technology and cost make the fluid, fluctuating world of the human body inaccessible.
But as the pavilion readied for a 1989 opening, a brand-new and astounding technology seemed to offer exactly what EPCOT Center’s life pavilion needed to bring a trip into the human body to life.
For years, Disneyland’s Tomorrowland had hosted its own microscopic adventure ride, itself a Lost Legend: Adventure Thru Inner Space. However, it had closed just a few years earlier in 1985. Its showbuilding was being reused for a new attraction spearheaded by a new CEO, Michael Eisner, who was determined to make Disney Parks into the kind of places that teenagers wanted to visit.
Eisner and famed Imagineer Tony Baxter had paired with legendary filmmaker George Lucas to bring the universe of Star Wars to Disney Parks in a cutting-edge new ride where guests would sit aboard military-grade motion-base simulators, programmed to pitch, roll, and yaw in sync with an in-cabin film projection to simulate a windsheild. There’s no use being coy here… you know about the stellar ride that opened at Disneyland in 1987, and you can catch up with the full, in-depth story behind its development in its own entry – Lost Legends: STAR TOURS – that’s a must-read for Disney Parks fans.
In any case, the idea of utilizing the newly-development simulator technology for a ride through the human body seemed the perfect way to create a headlining attraction for the new Wonders of Life pavilion.
Wonders of Life
When MetLife’s Wonders of Life pavilion opened on October 19, 1989 (almost seven years to the day after the opening of EPCOT Center), the brand new pavilion could be found on a plot of land between Universe of Energy and another Lost Legend: Horizons. While it was actually made up of a series of wings branching from a main structure, guests could only see the pavilion’s most obvious and spectacular architectural feature: a 250-foot-wide, 65-foot-high golden dome set back from a 76-foot tall strand of DNA called the Tower of Life.
Most of the pavilion’s attractions were natural extensions of the lineup Sklar and his companions had imagined a decade earlier – for example, the Sensory Funhouse allowed guests to explore optical, physical, and auditory illusions.
Cranium Command was an Audio-Animatronic show wherein guests would join Buzzy, a brain-operator-in-training, as he tries to tackle piloting "the most unstable craft in the fleet” – a 12-year old boy.
But set away from the Midway under a banner representing the inner complexity of the body, a glowing sign signaled the entrance to the pavilion’s star: Body Wars. Despite a sign promising “a high speed thrill ride into the heart of adventure,” it would be difficult for guests to understand exactly what Body Wars was (especially given that Disney World’s copy of Star Tours wouldn’t open for another two months, allegedly having been delayed at MetLife’s demand so their ride could open first).
Are you ready to venture into the inner workings of the human body? On the next page, we’ll dive into the bloodstream and figure out exactly why Body Wars was left behind. Read on…