Home » Future World’s Original Theme is Almost Completely Dead. Here’s What’s Left

Future World’s Original Theme is Almost Completely Dead. Here’s What’s Left

In a heartbreaking manner, Epcot represents a series of unmet dreams and frustrating compromises. I say that as someone who describes Epcot as my favorite park on the planet. As a Disney historian, however, I look back at Walt Disney’s vision for the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, and then I think about Journey into Imagination with Figment. Somehow, Epcot diverted from its path as a utopian society into a place with a lousy ride that makes lazy jokes about bodily functions. It’s a depressing trajectory.

Epcot’s Future World embodies this odd path. It started with nine pavilions, most of which emphasized edutainment. They exemplified facets of humankind such as communication, creativity, innovation, and nutrition. Today, Mission: Space lets you push a button one or two times while it bounces you around. Somewhere along the way, Disney lost its way, presumably because Uncle Walt died too young. So, how do we evaluate what’s left of the future that Imagineers projected in 1982? Here are my rankings of the remaining pavilions at Future World.

7. Festival Center aka Wonders of Life

One of the heartbreaking aspects of this discussion is the usage of some original pavilions. Horizons, the de facto sequel to Carousel of Progress stood apart as one of the most ambitious original pavilions, one that projected the future. It’s no longer with us, perhaps the most damning statement possible about Epcot.

Another pavilion, the Universe of Energy, is currently in transition from Ellen’s Energy Adventure to a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster that won’t have anything to do with the pavilion’s initial intent. Two of the seven pavilions in operation today are on life support. Choosing one is better is like debating the least klutzy of the Three Stooges.

Wonders of Life was once a place that celebrated the virtues of health and fitness. Its dedicated attractions, Body Wars and Cranium Command, quickly won over guests. The golden-domed pavilion was visually stimulating and maintained the vision Walt Disney had shared for Epcot. Alas, this place cost a lot of money to maintain and became financially impossible when its sponsor, MetLife, dropped out.

Today, Wonders of Life is…a welcome center for the four current international exhibitions Disney hosts at the World Showcase. Where guests once learned in the most entertaining of ways, they now order beers. It’s a bastardization of everything that Disney should stand for and a total waste of space.

6. Innoventions aka Communicore

The formerly great CommuniCore had grand ambitions. Imagineers structured the park so that this area would sit squarely in the middle of Future World, educating one and all on the topic of innovation, especially the fledgling field of computers. Thematically, it was central to Walt Disney’s grand scheme for his utopian capitalist society.

In execution, CommuniCore displayed the overriding problem that has plagued Future World and Tomorrowland for that matter. Technology moves at a pace that construction simply cannot match. Trying to keep up is functionally impossible. This pavilion failed in its first form, forcing Disney to rebrand it as Innoventions.

Over the years, various sponsors have asked for educational attractions, and Imagineers have dutifully constructed them. The best was Sum of All Thrills, a make-your-own roller coaster, which closed in 2016. At the time of publication, three meager Innoventions are available for public consumption plus a character meeting spot. I say with some confidence that when Walt Disney planned his prototype city, he didn’t expect to sponsored edutainment with a Mickey Mouse hangout.

5. Imagination!

The Imagination! pavilion is a great news/horrible news situation. When Disney constructed this shiny glass pavilion on the western side of Future World, they anchored it with arguably the greatest edutainment attraction ever. Called Journey into Imagination, it cleverly displayed the inner workings of the creative process.

A man called the Dreamfinder boarded his trusty vehicular contraption, the Dreamcatcher, and crossed the universe, chugging out new ideas all the while. It was a thoughtful, ambitious attraction with a catchy Sherman Brothers song called One Little Spark, and it had a lovable dragon named Figment that children adored.

Journey into Imagination towered above other Epcot attractions for years before Disney regrettably decided to plus it. They created a new, second version of the ride as part of the millennial changes at the park. And that ride failed horribly. People loathed it. After only three years in operation, Disney switched it out for the current attraction, one that’s also an abomination. Journey into Imagination with Figment is a reductive take on the same premises from Journey into Imagination. It’s less than the original in every way and the antithesis of the Disney philosophy of plussing. The Imagination! pavilion is still amazing to see from a distance, but its primary attraction suck-diddly-ucks.

4. Test Track aka Transportation

Image: DisneyThe remaining four pavilions maintain direct ties to their planned premises. Factoring in Imagination!, that’s five out of nine Future World themes that have at least somewhat stood the test of time. Test Track is somewhat difficult to quantify since its tie-in to the Transportation pavilion isn’t as tight as its predecessor’s.

World of Motion used the same space for a dark ride with 30 different historical scenes, each of which involved transportation in some way. Imagine Spaceship Earth with more humor, and you get the gist. This attraction was 100 percent informational in nature.

During the mid-1990s, the sponsor of the attraction, General Motors, changed from extended contracts to single-year renewals. They did this for two reasons. They were cash-strapped, and they were dubious about the lingering value of World of Motion.

Disney came up with an idea to reinvigorate the Transportation pavilion. They would build a modern dark ride in the space of World of Motion. Test Track is in the conversation for best thrill ride at Walt Disney World, and I’d shortlist it for best overall attraction as well. The only reason I’m not placing it higher is because it’s on shaky ground thematically. I’m dubious that it conveys much of value about the concept of transportation beyond the fact that cars go fast and occasionally must brake quickly.

3. The Seas with Nemo & Friends aka The Living Seas

I struggled a great deal in ordering the top three, although I think that most people agree that they’re the finest lingering remnants of the grand plan for Epcot.

The Living Seas claimed the most gripping blue sky prototype of any Epcot pavilion. It was basically an underwater sea lab, a domed dwelling that would dazzle Disney-philes. While the actual pavilion didn’t quite live up to that vision, it wasn’t a reasonable expectation anyway. When the aquatic celebration of life debuted, it featured the world’s largest aquarium. It’s hard to argue with that, right?

The attraction at the time transported guests to the bottom of the ocean via hypdrolators, which were fake elevators. Nobody actually went anywhere, but it added to the effect of a journey to the bottom of the ocean, where guests would visit Seabase Alpha. It was a marvelous attraction worthy of the Disney name.

Alas, guests never loved it as much as they should, forcing Disney to add the Finding Nemo brand. The current ride shares the same name as the pavilion, and it’s absolutely adorable. It’s just not at all informational. For that, you’ll have to step outside the attraction and wander the pavilion, which remains a wonderful exhibition of aquatic life. As far as honoring the spirit of Epcot, this pavilion does quite well.

2. The Land

Image: DisneyThe Land pavilion reflects the critical nature of agriculture in society, emphasizing food technology in the process. And Disney takes the premise VERY seriously. To wit, Sunshine Seasons is the healthiest restaurant at Epcot, possibly Walt Disney World. Both Sunshine Seasons and Garden Grill Restaurant serve food produced onsite.

Living with the Land, one of the two main attractions here, offers a guided tour of the facilities where the food grows. That’s incredibly tight theming, and the dark ride here provides a great deal of knowledge. The other ride, Soarin’, is much more famous and popular. Its connection to the premise of The Land is a bit opaque, but I feel like the greatness of the attraction is more important than its clarity of theme.

Overall, The Land has honored and maintained its projected theme better than any other true pavilion. I didn’t slot it in first place, though. That honor goes to…

1. Spaceship Earth

Image: DisneyIs this truly a pavilion? Even Disney’s collective resources dance around the topic. In truth, Spaceship Earth is the most memorable and attention-grabbing of all Disney landmarks. Every Disney campus features a castle, but only Epcot claims a pentakis dodecahedron that soars 180 feet into the sky.

Another bit of trivia here is that Spaceship Earth, not CommuniCore, is the “pavilion” that demonstrates communication. You may tilt your head in confusion at this, but it’s laid out plainly on the ride itself. When you journey through the interior of the attraction, you’re learning the detailed manner in which humankind learned to relay information.

Spaceship Earth represents Epcot’s greatest achievement in edutainment. It tells a story with set pieces that demand attention without dulling those with brief attention spans. It spans thousands of years of history in the space of 15 minutes, and it then projects the future, something a failed pavilion wasn’t able to do.

Spaceship Earth is the embodiment of Epcot and the greatest demonstration of the longer-term sustainability of Future World.