The Best and Worst of Epcot -- #3
Best: Spaceship Earth
The ending still doesn’t work, and many have argued that Dame Judi Dench sounds like a smug schoolteacher. But generally speaking, Spaceship Earth retains is place as one of Epcot and Walt Disney World’s very best not because it tells a particularly coherent story or leaves riders feeling clasically “thrilled.” No, what it does so remarkably well today is exactly what it has done remarkably well for 27 years: It sets the tone for the entire theme park. It offers a well-told tale of where we've been, where we are and where we may be going, optimistically and, speaking as one who actually likes the new, screen-based, Horizons-like ending, with a touch of humor. Even more importantly, Spaceship Earth is the sort of ride that only Disney creates -- or, more accurately, created. Every moment of the long ascent is filled with audio-animatronic magic, and the burning of Rome, short as it is, provides that only-at-Disney jolt to guests who don't expect these sorts of touches at a theme park: "Did you smell that?!" The revamped theme of innovation isn't as specific as the history and future of communications, but in a way, it is the scene-setter EPCOT has always needed. The re-imagined Spaceship Earth would have been right at home at EPCOT Center. Today, alas, it's a bit of an anomaly in the schizophrenic, identity-less Future World. Nonetheless ... it works.
Worst: Universe of Energy/Ellen’s Energy Adventure
Take a perfect theme for an EPCOT pavilion, dumb it down and make it irrelevant and ... you've got the "new" (circa 1996) Universe of Energy. Oddly, Ellen's Energy Adventure has been in place almost as long as the original Universe of Energy attraction, but it feels dated and lackluster in a way that even the admittedly draggy first effort (see below) never did. Ellen De Generes is a great comedian. She's a charming host, and it's hard not to at least be amused by her presence. Once. Ellen's Energy Adventure is the sort of ride that, once experienced, you never want to go on again. Painfully unfunny comedy such as the "humorous" radio broadcasts after the dinosaur sequence; the horrifyingly dated use of "Jeopardy!" and Bill Nye the Science Guy; a "plot" that doesn't make sense even in context; and a murky message made so elementary as to be pointless all combine to make this one of Epcot's absolute worst. There's so much potential here, but even as the entire developed world has made energy use, conservation and development one of its most important priorities, Disney hasn't done a damned thing with the Universe of Energy. In an age of the internet, hybrid cars, consumer solar arrays and hydrogen-powered vehicles, this attraction mentions none of them, leaving it painfully, achingly stuck in the waning days of last century.
The Best and Worst of EPCOT Center -- #3
Best: Universe of Energy
Yes, it’s true that some guidebooks listed EPCOT Center’s Universe of Energy pavilion as the single worst attraction in Central Florida. Boring. Plodding. Simplistic. Biased. And there’s a lot of basis for those negative criticisms. But there’s another way to look at it: The Universe of Energy combined film, audio-animatronics, smell, music, sound and color into an experience that may have seemed dull to some, but was almost certainly never forgotten. The attraction violated Walt’s own vision, put forth during the development of the World’s Fair, that film-based experiences weren’t interesting or involving. Maybe not in a movie theater, but in a traveling theater they became fascinating, particularly when they contained incredible images presented on massive screens. The Universe of Energy had not one but two separate musical themes, and any EPCOT enthusiast c an tell you they may have been trite and jingly, but they were memorable. The audio-animatronic sequences were the heart of the attraction, but today they’re extraneous and feel completely out of place, where in the original incarnation they provided a fantastic centerpiece that truly added to the story. There’s no doubt, particularly in today’s world, that the core message that fossil fuels were really our only good energy option was misguided and painfully tilted toward the interests of Exxon – but it was delivered in a mightily persuasive way. You may not have believed or welcomed it, but you couldn’t argue that it wasn’t told compellingly. Likewise, with its size, its shimmering solar panels, its “Radok blocks” pre-show, its skillful and technologically sophisticated pairing of epic-scaled ride-through and vivid films, the Universe of Energy was a fantastic example of EPCOT Center’s vision.
Worst: World of Motion
There's a painful truth hidden amid loving memories of the "old" EPCOT Center: A couple of the pavilions were, well, not good. The World of Motion was one of them. Yes, it was a quintessential Disney attraction, there's no denying that. It was lavishly produced, beautifully executed, a long and detailed ride-through that in many ways represented the very best Disney had to offer. But it was as bloated as a movie musical from the early 1970s, mistaking "big" for "good," mild humor for passable comedy. On every trip to EPCOT Center from 1983 (my first visit) to 1996, when the attraction closed, I desperately wanted to discover that I was wrong about World of Motion. It never happened. Its history-of-transportation story never felt fully fleshed out, and its music was terrible. Keep in mind, this is coming from a big fan of X Atencio and Buddy Baker. There were, though, a couple of saving graces: the glimmering, shining "city of the future" in the center of the attraction; the gleaming, absolutely beautiful mirrored circle of a building; the curving ascent to the ride that took you outside the show building for a moment and effortlessly conveyed, both to riders and to guests looking at the building, the concept of "motion." EPCOT Central has defended World of Motion in the past, and the flawed attraction is, all things considered, still marginally preferable to Test Track. No, it wasn't very good. But at least it tried.