Monday, May 08, 2006

The Real Wonder

What went through their minds?

When the decision was made to shut down the Wonders of Life pavilion, what could Disney theme park managers have been thinking?

Was it too expensive to operate? Guess what, guys? Running a theme park is expensive – if you don’t think it should be, you’re probably in the wrong business.

Were the attractions too old? Old, perhaps, but also timeless. Outdated? Absolutely. But that’s nothing that five or six million dollars (chump change in this business) couldn’t have fixed. Create new film elements for the Cranium Command attraction; you’re taking kid stars and a small crew here, not particularly expensive. Heck, you could have even gotten away with keeping Charles Grodin and Bobcat Goldthwait; yeah, maybe Hanz ‘n’ Franz needed to go, but you could have found a stable of relatively inexpensive talent in your Disney Channel lineup.

Granted, that Making of Me attraction was getting a little embarrassing, but it could have been redone for another few million bucks. Spend another five million upgrading the movie in Body Wars and another on giving the place an upgraded paint scheme and redoing some of the bicycling-through-the-U.S. movies (some shots just screamed 1980s) and you’d be done.

For thirty or forty million bucks, tops, you could have had an entirely upgraded pavilion.

Instead, you shut it down.

And spent five times that amount on Mission: Space. (Not to mention the fact that your parent company is spending about five or six times that on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest this summer.)

I don’t get it. I really don’t. Once again, you’ve taken an attraction that was wholly unique in the Florida market, and a rarity in the entire world, and you’ve trashed it. Literally, this time around.

It just makes no sense to me that someone thought it would be better to have a massive golden dome that sits empty and barren, prompting puzzled questions from guests, than inject some money into revising and updating it … and, in the process, losing what more than one travel writer thought was the best attraction at Epcot (the aforementioned Cranium Command).

Did it not enter your minds that a ghost-town attraction would speak unintentional volumes about the level of commitment Disney has to its theme parks? That guests might be put off by realizing they spent 50 bucks to get into the park, but their money isn’t actually going to maintaining the park?

The real wonder is how these people keep their jobs.

Wonders of Life was a great experience. For those only interested in seeing big-ticket attractions, it offered two (one of them complete with a terrific Audio-Animatronics figure). For those interested in exploring more, it offered a myriad of opportunities – all of them in air-conditioned splendor. It was a respite from the Florida heat, a way to learn a little and laugh while doing it, a place where parents and kids could spend time together, an experience that left you even just a little more aware of your own body.

Yet, without a corporate sponsor, it was left to be neglected and, ultimately, abandoned.

The Wonders of Life once perfectly embodied what EPCOT Center was all about. Today, it perfectly embodies the level of interest and support that Disney gives to Epcot. Unintentionally, perhaps, Disney created its newest symbol in that golden dome.


Anonymous said...

I thought that when they decided to make Epcot center a themepark, they were going to update it like a World's Fair to reflect the growth in technology and industry. Well, we can see where that went. Disney is following the current trend of corporate business..less is more. In truth, "dimishing returns" and we as the consumer are paying more for less.

The Wonders of Life was a wonderful attraction and with the ever changing nature of health and medicine, there's unending possibilities for that site. It's a shame they don't seem to think so.

Mr Banks said...

You're not going to convince me that Disney Designers hit this one out of the ball-park. Incredibly great idea for a pavilion, ugly execution; the bastard child of Future World, the first one that felt like it was rushed and done on the cheap. I say tear it down and then re-imagine with a completely fresh approach. The lighting, for one, was right out of a WalMart superstore. Good luck on the next one!

Anonymous said...

Spectacular post. I think I can add something to it though.

First off I think you are so right in it being worth the investment to bring it current. With tax, my wife and I last week spent almost 70 dollars each for a 1 day Epcot pass. We have a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) family member and as much as I love epcot I won't give them money to infinity if there is not a reinvestment into the parks. How many times can I watch that France movie?

What really confounds me is the level of attention given to the small items. Sure Body wars would only take a few million to update and Cranium Command could cost much less. It's not like Disney has no assets to film a series of short films adding up to 12 minutes. However the galling thing here is not just the removal of these 2 attractions, it is the plug pulling of the whole pavilion (the small items).

Florida is hot as hell in Summer. After barfing on Mission Space, 45 minutes of Ellen or Energy (that's another post), and wondering what the hell Odyssey is/was, it was great to get in that air-conditioned dome. I can only imagine how many people walked in there grumpy and ragged and had their day recalibrated.

Still the small thing that I want to emphasize are those small diversions in the pavilion. There was a little room that simply had some touch screen monitors that talked about new discoveries in medical science. It was no $100 million dollar spin ride, but I still remember a small video I saw on it years ago. Please excuse the following fact mushiness (I'm an accountant not a physician). It was about a man who had a HIV for an especially long time without it breaking out into aids. After agreeing to let himself be studied, a more effective drug was developed.

I like thrill rides and entertainment, but in epcot there is supposed to be another element. That day I dreamed of millions of people not dying of aids. The Wonder of life pavilion is the place where we can imagine such things, just as in The Land we can imagine a world without hunger. Imagining GM building a slightly better handling car than Honda is not quite as uplifting, once again that's another post. So my soul was lifted by the dream of the end of a disease, can't remember the last time that happened at Six Flags.

Finally I want to comment on the other small attractions there. The optical illusions that make you think about your eyes. The bikes that help you imagine a more fun health club. These attractions cost almost nothing compared to the major rides and staffing, but they can be so entertaining. These are often the first thing to break and then not be removed or fixed, left as a monument to neglect of not only the attraction but ultimately of your experience.

Epcot82 said...

Thank you for your response, EpcotFan83. I think you're absolutely right about how Wonders of Life helped you imagine the world of health and your body. I never even noticed the presentation about the man with HIV, but used to love taking my friends to see the optical/physical illusions. Though designed for kids, they were hugely popular with guests of all ages -- "Honey, come here! Feel this!"

The MetLife message was not particularly intrusive (though it was always odd seeing Snoopy at Walt Disney World!).

Brilliant note about GM and Test Track, by the way.

No, I can't imagine leaving Six Flags inspired by the possibility of a better world where diseases and hunger were being addressed by people with passion and commitment. Then again, I'm finding it harder and harder to leave a certain Disney theme park inspired by such things, either. Sad.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of changing subjects here, this reminds me of the Magic Shoppe on Main Street. The Powers That Be decided that this piece of real estate was too valuable to sell only weird magic toys and stuff and so turned it into the Main Street Athletic Club. Huh? That sounds like something I would see at Six Flags and think "hmmm... they're trying to be more like Disney World. They don't get it."

Instead of being creative and keeping the theme, they get rid of it entirely and put up something one would see in any other amusement park or mall. It happened with Horizons; it happened with World of Motion. There's nothing to keep me from thinking it won't happen to this pavilion as inperfect as it was.

Good grief.