Remembering the Magic: Universe of Energy Pavilion

by Jonathan Heigl, contributing writer
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This month, we will go back through time as we explore the history of the Universe of Energy Pavilion. This pavilion has not gone through many changes, but it has been around since the beginning of Epcot. Let's begin our look back through the history of this Future World Pavilion!

Universe of Energy (October 1, 1982 – 1995)

The Universe of Energy Pavilion opened with EPCOT Center on October 1, 1982. The pavilion was about education and awareness of energy, how it was formed, and the many forms it has. It was sponsored by Exxon from 1982 through 1996. The building was quite unique—there are 2,200 solar energy panels made up of 80,000 three-inch photovoltaic cells that cover the two-acre roof of the building. These solar energy panels are actually used to help power the ride vehicles inside.


The original Universe of Energy logo.

There were many plants and dinosaur shaped topiaries outside of the pavilion, and there were also red, orange, and yellow stripes running down the side as part of the design. In front of the building there was a shallow concrete pond that held the sign that read Universe of Energy (in orange). The pavilion was home to only one attraction, titled Universe of Energy, which was a slow-moving dark ride that lasted roughly 45 minutes.

The building has four areas: The first is the Preshow area, followed by Theater 1, the Primeval World, and Theater II.

When guests entered the building, they immediately entered the Preshow area. This was a standing theater. At the front near the top of the wall was a "kinetic mosaic" screen, made of 100 rotating prism-shaped (one black side and two white sides) screens set in a 25-wide-by-4-high arrangement. These screens would turn to either one of the projection screens (one of the two white screens) when that particular screen was going to be receiving the transmission, or to the one black side when it was to be dark.

There were five projectors to transmit the show. These screens and projectors showed an 8-minute film by Czech film director Emil Radok and narrated by Vic Perrin. The film was sort of a kaleidoscope-type effect, and because of this, the director called it the "kinetic mosaic." Various types of energy were shown during the film, such as wind, water, heat, light, fossil fuels, nuclear, electrical, and mechanical (or motion). The film would profess how energy is neither created nor destroyed, but it is perceived in different forms. At the end of the preshow, the much loved "Energy (You Make the World Go 'Round)" theme song was played.

Guests would then proceed through the opened doors from the Preshow area into Theater I, where they would sit in one of the 97-person-seating ride vehicles. These vehicles were just big long bench seats (the ones used today). After all of the guests were seated, the lights dimmed and the floor began to rotate, turning the cars around to face the screens above the doors the guests just entered through. On these screens was an animated movie, roughly 4 minutes long, and showing how fossil fuels were formed. This film showed primeval plant life forming and dying, sinking into the earth, and after millions of years of heat and pressure, forming peat and then coal.

Also shown was primeval sea life forming and dying, sinking into the ocean and becoming oil and gas after millions of years of heat and pressure. As the film progressed, volcanoes and dinosaurs were shown in the tropical environment that most think of when thinking about volcanoes and dinosaurs. This would act as a set up for the next part of the ride in the Primeval World.

After the film, the floor would slowly rotate part of the way back from which it began, but this time, pointing the riders at the curtains to the left side of the theater when facing the screens (the right side when the guests first entered Theater I). The curtains would slowly rise and the cars would slowly enter the Primeval World.

In this part were large Audio-Animatronic dinosaurs, a foggy haze, warmer temperatures, large prehistoric bugs and creatures, and of course, tropical scenery and sounds. The first creatures the guests encountered were a giant millipede and an edaphosaurus. Straight ahead were the giant brontosauruses in the swamp, chewing on grasses, moving their heads/necks around, and making noises. Some duck-billed trachodons could also be seen in the pond area, a bit further.

As guests continued winding through the Primeval World, the lush green scenery became more dull, rocky, and brown. The smell of sulfur, the sights and sounds of volcanoes, and bubbling pools of liquid are around. A battle scene between a stegosaurus and an allosaurus on an unstable ledge takes place as the ride vehicles continue underneath. A group of ornithomimus are standing by as one of their own sinks into a boiling tar pit. Winged pteradons are seen hanging on the edges of the cliffs. An elasmosaurus, a long-neck carnivorous dinosaur, lashes out at the guests as the ride vehicles go by. As the vehicles pass by, they enter upon Theater II.

Theater II was also known as the EPCOT Energy Information Center. Inside this theater was a 210-foot screen wrapped around the front and sides of the theater for an almost panoramic view (wrapped 220 degrees—almost a full circle). On this screen, a 12-minute film was shown on the current-day energy sources, as well as future energy solutions such as solar facilities, wind turbines, oil platforms, satellites in space looking for fossil fuel deposits, Tokamak machines used for fusion power, and also the solar panels on the Universe of Energy Pavilion. The ending of the film shows a rocket blasting off. During this scene, the ride vehicles began to move back into Theater I for the final film.

As the vehicles entered Theater I, the curtains on the walls have been raised to show mirrored walls all around (besides the main screen). The final film was a two-minute laser light show (which would of course bounce around off of the mirrored walls). During this show, the song "Universe of Energy" was played. After the film, guests were released from the vehicles into a room where Exxon had many displays. Sometimes guests could pick up a free comic book featuring Mickey and Goofy (revolving around energy, of course).

In January 1996, Disney decided to close this pavilion in favor of a refurbishment. This was due to a lot of feedback the company was hearing regarding the park (by this time referred to simply as "Epcot") being an "adult only park" due to its educational and somewhat serious focus. Even though there were other attractions, such as World of Motion, the Imagination Pavilion, and others that had some humor, Disney decided to refurbish the Universe of Energy Pavilion into something a bit lighter and add a little bit of humor while still maintaining the integrity of the pavilion.

[Read an original newspaper article from the Lakeland Ledger, published on May 8, 1983, about the Universe of Energy Pavilion. I find these historical news articles fascinating and will try to include them with subsequent articles, if available.]

Ellen's Energy Adventure (September 15, 1996 – Present)

On September 15, 1996, the former Universe of Energy pavilion reopened as Ellen's Energy Crisis, but was quickly renamed to its current name, Ellen's Energy Adventure. This new version would star Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye the Science Guy. The premise of the new show is that Ellen dreams that she is a contestant on the game show Jeopardy, and all of the categories were about energy, which she knew nothing about. During this dream, Bill Nye takes Ellen on a journey, first, back in time to explore the beginning of the universe, how energy is formed, the time of the dinosaurs, then to learn about modern day and futuristic energy sources.

The first noticeable difference besides the name change was to the building itself. What was a red, orange, and yellow color scheme painted on the pavilion was now rainbow colored. The inside of the pavilion, in terms of layout and flow, was really unchanged.

Guests entered the Preshow area (still a standing theater), but instead of the kinetic mosaic, there was now a 90-foot-wide-by-14-foot-high screen that utilized five film projectors. The preshow film is about 8 minutes long and starts with Ellen welcoming everyone to the pavilion and giving a brief overview of "what happened." She then takes us into her remembrance of this event, and the scene switches to her apartment, where she is watching Jeopardy. Neighbor Bill Nye comes to her door. Ellen falls asleep and dreams that she is on the game show with Albert Einstein and her former classmate, Dr. Judy Peterson (played by Jamie Lee Curtis). All of the Jeopardy categories were about energy, which Ellen knows nothing about, so she was getting beat badly by her former classmate. Being embarrassed, Ellen freezes the dream and goes with Bill Nye to explore the past and learn about energy.

At this time, guests are sent into Theater I, where the ride vehicles are stationed. Once boarded, the floor would still rotate the 180 degrees to view the screen in Theater I, just like it did before. However, this time the film was a continuation of Ellen's adventure, and lasted about 6 minutes. The film shows the Big Bang, how the Universe was created, the formation of the planets and other space bodies, and the formation of Earth.

The camera then zooms in on a tropical area of the earth and lands as if it was a projectile. Here is where Ellen and Bill are shown, in the lush tropical environment, and Bill begins to explain what happened and where they are. He begins to explain how fossil fuels began to be created. Near the end of the film, the theater floor begins to rotate 90 degrees back the way it was originally faced (like the original ride), so that the guests could enter the Primeval World. In Theater I, the sound system was updated to add better speakers and subwoofers so that guests would feel more "in the action" with the Big Bang.

The Primeval World area was not changed very much. Ellen's and Bill's voices can be heard in certain areas, as you are following them through the dream. The dinosaurs received new paint jobs and an Ellen Audio-Animatronic was added where the elasmosaurus is, and she is fighting it off with a branch from a tree. The ornithomimus that was previously stuck in a bubbling tar pit is no longer portrayed that way, but instead is just in a pond area, spitting water at some guests as they go by.

As the guests enter Theater II, a radio broadcast is being played, with the voices of Bill Nye and Willard Scott. The station's call sign is KNRG (a play on Kinetic Energy). Again, in this theater, a film is shown on the nearly panoramic screen, but this film (at the time) was updated and more humorous. Bill and Ellen still explored current-day energy techniques, such as solar, wind, water (dam) power, oil rigs, nuclear power, and power plants. They also talk about roughly how many more years of energy we have left with the current (at the time) fossil fuels and the supply that we have found, but assure us that we are always finding more. Near the end of this film, Ellen returns to the second round of Jeopardy and does quite well in the categories, eventually tying her old classmate as they enter the Final Jeopardy round.

Guests begin to move back into Theater I as the Final Jeopardy music is playing. Once all of the cars arrive, the film proceeds. Ellen gets the question right and wins the game. She then pops back up on the screen outside of the dream and goes on to say that that is how she became an expert in energy.

During the transition to Final Jeopardy, many people enjoy the two lines Johnny Gilbert says. The first, being "If you would like to have your own energy nightmare, place a self-addressed, stamped envelope under your pillow, or check us out on the web at www.energy-nightmare.game." This is and has been a fictitious website (for now). The second, which is a reference to the attraction's former self, he says, "Some contestants on Jeopardy will receive a year's supply of energy. Energy, you make the world go 'round."

In 2004, ExxonMobil dropped sponsorship of the pavilion and over the ensuing years, all signs and references were removed. The pavilion is currently operating without sponsorship.

My verdict – revert, update, leave alone, or re-imagine?

Let me start off by saying that I appreciate the original theme of EPCOT Center—educational and informative. Now, there are many ways to achieve this. I think Ellen's Energy Adventure is much better than the original Universe of Energy version. I do still enjoy this attraction to this day. However, this attraction is in dire need of update. The films are now dated, some of the information is also dated, and quite frankly, the Audio-Animatronics and ride vehicles could all use some major replacing. My verdict is definitely update. I wouldn't be opposed to a re-imagine, but I am not sure what I would even suggest fill that space. In keeping with the way Epcot updates or re-imagines tend to go, they always tend to stay pretty much on the same topic at hand, so a re-imagine would probably stay on energy. What are your thoughts? Feel free to discuss with me and others! I'd love to hear your opinions on the article and your verdict!

Comments

  1. By davidgra

    For me, the Universe of Energy is one of the few examples of how a Future World pavilion can be overhauled and improved. Ellen's Energy Adventure is definitely more entertaining than the original Universe of Energy attraction.

    While I think it is probably time for another update, I'm hesitant to fully support a movement to renovate it. Seeing what was done to Horizons, World of Motion, the Living Seas and Imagination, it seems that major overhauls are generally a big step away from the original purpose of Future World, and usually not an improvement. OK, the Nemo update to the Living Seas did improve that pavilion, but the rest are definitely not as good as the original attractions, in my mind.

  2. By jms1969

    My vote on this one is "leave alone". While some minor factual items are a bit out of date, the show itself isn't and is still relevant to those watching it - Jeopardy is still around, and the actors portraying the main characters remain popular today. Even though the show is almost 20 years old, it still feels "fresher" than that.

    There are a lot of other attractions at WDW that need updating or replacement before this one.

  3. By jheigl

    Quote Originally Posted by davidgra View Post
    For me, the Universe of Energy is one of the few examples of how a Future World pavilion can be overhauled and improved. Ellen's Energy Adventure is definitely more entertaining than the original Universe of Energy attraction.

    While I think it is probably time for another update, I'm hesitant to fully support a movement to renovate it. Seeing what was done to Horizons, World of Motion, the Living Seas and Imagination, it seems that major overhauls are generally a big step away from the original purpose of Future World, and usually not an improvement. OK, the Nemo update to the Living Seas did improve that pavilion, but the rest are definitely not as good as the original attractions, in my mind.

    I think I might just agree with every single word you said! The pavilion, in my opinion, was definitely overhauled and improved with Ellen's Energy Adventure as opposed to it's original Universe of Energy. The other attractions you mentioned (Horizons, World of Motion, etc) were all great and after their total renovations, some may think otherwise, or long for those attractions back again as they were more in line with the original vision of Future World. In order to do a full renovation of this pavilion, I would want Disney to be extremely careful in which direction they would choose to go. Simply updating the existing pavilion to more current films and facts would be ok with me!

  4. By jheigl

    Quote Originally Posted by jms1969 View Post
    My vote on this one is "leave alone". While some minor factual items are a bit out of date, the show itself isn't and is still relevant to those watching it - Jeopardy is still around, and the actors portraying the main characters remain popular today. Even though the show is almost 20 years old, it still feels "fresher" than that.

    There's a lot of other rides at WDW that need updating or replacement before this one.

    Also a very good point. Ellen, Bill Nye, and Jeopardy are all still very popular today (although there may be more of a problem after Alex Trebek retires in the near future). The facts are definitely out of date and I think that (to some of us hardcore/science fans) can make it seem more dated than others may think. There are most definitely other rides that could use updating before this one, that's for sure!

  5. By spectromen

    Thanks for the great article. I do enjoy this attraction every time I visit Epcot, but I miss the original 2 songs. Also, from what I understand, many effects in the diorama have been turned off, so it appears to be lacking. The Ellen animatronic looks nothing like her and needs to be upgraded. Other than that, I wouldn't vote for a complete overhaul because the existing ride system is really impressive. When the time does come, I'd rather just see new, shortened films put in to reduce the overall length of show to more like 30 minutes.

  6. By yedliw

    Can I vote 2x to change this one? I think it misses the mark. Some have commented that the actors are still fresh.. but this was shot when Alex still had his mustache.. and Jaime Lee Curtis still had red hair. To a lot of people today, she is that old lady in the yogurt commercials.. Ellen is the same as she has ever been, so that part is good. I have never really been a fan of Nye.. I guess I was never really his target demographic.. When his show was on, I was older than it's target audience.

    The 'ride' is too long and slow. When one of the draws is that it is 45 minutes sitting in air conditioning, says a lot about it.. I think they could do more with the dinos they have. I actually fell asleep the last time i was on it.

    I like the idea of having a conservation mind frame.. but I think the activities in Innovations do a better job. Generally speaking we do need to have a better understanding on where all of our resources come from, be it food.. or energy.

    I'll probably get crushed for my opinions.. but they are what they are..

  7. By mkelm44

    Let me put it to you this way- Ellen's Energy is now old enough to vote. Yedliw points out its strongest feature it's 45 minutes long and air conditioned. It's a slow moving nap. To anyone who has been to Epcot this century, they've had the opportunity to see it. While I don't necessarily believe that rides must be changed every X years, this is one that definitely could be updated.

    The field of energy has made significant changes in the two decades since this ride was last renovated. There are huge areas of growth in renewable energy production, greenhouse gas emission reduction, and energy conservation. While this by no means should be made a thrill ride ("Wind turbines- WHEEE!!!" said nobody, ever) I think that you could turn this into a much updated, much shorter ride that is more effective at providing edutainment than this. The hosts, Bill Nye and Ellen DeGeneres are much more relevant to the parents than any child in the audience, as Bill Guy is known more today as a promoter of science education (or more precisely defender against creationism and bible-based science)and his "Science Guy" tv show has been off the air for 15 years, while Ellen is known for her daytime TV show which none of the children in the crowd watch.

    I don't think this needs to go the way of The Seas pavilion, where Disney characters are slapped everywhere, you could very easily bring in any number of characters for cameo purposes to make it kid-friendly if you so desire. The biggest single issue I have is that the huge focus is on dinosaurs and fossil based fuels, while it should be split more equally on fossil and alternative fuels. A truncated fossil based fuel followed by demonstrations of alternative energy production, non-fossil based vehicles, and energy efficient homes would be a vast improvement.

    There are some rides/shows at Disney that are right on the cusp of needing an update, but to me this one is well past it's expiration date. It's slow and unexciting, it's outdated in both its cultural and technical references, and it's poorly focused on the direction of the energy field for educational purposes. Definitely it needs an update.

  8. By jms1969

    Quote Originally Posted by yedliw View Post
    Can I vote 2x to change this one? I think it misses the mark. Some have commented that the actors are still fresh.. but this was shot when Alex still had his mustache.. and Jaime Lee Curtis still had red hair. To a lot of people today, she is that old lady in the yogurt commercials.. Ellen is the same as she has ever been, so that part is good. I have never really been a fan of Nye.. I guess I was never really his target demographic.. When his show was on, I was older than it's target audience.

    The 'ride' is too long and slow. When one of the draws is that it is 45 minutes sitting in air conditioning, says a lot about it.. I think they could do more with the dinos they have. I actually fell asleep the last time i was on it.

    I like the idea of having a conservation mind frame.. but I think the activities in Innovations do a better job. Generally speaking we do need to have a better understanding on where all of our resources come from, be it food.. or energy.

    I'll probably get crushed for my opinions.. but they are what they are..

    I won't "crush" you - everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I guess I will question whether a trimmed mustache on one actor and recolored hair on another is really enough to force an attraction to be updated. The fact that you point to Curtis as old to you, and Nye as appealing to a younger generation than yourself kind of tells me that this attraction hits just the right tone for everyone. The attraction, in my mind, is very entertaining for most the first few times they see it - it hits the right balance of education, humor, and the dinosaur world is especially "cool" for the younger kids .

    I do, however, agree that the ride is certainly long and slow, and doesn't have a lot of re-rideability (is that a word? If not, it should be! ). I certainly won't ever put this on any favorite attraction list - I've taken a few naps on it also! However, I look at WDW and see several attractions badly in need of an update (the poster child here is the Great Movie Ride in DHS) or a total change out (hello, Stitch!). Given that Ellen's Energy Adventure remains reasonably fresh and entertaining, I have a tough time saying anything should change here right now.

    One last point - this attraction serves an important purpose at Epcot as one which is capable of sucking in large crowds at a time. I think any attempt to change it to a totally different ride would negatively impact the rest of the park.

  9. By carolinakid

    We usually skip this unless we're with newbies but the last time we did it the primeval world /dinosaur section seemed to be in need of a little loving care re: refurbing/sprucing up. And I agree the AA Ellen looks nothing like her...

  10. By DisneyGator

    I can't believe there are people here that would leave it the way it is. This is the one ride in my 7 trips that I've done only once, never to do it again. Like someone said above, we hit it so that my 1yo could catch a nap on a freezing cold day in the winter.

    First, it's very dated when it comes to energy. I'm sure there are new-energy companies that could move in and sponser it. You know, like Solyndra Just kidding, take it easy. But I'm sure a Chevron or BP would love to move in and talk about how they're making the world better and cleaner.

    Second, it's 45 minutes. There is NOTHING at WDW that last that long and for good reason. Even the longest fireworks or shows are 30 min tops, and those are filled with fun and singing. It has to be shortened. Period.

    Third, get rid of Ellen!!! She wasn't funny in the 90s. She's not funny now. All I remember from that ride is hoping the dinosaurs would eat her!

    I don't think it's time to get rid of it completely because it sorta still fits in Future World, although not as much as it once did. But if it came down to the choices of keeping it the way it is and turning it into a mid-level attraction (or even a gift shop!), I guarantee I'll be there more than I'll ever be if it stays the same.

  11. By danyoung

    Thanks for the excellent trip down Memory Lane, Jonathan! I have a couple of small techie corrections:

    First, the final scene in the original show didn't include a laser light show - there were no lasers in use there. It was a very active graphic projection that was picked up by the mirrored surfaces, making the entire area full of motion.

    Second, and this is only opinion, I don't think KNRG is a reference to kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion. Rather, it's a play on American radio stations' call signs, with everything west of the Mississippi having a K as its leading letter and everything east having a W (with a couple of exceptions like WBAP in Dallas or KDKA in Pittsburgh). Since the show was in Florida it probably should have been WNRG, but I guess KNRG looked cooler.

    I first rode the original version about a week after Epcot opened. I remember being floored when the entire theater rotated. And when the vehicles started moving forward I just about lost my mind! It's hard to look at the vehicles now and remember that there was a time when I didn't know they were actually vehicles. I guess I was overwhelmed by the amazing-ness that was E.P.C.O.T. at the time.

    Anyway, thanks again for the excellent retrospective!

  12. By jheigl

    Quote Originally Posted by danyoung View Post
    Thanks for the excellent trip down Memory Lane, Jonathan! I have a couple of small techie corrections:

    First, the final scene in the original show didn't include a laser light show - there were no lasers in use there. It was a very active graphic projection that was picked up by the mirrored surfaces, making the entire area full of motion.

    Second, and this is only opinion, I don't think KNRG is a reference to kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion. Rather, it's a play on American radio stations' call signs, with everything west of the Mississippi having a K as its leading letter and everything east having a W (with a couple of exceptions like WBAP in Dallas or KDKA in Pittsburgh). Since the show was in Florida it probably should have been WNRG, but I guess KNRG looked cooler.

    I first rode the original version about a week after Epcot opened. I remember being floored when the entire theater rotated. And when the vehicles started moving forward I just about lost my mind! It's hard to look at the vehicles now and remember that there was a time when I didn't know they were actually vehicles. I guess I was overwhelmed by the amazing-ness that was E.P.C.O.T. at the time.

    Anyway, thanks again for the excellent retrospective!


    To your first point, you're right!...that was my typo (sorry about that). I meant to say laser LIKE show (not a true laser light show, but the projections were similar). You are right. It was a projection on the screens picked up by the mirrored surfaces, but the projections on the screen were almost laser-like. Thanks for that correction! On the second point, KNRG is definitely a play on the western call signs for radio stations, as they do start with K (that point was not lost on me originally), however, KNRG (from all of my research and gained knowledge over the years) most definitely was also a play on kinetic energy! Perhaps the idea to "play" on the kinetic energy idea was made possible (or at least made more sense) due to the fact that K is a real beginning letter in call signs for radio stations in the West!

  13. By littlej

    Hi Jonathan, thanks for the great article about probably my favorite ride when Epcot Center opened, in my tweens. I *just* found a Mickey and Goofy comic book in my parents' basement: Mickey and Goofy explore the Universe of Energy. I was wondering where they'd bought it, and you totally cleared it up for me! I've started a little collection of old Epcot artifacts and this is now one of my most treasured possessions. I'm amazed it's still in great shape!

  14. By jheigl

    Quote Originally Posted by littlej View Post
    Hi Jonathan, thanks for the great article about probably my favorite ride when Epcot Center opened, in my tweens. I *just* found a Mickey and Goofy comic book in my parents' basement: Mickey and Goofy explore the Universe of Energy. I was wondering where they'd bought it, and you totally cleared it up for me! I've started a little collection of old Epcot artifacts and this is now one of my most treasured possessions. I'm amazed it's still in great shape!

    That is so cool that you found the magazine! I have collections of my own as well...park maps from all the parks, old vacation planning VHS tapes, etc. I love the old stuff!

  15. By Boundyman

    I think this attraction needs a change. I would keep its outdoor look and keep it being powered by solar panels. But I think the ride should be a little more exciting. The dinosaur scene should be as exciting, but less intense, as the Dinosaur attraction in Animal Kingdom. After that, it should be the history of man using energy in automatronic scenes rather than movie screens.

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