Remembering the Magic: Wonders of Life Pavilionby Jonathan Heigl, contributing writer
This month, we explore the history of the Wonders of Life Pavilion. This pavilion is sadly only used for festivals today, with pretty much all references to its past removed, covered up, or painted over. The format of this article will be a little bit different than the others. There isn't a lengthy history to the pavilion, and this pavilion housed a few different attractions and activities, so let's just explore them all here.
Wonders of Life Pavilion
(October 19, 1989 – January 5, 2004 [then started partial operation through January 1, 2007, when it permanently closed])
The Wonders of Life Pavilion was built in Future World on Epcot, in between the Universe of Energy Pavilion and what is now Mission: Space (previously Horizons). The pavilion was sponsored by MetLife and housed many body- and health-related attractions and activities. The pavilion opened on October 19, 1989, just about seven years after Epcot opened.
The pavilion is 100,000 square feet, has a gold-dome roof that is 50,000 square feet and 65 feet high. Outside the pavilion was a 75-foot-tall double-helix next to the Wonders of Life sign. Inside the pavilion, during MetLife's sponsorship from 1989 to 2001, a smaller MetLife blimp could be seen floating around throughout the pavilion.
The two main attractions in the pavilion were Body Wars and Cranium Command. There was also the main area, named Fitness Fairgrounds, which occupied the rest of the pavilion and included a small theater that showed the film, "The Making of Me", a few interactive activities (Coach's Corner, Met Lifestyle Revue, Sensory Funhouse, and Wonder Cycles), a couple multimedia areas (Frontiers of Medicine, Goofy About Health), and a live entertainment area (AnaComical Players). There was also a souvenir shop (Well and Goods Limited), and a quick service restaurant (Pure and Simple). The area was called Fitness Fairgrounds because the area was themed to look like a fair. There were "circus-striped" tents for a lot of the activities inside the pavilion, such as Goofy About Health, Met Lifestyle Revue, and so on.
This was Epcot's first "thrill ride". This was a motion simulator, very similar to the first version of Star Tours (in fact, the simulator looked almost identical, and the technology was pretty much the same, although the ride sequence was different). There were four simulators, each weighing 26 tons and able to hold 40 passengers.
The premise of this ride was that the guests board the vehicle and are shrunken to the size of a blood cell and beamed into a human body to study how the immune system fights off a splinter (and to recover a doctor that was miniaturized and sent in to study the splinter and the body's reaction to it).
Body Wars was towards the back left side of the pavilion (on the face of a clock, it was at about the 10:00 position). Above the entrance to the queue was a very large mural of what appeared to be cells, nerves, and other microscopic body parts, with the name "Body Wars" in big, bold text.
As you entered the queue, you would come to a part of the hall where there were still pictures in a frame with backlight behind them and a big emblem underneath that read "MET" with the words Miniaturized Exploration Technologies underneath in smaller text. It also had the cutout of the ship used for the exploration as the logo.
Throughout the queue, you could hear the laboratory sounds over the speakers, whether it was for people being paged or for other sounds you might expect to hear over a speaker. Shortly after passing by the MET symbol on the wall, guests were sent through the Dermatopic Purification Station, which was not a room, but simply a small part of the queue with lighting and metal grating wrapped around the sides of the walls and the ceiling to make it seem as if you were walking through some sort of machine or something.
After passing through this section, you were taken into a narrower hallway with overhead monitors, where guests were introduced to Dr. Fletcher (the chief scientist of the research facility), introduced to the vehicle, and briefed of the mission. Once this short video was over, guests would proceed through a second Dermatopic Purification Station and into a much narrower hallway, leading to the loading station.
At the end of the hallway there was another monitor that would show video from Dr. Lair inside of the body, from the control center, and also the captain (Captain Braddock) from the cockpit of the ship (B229 - "Bravo Two-Two-Niner). The riders were then given directions on how to board the ship during this video.
Once the doors to the ship opened, guests were directed into the ship, would sit down, store any "carry-ons", and fasten their seatbelt. The inside of the ship looked very similar to the inside of the Star Tours ride vehicle (if not identical), and had five rows. The front of the ship had a large screen where the video of the ride was shown, and a smaller monitor on the right side to show the captain in the cockpit, external views of the ship, control center, and so on. For the first minute or two, the smaller monitor was the only monitor to show video.
Once the mission was cleared to proceed, the large main screen showed the ship going into reduction mode (beamed into the test subject's body). The screen would then show the inside of the body, including the capillaries, blood cells, and so on. It would show white blood cells on their way to destroy a splinter. It would also show Dr. Lair floating around doing her studies of the cells and how they attack. At this point, she sends out a mayday as she is being pulled into a capillary, thus beginning the chase to save her (and also beginning the "thrilling" part of the ride).
Riders chased Dr. Lair through the veins, through the heart and into the lungs, where she is attacked by white blood cells and needing the ship to use the lasers. She gets into the ship at this point, but the ship has lost most of the power to exit the body. The ship is sent back through the heart and then into the brain, where it could use the power in the brain to give it enough energy to exit.
Once the ship is hit with an neurotransmission, it gains enough power and is beamed out, ending the ride after a few scenes on the smaller monitor, wrapping up the mission. Guests exited to the right and then out into a hall which would lead back into the pavilion.
Cranium Command was a theater-based attraction located near the back right side of the pavilion (on the face of a clock it would have been at about 2:00). The attraction was a bit of a humorous attempt to show the functions and importance of the brain in humans. The show was about 17 minutes long, and had about a 5-minute preshow.
As guests entered the queue, they made their way through a hallway, which had various different posters (about the same size as movie posters you would see at a local movie theater). These posters were themed to act as recruitment posters for Cranium Command. There was also a poster called Brain Benders, which had a couple trivia/math questions that made you think about what the answer is. The next poster after that was Cranium Calisthenics, which was one of those types where they have a letter plus a picture to make a word or phrase.
Nearing the end of the hall, guests would enter the preshow area, which was a room where they would stand as they awaited the theater doors opening, and viewed the preshow animated film. This is similar to how the Imagination Pavilion's Captain EO (previously Honey, I Shrunk the Audience) setup is today in terms of the standing area for the preshow while waiting for the theater doors to open).
The preshow animated film begins with drums beating in a typical military marching beat while recruits fill in the seats in front of the stage. Out comes the commanding officer (General Knowledge), who immediately commands everyone's attention with his big stature, a bold, brash voice (like a typical drill sergeant), and commanding presence. He goes on to tell the recruits that it is his job to train them and get them ready to pilot the most important organ in the body, then he goes on to explain some of the basic functions of the brain.
Late to the session is Buzzy, a young recruit, who will also be the main character for the theater portion of the attraction. Buzzy is a little naive and doesn't quite have the proper training and experience. Towards the end of the preshow, the recruits are given their assignment, and Buzzy is given the toughest of them all—an adolescent male. Once the "all clear" is given for the Cranium Commandoes, General Knowledge turns to the audience (guests viewing the preshow), and in a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, tells them, "This isn't a spectator sport… where do you think you are? Disney World? Move it. Move it. Move it." as he points toward the theater as the doors open.
As the guests made their way into the theater, the stage is set up to look like the inside of the human skull (but in a mechanical, gears-and-levers type of way). Where the eye sockets are, there are screens. The film to be shown is shot from a first-person perspective, as if you are inside the head and looking out. Inside is Buzzy in his command post (now an Audio Animatronic who can move around in his chair). He begins by having all of the body parts he is commanding check in (right brain, left brain, hypothalamus, stomach, lungs, heart, and so on). All of the sudden, the morning alarm goes off and wakes up the boy he is controlling. From this point on Buzzy needs to command the body to function properly.
Buzzy takes the adolescent boy through a stressful day for someone his age—waking up (late, of course), then having to skip breakfast because he is running late, running to catch the school bus (in which he decides to take a shortcut and run to school), meeting Annie (a cute girl in his school), being involved in a food fight in the cafeteria, getting yelled at by teachers, and being sent to the principal's office for the food fight, and then being thanked and kissed by Annie.
During all of these events, the various parts of the body check in with Buzzy to let them know what their status is or what they need. Throughout the show, General Knowledge also interrupts Buzzy to let him know he has to do a better job controlling and such, and at the end, commends Buzzy for how he handled the situations that arose throughout the day. The theater show lasted about 17 minutes.
The Making of Me
The Making of Me was a 14-minute film about conception and birth that starred actor Martin Short. As you might assume, with Martin Short, the film had more of a jocular tone to it, however, due to the sensitive nature of the subject, there were signs posted warning parents that they should use their discretion on whether to allow their children to view this. This was a clean film, of course, but a lot of people were uncomfortable with this film. This was shown in the Birth Theater, which was in the center of the pavilion, but towards the back (but not in the back walls).
The film began by Martin Short wondering how he was created. The film goes on to show how his parents met (at a high school dance), how they got married, their honeymoon, and then his birth. There was a short animated sequence during the film (after the honeymoon scene) showing fertilization and the development of the fetus (which was shown in real images).
This was a very controversial "attraction", not because of the film itself, but because of the sensitivity of the subject and whether or not it belonged in a Disney park.
Coach's Corner was an interactive batting cage-like area where guests would swing a baseball bat, golf club, or tennis racquet, and a professional athlete would show on a screen to offer tips on how to improve your swing and posture. The athlete was either Gary Carter, Chris Evert, or Nancy Lopez. Coach's Corner was near the back of the pavilion. If on the face of a clock, it would be about 11:30.
Met Lifestyle Revue
Met Lifestyle Revue allowed guests to input their daily habits into a computer by answering some questions, such as if they smoke, exercise, deal with a lot of stress, their age, weight and height, and so on. Guests would then be told how they can do to improve their overall health, which was formulated based on the answers to the questions asked. This was located right to the left of Coach's Corner, and would be at about 10:00.
Sensory Funhouse was an area dedicated to senses, although mainly sight, sound, and touch, because somehow smell and taste wouldn't work very well. There were a few different activities within Sensory Funhouse:
- Optical Illusions – showed many different optical illusions (sight sense).
- Crooked Room – the floor was crooked and items inside were out of perspective, testing your balance and senses in the room, and the room had video cameras inside so you could watch yourself (sight sense).
- Audio Antics – a series of headphone shaped booths in which the guest would put headphones on and hear all sorts of sound illusions (sound sense).
- Perplexion Pipes – an activity with three pipes, of which one was hot, one was cold, and the one in the middle was both hot and cold—and by touching them, it would throw off your sense of touch.
- Touchy Subjects – an area that had many of those touch boxes that freak everyone out. Guests would reach behind thick black bristles to touch an object that they could not see. The point was to guess what the object was. You could walk behind the long boxes to clearly see what was inside.
- Reading Braille – an area that had many Braille readings, as well as some quite large bumps that could be pressed in with your hands (touch sense).
Sensory Funhouse was quite a large area of the pavilion as I'm sure you could image. It stretched from about the 1 hour position on the face of a clock down to about the 3 hour position. It did split near the middle for the entrance area for Cranium Command.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyed activity in the Fitness Fairgrounds, the Wonder Cycles were machines that guests would sit in and pedal through their choice of three courses that were shown on the screen in front while being shown their speed and calories burned.
The courses available were the Rose Bowl Parade, Disneyland, and a micro course (where you seemed shrunken and everything was large). If the rider started pedaling faster, the video on the TV in front of them would speed up as well, and the speed and calories burned displayed on the screen would reflect this. The bikes were the recumbent style, but looked almost like an arcade racing game in terms of external appearance.
The Wonder Cycles were towards the back left side of the pavilion, or on the face of a clock, they were at stretched from 9:00 to 11:00, with the "bike path" being cut near the middle by the Body Wars area.
Frontiers of Medicine
Frontiers of Medicine was an area where flat displays of current medical research and achievements were shown. This area was kept up to date regularly. This was located in the back of the pavilion near the restrooms; on a clock, it would be at the noon position.
Goofy About Health
Goofy About Health was an open theater where guests could freely walk in and out. The stage had a backdrop of a cartoon city street or alley with a few screens showing Goofy shorts about him exercising or eating healthy. The show was about 8 minutes long. This was located in a small "tent" in the left-center of the pavilion (not along the perimeter, but in the center of the space).
AnaComical Players was an improv comedy show performed by live actors and actresses in which they would perform skits relating to health, wellness, exercise, healthy eating, and so on. This show was housed in the AnaComical Theater, which was smaller than Goofy About Health theater, and was located opposite that theater to the right-center interior of the pavilion.
My verdict – revert, update, leave alone, or re-imagine?
MetLife ended its sponsorship of the pavilion in 2001. The pavilion would hang on for just a few more short years and in January of 2004, began seasonal operation until January 2007, when it was closed for good. Since 2007, the pavilion has been used for festivals (Food and Wine Festival) and other events, such as corporate gatherings (if booked). Most of the signage and theming of the inside of the pavilion has been removed (although slowly, as recently as a few years ago some of the previous attractions and activities' signs could be seen).
Well, seeing as the pavilion is no longer used (for general guest purposes), I think the choice of leave alone is taken off the table. I don't think revert is a realistic possibility either, since the attractions and activities inside would be very dated at this point. So, we're left with update or re-imagine.
Let's say update means that they reopen the pavilion with the major attractions (Body Wars and Cranium Command), but update them and some various activities inside the pavilion. Re-imagine would mean totally rethinking the pavilion and what it would be used for… this could mean razing it and making a brand new pavilion, like they did with Mission:SPACE.
I would like to say my personal opinion would be to re-imagine. I am a huge fan of Body Wars and thought Cranium Command was alright, and who can dislike the Wonder Cycles (?)—but I would assume it would be almost as much money to update the pavilion and find new and exciting things to put in it than it would be to just bring it down and build the next great thing.
Between this pavilion and the Odyssey restaurant sitting empty, these are two major Epcot buildings that are a sore thumb. I don't have any great ideas about what a new pavilion could hold or even what to theme it to. I have heard arguments against reopening this pavilion because of the failure of the health-based activities in Innoventions recently and that most people don't want to go to a theme park and be told that their lifestyles are unhealthy, meanwhile paying a lot of money for park food that is incredibly unhealthy for you. I wouldn't mind seeing another healthy living-based pavilion personally, especially with the health craze that seems to be sweeping the nation (and that is a good thing), but it would need to be done right and be exciting for people to want to visit and have exciting attractions.
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.
[Author's note: For more information, read an original newspaper article from the Star-News, published on December 10, 1989, about the Wonders of Life Pavilion. I find these historical news articles fascinating and will try to include them with subsequent articles, if available.]