Today we remember the opening day of the Wonders of Life Pavilion in EPCOT.
On this day, Wonders of Life in EPCOT was the last pavilion to open without replacing another. For decades, it entertained and educated guests with attractions about health and the human body, including Body Wars. How might you have spent an afternoon here? Keep reading for a trip back in time.
Lead photo courtesy of Michael Gray via Creative Commons.
The Wonders of … Funding
As Imagineers worked through Walt Disney’s original vision for EPCOT and translated these ideas into a theme park, the idea of having an entire pavilion devoted to human biology was an early and often revisited concept.
Why then did the Wonders of Life Pavilion not open until 1989, a full seven years after the rest of EPCOT? Well, it proved rather difficult to find a corporate sponsor for the pavilion, which Disney continues to use to help cover the cost of expensive pavilions and attractions.
Concepts for attractions to be featured within the pavilion had been in the works by Disney Imagineers much earlier, but construction on the Wonders of Life did not start until MetLife signed on as a corporate sponsor, pushing the pavilion’s opening back to 1989.
On October 19, 1989, the Wonders of Life soft-opened to guests, showing its brand new 100,000 square feet of space all devoted to the science behind the human body. Its roof was made of a gold dome that ran 50,000 square feet wide by 65 feet tall, and outside, guests would be greeted by a massive 75-foot-tall representation of a DNA double helix.
A number of uniquely “edu-taining” experiences were available for guests inside the Wonders of Life Pavilion throughout its lifespan. Here are a couple of the most memorable ones as we reminisce on the Wonders of Life Pavilion’s opening day:
The Making of Me
One of the most fascinating attractions to ever exist at a Disney Park, The Making of Me was a 14-minute long film that actually opened about a week later on October 30, 1989 (the official opening day of the Wonders of Life Pavilion.)
The film, which was about exactly what it sounds like, is the only Disney attraction to date that featured a sign at the entrance warning parents not of dark spaces or drops, but of the subject matter itself.
Guests of all ages who did watch the film would learn about the birth experience, from the point of conception through a completed labor. The film was hosted by Martin Short, who went on to host another (now closed) film in the Canada Pavilion of World Showcase.
In The Making of Me, Short played his own father, showing how his parents, as the title suggests, “made him.” The film was not graphic, but obviously the subject matter was not viewed as appropriate by every parent, hence the warning.
As you would expect, the film was largely lighthearted with animations of eggs and sperm carrying most of the show and culminated in a birth filmed from the view of the mother in labor.
Arguably the most popular attraction in the Wonders of Life Pavilion was the Body Wars thrill ride. Body Wars was a motion simulator type ride made with technology very similar to Star Tours (prior to the 3D enhancements) that essentially shrunk guests down to explore the human body from the inside.
Prior to boarding the ride vehicle, guests would enter a research facility specializing in Miniaturized Exploration Technologies (MET) that would allow humans to be shrunk enough to travel in special body probe vehicles.
The pre-show explained that the facility was researching the body’s immune response to receiving a splinter and guests would be able to explore all of the science behind this from the inside out. The thrills came shortly into the expedition when your accompanying researcher was sucked into a capillary, and a high-speed ride through the body ensued.
To effectively leave the body, guests were told they need to get to the brain for an energy boost that would operate on an electrical impulse.
Of course, this eventually worked (but not without a trip through the heart and lungs), and guests were safely returned to their normal size in the pavilion.
Body Wars was the first ride in EPCOT to include a minimum height, and it opened to popular guest reception for the thrilling experience and new technology used to make the ride feel totally immersive.
Cranium Command was one of the most unique Disney attractions to ever exist, and it is remembered fondly by fans who enjoyed it while it was open.
The show was all about Buzzy, an Audio-Animatronic “Cranium Commando” recruit who would essentially “pilot” a human brain to show guests how the organ worked.
The “command center” in which guests were seated during the show was actually the brain’s cortex, specifically a 12-year-old’s brain as Buzzy would share during the attraction. Guests would then learn about the brain through video screens showing different body parts and how they interacted with Buzzy and therefore with the brain.
Many of the actors who played the various body parts on screen were popular performers from Saturday Night Live at the time including Jon Lovitz, Charles Grodin, Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealson, George Wendt, and Bobcat Goldthwait.
Cranium Command was entertaining and relatable for Guests of all ages, as Buzzy helped to navigate the 12-year-old boy’s brain through an average day. With interactions like running late, falling for a crush, and facing bullies as well as an intimidating principal, the experience felt like a coming-of-age story of sorts for adults and was equally entertaining for kids nearing that age.
Wonders of Life Today
As EPCOT evolved over time, so did many of its older pavilions. Wonders of Life moved to a seasonal operating status in 2004 and closed entirely in 2007.
It has reopened since then to be used as a temporary event space, particularly during EPCOT festivals where it has served as a space for seminars, festival merchandise, and even the occasional food location, but unfortunately for fans of Wonders of Life, the attractions inside have not been open (or accessible at all) for a number of years now.
In 2019, Disney announced a total transformation of EPCOT, with one aspect of the project being a Play! Pavilion. When it was announced, the new pavilion was originally intended to be open by the time of the 50th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort in 2021; however, we have not received an update on the project in some time.
We hope to learn more about the Play! Pavilion soon, and in the meantime, we hope you’ve enjoyed reminiscing with us about the Wonders of Life!