Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole, and I'll be your guide on today's trip into Epcot past, a familiar territory around these parts.
Epcot's newest festival, the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, is currently running full steam ahead after being in the park for two weeks now. I had the wonderful chance to experience the festival myself for a few days while I was there recently, and let me say, it is a wonderful addition to the park's pantheon of festivals. Even though food isn't the primary focus, I must confess that the culinary art options were simply fantastic. But the main focus of the festival is obviously on more traditional forms of art like painting and theater. In fact, there will even be a new performing arts center for student workshops and performances debuting during the festival, but unfortunately that means that another Epcot attraction will be biting the dust this week. Before we get to that attraction, however, let's jump back to opening day and look at a few other Epcot attractions of old.
So as you know, the EPCOT Center in 1986 is the greatest a theme park has ever been. (Ok, maybe I'm just saying that because I've written so many articles about it and have truly fallen in love with this place that I've never even been to.) It had so many classic attractions like Spaceship Earth, Horizons, and Journey into Imagination. Amongst all these amazing experiences, people tend to forget about an experience that was at the core of the EPCOT Center, CommuniCore.
Located in the (literal) core of Future World, CommuniCore opened along with the EPCOT Center on October 1st, 1982. Separated into an East and West section, CommuniCore was chockfull of exhibits designed to help guests learn more about where technology would be moving in the future. In other words, CommuniCore was as emblematic of an attraction as you could find for the message of Future World, especially in its original days.
One of the coolest exhibits in CommuniCore was called Compute-A-Coaster, which gave guests a chance to create their own coaster using early computer software. Since it was 1982, the software was obviously pretty rudimentary, but it was still an awesome idea that managed to even inspire later exhibits in Innoventions like the Sum of All Thrills.
There were even early touchscreen technologies at play, as well as a robot that had voice recognition capabilities. These forms of technology were on the forefront of innovation, and I love that there were these types of ideas going around the park at the time.
But the coolest part of CommuniCore was the fact that you could tour Epcot's actual computer center. They had the area set up so that guests could observe how Epcot worked at its core, something you couldn't (and still can't) find at any other theme park anywhere in the world. I wish that an exhibit like this one still existed today, but alas, CommuniCore would not last forever as the attraction's exhibits eventually caught up with the technology of the time.
In the video below, you can get a quick glimpse of what CommuniCore had to offer, though it's a little hard to tell due to the fact that the creator of the video only filmed a couple different things.
CommuniCore closed on January 30th, 1994 to make way for Innoventions, which is in many ways a spiritual successor to CommuniCore. Though Innoventions is nearly dead today, it did manage to have a lot of cool exhibits in its heyday, so the spirit of CommuniCore manages to live on even today.
Speaking of a boatload of exhibits, the Millennium Village created a ton of special exhibits for different countries during the Millennium Celebration from October 1st, 1999 until January 1st, 2001.
Labeled as the centerpiece of the entire Millennium Celebration, this village represented many of the countries that have never had their own pavilion in World Showcase. The simple area was full of displays and little games that tied back into the representative countries. The video below and the picture above gives you a brief look at what the area looked like, and it actually had a pretty cool setup.
I definitely wish that I had had a chance to visit the Millennium Village when it was in the parks. Unfortunately, the area is hardly used today, except for the Food and Wine Festival. But it was always designed as a temporary attraction, unlike our final attraction of the day, Circle of Life.
When I was last in Walt Disney World, I had already heard that Circle of Life was going to be shutting down forever just a few weeks after my trip, so naturally I had to make it a top priority to visit while I was there. I mean, I can't miss out an attraction that is going extinct when I'm the extinct attractions guy. While there, I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the area, so you'll be seeing those throughout the course of this article. (I apologize in advance for the quality. It was dark in there, so I had some issues adjusting the light to perfection.)
Anyways, Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable first opened on January 21st, 1995 as a part of The Lion King craze that was sweeping the Disney Parks. The film was such a box office phenomenon that Disney began to put it everywhere that it could, including Epcot. What made this move so unique was that at the time, Epcot was still very IP-less (Intellectual Property). Frozen wasn't anywhere close to being on the horizon, so Epcot was still very close to its blissful original self.
In many ways, Circle of Life served as foreshadowing for what would happen to Epcot, and you can watch it below if you wanted to follow along with the tale I am about to tell.
The film opens with the Circle of Life scene from the new live action Lion King film. Ok, not really, but they do play the song over images of hundreds of animals in their native habitats. The clip is moving and beautiful, and in many ways, representative of the charm of the original Epcot.
But then suddenly, you are bombarded by an animated scene of Timon and Pumbaa building a dam, while Simba comes up to stop them. This dam is representative of the blockage of creative, original ideas entering Epcot, starting with this attraction itself. Over time, Epcot has lost its identity as a mecca of technology and culture, instead choosing to focus on whatever is the latest in greatest in Disney's IP catalog.
The attraction goes on to enter a morbid phase where it shows that what humanity is doing to this planet will ultimately end up ruining it unless a change is made. Again, the parallel is only too familiar as Epcot is being changed and corrupted day in and day out. I understand that change is a vital part of the Disney pantheon, but the fact that only American Adventure, Impressions de France, and Spaceship Earth have remained relatively the same in Epcot since 1982 is a troubling fact.
But Circle of Life ends on a positive note, with the dam being destroyed and everyone in the savannah being able to enjoy the fruits of the hard work being done by people around the world. On the other hand, Epcot's future does not look quite as bright.
After Circle of Life came out, we still got to enjoy some originality with great attractions like Test Track and Soarin'. These are truly two of the greatest attractions ever created. But looking past those attractions to approximately 2006 and beyond, all that we've seen is more and more IP being added to Epcot. While I love Frozen Ever After, and I'm sure I'll love the new Guardians of the Galaxy coaster, there will always be a nagging doubt that maybe the wrong choice was made by transforming classic attractions like Maelstrom and the Universe of Energy into IP havens.
Again, I am all for the continual changing of the parks, but I wish that we still had the sense of wonder and awe that the original Epcot had in droves. I have nothing against replacing these classic attractions, but I do have something against replacing them with a new product that is inferior to the original and created simply to sell more merchandise.
So now that I've got that off my chest (Sorry, it has been building up for a while and this felt like a perfect time to discuss it.), let's take one more look at Circle of Life, which I do like as a whole. It's got a lot of great humor in it and brings up a super powerful environmental message that Walt himself would be proud to tell.
Additionally, I thought it was very meta that Simba was leading a discussion about the environment and what we as humans could do to change it. It was definitely a peculiar approach, but I thought that it was done with enough grace to make it seem natural.
However, the film was pretty dated and didn't bring in crowds anymore, so I understand why it has to go. (Plus, its disappearance means less IP, so maybe we'll have a happy ending after all.) Circle of Life officially closes this Saturday, February 3rd, so if you have the chance to go in the next two and a half days definitely take the opportunity to get in one last experience.
As you can kind of tell from the photo above, there is a decent amount of room at the front of the theater, so when it reopens on February 9th as a performing arts center, I think the students will have plenty of room to put on some awesome shows.
Well, that brings our circle a full 360 degrees, but here are the traditional hints for next week's article.
- All of these attractions tended to move around the park.
- All of these attractions appeared at one international park.
- Two of these attractions had a holiday theme.
I hope enjoyed this post, and thanks for bearing with me while I ranted for a bit. Epcot has a very special place in my heart, so I had to seize the opportunity to let off a little steam.
Thanks for reading, and have a magical day!