Once again, SurferClock and I did a Universal/Disney version of this list some years ago. Here’s the link to it here if you want to listen to it instead of read!
Attractions close for a plethora of reasons. Maintenance issues. Outdated technology. Better IP-based concepts. Evolving parkgoer’s expectations. Weasel outbreaks. And while Walt Disney World still has a ton of unutilized land at its disposal, sometimes they have to swap out what currently exists for a better idea. But the funny thing about Disney theme park fans is they are excruciatingly passionate about the removal of most of their attractions. And when they go, they get all kinds of mad.
I tried to piece list together on three barometers: 1. The amount of fan backlash, 2. The rate of unnecessary-ness of why the attraction was removed, and 3. And the resulting replacement. Warning: feels ahead.
10. Horizons (Epcot) (1999)
When Epcot opened its gates in 1982, actor Danny Kaye promised on its opening televised broadcast the park would amaze and astound the public with its vision of the future. Less than a year later, Horizons opened in Epcot’s Future World East, treated as a spiritual successor to the Carousel of Progress, further expanding the idea of technology and progress advancing society.
Why it closed: Part of the reason why this attraction’s shut down is so sad is its cumbersome collapse to its final destination. You see, it closed forever…three times.
The first date of note is September 30th, 1993. Because Epcot opened under the corporate sponsorship model, and the ride was basically the Carousel of Progress II: Electric Boogaloo, Disney coaxed General Electric to sponsor Horizons under a ten year contract. However, once that decade of financing was up, GE was gone and there was no third party willing to fork over money to keep it open. As such, the ride fell into disrepair and neglect, and in December of 1994, Disney closed the ride.
A year later, Horizons opened! Why? At the time, Epcot was suffering a severe lack of attractions, exacerbated by the shuttering of World of Motion (which was being demolished to make way for Test Track, and still missed its opening date by two years!) And Universe of Energy (Which was getting that long-needed upgrade to add Ellen, and Bill Nye.). Needing a place to put the patrons, Horizons was a placeholder. This lasted until January of 1999, when Horizons closed. Permanently. In September, the attraction opened for one more day for press groups. Then it was done for realsies.
Horizons was demolished not long after, and disney eventually announced its replacement, Mission: Space. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with replacing a slow, static ride about future living with a high-octane thrill ride. But Horizons was ahead of its time, allowing visitors to determine their own ending, as well as embodying Epcot’s original aesthetic. To top it off, Mission: Space has been a controversial addition to Epcot, primarily due to two separate incidents where riders died from cardiac arrest from the rider’s intense G-forces.
9. Discovery Island (1999)
Opening in 1974 as Treasure Island in Bay Lake, east of the Contemporary Resort, the secluded island was an 11.5 acre sanctuary accessible only by boat. Disney changed its name to Discovery Island in 1976, and over the years, it grew its collection of animals. Visitors could step off the boat and wander through several aviaries, shows, enclosures, and exhibits featuring lemurs, monkeys, pelicans, flamingos, alligators, tortoises, macaws, toucans, bald eagles, and muntjacs. There weren’t any rides or character meet-and-greets, not even a single Dole Whip stand. But it was a tranquil little isle for nature lovers, right up until its closure in 1999.
Why it closed: Throughout the nineties, Disney executives were hard at work building a zoological park in the southwestern quadrant of their property. This one had easy accessibility, much more acreage, characters, and best of all, rides! (Well, to be fair, DAK only had four actual rides on opening day, including the Harambe Wildlife Express and Discovery River Boats…which were more transportation than rides.) Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened on Earth Day in 1998 and almost right away, attendance at Discovery Island plummeted. Seeing the redundancy of having two zoological parks at Walt Disney World, Discovery Island closed in April of 1999, nearly a year exactly after DAK opened. Most of the animals were, predictably, relocated to new homes at the new park. Though to really twist the knife, the new park’s central hub, initially named Safari Village, was soon renamed…Discovery Island.
Now, none of that is all that weird or unusual. But what is bizarre is that Disney straight-up just…abandoned the island.
Nowadays, the closest you can legally get near it is by taking the watercraft to or from Fort Wilderness Campground. Even then, the most eagle-eyed in the boat just might only question why there’s a lone shack amid the thick overgrowth of this innocuous island as you breeze by it. All signage is gone, and even the shipwreck, a relic from when it was still Treasure Island, is completely gone from guest view. Naturally, as Walt Disney World is private property, it does not matter how many subscribers you have on your urban explorers channel, if Disney security catches you on Discovery Island, you will be banned from their property for life.
Anyway, of those who have snuck onto the island and lived to tell the tale, some photos have been posted online…and it’s not pretty. Even though all the animals were responsibly relocated, everything else was left behind – for lack of a better comparison – like they left in a hurry. From backstage signage to photos to equipment, all worn and dirty from over twenty years of neglect and enduring the elements, are just left untouched. It’s pretty eerie.
There was a brief period where Imagineers planned to develop the island into its own attraction based on Cyan’s Myst video game franchise. Obviously, that never came to fruition. To this day, the island remains untouched, and with construction largely too dangerous and too expensive to implement a large scale project, the odds of Discovery Island arising from the ashes – in any form – seems to be a fool’s dream.
8. The Great Movie Ride (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)(2016)
There’s something beautiful about the romanticized golden age of cinema. Ushers in pressed suits. Extravagantly designed auditoriums. Celebrities like Mae West, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers, and Clark Gable dressed to the nines on their way to set or a glamorous premiere. This was the Hollywood Michael Eisner wanted to celebrate when he spearheaded the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in the late eighties, calling it “The Hollywood that always was and never will be”. A central feature of the brand new theme park when it opened in 1989 was its headliner attraction, The Great Movie Ride, which was the embodiment of this love of classic cinema.
Why it closed: Disney-MGM Studios suffered a severe identity crisis not long into its existence. It stopped being a real studio within a decade of opening and the theme of celebrating forties-era Hollywood got old. Before long, it became a sort of Frankenpark: a place where rides of various IP’s went that had no real home at any of the other three. Toy Story, The Twilight Zone, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Disney Junior, the Muppets, Aerosmith, and whatever’s-in-theaters-now were all slapped together, say nothing of the short-term implementations of Power Rangers, Doug, Goosebumps, TMNT, Dinosaurs, Ace Ventura, and Tom and Jerry. Before long, the park uncomfortably shed its identity as a park that glamorized Hollywood and showed how movies were made. As the last opening-day attraction standing, The Great Movie Ride held on the longest as the symbol of that mindset.
However, problems first began in 2008 when the park changed its name. MGM wanted to be taken out of the park’s name badly and Disney was finally a strong enough brand to stand on its own. This pretty much guaranteed that despite original plans to update the ride’s tableaus over the years, that was never going to happen. Depictions of White Heat, Footlight Parade, The Wizard of Oz, Tarzan of the Apes, Casablanca, and all the other borrowed IP depictions were left standing, long after fewer and fewer patrons came knowing who Busby Berkley was.
Disney being Disney, they felt they needed a sponsor to keep the ride operating. In 2015, Turner Classic Movies became the sponsor and most of the updates were in the queue and to the ride’s narration spiel, now mostly performed by the channel’s host, Robert Osborne. In 2017, Osborne passed away and that part got really awkward.
That same year, Disney announced at D23 that for the first time ever, Mickey Mouse was getting his own ride. Based off the 2013 Paul Rudish Mickey Mouse cartoons, the main mouse moved into the prime real estate, closing in August of 2017, the very same day as Epcot’s Universe of Energy. Between the antiquity of its tableaus, the bitter relations with MGM, the expense of live performers, the fragile sponsorship with TCM, the death of Osborne, and the opportunity to give Mickey Mouse his own ride at such a perfectly-themed spot all culminated in the demise of this relic of what was once Disney-MGM Studios.
7. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage (Magic Kingdom)(1994)
In 1959, Disneyland unveiled the monorail, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, and the Submarine Voyage attractions, all to great acclaim. The last one was surprisingly not based on the 1954 Kirk Douglas film, but rather a generically-themed ride under the sea that lasted until 1998. After a brief moment where the ride was almost themed to the upcoming film Atlantis: the Lost Empire (And just as quickly abandoned after the movie bombed), it reopened in 2007, themed to the much more successful Pixar movie Finding Nemo.
But from opening day in Florida in 1971, while the same ride in most every way, Imagineers spurned the boring modern-day submarine theme and instead utilized the theme of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: from the vehicles all looking like the Nautilus to Peter Renaday doing his best James Mason impression as Captain Nemo for the ride’s narration.
A beloved sight in Fantasyland, particularly for riders in the Skyway gondolas, the attraction was very popular throughout its entire run. It must have come as a rather jarring surprise when in September of 1994, the ride closed and, much like Rocket Rods at Disneyland less than a decade later, everyone fully expected the ride to reopen and resume operations soon enough.
Two years later, Disney finally admitted the ride was never coming back. Rude.
Why it closed: Disney doesn’t buy the “sunk cost” fallacy: the idea it should keep something around just because they’ve spent so much time and money on it. 20,000 Leagues was a very expensive ride to maintain, and was fraught with mechanical issues. To make matters worse, the boats had a very low hourly ride capacity count, which meant chronic long lines and dimished value as an attraction taking up valuable real estate. On top of that, the only way in and out was through some narrow steps that certainly lost points for riders who had to transfer out of wheelchairs.
In 1995, Disney felt it had better promise as Ariel’s Grotto, a meet-and-greet for the little Mermaid herself, and in 2005, the whole attraction was finally totally demolished and made into Pooh’s Playful Spot, a Hundred Acre Wood-themed play area for young children, as it was across the pathway from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. In 2010, even that closed to make way for the ambitious New Fantasyland expansion. As of 2014, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train has stood in its place, with newer visitors hardly suspecting the spot’s former tenant.
When Pooh’s house was the centerpiece of the kiddie play area, someone was kind enough to carve the Nautilus in the frame of the interior of the door. The whole tree was moved the entrance of the Winnie the Pooh ride, and to this day, you can still go inside and find the carving still there.
6. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (Magic Kingdom)(2002)
Say what you will about Michael Eisner, you had to respect the man’s ambition early on. After taking his son to Disneyland and seeing him get turned off at all the sugar-coated magical whimsy, Eisner made the decision to insert some edginess into the parks, and that meant putting an honest-to-gods scary ride in somewhere.
There was an unsuccessful bid to make a ride based off Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, complete with a lot of pushback from Imagineers, but Eisner pressed on, devising an original storyline and characters, resulting in the 1995 opening of the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. This came on the heels on Tomorrowland’s 1994 upgrade and featured even a televised special dramatizing and sensationalizing the phenomenon of alien abductions. (This was during the height of the X-Files craze back then, you see.)
The ride was pretty intense during its test phase, and was even lightened up a bit. Regardless, the rides still featured pitch darkness, strobing lights, a carnivorous alien, and said alien would breathe, drool, even touch unsuspecting riders. It was the only truly scary ride at any Disney park…for all seven years it operated.
Why it closed: Well, this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Karens aren’t really a new thing. More than few upset parents stormed guest relations and breathed fire at the poor cast members there because Disney World had an actually scary ride. Yes, the ride had warnings posted, a height restriction and – as you might have noticed – the word “terror” literally capitalized in the name. Still, seven years is a good run. And because it was a true, one-of-a-kind attraction, it developed a considerable cult following. Older fans were pleasantly surprised they were challenged by, of all things, a Disney ride. So sure, it bites that it went away. But it’s another thing entirely when it gets replaced the spectacular failure known as Stitch’s Great Escape.
Stitch’s Great Escape was basically Disney’s response to all the guest complaints over the years. Sadly, it neutered the entire point, still terrifying kids, but now older audiences were just insulted. Stitch wasn’t even cute, he was just plain gross. It stuck around almost twice as long, finally limping along to a seasonal operation and eventual closure in 2018. The last time the space was used, Stitch used the lobby for meet and greets where it was called “Stitch’s Alien Encounter”.
Dude. Not cool.
5. River Country (2001)
The commercials said it best: it was a whoop, it was a holler, it was a water jamboree. The first of the three water parks at the resort, opening in 1976, River Country was a highly attractive option for visitors who wanted to swim rather than ride Space Mountain.
Accessible only by Fort Wilderness Campground, the park was themed to an old-fashioned swimming hole with only a few slides. It wasn’t terribly big, with capacity at 5,000, which was soon dwarfed by the bigger, wilder competition: Typhoon Lagoon in 1989 and Blizzard Beach in 1995. Still, the Little Water Park That Could chugged right along right up until September of 2001.
Why it closed: Strangely enough, there’s actually a few urban legends about River Country’s closure. One is supposedly Florida regulations regarding water filtration, causing too much of a hassle for Disney. False. The water filtration laws actually didn’t affect how Disney filtered water coming into the park. Another popular one is the park closed after a child died after being infected by bacteria. False. While yes, a child did tragically pass away from a bacteria called meningoencephalitis…in 1983, a full 18 years before River Country closed up shop. So then. Why did it close?
Let me reiterate when it closed: September. Of 2001.
River Country’s last day of operation was on the second, closing up for the winter for annual maintenance and upkeep, fully expecting to open its gates for the spring 2002 season. But when the attacks on the World Trade Center turned the United States on its head, most everyone lost their appetite for flying in airplanes. The tourism industry plummeted, and parks like Disney were terrified at going broke. Lots of sacrifices were made to trim the fat off budgets. But then someone noticed a certain little water park that was A) cumbersome to access, B) ridiculously small, C) rivaled by bigger, more popular water parks at the resort, and D) already closed for the season, Disney pulled the plug on it. Several returning guests in spring of 2002 were stunned to find the park was closed, and Disney suggested it might reopen if the demand was there.
No, the demand wasn’t there. And much like Discovery Island, Disney didn’t do anything with it except board most of it up and let nature reclaim it. For some time, guests could still wander past the ticket booth nonchalantly and into the central hub of River Country on their way to Fort Wilderness’ Mickey’s Backyard Barbeque. However, an oddly un-themed chainlink fence with green tarp on the right might have raised some eyebrows. Unlike Discovery Island, one could peek through the gaps and see just what nearly twenty years of neglect and rot look like.
In 2018, Disney announced the construction of Reflections Lakeside Lodge, a new deluxe resort to be built on the former River Country grounds. Time will tell if they’ll follow through on it after the standstill brought upon by a certain global pandemic. After all, it’s not like Disney ever just quit building a hotel right in the middle of const-
4. Studio Backlot Tour (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)(2014)
If the Great Movie Ride was to bring about the iconography of the grandeur of golden-age Hollywood, The Studio Backlot Tour (Initially called the Backstage Studio Tour) was the true raison-d’être of the park. GMR was about theme, but Backlot was about the park’s purpose.
Originally two smooing hours long, the Backlot Tour was both a walking and a tram tour that took up more than half of the park’s property. Guests witnessed via tram a prop boneyard, a facade of New York City, the costuming department, a series of houses, short action scenes, and of course Catastrophe Canyon before hoofing it through the production stages to see current live action filming, a water tank demonstration, a short film starring Bette Midler, chromakey demonstrations, rooms full of props, set pieces, and costumes, a short film starring Michael Eisner showcasing upcoming movies, and more before finally, finally having the choice to either walk out or continue to the adjacent Magic of Disney Animation attraction. Phew!
Why it closed: Do you remember how in “Pete’s Dragon”, Doc Terminus sought out Elliott for his parts? He regaled in glee at the thought of binding up, grinding up, lopping up, and chopping up the dragon all just to get his organs, scales, fingernails, hair, et cetera to improve his snake oil elixirs. Well, that’s kinda what happened to the Backlot Tour.
First, a large part of the New York street was culled not long after it opened as the park was so busy they needed space for guests, so it was opened up for them to roam. They culled it again in 1991 for more guest areas. In 1990, the theater that played the Eisner film was converted into Here Come the Muppets and later, Voyage of the Little Mermaid. Mickey Avenue opened up to guests the same year, allowing more foot traffic, but also splitting the walking tour and tram tour, which allowed guests to not be stuck on it for two hours.
In 1996, the animation attraction expanded to add another building, which shorted yet more of the tram tour and put the tram entrance to the other side of the park, near where the walking tour implemented their entrance some 5 years prior. (The walking tour would eventually become Backstage Pass and an assortment of other attractions, so for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to be referring to the tram tour from here on out.) Residential street, where guests could see the Golden Girls house, the Bulldog Cafe, and the house from (checks notes) Empty Nest was shut down in 2003 to make way for the Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show which – yep – reduced the tram tour even further. An even bigger blow in 2008 was the replacement of the live spiel narrator with a prerecorded one, a sadly frequent cost-cutting measure for Disney as it meant less liability for inappropriate off-scripting and one less cast member to pay for operation. The once two-hour tour was reduced to twenty minutes and showed a few large props, an empty costuming department. the water tank demonstration, Catastrophe Canyon, and the original company plane, Ear Force One. To say it was a shell of its former self is an understatement.
In September of 2014, Disney announced the Backlot Tour would operate for a single week longer before closing forever. For what was once the premier gem of the park, to have it eviscerated piece by piece over the years, only to be quickly shuttered forever was pretty insulting. The following year, it was announced Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would be in the former attraction space. What’s odd is it wasn’t as if they were in a rush to get it going: while yes, attractions take years to plan before ground breaks, construction didn’t actually begin until April of 2016, so they had at least a whole eighteen months to keep operating before they had to start work. And that single week left announcement? Cast members who worked there found out at the exact same time.
How’s that for a dignified death?
3. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (Magic Kingdom)(1998)
A beloved staple of Fantasyland, the trip merrily on one’s way to nowhere in particular had been a fan favorite since it first wreaked havoc in Disneyland back in 1955. Naturally, it was cloned in Florida in time for opening day. For over 25 years, patrons could commit countless vehicular assaults under the name of J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq.
After all these years, I’m still confused. I mean, I’ve seen The Wind in the Willows, and I get the appeal to drive a vintage motorcar through the British countryside in madcap glee…but who decided we needed to run head-on into a train and wind up in Hell?
Why it closed: This past year saw the announcement of Splash Mountain getting re-themed to Princess and the Frog. Many are sad to see Br’er Rabbit go (including yours truly), but many more seem enthralled Tiana, Naveen, Louis, Mama Odie, and possibly Dr. Facilier are moving in. A large part of this is simple: just how many more people have seen The Princess and the Frog compared to those who’ve seen Song of the South? We can make arguments for decades that it was due to the Black Lives matter movement or some feeble attempt be “woke”…well, those undoubtedly played a significant part, but easily the biggest incentive was the bottom line: it just makes sense to base a ride off the much more familiar, much more marketable movie. That’s pretty much what happened here.
Sure, people might have been familiar with 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, or the standalone featurette of The Wind in the Willows. But ever since 1966, Winnie the Pooh had proven a far more valuable property, particularly in merchandising. In the end, the bottom line won out and Disney took to implementing a Pooh ride in the Magic Kingdom in lieu of the decidedly not-very-lucrative Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Disney must have thought the public’s love of Pooh Bear would have trumped their love for Toad. And boy howdy, did they bet on the wrong horse.
They did not respond the way the company thought they would. In fact, fans were so incensed it became one of Disney’s first major protests, and it was ostensibly sparked from online forums as one of the world’s first major online protests. Nowadays, fans show their displeasure online, venting on social media and only go to the parks to take advantage of what little time they have left and ride it one last time (Except for Studio Backlot Tour, but I digress…) Back then, though, people didn’t have that kind of instantaneous access. So fans converged at the park and demonstrated “toad-ins” (A take on Civil Rights era’s sit-ins) and wear shirts and buttons decrying “Ask me why Mickey is killing Mr. Toad”, even advertising their website: http://www.savetoad.com.
This went on for about a year before Disney finally closed the ride in September of 1998. Of course, Disney kept the ride in California, where it runs to this day. Still, then-Disneyland president Paul Pressler approved a Pooh ride in Critter Country, evicting the Country Bear Playhouse, a move than was also derided, but not to the degree of vitriol they saw in Florida.
2. Journey into Imagination (Epcot)(1998)
This one hit the hallmarks of bad decision-making at the parks. In fact, it probably goes down as one of the biggest blunders Epcot ever committed.
The Imagination pavilion opened 1983, barely a year into Epcot’s existence. Sponsored by Kodak Eastman, the ride starred the benevolent Dream Finder and his pet dragon figment as they searched through the universe for “sounds, colors, ideas, anything that sparks the imagination!” The ride was a hit with guests and brought the childlike sense of wonder that was woefully absent in Epcot, even bringing with it characters, which is relevant, considering even Mickey and pals were barred from being in the park for a while.
Why it closed: We millenials remember Kodak as the camera and film company that defined what it meant to make memories. Long before we had camera phones, we had “Kodak moments”. But what’s weird is Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented the self-contained digital camera in 1975. His bosses shut him down pretty quickly, and in the late eighties, he tried again, but his bosses dismissed him again, claiming such a device would cannibalize their camera and film sales. Before long, digital cameras started to move in on Kodak’s turf, late to the game. This ultimately led to Kodak’s filing for bankruptcy in 2012. But even in the nineties, Kodak was suffering.
Kodak was looking to end their sponsorship due to their trepidatious financial situation, but Disney was desperate to continue having them foot the bill for the upkeep. I mean, heaven forbid Disney themselves pay to maintain their own rides or anything. As a compromise, Kodak agreed to keep paying sponsorship fees…just at a much reduced amount. All Disney had to do was cut costs. Sounds easy, right? Just funds for basic upkeep and repairs?
Nope. Try reducing the ride track by 40%. And by changing the ride’s theme from a effects-laden magic wonderland to a cold, uninspired laboratory with a few optical illusions. And by evicting Figment and Dream Finder. And the ride began by literally insulting guests (Upon scanning guests’ brains at the beginning, Eric Idle’s character remarks, “As you can see, there’s not much going on up there, imagination-wise!”). Journey into YOUR Imagination lasted barely two years amid guest complaints.
Sadly, even by reinjecting Figment back into the ride, Journey into Your Imagination with Figment was basically a tacky Band-Aid slapped onto something that needed reconstructive surgery. Guests didn’t want an obnoxious, chatty Figment, they wanted the childlike Figment. They didn’t want the stuffy Dr. Nigel Channing, they wanted the whimsical Dream Finder. They didn’t want a sensory-testing facility, they wanted a magic trip through fantasy. To this day, the lines for this attraction rarely exceed 15 minutes, but no substantial rumors have surfaced about possible replacements. Even one of the attraction’s creators, Tony Baxter, agrees the attraction does not work in its current state. Which sounds promising, but hey, Joe Rhode keeps claiming he’s going to fix the yeti one day, but that hasn’t happened yet, either.
1. Wonders of Life pavilion (Epcot)(2007)
The pavilions in future world are all meant to represent various aspects of humanity: imagination, transportation, energy, communication. Environmentalism, oceans, and in this entry, health. Designed to be a funhouse carnival to celebrate health, Wonders of Life opened in 1989, sponsored by MetLife. Inside, guests could watch various old Goofy cartoons as he taught about living a healthy lifestyle in Goofy About Health. Fitness Fairgrounds had a variety of activities meant to make exercise fun. The Making of Me was a show that (not joking) taught kids how babies were made. Cranium Command was a celebrity-laden show about a pilot named Buzzy commanding the brain of a 12-year-old boy. But its biggest E-ticket was a simulator, directed by Leonard Nimoy, where guests boarded vehicles and went on a hair-raising adventure through the human body in Body Wars.
Talk about a healthy ambition.
Why it closed: Yeah, that sponsorship model really did a number on Future World. Short term, yeah, Disney got a ton of cash to build a lot of
good entertaining rides, but they failed to foresee that at some point, these companies were going to stop paying them for any reason whatsoever. And when that happened, Disney was forced to either pay for the attractions’ expenses themselves or…
MetLife ended their contract in 2001. Like all the other negotiations, they struggled to find another sponsor, but there were no takers to be found. So over the next five and a half years, Disney did absolutely nothing and clearly hoped no one would notice. Problem was, when you build your reputation as being of highest quality, and it’s proven on many, many different accounts, people notice when something isn’t up to snuff. So when a wall doesn’t get repainted, a light burns out and doesn’t get replaced, or a video screen goes black and doesn’t come back on, people notice. Never mind the design aesthetic of Wonders of Life incorporated the very, very eighties look of colorful geometric shapes.
I suspect Disney didn’t think it had much longer left to live by that point, anyway. Not long after it opened, Body Wars garnered a pretty gnarly reputation. Between the blood-pulsing effect, the sometimes disjointing of movement compared to screen, and the fact it was literally a ride in the human bloodstream, more than a few guests had “protien spills” as a result. (That’s, uh, cast member vernacular for “vomit”, by the way), so it drove many away. It didn’t help that weeks later, Star Tours opened, and because guests realized it was the exact same ride system with none of the drawbacks Body Wars had, attendance plummeted. The pavilion on health was, well, on life support.
In 2004, Disney sought to do some damage control by rendering operations to seasonal, hoping to minimize complaints, expenses, and breakdowns. By January first of 2007, the attraction closed for good…but the pavilion didn’t.
That very spring, the building reopened, but no one could ride Body Wars or see The Making of Me. For years, Epcot was home to a couple of annual events: the Flower and Garden festival and fall’s Food and Wine Festival. Guests were surprised the pavilion was decked with tables and kiosks, selling merchandise and ads for various companies looking to cross-promote and network. Yes, the home of Cranium Command, Body Wars, and Goofy About Health was left to deteriorate and eventually turned into a pop-up event space to hock merch. Over the years, more and more of the pavilion’s interior signage was stripped away till nothing but the eighties’ aesthetic is seen in the architecture alone. The shuttles for Body Wars were stripped for parts for Star Tours. The Buzzy animatronic in Cranium Command was found intact in 2019, still in his theater, but was stolen and all that’s turned up so far are a few elements of his clothes.
I get that it costs money to demolish attractions and a heck of a lot more to build new E-ticket rides in their place. I’m not unreasonable. But between Discovery Island, River Country, the original Studio Backlot Tour layout, and Wonders of Life, it’s downright criminal how often Disney abandons these areas and fails to make good use of the space. Yes, you could walk Streets of America, but when it wasn’t being used for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing lights, the most you could do there was browse Youse Guys Moichandise. Sure, Wonders of life is being used to sell shirts and wine tastings three times a year, but is that really comparable? I didn’t even get into Epcot’s similar abandoning of World Showplace and the Odyssey restaurant, both of which are used for corporate retreats and company parties. That enrages me further because Epcot’s sponsorship model allowed the pavilions to have private areas for their sponsors to hang out and watch the masses. (Seriously, those giant windows above Garden Grill at Epcot? Yeah, that’s a conference room.)
Watching these rides shutter was hard enough. But it’s just so much harder to watch a beloved attraction close and its replacement is either a sub-par ride or worse, nothing. Me, personally, I’ll still never forgive them for closing Magic of Disney Animation. It’s bad enough they closed the original animation studio with a Robin Williams preshow, but did they really have to turn it into a star Wars hall? And now that Galaxy’s Edge is open, can’t they just…I don’t know, move it over there, bring back Animation? I’m just throwing out ideas here. And another thing…