When guests first entered EPCOT Center in October 1982, they encountered a fully formed theme park. There were some glitches, but it was quite different from the slimmer parks that followed in Florida and California under Michael Eisner. Horizons and Journey into Imagination opened in 1983 and quickly enhanced the offerings. You could spend a whole day and never leave Future World! This isn’t just a nostalgic view of past glories either. There was truly more to do in EPCOT Center’s early days.
A major factor in this situation was the longer ride times of the earlier attractions in Future World. They were largely slow-paced Omnimovers traveling deliberately through massive structures. A perfect example is World of Motion, a 15-minute journey though the history of transportation. It didn’t feel too long because that was a trend across the park. Here’s a sampling of the ride times for some of Future World’s original attractions:
- Horizons – 15 minutes
- Journey Into Imagination – 11 minutes
- Spaceship Earth – 15 minutes
- World of Motion – 15 minutes
Do you sense a pattern? These numbers also don’t include the time you could spend at the ImageWorks, TransCenter, and other walk-through areas. For the sake of comparison, let’s take a look at the ride times for more recent attractions at Epcot:
- Journey into Imagination with Figment – 5 minutes
- Mission: Space – 6 minutes
- Soarin’ – 5 minutes
- Test Track – 5 minutes
I recognize that this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. Simulators like Mission: Space can’t last for 15 minutes (no one wants that). However, these examples do indicate a shift in the way Disney approaches its parks. Even the Omnimovers have been shortened. At The Magic Kingdom, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is only six minutes long. So what changed? To put it simply, everything shifted. Disney isn’t the same company they were in the ‘70s. Attractions cost so much to build, and Disney trains guests to expect shorter experiences.
This analysis is far too simple, however. The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean (especially at Disneyland) are slow-moving rides that follow the old model yet are popular. Pirates has a lot in common with World of Motion. Both contain hordes of Audio-Animatronics, maintain a light tone, and are driven by a repetitive theme song. They also use the skills of Marc Davis. His abilities to build a complex scene and set a mood stand out in both attractions. Davis’ involvement makes World of Motion closer to a classic Disney attraction than even Horizons or Imagination. Let’s take a closer look and discuss why the World of Motion works so well.
It’s Fun to Be Free
World of Motion begins with a nondescript queue that actually drew large lines in the early days. Visitors from the ‘90s probably have no memories of waiting in this rather dull queue. Resembling small automobiles, the blue vehicles helped create the right mood. After boarding the Omnimovers, we experience one of the cool views of Future World. The ride takes a brief circle around the front of the pavilion and gives an excellent photo shot for Spaceship Earth. This little touch makes the attraction feel like a forward-thinking transportation system. It’s a small glimpse at what life would be like in our future without needing our gas-guzzling cars.
From the start, we hear the familiar upbeat tune of “It’s Fun to Be Free”, which plays throughout the attraction. With music from Norman “Buddy” Baker and lyrics by X Atencio, the song perfectly matches the show’s tone. Different variations of the song play in the background and help build the upbeat mood. World of Motion is a laid-back ride but sells the freedom of the open road. It’s so wonderfully tongue-in-cheek but never in your face about it.
Gary Owens’ grandiose narration is regularly undercut by the sight gags in the ride. We begin the indoor portion by following cavemen’s feet as they light up along the wall. Owens speaks about foot power while we view an early man nursing a sore foot. In the next scene, he mentions test driving “many new models” while we see camels and other animals struggling with luggage. The constant jokes create pleasant vibes that differ from the idea that EPCOT Center was too educational. Very little about the World of Motion is serious; history is secondary to laughs.
Now Things Really Get Rolling
Although fun is the star, World of Motion doesn’t skimp on special effects. Once the leaders pick the right wheel (sorry triangle!), images of countless wheels fill the space above us. The clever mix of videos, animatronics, and sets in the next scenes flow so well. You might confuse a few scenes with parts of Spaceship Earth, but the tone is different. The shot of Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa is played for comedy, not grandeur. That scene follows the postcard moment of a guy coming face to face with a sea creature. There are no dead zones in this ride.
Davis’ presence is felt with every new gag that undercuts Harris’ words. While he talks of steam and “progress on the open road”, we see a ram blocking a stagecoach. The sets are massive, including a giant paddle wheel boat and a train facing yet another barrier on the open road. It’s a large pavilion, but it’s still hard to envision how everything fits. Nothing feels crammed in either.
World of Motion’s iconic scene is the world’s first traffic jam, which combines so much into a single spot. It’s also the closest reminder of the Pirates of the Caribbean, particularly that ride’s auction scene. The upbeat music plays throughout as our animatronics struggle to be free at every corner. The level of creativity in every scene can’t be matched in a five-minute thrill ride. I know this puts me in “old man yelling at the cloud” territory, but it just really works.
Speeding to the Future!
The next step in our journey is the speed rooms, which create a convincing feeling of movement. Also used effectively in the Disneyland People Mover and If You Had Wings, they’re a bygone relic that’s only still present in Buzz Lightyear at Disney World. The large screens give the sensations of zooming down a bobsled track and flying off a mountain top. Our next room takes us through swirling fire and other effects. We also enter the computer world of TRON, also released in 1982. It’s a pretty simple effect yet can be thrilling with the right approach.
The finale reminds us that yes, we are in Future World. CenterCore is a large vision of a futuristic city of bright lights in a mostly dark room. While grand music plays in the background, we can dream of the wonders to come. How long do I have to wait for this future? There is one last touch that I loved as a kid before we disembark. The quick shot of riders sitting inside a futuristic car through the Pepper’s Ghost effect was cool in the ‘80s. In fact, it still would succeed today. Sometimes a simple effect can work wonders, and that’s definitely the case here. Our journey has ended, but there’s still plenty more to see in the TransCenter.
Looking back at World of Motion has me thinking more about Disney’s current narrative. They push the idea that demand at the parks is higher than ever. Lines are out of control, so we need FastPass (and now FastPass Plus) to fix it. It’s total mayhem! On the other hand, we could draw a line back to the loss of World of Motion, Horizons, and others to explain the issues. When you replace a ride that handles 3,000 guests an hour with one that carries far fewer, it makes a definite impact. When that switch is made in multiple places along with a reduction in total attractions, the remaining attractions build an artificially higher demand.
I’m not making the case that World of Motion was a big draw in its later days. However, the huge capacity did make it seem emptier than it really was. EPCOT Center was built to handle massive crowds. After the initial surge, the park didn’t maintain the same pace. However, it wasn’t as bad as we might believe. Epcot’s attendance has been relatively flat for decades. According to an LA Times article from December 1998, Epcot attracted 10.6 million guests in 1998. In 2015, it drew 11.8 million. Increased lines are mostly due to capacity than higher crowds. I’m going to explore this trend in more detail in a future article.
A Treasure from a Bygone Era
World of Motion used all of Disney’s best tools that were available in the early ‘80s. It includes complex scenes filled with sets and animatronics, a massive futuristic city, and speed rooms to provide some excitement. When you add in a memorable tune and fun narration, the mix comes together so well. The post-show TransCenter also is a lot more than just a GM showroom. It all clicks and remains strong when viewed online many years later.
Will Disney build another massive attraction featuring Audio-Animatronics? That’s an unlikely prospect. Disney will probably follow the mold of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Radiator Springs Racers. In those cases, the modern animatronics complement the thrills and exist to add extra touches to the high-speed attractions.
When the World of Motion closed in January 1996, it signaled the unofficial end of an era. Horizons had been closed (though it would return for a few years), and Ellen’s Energy Adventure was coming soon. CommuniCore had also changed into the much louder and less original Innoventions. It was the beginning of a shift to the jumble of themes we see today. Epcot has added strong attractions (including Test Track) but feels less cohesive. World of Motion fit the classic Disney attraction into a new mold. It’s part of a different era and is still missed. Like so many other extinct gems, it lives on through tribute sites, online videos, and our memories.