From the Vault: Wonders of Life and Cranium Command

By: Amy Kawa

In the second installment of “From the Vault,” we’ll take a look back at one of the most underrated attractions in the history of Disney Parks – Cranium Command.  Cranium Command was a “must-do” attraction for me.  It was funny, cute, and down-right entertaining and one of those attractions that I remember so vividly.

Summary:

Cranium Command debuted along with the Wonders of Life Pavilion that housed it in Epcot’s Future World in 1989.  General Knowledge recruited you and your fellow “General Commandos” to follow a new recruit, Buzzy, as he piloted the head of a teenage boy named Billy. (Get it?  “General Knowledge… like an army general?  Oh, Cranium Command, you slay me!)

After a brief pre-show where General Knowledge explained the ins and outs of the human brain, guests entered a theater, really known as “mission control,” or the setup for Billy’s brain.  Different video screens portray different parts of the body, played by some of the best comedic actors of the ’90s, including Charles Grodin and Jon Lovitz as the Left and Right Brains and Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey as the Left and Right Heart Ventricles (“they’re going to pump YOU up!”), among other comedians.

As Buzzy started his first day on the job, of course, all goes haywire for teenage Billy.  He skips breakfast, so his stomach gets on Buzzy’s case, he meets his crush, Annie, and the heart goes crazy, he faces a bully and listens to both sides of the brain come up with solutions to face him, gets into a food fight, and has to then face the principal and the consequences.  The climax of the show is how Buzzy decides to come clean to the principal and sticks up for Annie who was being bullied, much to the joy and agreement of all of the body parts.  Buzzy successfully completed a day as the pilot of a teenage boy’s cranium, so General Knowledge makes Buzzy a full-fledge member of the Cranium Command… if he can call him by the correct name that is (Here’s looking at you “Fuzzy!”).

Take a watch here from our friends at WDWNT:

Cranium Command was a no-stress, funny, and adorable way to spend 20 minutes of your day in Future World.  For 6-12-year-old Dreamer Amy, Cranium Command was one of the first attractions I remember and one that always stuck with me. It was nothing extraordinary or flashy, and most people probably don’t give it much thought when asked about former attractions, but it was one that I will always look back on with a smile and still wish you could still find it on a park map.

What Took Its Place:

The Wonders of Life Pavilion opened in 1989, sponsored by MetLife Insurance Company.  Besides Cranium Command, Wonders of Life also housed the e-ticket Body Wars (a graphic, 3D motion simulator ride through the human body), The Making of Me, Goofy About Health, and the Sensory Funhouse.  MetLife ended its sponsorship in 2001, essentially dooming the pavilion to become outdated without a sponsor to fight for updates, especially with a topic as ever-changing as health and the human body in the ’90s to the new millennium.

Wonders of Life went into “seasonal operation,” the step before extinction in Disney terms, in 2004.  Wonders of Life, and Cranium Command with it, opened once more for the busy Christmas season in 2006, taking one last bow before closing its doors for good on January 1, 2007.

I’ve always been a pretty big health nut, playing sports when I was younger and just love being physically active.  Wonders of Life shared that love and brought it to life, making it my favorite pavilion to this day.  Side note: There were these exercise bikes as part of this one exhibit with video screens attached.  As you pedaled, it looked like you were riding through the parade route in Magic Kingdom.  I always wonder if Disney has those bikes in storage somewhere.  I would pay an obscene amount of money for one of those bikes.

So, in reality, I had to say goodbye to two things I loved in 2007- one of my favorite attractions and my favorite Future World pavilion that closed with it.

Today, Wonders of Life still opens its doors to Disney park goers as the Festival Center for the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival each fall and the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival in the spring.  Since 2007, all traces of Wonders of Life on the interior have been removed to the public eye (although it is rumored that Body Wars and Cranium Command are still intact behind locked doors) but the exterior of the building remains untouched.

Going into this building each year is so bittersweet for me.  Part of me loves to be able to step into that space, pay homage to one of my favorite, extinct attractions, and remember what used to be.  For another part of me, it is extremely painful to see this once awesome space relegated to a couple of gift shops and pop-up seminar spaces.  While I know a type of space like this is needed for these events, I just think the same purpose could be fulfilled elsewhere, and it looks like will need to happen in the near future anyway.

Wonders of Life is due to become a new space-themed restaurant as part of Epcot’s ongoing overhaul over the next five years, although an exact date is unknown at this time.

As is a common theme with our “From the Vault” pieces, former attractions have been replaced with new things.  These new things can never replace the attractions we loved, but Disney is always evolving, and at least Disney follows Walt’s wishes in that way.  Cranium Command, and Wonders of Life in general, involved subject matter that became dated quickly, and sadly did. However, it’s short-lived lifespan left quite the impression on me, and I will always remember Buzzy and General Knowledge when I walk toward Future World East or have a conflict that my left and right brain have to fight over.

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