Walking into Epcot, it’s quite difficult to miss the 18-story geodesic sphere (it’s not a golf ball). The park’s icon, Spaceship Earth, is always a must see for every trip. We discussed the exterior of the attraction a few months ago, in my Epcot Trivia post (read it here). Today, let’s look at its interior and the history of the many incarnations.
Science Fiction author Ray Bradbury (he wrote one of my favorite books, Fahrenheit 451) met Walt Disney in the 1960s. Both Walt and Bradbury contributed to the 1964 New York World’s Fair and shared many common interests such as the future and progress.
Come years later when WED (now WDI) was planning the park EPCOT center, they hired Bradbury to develop an attraction about communication. He helped in the design for the structure and wrote the original storyline. When contacted about the project, Bradbury said, “I wanted to put in some of the ideas Walt and I talked about many years ago.” The attraction was definitely built on Bradbury’s passion for telling story of humans. “They put me in charge of writing the original script for Spaceship Earth, to tell that wonderful science-fiction story inside of it. And when you come out [of the attraction], you go into the future. You’ve been in a spaceship, a time machine, you’ve left the Earth, you’ve gone to the moon, and if that isn’t a great start, I can’t think of one!”
In a Disney D23 magazine interview with Bradbury about the creation of Epcot, he explained that, “We [as a society] didn’t know who we were. I told them that they should present the history of mankind to people. We needed to rediscover where we came from, and where we would like to be going, so I kept talking about this again and again.”
Bradbury shared his very optimistic view of the future on the park with OMNI magazine in September 1982, “Everyone in the world will come to these gates. Why? Because they want to look at the world of the future. They want to see how to make better human beings. That’s what the whole thing is about. The cynics are already here and they’re terrifying one another. What Disney is doing is showing the world that there are alternative ways to do things that can make us all happy. If we can borrow some of the concepts of Disneyland and [Walt] Disney World and Epcot, then indeed the world can be a better place.”
Version I 1982-1986
The original Spaceship Earth was an opening day attraction for EPCOT Center on October 1st 1982. While the most common belief is the narrator was Vic Perrin, former WDI Imagineer Marty Sklar states in his book “Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disneys Magic Kingdoms” that it was the 1971-1993 Hall of Presidents narrator, Lawrence Dobkin. The attraction was first sponsored by Bell System, until AT&T signed on in 1984.
Version II 1986-1994
Walter Cronkite replaced Lawrence Dobkin in the 1986 refurbishment. The CBS Evening News anchor was known as “the most trusted man in America” in the 1960s and 1970s. He reported on World War II, Vietnam, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lennon, and most famously, the Apollo 11 moon landing. Cronkite was the perfect connection for an attraction all about communication.
My personal favorite part of the version, is the addition of the finale song “Tomorrow’s Child”. Written by Ron Ovadia and Peter Stougaard, the song seems to incorporate the themes of the park beautifully. It is greatly missed from the current attraction.“Searching through time, longing to find, answers to guide us, and dreams to unite us. Reaching for hope and desire, building a world to inspire. Tomorrow’s Child. Tomorrow’s Child. Charting a brand new way! For the Future World is born today!”
This update also brought the warning message about your “time machine” is turning backwards.
Version III 1994-2007
Spaceship Earth was closed for refurbishment on August 15th 1994. It reopened on November 23rd with one of the most popular narrators, Jeremy Irons (the voice of Scar in The Lion King). With many dark scenes, he gave the attraction an almost haunting and mysterious feel. Watch the video below to see what I mean.
Unfortunately, the song “Tomorrow’s Child” and final scenes were also removed and replaced. The scenes removed included, “Home Computer”, “Office Computer”, “Network Operations Center”, and “Space Station”. They were replaced with a single scene of a boy and girl from America and China, video chatting about sporting events through the internet. Additionally, a new ride score by Edo Guidotti was added to the attraction.
On September 29th 1999, the infamous sorcerer Mickey wand welding arm, and giant sparkly “2000”, were added to the exterior of the geodesic sphere. An alteration was made in May of 2001, to replace “2000” with “Epcot”. AT&T’s sponsorship ended on January 1st 2003, and by April 2004, all references to the company were removed. November 2005 brought the new sponsor Siemens, who would sponsor for 12 years (until 2017). The VP of Epcot, Jim Macphee announced in July 2007, that the wand and “Epcot” would be fully removed in time for Epcot’s 25th anniversary, October 1st 2007. The removal began four days later (July 9th 2007) and was complete on August 24th.
Version IV 2007-present
It was announced on April 11th 2007, that big changes were coming to the attraction. Narration was updated and changed to the lovely Dame Judi Dench, and for the first time ever, it would be available with multi-language audio and interactive touch screens. The new score included a 63-piece orchestra and 24-voice choir conducted by Bruce Broughton. Scenery was cleaned up and repainted, there were new audio animatronics, and the final scenes were again replaced with the ones we see today. Officially opening February 15th 2008, it began soft openings to guests with new interactive elements in December 2007.
I look forward to what the future holds for this classic attraction. I’m sure whatever it may be, it will be innovative and remind us that we can shape the future to be a better place.
In closing, a few words from Ray Bradbury, “The whole of Epcot teaches us how miraculous we are. We are very special people… Epcot points to you and says, ‘You are individual. You are creative. I hand you the future; step into it. Believe and go forth'”
Who is your favorite Spaceship Earth narrator? Tell me in the comments below.
Read Ray Bradbury’s poetic concept for Spaceship Earth (It’s worth flipping through. Go check it out!)
Jeremy Irons (start about 3 minutes in..)
Dame Judi Dench