Live Active Cultures 


Raise your hand if, like me, you once dreamed of becoming a secret agent. (OK, put your hand down now, everyone in the coffee shop is staring at you.) "International spy" was high on my list of youthful occupational ambitions, falling somewhere between "roller coaster designer" and "ice-cream flavor tester." I eventually realized that MI6 wasn't in the habit of recruiting scrawny Americans and handing them the keys to rocket-launching Aston Martins, but you can never quite give up on your double-oh-something dreams. Now I can live them out, in a cartoonish kind of way, thanks to Disney's Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, the newest attraction at Epcot.

For the tween-less among you, Kim Possible was a popular animated Disney Channel series about a high-school cheerleader who transforms into a quip-cracking supersleuth in order to foil outlandish villains with absurd world-domination schemes. Think Buffy without the bloodsuckers for the 11-and-under set, with enough wit to keep grown-ups amused. The series ended in 2007 after four seasons, but it still holds significant mindshare among its target audience. Even if, like me, you've never watched an entire episode, the characters are iconic enough for non-fans to understand this clever new high-tech game.

Your mission, should you chose to accept it (and why not, since it's included in your admission at no extra charge) begins at the newly installed kiosks just inside the Innoventions exhibit, across from the exit of Spaceship Earth. An attendant will assist you with swiping your admission ticket, in exchange for which you'll receive a Fastpass--like receipt directing you toward one of the World Showcase pavilions at a specified time (about 30 minutes after you sign up, in my experience). Stroll around the lagoon to your designated location — Japan, Norway or the International Gateway between France and England — where you'll find an unobtrusive cart marked with the "KP" logo.

Once there, you'll be handed your "Kimmunicator" (the first of many puns), a clamshell-style Verizon cell phone with GPS receiver attached — as much for aiding game play as for preventing theft, I suspect. The entry-level device is no iPhone, but it's more than adequate for displaying the simple yet colorful Flash-style- animation that instructs you in your secret mission. The game begins with Wade, Kim's Q--like computer geek assistant, directing you to one of Epcot's seven "countries" to begin your mission. Upon arrival, you'll receive further video clues directing you to various spots around the pavilion.

Finding each bread crumb in this scavenger hunt is rewarded with a nifty special effect and a hint pointing you to your next destination. After a half-dozen stops, you'll be thanked for defeating the baddie du jour and directed to deposit your device in an inconspicuous drop box. You're then free to return to the assignment kiosk and sign up for another adventure, or just continue enjoying the park.

Each mission is advertised as taking a half-hour to complete, but if you're a fast walker and very familiar with the park, you might do it in half that time. I experienced two of the seven available adventures. In the first I saved Japan from the "Killer Bebe," a tin toddler whose robotic tantrums had knocked the nation's elemental balance out of whack; in the second I prevented "Lord Monkey Fist" and his simian ninjas from getting their hands ("and prehensile tails") on China's jade statue. Once you've finished the seven adventures, you can go back and repeat them, receiving randomized hints and experiencing new effects you missed the first time.

Mission objectives involve decoding pictorial hints, each directing you to another underexplored corner of the faux-foreign nation. I observed families flocking to the normally sparsely attended museum of terra cotta warriors in the China pavilion, and I tracked the villain to a small hotel facade (dubbed the "hostile hostel") that I had never noticed before in decades of park visits. Especially impressive is the way the Imagineers have incorporated new special effects into the existing architecture so subtly that even a self-proclaimed Epcot expert will never notice them until activated. My favorites included a fiber-optic kanji character embedded in a pre-existing zen rock garden, a mechanical cricket caged within a storefront window and an animatronic android concealed within one of Mitsukoshi's sales kiosks.

The Kim Possible experience was given a limited test run back in 2006, with this full-fledged edition recently emerging from "soft open" testing with very little fanfare. The greatly expanded format looks like it will be a hit, based on the steady stream of excited families I saw at the assignment carts. Thankfully, the system is designed to accommodate several hundred simultaneous players without noticeable overcrowding. This attraction is the latest step in Disney's push toward individualized technology-driven experiences, which began a few years back with the infrared-activated Pal Mickey talking dolls. It hits on all the latest theme-park industry buzzwords — intimate, interactive, infinitely repeatable — so look for this concept to expand to other parks and even the Disney cruise ships.

I had a blast with Kim Possible, even though the kid-friendly simplicity of the puzzles made me wish for a more challenging adult-oriented edition (perhaps themed around Bond or Bourne). On my mission I ran into an old friend who performs in the park, who gave me a different perspective on the game, complaining that it's hard enough to hold an audience's attention without competing with constantly chattering gizmos. Perhaps so, but visitors were glued to their cell phones on vacation long before last week. At least now the family is looking at the same device together, instead of each being isolated on their own.

skubersky@orlandoweekly.com

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