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Monday, September 10, 2018

Will Epcot's Spaceship Earth be the next attraction to receive a major overhaul?

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 11:13 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO VIA DISNEY
  • Photo via Disney
Like Future World as a whole, Spaceship Earth has struggled to remain current. The 15-minute-long ride found within the structure of the same name is a grand tour across the history of human communication, and now in its fourth iteration, the ride has seen significant updates.

Scenes covering 1980- and 1990-style computers were replaced, like a Silicon Valley-style garage with a programmer on a 1980s computer, and a section traveling through a tunnel filled with quick-moving computer code was added.

Despite being just over a decade old, these scenes already feel dated, and with groundbreaking progress in communication over the past 11 years the ride now seems to be missing a vital part of the story, with zero mention of smartphones or other current technologies.

Rumors of an update have been around for some time now, but recently they kicked into high gear. As reported here before, multiple reliable sources have all stated Disney approached Siemens with a proposed update for the ride, but instead of helping finance the major overhaul, Siemens confirmed they would be ending their sponsorship for both the ride and Epcot’s nightly fireworks show IllumiNations.

An update to the monorail was also supposedly part of the negotiations that seemingly broke down between the two companies. When the sponsorship ended last year, it was clear that no updates would be happening on Spaceship Earth for the foreseeable future. But now with rumors of a new sponsorship deal in the works we’re learning new details on what the possible updates to the attraction may include.

Tom Corless, who in recent months has had an impressive track record announcing Epcot projects well in advance of any official confirmation, is now reporting on his Disney news site, WDW News Today, that Disney has the plans in place for a massive update to Spaceship Earth. In early August, another source with seeming insider knowledge of Disney plans, marni1971 on the WDWMagic forums, mentioned that a fifth iteration of the ride should happen within the next five or so years.

According to Corless, this update will include a much-needed refresh of every scene, with “changes on a grand scale” for everything past the Industrial Revolution newspaper scene. Few details on what the updates may include are known at this time, but rumors point to Disney using projection mapping for some of the scenes, most notably the large dome scene that has featured a projection of earth since the ride opened.

Also unknown is what the plans are for the descent part of the ride. On the current version, guests can pick between different scenarios then a short video about the future plays on in-car touchscreens. The personalized cartoon look into the future is unique and gives a nod to the beloved former attraction Horizons, but many fans have criticized the segment of the ride for lacking the soul earlier versions of the ride had.

A 1994 update saw this same ride segment filled with impressive models of various telecommunications and a massive scale-model future city reminiscent of Walt Disney’s original vision for EPCOT. All of those models were cut from the current version and the ride now just moves past a starfield, various lighted shapes and black curtains while guests are distracted by the in-car screens. According to marni1971, this was not the original plan for the current version of the ride, but with both budget and time concerns, the original plans for this area were replaced by the black curtains and touch screens currently used.

The redo now in the works seems to use part of the plans that were cut. Multiple new audio-animatronics may also be included in the updated version of the attraction, a move that will likely be popular with fans of the attraction who have complained that previous updates saw a net loss in the number of audio-animatronics used on Spaceship Earth. It's possible there may be an updated recording of "Tomorrow's Child," the song that previously played during this segment of the ride.

Marni1971 has also not confirmed that the current omnimovers, with new touchscreens but otherwise nearly identical to the ones used since the ride opened in 1982, will remain but does say that (s)he remains hopeful an omnimover-style ride system will remain. The interactive screens in the ride vehicles also allow guests to select what language they want for the ride's narration.

One possibility for an updated in-ride video may involve the post-ride exhibit space, currently known as Project Tomorrow. The area was initially used as a guest service like area for Epcot visitors to learn about the park, make reservations, and see what each pavilion includes. It was even called the “City Hall” of Epcot. The post-ride exhibit space has been redone multiple times, typically when a new sponsor for the ride is brought in. Disney has been slowly updating the exhibit space since Siemens dropped their sponsorship last year. In his post about the rumored updates heading to the ride, Corless points out that the Project Tomorrow exhibits are now broken into four categories; Health, Medicine, Transportation and Energy. These categories may be used as part of a new interactive on-ride video segment.

A major water leak in the ride building earlier this month made it clear that the attraction is in dire need of an update, but there is still much that is unknown regarding the update. Corless seems less willing to commit to the time periods and details marni1971 has stated, but with both now giving specific information on the update, it seems clear something is in the works.

click to enlarge An artist rendering of Disney's plans for Epcot's Future World shared at D23 - IMAGE VIA SCOTT GUSTIN | TWITTER
  • Image via Scott Gustin | Twitter
  • An artist rendering of Disney's plans for Epcot's Future World shared at D23
It is highly unlikely the ride updates will happen by WDW 50th Anniversary in 2021, but they may open by Epcot’s 40th Anniversary the following year. Epcot is the midst of a major overhaul of its own with new E-ticket attractions already under construction in the France Pavilion and in the former Universe of Energy attraction. Disney has also announced plans for a complete reimagining of Future World but hasn’t given any details on what that will include. In concept art used to announce the reimagined Future World, Spaceship Earth remained but multiple nearby buildings, including the two large buildings where Innoventions is located, were missing.

Disney will likely give new details on the future plans for Epcot at the next biennial D23 Expo, scheduled for August of next year.

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