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Monday, March 2, 2020

Epcot's Spaceship Earth is about to close for its biggest refurb ever. Here's what to expect when it reopens

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2020 at 10:53 AM

click image A background photo on the Walt Disney Imagineering website showing what is believed to be a Spaceship Earth brainstorming design session - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • A background photo on the Walt Disney Imagineering website showing what is believed to be a Spaceship Earth brainstorming design session
Epcot’s multi-year, multi-billion-dollar overhaul is now in high gear, with significant sections of the park now behind construction walls – but even more projects will begin in the coming months. The park’s best-known ride, Spaceship Earth, will close May 26 for its most extensive overhaul since it opened in 1982.

This will be the fifth update to the ride, but unlike previous refurbs, this time the storyline will change. Previous storylines focused on the evolution of human communication via technological advancements. With technology’s constant change these days, the ride, like the rest of Future World, has struggled to keep up, often becoming dated with futuristic references to technology that is now commonplace.

So Disney has thrown in the towel on Future World, and it's currently being redeveloped into a set of three new lands: World Discovery (Future World East), World Celebration (the central spine of Future World and the Imagination pavilion) and World Nature (Future World West).
click to enlarge IMAGE VIA DISNEY D23
  • Image via Disney D23
The outside of Spaceship Earth will remain mostly the same but inside, the ride will see substantial changes. Gone are the attempts to keep up with ever-changing technology; Ray Bradbury’s original vision for the attraction will be fused with a more timeless understanding of the universal appreciation of telling stories. Projection mapping will tell the story of humanity’s evolution of storytelling, with riders following a "story light" out of the darkness of our split from the natural world, and into the light of knowledge via our connections to one another.

It’s always been the descent, or second half, of Spaceship Earth that has caused trouble. Much of the first half, which shows humanity’s evolution from hunter-gather societies through the Industrial Revolution, is a quick history lesson. After the "earthrise" moment at the peak of the sphere, the ride cars turn and slowly descend. The most recent iteration of the ride used this time to tell a cartoony story, a custom future for each guest via touchscreens. Like its predecessors, this always felt a bit out of sync with the impressive first half of the ride.

The update will address this, while acknowledging the human story is one without an end. (Ed. note: Are we sure about that?) Some may compare the updated storyline to another iconic (though now long gone) Epcot attraction, Horizons. The current descent on Spaceship Earth, with its different finales, is thought of as a nod to Horizons, a more future-focused attraction in its day.
click image A scene from the updated version of Spaceship Earth - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • A scene from the updated version of Spaceship Earth
Many of the concepts we know regarding the ride are from an image found on the Imagineering website, where designers can be seen working on the new attraction. Much of what is seen in that image corresponds with both what has been confirmed by Disney and what various insiders have shared regarding the ride.
Beyond the updated descent and the project mapping, the most notable change to the attraction will be the load and unload areas. Currently, the load area is located just inside the entrance to the building. Brayden Holness of the Mickey Views YouTube channel has remained one of the most reliable sources regarding Epcot’s overhaul, regularly reporting accurate details months ahead of official confirmation by Disney. In a set of recent videos, Holness shows how the area where the current post-ride exhibit space will be redone to house an indoor queue for the attraction, with the ride having a large loop around the interior space. This indoor queue will open up space on the sidewalks that run along either side of the attraction building.
click to enlarge World Celebration with the Dreamer's Point area - IMAGE VIA DISNEY D23
  • Image via Disney D23
  • World Celebration with the Dreamer's Point area
New scenes in the ride will "reflect the universal nature of the human experience," according to Disney CEO Bob Chapek. This focus on the human experience will follow guests as they disembark from Spaceship Earth. Exiting the ride, they will see a statue of one of the greatest and most influential storytellers of all time, Walt Disney, sitting in a park-like area known as Dreamer’s Point. From here, guests will be able to explore our shared connection with nature, technological discoveries, and global cultures.

The "story light" seen on the ride is the inspiration for light trails and experiences found throughout the area's three new lands. In the evenings, the shared-humanity story will continue with a brand-new nighttime show, "Harmonious," that is a "multi-lingual musical journey through shared experiences across humanity’s diverse cultural heritage." The concept keeps Spaceship Earth as the opening act to Epcot, now bookended by the wholly new nighttime spectacular.
click to enlarge Concept art for the new Epcot nighttime spectacular, HarmonioUS - PHOTO VIA DISNEY PARKS BLOG
  • Photo via Disney Parks Blog
  • Concept art for the new Epcot nighttime spectacular, HarmonioUS
The expected two-and-a-half-year closure of the attraction will be used to replace much of the extremely dated ride system, some of which is nearly forty years old. The building itself will see enhancements that bring it into the twenty-first century. Some of the scenes will receive near carbon copies of the current props, but with the new ones better translating the updated storyline.

Still unknown is who, if anyone, will narrate the iconic ride. Vic Perrin, best known for his work on The Outer Limits and Johnny Quest, was the original narrator but was replaced in 1986 by Walter Cronkite. After a three-month remodel in late 1994, Jeremy Irons became the narrator. The most recent version, which debuted in December of 2007 after a six-month refurb, features Dame Judi Dench.
Disney is known for having celebrity narrators on many of its attractions, with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Patrick Warburton, and Jean Shepherd being just some of the celebrity voices you hear across Disney parks. Spaceship Earth is arguably one of the most recognizable attractions ever built, so the voice used on the attraction is an especially prestigious assignment.

If current speculation is correct, Spaceship Earth will reopen in 2022. By then, many other aspects of Epcot’s overhaul will be completed, including most of the World Celebration where the ride is located. The two-and-a-half years without Spaceship Earth will be hard on many guests, but new attractions, including the trackless Ratatouille dark ride and the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster, should open within the next year.
click to enlarge The new Ratatouille area being built in Epcot's France pavilion - CONCEPT ART VIA DISNEY
  • Concept art via Disney
  • The new Ratatouille area being built in Epcot's France pavilion
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