“E.P.C.O.T … will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems.” – Walt Disney
In the later years of his life, Walt Disney’s ambitious imagination envisioned EPCOT Center to be a functioning “city of the future.” This city would incorporate advanced concepts in transportation, industry, living arrangements, and community balance. Walt’s original vision never came to be, but this progressive spirit was captured by his team of dreamers and Imagineers after his death.
Ironically, one the earliest EPCOT pavilions to be replaced was among the most future-focused. Communicore – short for “Community Core” – was a collection of cutting edge technologies giving guests a glimpse of their future. After little more than a decade, CommuniCore was replaced by its spiritual successor, Innoventions.
For this edition of Dearly Departed Disney, let’s explore the reboot of EPCOT’s brain, as we experience Innoventions.
The Early Brain of EPCOT
EPCOT Center opened in 1982 as a World’s Fair-style showcase of innovative concepts (Future World) and cultural representation (World Showcase). Spaceship Earth – the icon of EPCOT – has been widely recognized as the heart of the park. And in EPCOT’s earlier days, the CommuniCore pavilion was considered the “brain” of the park. CommuniCore’s thoughtful approach to teaching guests about the advances of science and technology exhibits fit seamlessly with the progressive vision of early EPCOT. But as it neared the end of its first decade, CommuniCore’s once cutting-edge technologies began to show their age.
Seeing a need to refresh CommuniCore’s content, Disney began closing the pavilion in stages, starting in 1993. By January 30, 1994, all of Communicore had closed, and EPCOT’s Imagineers took to updating the pavilion for a new generation. On July 1, 1994, the pavilion reopened as Innoventions – a portmanteau of the words “innovation” and “invention.”
With the opening of Innoventions, almost all of the pavilion’s previous exhibits were replaced.
As a pavilion, Innoventions functioned exactly the same as CommuniCore. It occupied both of the former CommuniCore buildings, but was now known as Innoventions East and Innoventions West. The two buildings hosted many different exhibits over the years, from the likes of Sega, LEGO, General Electric, Xerox, Lutron, Disney Interactive, IBM, Motorola, Compaq, and many others.
The Road to Tomorrow (and Back Again)
In 1999, just five years after replacing CommuniCore, Innoventions received a major update. In anticipation of Disney’s Millennium Celebration, the pavilion’s theme was changed to “The Road to Tomorrow.” The most notable addition to the update was that of Tom Morrow 2.0 (predecessor to Tom Morrow, who greeted guests in Magic Kingdom’s Flight to the Moon in the 1970s). Tom Morrow 2.0 served as host of Innoventions from 2001-2007, and set up shop in Innoventions West as a tour guide of sorts.
Seven years later, in 2007, Innoventions was updated again. “The Road to Tomorrow” reached an end (as did Tom Morrow 2.0), and Disney added a companion website to the Innoventions experience, keeping with the times. This second major update carried Innoventions into the 2010s.
The eastern half of Innoventions hosted a variety of different exhibits, and even a simulator ride. Let’s take a look at the more popular offerings.
Computer Exhibits (1994-2007)
Several computer-based exhibits populated Innoventions East throughout the years, including Apple Computer, Bill Nye the Science Guy (in synergy with Ellen’s Energy Adventure), Communications Dream Forum, Disney’s Internet Zone, Disney.com Interactive Zone, Family PC, Information Highway, and Web Site Construction Zone.
Several large sponsors maintained a presence throughout much of Innoventions’ lifetime, including General Motors, General Electric (which at one point sponsored a super-oven exhibit where guests could get free freshly baked cookies), and Hammacher Schlemmer. While these sponsors had a rotation of exhibits on display, General Motors continued on to sponsor Future Cars for a couple additional years.
The House of Innoventions (1999-2009)
Breakthrough technology brought online entertainment and other Internet content into everyday devices and appliances in “The House of Innoventions.”
Reminiscent of Disneyland’s Monsanto House of the Future from the 1960s The House of Innoventions was “a tour filled with innovative products that provide added comfort, security, convenience, entertainment, and overall control to our homes and our lives.”
A more robust version of this futuristic abode could once be found in Disneyland’s Innoventions Dream Home, which operated in New Tomorrowland from 1998-2015.
Test the Limits Lab (2003-2015)
Presented by Underwriters Laboratories, Test the Limits Lab Get gave guests a glimpse into the surprisingly exciting world of safety testing via five different interactive labs; the Slam Lab, the Torture Lab, the Shatter Lab, the Drop Lab, and the Impact Lab. From slamming doors to shattering TV tubes, guests will have fun as they discover the rigors of safety testing and why it’s so important.
Environmentality Corner (2005-2012)
This attraction was pretty much what you might expect. Channeling The Land Pavilion’s mantra, guests in Environmentality Corner could learn about preserving our planet and its natural resources. Other environmental-focused exhibits included Don’t Waste It!, presented by Waste Management and Forests For Our Future, sponsored by TAPPI.
StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes (2008-2016)
Presented by FLASH (Federal Alliance for Safe Homes), StormStruck took guests on a thrilling trip through the “perfect storm” teaching them the perils of Mother Nature’s most violent weather. This theater-based experience first introduced guests to the perfect storm concept with a video hosted by The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore. Following the introductory video, guests entered a theater and experienced a storm for themselves in 4-D. Imagineering effects allowed guests to experience wind, water, and the destruction that can come with severe weather. Following the storm, hosts assisted guests in rebuilding their virtual home to survive future storms. StormStruck closed in September 2016.
The Sum of All Thrills (2009-2016)
Presented by Raytheon, The Sum of All Thrills invited guests to design their own thrill ride. Eager armchair designers used an interactive touch screen to design their own bobsled, roller coaster, or jet aircraft course, determining height and speed, and adding features such as dips and corkscrew turns. After designing their attraction, guests then experienced their design inside a 4-D robotic “KUKA robot arm” simulator that used sight, sound, and movement to give them a realistic experience.
Habit Heroes (2013-2016)
Habit Heroes – presented by Florida Blue and Anthem® Blue Cross and Blue Shield – invited guests to arm themselves with the necessary skills to defeat the dreaded “bad habits.” Disney’s first pass at this attraction introduced several villains personifying negative health habits, such as Leadbottom (who opposed all forms of physical exercise), Sweet Tooth (forever tempting us with sugary foods), and Stinkbomb (who “odorized” a distinct lack of hygiene). A backlash from the medical and activist communities caused Disney to quickly reimagine the story. The offensive (though amusingly named) villains were replaced with heroes, including Agent Dynamo, (promoting exercise), Agent Quench (hydration), and Agent Fuel (healthy eating). The trio helped guests combat less offensive bad habit villains.
Colortopia – presented by Glidden – showed guests the power of color in three different exhibits. “The Power of Color Theater”, “The Color Lab”, and “Color Our World.” Being among the last additions to Innoventions before its closure, Colortopia also featured a digital app for guests to continue the colorful fun outside the pavilion.
EPCOT encouraged guests to spread their brain power over both halves of the Innoventions pavilion. From 2001-2007 Innoventions West was hosted by Tom Morrow 2.0. Here are some of the more interesting attractions Tom shared with guests.
IBM maintained a presence in Innoventions West for fifteen years, as a general exhibit area from 1994–1997, then as Solutions for a Small Planet, Thinkplace, and THINK. In Thinkplace, guests could create an avatar of themselves and jump, run, and dance their way through a video game. This game highlighted IBM’s technological history while entertaining guests with various twists and turns.
A trio of science-based exhibits occupied the earlier days in Innoventions West, including Alec Tronic, Beautiful Science, sponsored by Monsanto Company, and Bill Nye: The Science Guy (before he moved over to Innoventions East).
Sonic the Hedgehog proudly presided over this collection of Sega-branded video games and electronics. Kids of all ages could play Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, Sega 32X, Sega CD, and Sega Pico games – all in that classic stand-up arcade style. The exhibit also featured several virtual reality displays (a preview of things to come).
Two successor gaming areas followed Sega, including Video Games of Tomorrow (1999-2001) and Video Game Playground (2005-2015). These playgrounds featured gaming kiosks and a variety of activities to engage the entire family (though mostly kids and dads) as they challenged their digital skills.
Where’s the Fire? (2004-2014)
Where’s the Fire? – presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance – challenged guests to outsmart home fire hazards. The exhibit featured a game and a miniature home exhibit for younger guests. In total, the exhibit consisted of five different areas – each of which addressed a different aspect of fire safety and the importance of fire prevention. The areas included the “Where’s the Fire?” game house, a “Play it Safe” house for younger guests, “Burning Questions” fire safety quiz kiosks, a photo capture station, and a 30-foot fire truck.
Rockin’ Robots (2005-2010)
Presented by KUKA Industrial Robots, Rockin’ Robots enlightened guests to the idea of more creative uses for our shiny friends. The exhibit featured four robotic arms – Cicerob, Herbot, Delbot, and Norbot – who made music for guests to enjoy. Guests of this exhibit were invited to conduct these four robotic arms to create unique music with a beat all its own. The music was as varied as guests could imagine, including percussion and timpani, chimes, gongs, organ pipes, cymbals, wooden crates, and even car horns. A post-demonstration kiosk informed guests of other robotic uses, including transportation, packaging, manufacturing and entertainment.
Segway Central (2006-2013)
Segway personal transporters took the world by storm in the early 2000s – long before they became commonplace in shopping malls and cityscapes. In this seven-year exhibit, guests could discover the magic of Segway self-balancing devices for themselves. EPCOT Cast Members demonstrated the cutting-edge devices, but some interested guests were also invited to try their hand (or feet?) at experiencing the device for themselves.
Slapstick Studios (2008-2011)
Presented by The Velcro Companies, Slapstick Studios was designed to showcase the many uses of the Velcro family of products (with all the fun uses for Velcro, how could this NOT be fun?). Guests received an entertaining introduction to the Velcro company through a comedy game show titled “What’s Your Problem?” They could also spin whe “Wheel of Seemingly Insurmountable Problems” and have 60 seconds to solve the problem using tools made with Velcro-brand products. After the game show, guests could visit the Velcro gallery to witness some rarely seen uses of Velcro, and even create their own Velcro masterpiece to take home.
The Great Piggy Bank Adventure (2009-2015)
Guests could learn all about the “exciting” world of saving money in The Great Piggy Bank Adventure – presented by T Rowe Price. With the help of a cute porcelain pig, guests of all ages could learn about four key financial themes: setting goals, saving and spending smartly, staying ahead of inflation, and diversifying investments (try to contain your excitement!).
Successful guests could watch their piggy bank grow as they learned how to save and invest for future dreams (like an extreme vacation, the ultimate bedroom makeover, college education, and retirement). This exhibit lasted a surprising six years.
Eating, Drinking, and Shopping
Similar to CommuniCore, Innoventions offered one primary dining location and one primary shopping location. But it distinguished itself from its predecessor with a one-of-a-kind experience sponsored by Coca-Cola.
Located in Innoventions East, Electric Umbrella (formerly Stargate Restaurant) offered typical theme park fare (pizza and burgers) for lunch and dinner, and offered breakfast as well. Electric Umbrella has since been replaced by Connections Eatery.
Ice Station Cool (1998-2005) and Club Cool (2005-2019)
Ice Station Cool was an arctic themed Coca-Cola shop and soda fountain that opened in 1998. The entrance appeared to be carved out of ice with a snow-cat standing to the side. Guests would travel through a realistic looking ice tunnel with snow swirling around. Inside, a soda fountain offered free samples of Coke products from around the world. The most famous (or should we say infamous) of these flavors is Beverly – a bitter beverage originating in Italy. Tasting Beverly has become a right-of-passage for visitors from around the world.
Trivia Tidbit: Coca-Cola sold Beverly in Italy from 1969 to 2009. Since Beverly’s retirement in 2009, Coca-Cola only makes it for sampling at their World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta, Georgia, and other Flavors Around the World locations—such as EPCOT’s Club Cool.
Ice Station Cool closed in 2005 and reopened later that year as Club Cool – still sponsored by Coca Cola. Club Cool offered guests the same opportunity for free Coke samples, but with a less arctic atmosphere. Instead of being shrouded with snow and ice, Club Cool was outfitted with tall tables and music.
In September 2019, Club Cool closed ahead of planned demolition activities. It reopened in a new location in September 2021, adjacent to the Creations Shop in the former Innoventions East building.
Mouse Gear was the largest shopping venue in all of EPCOT. Guests wanting to bring some EPCOT merchandise home usually stopped through here. The tagline for Mouse Gear was “Gifts With Real Character.” As that statement suggests, Mouse Gear was a departure from the future-focused Centorium which resided there during the days of CommuniCore.
Just as its predecessor CommuniCore had in 1993, Innoventions started to fade in popularity in the mid-2010s. Beginning in 2015, Disney began closing select exhibits in the pavilion. Some areas were temporarily used as character greeting spots (such as Baymax from Big Hero Six, and Joy and Sadness from Inside Out). Other areas were either left vacant, repurposed into other destinations, or demolished altogether. The last pieces of Innoventions closed in September 2019.
A Bright Future
In October 2021, Disney officially “retired” EPCOT’s Future World name. In lieu of Future World, the front end of EPCOT has been divided into three “neighborhoods.”
- World Discovery – including Test Track, Mission: SPACE, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
- World Celebration – including Spaceship Earth, the former Innoventions area, and the Imagination pavilion
- World Nature – including The Seas With Nemo and Friends, The Land, and Journey of Water – Inspired By Moana (currently under construction)
Today, the building that formerly housed Innoventions East has been modified and reopened with Connections Eatery – the main quick service restaurant for the entire front end of EPCOT. Creations Shop – the largest merchandise location in all of EPCOT – replaced Mouse Gear in the other portion of the building.
The building that formerly housed Innoventions West has been completely demolished, and construction is well underway for the Journey of Water attraction in World Nature. Other plans for this space include Dreamers Point – a place to enjoy live entertainment in a lush setting, which pays homage to the legacy of Walt Disney.
Also under design is CommuniCore Plaza – a nostalgically named gathering place to host a variety of entertainment and performance activities.
From Innoventions to Reinvention
“Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.” – Walt Disney
Walt Disney intended for EPCOT to be a functioning city of the future, and his successor dreamers and doers created EPCOT’s Future World as a showcase of innovation honoring Walt’s pioneering ambitions. But Disney’s Imagineers knew the time for standard technological exhibitions had run its course. In the spirit of Walt’s insistence to keep focused on the future, Innoventions is being transformed into a completely new set of experiences aimed at the modern generation of guests.
Innoventions and CommuniCore will always be remembered by both guests and Disney Imagineers, even as we pivot towards a new future.
Please follow along here for additional articles in this series. We’ll continue to explore many other former attractions and experiences from Walt Disney World, including Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. We’ll even visit Disneyland and other Disney Parks. Can you guess where we’ll go next?
Sources referenced in writing this article include:
Lost EPCOT – CommuniCore/Innoventions
Laughing Place – Walt Disney Imagineer Zach Riddley Shares More Details on New EPCOT World Celebration Plans
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