Dearly Departed Disney: World of Motion

June 30, 2022

Written by: Jim Smith

(A version of this article was shared with Pirates & Princesses on June 30, 2022.)

Edutainment – a portmanteau of Education and Entertainment – is a popular concept nowadays, thanks to Walt Disney. Walt may not have invented the concept, but he is arguably the modern-day pioneer in successfully using edutainment to audiences of all ages. Walt coined the term to describe his True-Life Adventures series of nature films. Disney used edutainment during World War 2, assisting the U.S. military efforts by creating public service announcement (PSA) films. Walt “plussed” the idea while designing Disneyland, teaching history and science to millions of visitors in three dimensions, using four (and sometimes five) of the human senses. 

When Walt passed on in 1966, his well-taught team of artists and Imagineers proved more than up to the task of employing artistic storytelling and edutainment in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The team kicked edutainment up another notch with the design of EPCOT Center (now known simply as EPCOT).

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Opening in October 1982, EPCOT Center’s Future World introduced guests of all ages to the world we may someday live to see. The best way to prepare for the future is to study the past, and the attractions in Future World were instrumental in teaching us about the world before our time, so we could look ahead to our future. World of Motion opened with the rest of the park on October 1, 1982, telling the story of transportation from the earliest days of foot travel, through inventions like the wheel, boats, motorized engines, and flight, straight on to a peek at the future of transportation. This heavily educational dark ride was also highly entertaining, thanks to the contributions of two legendary Disney talents. In this edition of Dearly Departed Disney, let’s take a ride through the transportation history while reliving this classic EPCOT Center attraction.

World’s Fair Inspiration

Students of Disney history are undoubtedly familiar with the company’s influence on the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. With the huge popularity of Disneyland, and a successful presentation at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, Walt Disney was in high demand. Several sponsors for the 1964 World’s Fair – to be held in New York – came knocking on Walt’s door.  They wanted creativity, likability, and flair – and Walt could provide all three.

Walt and his team created four unforgettable attractions for the Fair, including:

Image: Theme Park Tourist

Disney’s participation in the Fair gave the company a huge financial boost in developing jaw-dropping attractions for guests – not only at the Fair, but also shortly thereafter in Disneyland, and eventually in parks around the world.

Fast forward to the late 1970s. Walt Disney World had been open for several years, and plans for EPCOT Center were well underway. A transportation pavilion was part of the earliest plans for the Future World portion of the park. Disney was looking for pavilion sponsors, and the transportation pavilion would be a perfect match for one of America’s “Big Three” auto manufacturers. Having seen the success Ford enjoyed having sponsored the Magic Skyway at the 1964-65 World’s Fair, General Motors wanted a piece of the Disney action. GM became involved as a sponsor very early on in EPCOT’s development in 1977, wanting to beat their competition to the punch for this new opportunity. GM signed a 10-year sponsorship contract in December 1977, which ran from the pavilion’s opening in 1982 through October 1992. 

Image: Disney

Transportation With a Humorous Twist

With Future World promising to educate audiences in the fields of science and technology, Disney needed to be careful not to lean too heavily on education, and risk leaving entertainment in the dust. With this objective in mind, Disney looked to two legendary creators to help plan a humorous and entertaining show.

Two Old Men

How would Disney Imagineers spice up a history-heavy attraction to appeal to modern audiences? By hiring two old men to write the script. That may not make sense on the surface, but two of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men” proved perfect for the job.

Animator Ward Kimball – a veteran Disney animator of over forty years and founder of the Disney-adjacent jazz band Firehouse Five Plus Two – took the helm for the attraction. It was the only attraction he ever officially worked on. Kimball’s madcap humor and sharp wit took the heaviness out of the “history lesson” making the show more appealing to guests.

Image: Disney

Kimball’s contemporary Marc Davis – a legendary Disney animator in his own right – pitched in a bit as well. In addition to animation, Davis proved exceptional at designing scenes for many classic Disney attractions, including Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Carousel of Progress. If you like some of the cheeky humor from those attractions, you can thank Marc Davis.

Image: Disney

Both of these Disney Legends were on the doorstep of retirement when called upon to create World of Motion, so it was fitting that they took this last drive together. The attraction they created was a whimsical look at history and achievements in transportation, showing scenes from the ancient days of foot power right up to the present day, and even a peek into the future. Their humor was evident in time-stamped (yet timeless) gags like a used-chariot sale and the world’s first traffic jam. Their signature humor and visual gags were contrasted with the more direct tone of narration, provided by actor/radio announcer Gary Owens.

Humor wasn’t the only hallmark of this former Epcot attraction. This drive back through time featured well north of 100 audio animatronics figures, making World of Motion one of the attractions with the most audio animatronics in Disney Parks history. As far as my research could determine, the top honor resides with “it’s a small world”, which uses close to 300 audio animatronic dolls in “The Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed.”

Let’s Take a Drive

Visitors touring the history of transportation boarded the attraction outdoors in the pavilion’s portico, settling into Omnimover vehicles called Chaircars. While boarding, guests were cheerfully prepared for their journey to the tune “It’s Fun to Be Free” – the attraction’s signature song, written by Disney Legends Norman “Buddy” Baker and Xavier “X” Atencio.

The Chaircars rounded the portico and entered the building in the days of the caveman, where footpower was the only mode of transportation people knew. It was here, in the earliest moments of the attraction, that the Kimball/Davis humor first shone through, as guests witnessed cavemen blowing on their feet to cool them down (you know, from all their long distance traveling).

Image: RetroWDW

As the tour continued, guests were introduced to early means of water transportation, followed by animal power.  One of the attraction’s most memorable scenes came next – the invention of the wheel. One award-winning inventor won out in the competition, besting a square and a triangle for the top honor. As the wheel gained popularity, riders passed a wheel factory and a used chariot lot, where everything (including the Trojan Horse) was up for sale.

Following the wheel, riders saw the evolution of travel on the high seas. In this memorable scene, an explorer Cristóbal Colón (looking suspiciously like Christopher Colombus) was seen staring down the eye of a sea serpent.

Fun Fact: this sea serpent is officially known as the Kimballum Horriblus – named in honor of Ward Kimball. After World of Motion closed, the serpent was moved to the queue of the Hollywood Studios Backlot in Disney’s California Adventure, along with other items from the attraction. A toy-like depiction of Kimballum Horriblus lives in the Disneyland Paris version of “it’s a small world”, where it mimics the scene from World of Motion by staring down a sailor doll in a rowboat.

Image: Disney Tourist Blog

Guests next entered the Age of Flight, beginning with Leonardo da Vinci’s attempts at flying (much to the annoyance of Mona Lisa, who was impatiently posing for her famous portrait). Hot air balloons over London completed this whimsical sequence.

The evolution of steam power came next, illustrated through the American adventure on a Mississippi Riverboat and a string of stagecoaches during the Western Expansion. The steam locomotive followed (until it was robbed at the hands of cowboy outlaws).

When the steam cleared, guests were treated to one of the attraction’s most famous scenes – the world’s first traffic jam, set in a city somewhere in the early 1900s. Of course, the participants in this municipal nightmare weren’t cars, but instead a horse, an ice trunk, spilled vegetables, and screaming kids. Bicycles and cars from the 1940s and 1950s rounded out the dark ride portion of the attraction.

Image: WDW Magic

Looking toward the future, the Chaircars traveled through three “speed tunnels” similar to the ones used in the departed Tomorrowland attraction If You Had Wings. The tunnels showed scenes of crop dusting, river rapids, and snowmobiling. The images then morphed  into a computer grid pattern reminiscent of the film Tron, meant to depict the unknown of the future.

The ride vehicles emerged into CenterCore – a futuristic city bustling with blurs of light depicting traffic zooming down the streets and in the air.  In one of those magical Disney attraction moments, a mirror effect at the end of the ride reflected the guests’ Chaircars as cars of the future.

Check out a ride-through video of World of Motion, as published by RobFuz:

Exit to TransCenter

Upon exiting the ride, guests entered TransCenter – a large showroom full of exhibits and displays about the world of transportation. It offered educational attractions which included prototype cars such as the “Lean Machine” and a show called “The Water Engine”, which debated which motor design should be used to power cars.

The most popular entertainment in TransCenter was “The Bird and the Robot”, starring a talking toucan (self-named “Boid”) and an assembly-line robot named Tiger. This pair entertained people with acts about the importance of the GM assembly line. Keeping with the humor of the attraction, “Boid” offered several signature bad jokes (usually at the expense of Tiger), getting chuckles from nearby guests.

Image: Disney

One last fun post-ride attraction was Concept 2000 – a demonstration showing the process of creating prototype cars for GM. The prototype concept cars at the TransCenter were created by GM specifically for EPCOT Center.

End of the Road

Remember that ten-year sponsorship with General Motors? In 1992, as the sponsorship term was nearing the end, the American economy was in a slump. Facing economic uncertainty, 

GM was reluctant to commit to another long-term contract. GM agreed to continue sponsorship in one-year contracts, but also urged Disney Imagineering to work on a new attraction which would focus only on cars, rather than transportation as a whole. The idea that took shape would completely gut the building and turn it into something completely different.

World of Motion’s last day of operation was January 2, 1996. On the final ceremonial ride that day, as if through some divine humor, the ride broke down. GM executives who were riding the attraction had to climb out and walk back to the exit!

The closing of World of Motion represented a third attraction in Future World that would be closed to guests at that time, with the other two being Horizons and Universe of Energy. One happy side effect of the closure of World of Motion is that it breathed a bit of life into the fan-favorite Horizons, which had been closed, but was temporarily reopened in 1996 to offer guests an additional attraction in lieu of the other closures. Sadly, Horizons closed for good in 1999, after World of Motion’s successor attraction came online.

A New Generation

Test Track – an automobile-specific successor to World of Motion – opened to the public in March 1999 to rave reviews. The ride simulates a trip through the rigorous testing procedures GM uses to evaluate its concept cars, including a series of bumps, turns, environmental stresses, and even a near collision.  This popular Epcot attraction culminates in an adrenaline-inducing drive taking guests outside the attraction building and around a high-speed track.

Image: Disney

General Motors continued its Epcot sponsorship with Test Track. Since Test Track’s 2012 overhaul, GM sponsorship resides with its Chevrolet division.

The Rear View

Like most retired Disney Parks attractions, World of Motion fandom took on a second life after the attraction closed. Ride-through videos abound on YouTube, t-shirts celebrate the once iconic Epcot attraction, and Easter Eggs are sprinkled around the Test Track pavilion as well.

Many of the audio animatronics figures have been repurposed for other attractions, including Pirate of the Caribbean, among others. Sharp-eyed visitors in the Test Track pavilion may notice the World of Motion logo tucked creatively into the signage and decor. If you can focus your eyes during Test Track’s outdoor speed loop, look for the road sign “FN2BFRE” (with the old World of Motion logo below) – a reference to former attraction’s nostalgic theme song.

Image: Inside the Magic

The trip through transportation history provided by World of Motion was one of the quintessential early EPCOT Center attraction experiences. Those original dark ride tours are few and far between now, with only Spaceship Earth (and some of Journey Into Imagination) remaining from the original Future World roster.

Walt Disney once said “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Walt’s statement is as true in the current day of Epcot as it was in the early days of Disneyland. As time moves on, and society changes gears, Epcot-  much like the automobile itself – is in a constant state of evolution. World of Motion had its heyday, and was replaced with an excellent successor in Test Track. What does the future hold for Epcot’s transportation-based pavilion? Only time (and imagination) will tell.

Thanks for driving with us, and 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 may even visit Disneyland and other Disney Parks.

Sources referenced in writing this article include:

Disney Theme Parks Wiki – World of Motion

Disney Wiki – World of Motion

Walt Dated World – World of Motion

Laughing Place—Disney Extinct Attractions: World of Motion

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