Universe of Energy (EXTINCT!)
(October 1, 1982 - January 21, 1996)
(June 1, 1996 - September 1, 1996)
Ellen's Energy Adventure
(September 15, 1996 - present)
History and photos of Universe of Energy and Ellen's Energy Adventure in Future World in Epcot at Walt Disney World.
Tucked into the corner of Future World East in Epcot is the Universe of Energy, an attraction that combines ride and show elements to tell a fascinating story of the world's energy ---- how it was created, methods of extracting and using it, and future sources of energy.
When approaching the Universe of Energy, most people notice that this structure has an unusual shape to it, just like all of the other pavilions throughout Future World. What many people do not realize (or see for that matter), is that most of the attraction's roof is covered by photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity, allowing guests to "ride on sunshine." The structure was designed to allow the maximum amount of sunlight to reach the photovoltaic cells each day.
The Universe of Energy opened with the rest of EPCOT Center on October 1, 1982. Upon entering the building, guests were first treated to a preshow that showed various types of energy being used today, from falling water to burning coal to sailing ships to jet engines on airliners. Part of what made the preshow so interesting (and unique) was that the surface of the screen was composed of 100 triangular elements that rotated in synchronization with the changing images. This particular effect was created by Czech filmmaker Emil Radok, and it produced a "kinetic mosaic." The preshow concluded with the song "Energy (You Make The World Go 'Round)".
After the conclusion of the preshow, the doors into the main part of the ride opened and guests would select their seat in one of six large ride vehicles. Divided into a series of rows, each ride vehicle is capable of holding about eighty people. Once the vehicles were full and the people seated, the automatic doors would close and the next phase of the attraction would begin.
The lights would dim and the ride vehicles (all of them situated on top of one very large turntable) would turn and face the rear of the room where a second film would start to play. This short, animated film goes back in time and shows what life was like when most of today's fossil fuels were created. It's the Age of the Dinosaurs. The guests would see a variety of animated dinosaurs on the screen as the narrator explained how the dinosaurs and the world around them would become sources of energy millions of years later. It's a process that took ". . . heat, pressure and time." The film returned to the dinosaurs and then our ride vehicles rotated to the left. A hidden door opened and the ride vehicles silently rode forward into the next phase of the attraction, the massive dinosaur diorama.
The dinosaur diorama is the ride-through part of Universe of Energy. Most of this experience was similar to today's version of the ride. Continue reading to that section for more details.
After passing underneath the erupting volcano, the ride vehicles joined together again in theater formation for the final part of the ride. Surrounding the ride vehicles is an ultra-wide, 220-degree screen that showed current methods of extracting, transporting and using various forms of energy. This included drilling for oil in the North Sea, transporting oil on supertankers and through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, harvesting solar energy, and there's even mention of the photovoltaic cells on the roof of the Universe of Energy. This film concluded with the launching of a Space Shuttle. As the rocket climbed into the sky, our ride vehicles passed through another opening in the wall and returned to the first room.
The song "Universe of Energy" played as the ride vehicles returned to the first room. The curtains that covered most of the walls have now been raised, and the mirrors on the walls reflected the series of computer-drawn images. It was a festival atmosphere for the conclusion of the ride. As soon as the song ended, the lights turned on, the curtains lowered, and the doors to the ride vehicles opened. The guests walked out through a set of exit doors and returned to Future World East. If people wanted to learn more about energy, they were invited to view the energy-themed exhibits in CommuniCore.
That's how park guests experienced Universe of Energy from 1982 until 1996.
By the early 1990s the attendance levels had fallen, and it was clear that people were losing interest in this educational yet time-consuming attraction. The people loved the dinosaur segment, but the preshow and other shows had a habit of boring and putting people to sleep. Those films impressed audiences in the early 1980s, but ten years later the people were looking for something a little more hip, upbeat, and most importantly, something more entertaining.
The Universe of Energy closed on January 21, 1996 for a refurbishment and updating of the attraction. However, much of the refurbishment was not in place after a few months, so the old version of the ride was temporarily open for the summer of 1996. The ride closed again on September 1 to complete the refurbishment. Fortunately for the park guests, this temporary closing would only last for two weeks.
On September 15, 1996, the Universe of Energy reopened as Ellen's Energy Adventure. The exterior of the building had been repainted with brighter colors, and topiary dinosaurs were added to make the outside more inviting and kid-friendly.
Ellen's Energy Adventure (also known as Universe of Energy) features the same format as the original version of the attraction. Upon entering the building, guests are allowed into a holding room that has a large screen up front and several benches along the wall. For the rest of the people it's standing room only.
ELLEN'S ENERGY ADVENTURE - THE EXPERIENCE
WARNING --- SPOILERS!
The preshow begins with a brief introduction by the star of the attraction, Ellen DeGeneres. Ellen explains to us that she has almost no knowledge about energy. We then see Ellen in her apartment and she's watching her favorite TV show, Jeopardy! She notices that one of the contestants is Judy Peterson (Jaime Lee Curtis), her old roommate from college. There's a knock on the door and in walks Bill Nye "The Science Guy." Ellen shows little interest in her old colleague being on TV. When Bill Nye leaves, Ellen falls asleep and has a nightmare.
In Ellen's nightmare she is one of the contestants on Jeopardy! along with Judy Peterson and Dr. Albert Einstein. Just like in the real version of the show, Alex Trebek is the host and Johnny Gilbert is the announcer. When Jeopardy! begins, Ellen quickly sees that all of the categories are related to energy. Naturally, Judy answers everything correctly and has a demanding lead at the end of the first round.
That's when Ellen suddenly takes charge of her nightmare. She pauses time and is joined again by Bill Nye. When Bill sees that Ellen is in trouble on the show, he offers to help educate Ellen and teach her all about energy.
The preshow ends and the guests go through a series of doors and board the ride vehicles. These are the same exact vehicles as in the original version of the ride. As soon as everybody is seated, the automatic doors slide closed, the lights dim, and the giant turntable rotates everybody until we're all facing the screen for the second movie.
In order to help teach Ellen about energy, he takes her back to the very beginning of time. The manage to duck out of the way just as the Big Bang occurs and the universe is created. In a cool segment of computer animation, we see a quick version of the creation of the universe and the formation of planets and galaxies, a process that took billions of years. Time continues to advance until life evolves on Earth and we see the arrival of the dinosaurs in the Mesozoic era, some 250 million years ago.
That's where Ellen and Bill re-join the story. Bill tries to explain that energy is all around them in the steamy jungle. The sunlight is absorbed by the plants which were consumed by the dinosaurs and then ultimately processed over time into today's fossil fuels. Bill then decides that it's time to go out and explore that era and check out some of the dinosaurs. Ellen decides to stay behind and wait until a growling dinosaur convinces her to go, too. The giant turntables rotate to the left and a large door opens in the wall. The ride vehicles then silently ride forward into the primeval diorama.
The primeval diorama is where the main ride takes place. This is also where we'll get to see a variety of Audio-Animatronic dinosaurs.
All six of the ride vehicles are grouped together at the start of the primeval diorama. At this point in time we're in a forest and at the beginning of the Mesozoic era. It's still dark in the forest and the moon and stars are visible in the night sky. As the sun begins to rise we can see the forest a little clearer. Off to the right side are a pair of Edaphosaurs (similar to the meat-eating Dimetrodons). Ahead of us is a small family of Brachiosaurs in a swamp. The ride vehicles then move forward in single-file formation, taking each group of guests through the diorama.
As the ride vehicles move forward, we also progress through time. The dinosaurs continue to evolve as the years progress.
On the right side is a Stegosaurus fighting off a Megalosaurus. The Megalosaurus seems to have the upper hand as the Stegosaurus has been backed to the edge of a cliff. On the left side of the ride are some Trachodons bathing beneath a small waterfall. After that is a small group of Ornithomimus dinosaurs in a pond on the right side, and one of them spits water at the passing guests.
The last main scene is on the left side of the vehicle. An Audio-Animatronic version of Ellen is using a tree branch to try to fight off a menacing Elasmosaurus that keeps popping up from a pool of water. Waiting for us at the end of the primeval diorama (and the end of the Mesozoic era) are some Pteranodons perched at the edge of an erupting volcano. The ride vehicles then pass through a short tunnel representing the passage of time and the formation of today's fossil fuels.
The ride part of the attraction ends and the ride vehicles have returned to their original theater-seating formation. A short prehistoric news broadcast (KNRG News Radio) provides us with information about current trends (such fashions for the Ice Age). The KNRG broadcast ends with the retreating of the glaciers and the emergence of human beings (Homo sapiens sapiens) as the dominant animal species on planet Earth.
The film begins and we see a brief history of humans and how they have learned how to use energy to improve their lifestyle. This begins with a caveman (Michael Richards --- Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld) discovering fire and it concludes with a modern city. Also in this film we see other forms of energy and how they're collected, and renewable energy and nuclear power as well. The final part of this sequence talks about nuclear fusion and the power of the Sun and other stars.
The film then jumps back to Jeopardy!. It's time for Double Jeopardy!, but unlike before, this time Ellen is ready to compete. She answers all of the questions correctly, stumping Judy as to how Ellen could have made such an improvement. By the end of Double Jeopardy! both Ellen and Judy are tied in points. They go ahead and compete in Final Jeopardy! while Albert Einstein is forced to leave as he has no points. He does receive an energy-efficient light bulb though as a parting gift.
The Final Jeopardy! question asks for the type of energy that will never run out. While Ellen and Judy think about the question and write down their answers, our ride vehicles return to the first room at the start of the attraction. Judy's response to the question is blank as she believes that it was a trick question as all forms of energy will eventually be depleted. Alex informs her that she's wrong. Ellen then shows her answer and she responds with "brainpower." This is the correct answer and Ellen wins on Jeopardy!
The attraction ends with Ellen DeGeneres now better educated and more respectful of energy. The automatic doors open and guests walk through the doors and back into Future World East.
END OF SPOILERS!
Since reopening in 1996 as Ellen's Energy Adventure, the attraction has seen a couple of minor changes. In 2003, the attraction received a new sign to go along with the change in the sponsor's name, though ExxonMobil's sponsorship ended in 2004. In 2009, the attraction's exterior was changed again with the removal of the topiary dinosaurs and a repainting of the exterior of the building to the attraction's original colors.
Otherwise, the main show for Universe of Energy - Ellen's Energy Adventure is nearly identical to when it opened in September of 1996. What's ironic is that Ellen's Energy Adventure was created to replace an ageing Universe of Energy, but now the Ellen version has been operational longer than the original version ---- and it's showing its age.
Today, Ellen's Energy Adventure is typically an attraction that most visitors save for: A) A second day at Epcot, B) When it rains, and/or C) While waiting for a FastPass to become active. Because of these lower crowds, Universe of Energy normally has shorter operating hours than the rest of Future World.
That's really a shame as although Ellen DeGeneres has an annoying personality, Universe of Energy is still a classic part of Epcot. The ride through the primeval diorama is a prime example of Disney's attention-to-detail and ability to create a fantastic environment.
If you have the time, make sure that the Universe of Energy is part of your day while at Epcot. While this ride is typically busiest in the middle of the afternoon, you normally don't have to wait long between showings.
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