Not Just Kid Stuff: Cranium Command
by Rose Folan
ALL EARS® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the June 10, 2003, Issue #194 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
EDITOR'S NOTE: In this issue, Rose Folan, a long-time feature writer for ALL EARS®, as well as webmaster of her own site dedicated to Walt Disney World (www.adultsatwdw.com), begins an occasional series of articles looking at Walt Disney World attractions that grown-ups often dismiss as being "kid stuff." This week she considers why Cranium Command, in Epcot's Wonders of Life pavilion, is worthy of a visit by adults as well as younger people. Please note that there are attraction spoilers included.
Each time I visit Epcot, I realize how many different and interesting things to see and do there are. Perhaps that is why some shows and attractions are missed or overlooked. There is only so much time, so we skip the ones that don't immediately capture our attention.
Adults, in particular, seem to think that the Wonders of Life pavilion and its attractions would not be very interesting — We know all this stuff already, right? Attractions like Body Wars, The Making of Me and Cranium Command sound too much like kids' stuff, but I can tell you that's definitely not true.
For example, Cranium Command is an often overlooked attraction that really shouldn't be missed and, while the entire family will enjoy the attraction, adults will find it entertaining, funny and — oh, yes — educational, too. This attraction is a great opportunity to experience Disney Imagineering's subtle (OK, sometimes not so subtle) sense of humor and creativity, as well as seeing how expert they are at combining education and entertainment.
Tame by comparison to its Wonders of Life neighbor Body Wars (a motion-simulated journey through the human body — ACK!), Cranium Command is a 17-minute show that takes us into the brain of an adolescent boy under the command of a novice pilot, Buzzy. If this story line doesn't sound interesting, read on!
As I said before, this attraction is a great example of Epcot's goal of education through entertainment. I guarantee that you and the kids will learn (and remember) more from this show than from a semester of biology. Plus it includes: a delightful audio-animatronic, Captain Buzzy, who talks to the audience and moves around in his command seat while he learns the ropes of being a Cranium Commando; well-known celebrities playing various roles perfectly suited to their talents; really funny lines, so get ready to pay attention and laugh out loud.
SETTING THE STAGE
Entering the attraction's lobby area is like walking into a recruitment center. There are funny recruiting posters with slogans like "See the World" or "Learn the Latest Technology", each showing a different flip-top cranium. There's even George Washington's cranium, complete with pilot inside, on a poster that reads "Earn Good Pay" — quite funny. There are also Brain Benders and Cranium Calisthenics to exercise YOUR cranium and help pass the time until the show. These are funny, but subtle, clues to what the show is all about -recruiting us as new Cranium Commandos.
Once you're allowed into the pre-show area, you'll be standing for a short film. Be forewarned, the film is loud and potentially annoying, but essential to understanding the show, so don't miss it. It also includes, in its own subtle way, some educational elements, for example:
1) "The brain is divided into two halves, the right and the left." (We all knew that, right?)
2) "The brain can process up to three million bytes of information per second!" (Wow! I learned something new there!)
You'll also hear some pretty funny puns and jokes. For example, near the end of the pre-show the character General Knowledge, who is the recruits' new commanding officer (a loud, demeaning drill-sergeant type), talks to us in the audience: "Hey, you goldbricks, this ain't a spectator sport! Where do you think you are? DISNEY WORLD?!?!! Get your strollers in line and hustle! On the double! Move it, move it, move it!" You'll definitely be taking his orders as you laugh your way into the theater.
ON WITH THE SHOW
You'll enter a semi-dark theater with long benches and the standard WDW-attraction request that you move all the way to the end of your row to make room for others. However, I've never seen this attraction crowded enough for this request to matter. So, if you hold back a bit when entering the theater, you can usually pick a comfortable location (maybe even near stage center) without everyone crowding into one long row. Also, as I said before, this is a very tame show no moving seats or physical assaults, like you'd experience in some of WDW's 3D shows. But it is noisy and dark, so be forewarned that this might upset some younger children in the audience, especially those sensitive to loud noises.
Bespectacled Captain Buzzy is no longer the animated character we met during the pre-show. He's a large, very cute, fully operational audio-animatronic. While seated in his command chair, he'll talk to the audience and get started on his first command of this "unstable craft" or, more precisely, 12-year-old Bobby's brain. Before the action starts, take this opportunity for a good look at the stage area. You'll notice that you are now inside what appears to be Bobby's brain, which explains why it's dark. Captain Buzzy has to turn the light on his command seat to get things started. In front of you, display screens on the main stage are Bobby's eyes, where you'll see everything Bobby sees. There are also other screens where you'll see General Knowledge or the actors who portray various body parts.
Now, that you're inside the command center, you learn the whole point of this show: "USE your head, don't LOSE your head." It's also where you see and hear more of Imagineering's humor and creativity. The command crew's members report in for the first time: there's the Left Brain, AKA actor Charles Grodin: "Morning, Captain. Left Brain reporting for duty, sir. Logic circuits working at full capacity. Let's have a safe and sane day, shall we?" Then there's the Right Brain AKA comedian Jon Lovitz: "Right Brain here, Buzz! Free association and creativity banks fully charged." The Left and Right Ventricles of the heart (better known as Saturday Night Live comics Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey in their "Hans and Franz" guises) and comedian Bobcat Goldthwait (the Adrenal Gland), also make appearances. They're followed by actor George Wendt as the Stomach, who wonders: "Runnin' on empty down here. Suppose you could toss down some of those cold pizza crusts from last night?"
Although you may not know all these names, you'll probably immediately recognize the faces of these well-known actors and comedians. As you follow along with Bobby and Buzzy, from waking to a jarring alarm clock to a chaotic school day, it's not always easy to catch everything, because there's lots of action occurring simultaneously. But if you concentrate on what's being said, you'll hear the real genius of the casting: "Adrenal Gland reporting, Captain. Ready to freak out at any second." In Bobcat Goldthwait's screeching voice, this is so believable. Just the sound of his voice gets our adrenaline flowing. (Remember him from the "Police Academy" movies?) And anyone who recognizes George Wendt as Norm from the television show "Cheers" will see the appropriateness of his casting as the Stomach. He's obviously looking for a trip to the Hungry Heifer!
One thing you might notice is that this show's appeal to various ages comes from different elements. Adults, who recognize most of the celebrity actors and are familiar with their personalities and their other performances, will find the casting extraordinary. Young people will, obviously, relate to what's happening to Bobby during this eventful day at school. Overall, the humor can be enjoyed by all ages, and most of us will walk out having learned something something we didn't know or something we had long forgotten from school.
I don't want to give away the whole story — then you might not be motivated to see the show yourself! I'll just add that this show is not just random humor. Since this is Epcot, where entertainment is meant to educate, you will learn subtly while having fun. For example, there's the gentle reminder by the robotic Hypothalamus that although often overlooked, it is the Hypothalamus that monitors all the body's automatic functions: "Blink, blink, breathe, breathe, day in, day out. Never a thank you, never a job well done." How many of us remember that from biology class? I didn't, at least not until after I saw Cranium Command.
One lesson that Captain Buzzy learns from his training exercise is one we can all appreciate (and should remember): "Real stress or imagined stress, it doesn't matter beans to your body crew. They can't tell the difference, only you can."
Cranium Command is only a 17-minute show. It's in an air-conditioned theater where you get to sit down. You'll have fun and maybe even learn a few things, so why not add it to the "must see" list for your next visit to Epcot? Maybe I'll see you there!
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Other articles by Rose Folan: http://allears.net/btp/rose.htm
More about Epcot's Wonders of Life Pavilion: http://allears.net/tp/ep/epcot-archives/e_body.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.