Of the 12 Disney theme parks around the world, there’s perhaps none with a more devoted fanbase than EPCOT. The park – which opened as EPCOT Center in 1982 – has long been a favorite of die hard Disney fanatics thanks to its optimistic view of the future and bevy of groundbreaking attractions, many of which have become classics of the Disney Imagineering canon.
While some rides like Spaceship Earth and Living with the Land remain, others have gone defunct. Today we’ll be looking at one of EPCOT’s legendary lost attractions: The motion simulator marvel known as Body Wars.
The genesis of Body Wars can be found in the earliest days of planning for EPCOT, when Imagineers first began brainstorming concepts of a whole pavilion themed around “health”, including a large dark ride that would take guests through full-scale sets of the human body. However, no corporate sponsor could be found, so EPCOT Center — as it was then known — had no health pavilion present at its 1982 opening.
Wheels began turning on a “health” pavilion again in the mid-1980s, when — buoyed by the initial success of EPCOT — MetLife Insurance agreed to become its sponsor. As the pavilion, which would come to be known as the Wonders of Life, was designed, Imagineers decided to revive the ride through the human body concept. However, instead of pursuing a physical dark ride due to the sheer scale of the sets, they instead changed their focus to the flight simulator technology from Disneyland’s recently opened Star Tours attraction.
By the time the Wonders of Life Pavilion opened in October of 1989, the “trip through the human body” attraction was known as Body Wars. The attraction began when guests entered its queue at the back of the Wonders of Life pavilion dome.
During the queue, guests would be told they were now “MET Observation Team Members” — not-so-coincidentally named for the aforementioned corporate sponsor — and would be boarding a “LGS 250”-type probe vehicle — actually the exact same simulator used in Star Tours — that weighed approximately 26 tons, but once miniaturized, weighed less than a drop of water. From there, they would entering the body of a volunteer to extricate Dr. Cynthia Lair (a scientist played by actress Elizabeth Shue) who had miniaturized herself to observe a splinter in the body.
Once the ride begins, guests are “miniaturized” and enter the body, encountering a stream of white blood cells on their way to destroy the splinter. Once they arrive, guests meet up with Dr. Lair, who’s then pulled into a capillary. From there, the ride becomes a rescue mission to find her, including visits to the heart, the lungs, and the brain before they’re able to successfully rescue the scientist and exit the volunteer’s body, ending the attraction.
Initially, Body Wars was a massive success. The attraction, which featured a film directed by filmmaker and Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, was the first thrill ride in EPCOT and the first simulator in Walt Disney World. However, things began to turn quickly. For starters, Body Wars wasn’t Walt Disney World’s only simulator for long, as Star Tours opened at the then-Disney/MGM Studios theme park just two months later (in fact, theme park urban legend has long held that MetLife insisted that Wonders of Life open prior to Star Tours, hence why the latter was not an opening day attraction at the Studios park in 1989).
Furthermore, the combination of the attraction’s boldly-themed ride film combined with its simulator mechanics made it particularly prone to afflicting guests with motion sickness. Disney attempted to rectify this issue by editing the film, however that actually proved to make the situation worse, as it caused the film to run slightly out of sync with the simulator’s movements, only increasing the risk of motion sickness.
Despite these issues, Body Wars remained a relatively popular — and heavily marketed — EPCOT attraction throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, with the image of its vehicle souring through blood vessels becoming particularly iconic as it was featured on numerous EPCOT guide maps during this period. However, things began to change in 2001 when Body Wars — and the Wonders of Life pavilion as a whole — met the nemesis of plenty of extinct EPCOT attractions: a sponsor pull out.
MetLife ended its sponsorship of Wonders of Life in 2001, leading to the whole pavilion beginning to decay. In 2004, Disney announced that Wonders of Life — including Body Wars — would begin operating on a seasonal schedule. This lasted for just over two years, before the entire pavilion shuttered for good in January 2007. Over the next several years, the building was used as the Festival Center for the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, while the Body Wars attraction in particular was strip-mined for parts used to repair Star Tours.
In 2019, it was announced that the former Wonders of Life pavilion would be gutted and turned into a new, interactive pavilion known as “Play!” However, as of 2023, little has been announced on the project, leading many fans to speculate as whether it’s still happening at all.
And that’s a look at the history of the Body Wars attraction in Disney World. Keep following All Ears for the latest Disney news!
Do you miss Body Wars when visiting EPCOT, or did you say good riddance when it closed for good in 2007? Let us know in the comments below.