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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Cranium Command in Wonders of Life



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

CRANIUM COMMAND

By Jim Korkis

Cranium Command opened at Epcot on October 19, 1989 as part of the new Wonders of Life pavilion, sponsored by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife). The premise of the attraction, directed by Jerry Rees, is that the guest is inside the head of a twelve year old boy (voiced by Scott Curtis) who is being piloted by a new, young, inexperienced recruit named Buzzy.

(C) Disney

Guests meet Buzzy as an animated character and learn his mission, and the consequences for failure in the pre-show directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. It was the very last project at Disney Feature Animation to be traditionally inked and painted on cels. Pete Docter was an animator on the project, and later admitted that it helped inspire his own Pixar feature film Inside Out.

The direction of the five minute pre- show animation segment was so impressive that Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg assigned the team of Wise and Trousdale to direct the animated feature Beauty and the Beast and later Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Wise, by the way, provides the monotone voice for the Hypothalamus after the guests entered the main 200 seat auditorium where Buzzy was now portrayed by an audio-animatronics figure.

On several screens, celebrity actors including Charles Grodin, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey, Bobcat Goldthwait, Kevin Meaney and George Wendt play various body functions like the left and right brain, the ventricles of the heart, adrenal gland and stomach. Their humorous responses to the various activities help explain the function of those organs.

In a seventeen minute show, Buzzy had to deal with a typical day of misadventures at school from missing the school bus to an accident in chemistry class to dealing with bullies and an infatuation with a female schoolmate. It was the hope that the show might be reprogrammed over the years to tell different stories dealing with how the body functions rather than just stress management.

MetLife ended its sponsorship of the Wonders of Life by June 2001. Although the MetLife logos disappeared from the pavilion, Cranium Command and most of the pavilion’s other attractions continued to operate normally through 2003. In 2004, the Wonders of Life pavilion became seasonal, and was open fewer days each year.

On New Year’s Day 2007, the Wonders of Life was officially closed. The domed pavilion became the Festival Center for Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival in fall and for Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival in spring.

In February 2018, Disney announced that the location would become the PLAY! Pavilion, “a digital metropolis where guests will discover an interactive city bursting with games, activities and experiences that connect them with friends, family and beloved Disney characters—both real and virtual—like never before.”

A still unsolved mystery is what happened to the Buzzy audio-animatronics figure that disappeared from the closed attraction. The pressurized hydraulic lines were clumsily cut in order to remove the three hundred pound figure.

According to an Orlando police report, Patrick Allen Spikes was charged with burglary, grand theft, and dealing in stolen property of Buzzy’s bomber jacket, headset and green hat that he sold for $8,000 and ended up in the possession of NBA player Robin Lopez.

However Spikes denied taking the figure itself, which is still missing, despite some reports that a Disney department removed it without informing any other departments. The Orlando police still consider it missing.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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