Continuing from where we left off last time; the transition from The Living Seas into The Seas With Nemo & Friends was a rough one. In 1999, United Technologies ended its sponsorship of the pavilion, and by the end of the year, all references to UE were removed.
Soon, one of the preshow theaters was closed and replaced by a hallway for guests to skip the preshow movie if they wanted to. The next things to go were the Hydrolators and finally, the Seacabs. Guests could now simply walk to SeaBase Alpha.
With The Living Seas a shell of what it once was, the Imagineers needed to find a way to breathe new life into the pavilion. They looked at the success that Finding Nemo was having in theaters and decided to use that to their advantage. The stations in the sea base were soon re-themed with the inclusion of the characters from the movie. Bruce’s Sub House and Mr. Ray’s Lagoon were some of the first to appear. Then came the sleeper hit, Turtle Talk with Crush.
Doing what Imagineers do best, they used cutting edge technology to bring an animated Crush to life. He can now talk to guests in real time as part of the Living Character Initiative. Turtle Talk with Crush proved to be so popular that they quickly had to move it to a larger area.
In August of 2005, the entire pavilion closed for refurbishment. The seabase continued its transformation, and eventually, partially opened back up to the public. While the seabase was open again though, major changes were happening elsewhere. Both preshow theaters were taken out, giving Imagineers the space to add 280 feet of track to what would become the main attraction at The Seas With Nemo & Friends. Again, they used technology to their advantage. The characters from the film were able to be projected in such a way that they looked as if they were inside the water tank. However, it now took on the feel of a dark ride with its focus on telling Nemo’s story, saving a grand view of the water tank until the finale.
Then, on October 10, 2006, The Seas With Nemo & Friends was fully reopened and re-themed. The new theme was met with both cheers and jeers (much like the recent news of another pavilion in Epcot closing and being rethemed). Finding Nemo was the breakout movie for Pixar and a lot of people loved the characters and jumped at the chance to see them in the parks, but others felt like it stripped the pavilion of its educational roots. It was one more step away from the original intention of EPCOT Center.
I used to think that. When my wife and I would go to Epcot, most of the time we skipped over the pavilion. But then we had a kid, and she really likes Finding Nemo the movie. When we finally do get to bring her to Epcot, we definitely want her to enjoy this pavilion, and if she comes away from there with a better appreciation for the ocean and its inhabitants, simply because they used characters that she knew and loved, has it really moved away from the edutainment that the Imagineers wanted from EPCOT Center?
What do you think? The Living Seas or The Seas with Nemo & Friends?
Chris grew up during the Disney renaissance of animation and took his first trip to Disney World when he was ten. Even though he has loved Disney his whole life, his obsession didn’t start until he began planning a trip for his honeymoon. Right now, his primary job (at least the one that doesn’t pay the bills) is to indoctrinate his daughter with his love of Disney while at the same time convincing his wife to move to Orlando so he can become a tour guide in the parks.