Since Future World was initially devoted to the limitless potential of mankind's future, and since the early '80s saw us coming out of an energy crisis where we were forced to seriously consider the fact that fossil fuels would run out one day, one might have expected the Universe of Energy to focus on the future of energy beyond fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the sponsor Disney secured for this pavilion was none other than Exxon. Big oil! I don't know about you, but to me that's kind of like getting Sean Hannity to sponsor the French pavillion in World Showcase. Predictably, the show talked a lot about fossil fuels.
First, there was a film about the formation of fossil fuels, followed by a ride through a primeval landscape with Animatronic dinosaurs that were really the pavilion's main attraction. The ride ended with another film whose message was that, sure there were alternative energy sources like solar and wind, but they weren't economically viable yet, and until the Big Breakthrough to a cheap, inexhaustible energy source happens, we still haven't run out of fossil fuels provided by the Exxon corporation (there was no overt advertisement for Exxon, but the inference was definitely there). The main problem with the original show was that it was two PBS specials about energy with some Animatronic dinosaurs in the middle. Sure, the dinosaurs were pretty cool, but the fact that the films were projected onto giant screens wasn't enough to make up for their extreme boringness. The pre-show was interesting as a technical achievement (it was shown on a screen made up of 100 independently-rotating prism-shaped elements called a Kinetic Mosaic, invented by Czech director Emil Radok) but like the attraction's other films, it just wasn't that outstanding. Even worse, Universe of Energy's original incarnation featured not one, but two earnestly cheesy songs 1980s soft pop songs about energy. Tell me if these lyrics don't make you cringe:
En-er-GEEE, there is no living with-OUT youu
We must keep learning a-BOUT youu
Now is the time to find HOW tooo
Or, if you're in the mood for something unintentionally hilarious, try these:
Feel it grow, see it glow!
It's the Universe of Energy!
Trust me, the only thing worse than reading those lyrics is actually hearing them sung. Actually, don't trust me. Head over to the Media page at horizons1.com and download the original Universe of Energy ride-thru video so you can experience it yourself. If you have time, I recommend the Ultimate Tribute video, it's packed with lots of interesting information about the technical aspects of the pavilion.
In 1996, the show was upgraded to its current incarnation, Ellen's Energy Adventure. The story revolves around Ellen Degeneres having a dream in which she's playing a game of Jeopardy! with Jamie Lee Curtis and Alex Trebek. All the questions are about energy, so she "pauses" the dream and enlists the help of Bill Nye the Science Guy to teach her all about energy so she can win the game. Goofy? Sure. But it presents pretty much the same information as the original version of the show in a more entertaining package. Unfortunately, all the 1990s pop culture in the show ensured that it would not age well. And of course, any show about energy that fails to address today's skyrocketing oil prices and the push toward alternative fuel sources is hardly worth your time.
Without a doubt, the original show contained some worthy elements. The same can be said of the current incarnation. Ultimately, which version of the show is "better" depends on your own personal taste. Personally, I like to compare the pavilion's two incarnations to the first two Star Trek movies. Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a bigger budget and was more intellectually stimulating, but it was boring and slow-moving. The Wrath of Khan had more entertainment value, but it definitely didn't take same the "highbrow" approach as its predecessor. Now that ExxonMobil no longer sponsors the pavilion, I hope that any future version of the Universe of Energy can be more honest about the energy challenges of the 21st century, and highlight the sources of energy we'll turn to once the fossil fuels run out.