The current issue of Celebrations Magazine has gotten me thinking about my all-time favorite extinct attractions at Walt Disney World. Horizons was my favorite part of Future World at Epcot…or EPCOT Center, if you’re really old school…from 1983 to 1999.
Horizons served as a sort of primer for what Future World was all about — how technology and progress would allow us to do things we’d never done before. It was so technologically advanced for its time that they had to open it a year after EPCOT Center itself opened. Utilizing quintessential Disney technology like Omnimovers and IMAX screens, Horizons told the tale of how, sometime in the 21st century, we’d find ourselves living in space colonies, harvesting crops in the desert, and sending our kids to undersea schools.
The concepts of fascinating futures gripped me, and I loved the use of smells in addition to sights and sounds on the attraction. But my favorite part was the “choose your own adventure” ending, in which you could travel in space, through the futuristic desert, or under the ocean. Every bit of the attraction appealed to me — the boundless future, the fanciful imagined technologies, the interactivity…well, as interactive as could be in the early eighties. When I’d talk about EPCOT Center to my friends, some of them would say, “Isn’t that the boring, educational park?” and I could proudly point to Horizons as proof of what Walt himself called “edutainment” — the intersection of education and entertainment.
Alas, like so much else from its time period, Horizons became dated at the years wore on. The imagined future in Horizons became as much a quaint thing of the past as the “future that never was” segments of the attraction that parodied ideas from the 19th century through the 1950s. By the end of the nineties, Horizons closed intermittently. It was pretty clear that, as hard as it was to let go of Horizons, Disney had to move on with something new.
Nowadays, the amazing, beautiful Mission: Space pavilion is located where Horizons once stood. It’s a near perfect sequel to Horizons…an imagining of a near-future time when space travel will be a routine. In a way, though, all of Future World itself is a tribute to what Horizons stood for…a limitless future where just about anything is possible. Walt himself would be immensely proud of what Horizons represented, just as I imagine he looks down from Heaven beaming in pride at what Epcot and all of Walt Disney World are.