Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak, Gawker’s chief restaurant critics, recently ate, drank, and gasped their way through every international pavilion and theme park attraction at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. This is their review.
Rich: This “ride” is mostly a movie in a theater with one of Epcot’s trademark wrap-around panoramic screen configurations (put to use elsewhere showing touristy films about some of the World Showcase countries). It stars Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Nye, and Jamie Lee Curtis and debuted in 1996. That was before Ellen was out. Both she and Curtis are less butch in the footage than they are nowadays (Curtis was still in her sexpot True Lies phase). Nye is fresh-faced.
The movie takes you back 220 million years in time and then you spend what feels like that long making your way back to the present. This is a very long, boring attraction.
Caity: I definitely felt like I had gone back 220 million years in time, seeing how young Ellen looked. Her Southern accent was also much more pronounced. (Never forget that Ellen grew up in Louisiana and Atlanta...Texas. Yes, Scheana, I said Atlanta, Texas.) I have a vivid memory of experiencing this attraction as a child, which makes me think that my mom must have been...overwhelmed...by that point in the day. It’s definitely not something you’d take your kids to because you love them.
In many ways, the park attendants working this attraction make it sound like the scariest in Epcot. Not because anything scary—or even remotely interesting—happens over the course of it, but because, as you take your seats in the movie theatre-sized car (80 riders per vehicle!), they stress over and over again that, once the ride begins, you must remain seated for “the next 37 minutes.”
Can you remember the last time you did anything for thirty-seven minutes?
Rich: Funnily enough, the guy who was doing the pre-show announcements warned us, “This is the Universe of Energy, not the Universe of I Found a Place To Take a Nap.” Uh, sir, do you even know how to use this park? Is this your first day? That is exactly what it is.
Caity: There is probably no better place in Epcot to take a nap or make a baby than this ride.
Rich: She travels back in time in a dream within a dream. That sounds way more clever than it is. The immediately uninterested parties (park visitors) watch the narrative’s setup in the structure’s holding holding room. I heard not one laugh during this seven or so minutes. Ellen bombed. After the introductory video ended, we were instructed to wait for the automatic doors to the actual theater to open completely before stepping inside of it. The employee delivering announcements told some woman that he was a professional and knew what he was doing, squeezing a howl out of a woman ahead of us that Ellen could not. It wasn’t even a joke, it was just the fact of the matter—really, it was just a sentence—and it was way funnier than anything we’d been presented with thus far.
Caity: His name must have been “Bob,” because I wrote down in my notebook “Bob is a delight.” It should be Bob’s Energy Adventure.
Rich: The mechanics of this ride are way more exciting than the contents. You sit in a theater and then, “What’s that?” the seats start moving. The entire seating configuration makes a turn to face what you foolishly thought was the back of the theater. And then, you enter a doorway to the past.
Caity: As for the ride itself, a large part of it is basically a slow-paced trip through dinosaur times, represented by an already extant dino diorama that was repurposed for Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and, boy, does that show. The entire section is lit like the inside of a boot, presumably to camouflage the fact that these animatronic dinosaurs are decades old.
Rich: From a rider’s perspective the lighting is bad, but from a dinosaur’s perspective it’s flattering. Maybe they’re ashamed of the toll that millions of years have taken on their skin. I bet you in a few years, Mariah Carey’s concerts will be similarly lit.
Caity: Everything was sort of big, but nothing was designed on a particularly intimidating scale. I would describe what I presume was the T-Rex as “taller than a very tall man.” This ride taught me a lot about the past—specifically, that rides in the 1980s were much more boring.
Rich: They were cool if you were a kid in the ‘80s, though. I remember loving the original non-Ellen incarnation, but I also remember actually being able to see the dinosaurs. This ride is made to make you feel like you have cataracts. Maybe I do now that I’m as old as dinosaurs. Anyway, this ride is about as educational as a cereal box or Snapple lid. I thought we’d at least be blessed with a roaring T-Rex before our cart made its way back into the theater, but no. They didn’t even try to eat us. Without peril, what’s the point of dinosaurs?
Caity: After the dinosaur portion, the car travels into a dark room where riders listen to radio announcements about the past. (????) Why not just send us a telegram about the past? Why not just start an epistolary romance with us about the past?
The only other thing I remember about this ride is like...wind energy. Did this ride even talk about wind energy?
Rich: It was mentioned, as was water energy, as were dams, though yet again, nothing was explained. Epcot was merely covering its bases. “We couldn’t let you leave without at least acknowledging the existence of these things that, frankly, we don’t quite get either. Dance ‘em off, Ellen!”
Caity: Using her newfound knowledge of energy, Ellen cleans up on energy-themed Jeopardy!. Wait—do we ever see her wake up from her dream? Or does the ride end with her still a prisoner in that nightmare world?
Rich: I think we might still be in her dream and may never know.
Ride Report Card
Rich: I give this ride a D for dino-snores.
Caity: If you are of sound body and mind, it is offensive to waste 37 minutes of God’s precious and finite gift of life on this ride. If you are exhausted, or need to find a place where your children can nap, or want to breastfeed your baby in a cool, air-conditioned environment, you’ll do no better than Ellen’s Energy Adventure. I guess that averages out to a C, but with the caveat that no one should ride this ride unless it’s an emergency. (Also: Prepare to lose basically your entire day here if you don’t arrive JUST as the intro video is starting; the whole experience actually lasts about 45 minutes, start-to-finish.)
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Images via Rich Juzwiak and Caity Weaver.