Disney Days of Old: Horizons
“To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome. Epcot is inspired by the creative vision of Walt Disney. Here, human achievement is celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.
May the EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire, and above all, instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere. – Card Walker, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, October 24, 1982.
Welcome to the EPCOT Center – inspired by the community of experimental prototypes of Walt Disney of Tomorrow. Unlike any other theme park to come before or since – EPCOT Center (now known simply as Epcot) has been around long enough to inspire generations of people around the world to share common goals of peace, hope and progress.
There are many pavilions and attractions at Epcot that are true to this mantra, but the one that most clearly and completely shared these values welcomed its last guests well over two decades ago. Take a peek into the future with Horizons, a truly legendary attraction.
The perfect pavilion
When the EPCOT center opened in October 1982, it contained only a fraction of what it boasts today. Nine pavilions from the nations of the world surrounded the World Showcase lagoon (Morocco and Norway opened several years after the park). Several future world pavilions had yet to open, including Horizons, The Living Seas, and Wonders of Life.
Horizons was the first of these three non-opening pavilion additions to Future World. The concept of a life-in-the-future attraction was an anchor of the EPCOT Center project from the start. It was (and still is) the only attraction in EPCOT’s history to incorporate all elements of the spirit of the park – communication, energy, transportation, anatomy, imagination, education, and humanity’s relationship with land and sea.
The original ride concept did not come from Disney storytellers. It came from Reginald Jones and Jack Welch, then current and future CEOs of General Electric (GE), the pavilion sponsor. The original concept would have focused on all of the work and progress of electrical pioneer Thomas Edison, right up to the origin of GE. The theme shifted to the future of American life, intended as a sort of spiritual successor to Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. The theme has again been changed to incorporate a more global society. Disney Imagineer George McGinnis (the last Imagineer hired by Walt Disney before his death in 1966) led the development of the attraction.
What’s in a name?
We can’t imagine calling this fan-favorite attraction anything but Horizons, but during the design phase, the attraction was originally named “Century 3”, to acknowledge the third century of American existence (1976-2076) . The name was ideal for that Americana feel, but EPCOT was meant to celebrate the global community (and attract guests from around the world), so the name was changed to “Futureprobe.” Let that sink in for a minute… Futureprobe, while seeming avant-garde, also seemed a little… intrusive. After further debate, GE and Disney officials settled on the Horizons name.
From future past to future present
Horizons opened in October 1983, a year after the park opened. The pavilion and attraction brought together all the concepts of EPCOT with a look towards a bright future. The attraction experience worked as a two-act story, tied into a larger-than-life intermission.
The first act took a look at “past visions of the future”. These were ideas of the future as they were perceived at the time of visionaries such as the French science fiction author Jules Verne and the French illustrator Albert Robida. Some of the wacky gadgets and steampunk-inspired machines from the sci-fi vision of the future were proudly on display here.
Since the future never turns out exactly the way we think it does, this throwback to “a future that never was” turned out to be a creative way to set the stage for act two.
But first, the bridge. Between acts one and two, the guests walked through a kind of tunnel, surrounded by two gigantic OMNIMAX screens. These domed screens were state of the art at the time – precursors to modern IMAX screens. The displays introduced guests to several advanced technologies such as computer processors, ocean exploration and DNA research, which served as a bridge between past and current visions of the future.
After the bridge, there was act two – an optimistic look at the future of society. Here, guests saw how technology could enable the human race to expand further and colonize areas as inaccessible as outer space, the ocean floor and vast deserts. The aroma of a successfully blooming orange grove in the desert is one of the most famous scents in the history of the Disney parks. Through aromas like this, animatronics, other visual effects, and well-directed sound effects, Horizons guests saw very clearly how life could be for them in the future.
It was here, after the second act, that Disney Imagineers presented the first interactive simulator ending in theme park history. Before completing the ride, guests were given a choice of which route they wanted to take back to the FuturePort. With the push of a button, guests could choose to return from the Brava Centauri Space Station, the Mesa Verde Desert Farm, or the Sea Castle Research Base. This interactive conclusion was ahead of its time and matched the attraction’s progressive theme.
Check out a video presentation of Horizons, as published by Resort TV1:
Horizons is widely considered the “spiritual successor” to Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, originally sponsored by GE during the 1964-65 World’s Fair. Where Carousel of Progress followed a typical American family through the generations of the 20th century, Horizons focused on a family of the future, showing innovative and imaginative technologies employed by the family, living in one of various environments explored in act two.
The end of an era
Horizons has dazzled guests for a decade. But in 1993, after ten years of operation, GE decided not to renew its sponsorship of the attraction. The attraction ran valiantly for about a year, before closing its doors to guests in December 1994. Horizons remained closed for about a year, before being commissioned in December 1995 to accommodate guests at EPCOT while Universe of Energy and World of Motion were closed for renovations. The attraction’s second life lasted just over three years, until it was finally closed in January 1999.
Disney gave no public reason for shutting down Horizons, but the lack of corporate sponsorship was likely the main reason. There was also speculation that the attraction’s building was experiencing structural issues. For whatever reason, the building was demolished in July 2000. In its place rose the attraction we know (and love) as Mission: SPACE, which opened in October 2003.
In the past, but still present
The future of Horizons may have ended over two decades ago, but fans can still find loving nods to the EPCOT classic in several attractions today.
In its successor attraction Mission: SPACE, the center of gravity wheel in the attraction’s queue bears the classic Horizons logo, and a stylized version of the logo also appears on the front of the checkout counter in the store. Cargo Bay gifts at the exit of the attraction.
Also, following the attraction’s renovation in 2017, a new mural added to the entrance features the Brava Centauri space station orbiting the Earth (you have to stand close to see it, it’s quite small) .
Fancy a bite? Jet into space for a meal at Space 220. This new themed restaurant at Epcot launches guests into space before enjoying a cornucopia of cosmic fare. Carefully watch your ascent before dinner and your descent after dessert. The Horizons exhibit building is shown in place of the current Mission: SPACE building.
Do you miss the trusty old robot butler from Horizons? You can visit his charming friend in the after-show futuristic city scene in Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain (though he’s not as well-dressed as the steward in Horizons).
Horizons still resonates with so many EPCOT fans – even those too young to have ever experienced it in person. The attraction’s optimistic view of the future offers hope and encouragement to future generations, and it paints a picture in which humanity is able to set aside social differences and use technology to achieve infinity and beyond.
Enjoy your return home. But please take this important and inspiring message home with you.
“If we can dream it, we can do it (yes we can).”
Those words – first coined by writer Sheralyn Silverstein as “If you can dream it, you can do it” – weren’t uttered by Walt Disney himself. But sung by happy and hopeful children, this phrase sums up the spirit of Horizons and EPCOT as a whole. Never stop dreaming, my friends, and always keep on doing!
Thanks for riding, and please follow here for additional articles in this series. We will continue to explore many other former Walt Disney World attractions and experiences, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
Sources referenced in writing this article include:
Disney A-Z: Horizons
All Ears – Why EPCOT’s Iconic Skylines Are Still Enjoyed 20 Years After It Closed
Theme Park Tourist – Horizons: Why Disney Tore Down Epcot’s Top Attraction
Laughing Place – Disappearing Disney Attractions: Horizons
Magic Made Today – FINALLY, the origin of “If you can dream it, you can do it”
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Pirates & Princesses (PNP) is an independent, opinionated, fan-powered news blog that covers Disney and Universal theme parks, themed entertainment, and related pop culture from a consumer perspective. The opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its publishers, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial source of information and has no connection with The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal or any other company that we can cover.