Cranium Command
at The Wonders of Life
Yester Epcot at Yesterland
Cranium Command sawhorse sign
We want you as a new recruit!

A recruiting sign beckons you to enter a golden domed structure. You could be a pilot—a brain pilot!

Cranium Command interior marquee
You can’t miss the entrance once you’re inside the Wonders of Life.
 
General Knowlege cut-out at Cranium Command
General Knowledge is in charge here.

Before you go in, take a look at General Knowledge. You’d better pay attention to him!

Cranium Command entrance queue
A hallway leads to the pre-show film.
 
Cranium Command “Good Pay” poster
Clever recruiting posters...
 
Cranium Command “See the World” poster
....line the hallway.
 
Cranium Command pre-show theater
Welcome to the pre-show theater.

You first stop is the pre-show theater. The doors close. An animated General Knowledge yells at you as he paces back and forth in front of a slide show:

“All right, you pitiful, soft-bellied sad sacks; eyes front and listen up! I’m your commanding officer, General Knowledge. And it’s my job to turn you mealy-mouthed meatheads into a crack squadron of Cranium Commandos. Your job—if you can cut it—will be to run the most sophisticated information system ever devised, the human brain. You! There in the back! Suck in that gut and wipe that smile off your face! The brain is serious business. Now, listen up, you miserable toads! This is your brain. You will eat with it; sleep with it; you will never leave it! Without you, the brain is nothing. Without your brain, you are nothing! It took three million years of research and development to make this lean, mean thinkin’ machine what it is today. In those years, we had some successes and some failures, and if you meatballs can’t fly right, you’ll wind up piloting one of these. Do I make myself clear?”

As the example of “successes,” General Knowledge shows Albert Einstein; for “failures,” it’s Jim Varney’s character Ernest P. Worrell. And when he talks about “piloting one of these,” he shows a picture of a chicken.

You meet Buzzy. Much to the dismay of General Knowledge, HQ has assigned Buzzy to pilot “the most unstable craft in the fleet”—an adolescent boy.

Buzzy at Cranium Command
New recruit Buzzy is the pilot of this brain.

You move into the main 200-seat theater. But don’t think of it as a theater.

You’re inside the head of a 12-year-old boy. Buzzy is now Audio-Animatronic. Eye-shaped screens allow you to see what the 12-year-old sees. Celebrity actors play supporting such parts as the left brain, right brain, and stomach. They’re projected on various screens inside this “head.”

Annie in “eyes” at Cranium Command
Right Brain: “Just look at the way her eyes glisten in that fluorescent tube lighting.”

Buzzy has to deal with getting dressed for school, a full bladder, no time for breakfast, missing the school bus, running to school through backyards, avoiding a poodle, getting to chemistry class just as the bell rings, meeting his cute new lab partner Annie, daydreaming about her, causing an explosion, dealing with bullies, protecting Annie, a food fight, a trip to the principal’s office, and fear of what the consequences might be—all while coordinating the body crew members and their conflicts. After advice from General Knowledge and consultation with the body crew, Buzzy diplomatically tells the truth to the principal.

Everything ends well. Annie agrees to go out after school. There’s even a kiss from Annie.

General Knowledge congratulates Buzzy as a full-fledged member of the Cranium Command!

Buzzy in front of “eye” at Cranium Command
Buzzy does well!

That was a fun show! It had a humorous script, great casting, terrific animation, a clever main theater space, and a skillful combination of Audio-Animatronics with film.

If you’re familiar with 1980s television, you probably recognized many of the performers—but not all of them. Here’s the cast, in the order of appearance:

Corey Burton General Knowledge
Scott Curtis Buzzy
Kirk Wise Hypothalamus
Charles Grodin Left Brain
Jon Lovitz Right Brain
Kevin Nealon Left Ventricle of the Heart
Dana Carvey Right Ventricle of the Heart
‘Bobcat’ Goldthwait Adrenal Gland
George Wendt Stomach
Jeff Doucette Elimination
Natalie Gregory Annie
Kenneth Kimmins Principal Hardcase
Kevin Meaney Lungs

Cranium Command opened at EPCOT Center (now Epcot) in October 1989 as part of the new Wonders of Life pavilion, sponsored by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (MetLife).

MetLife ended its sponsorship of the Wonders of Life by June 2001. Although the MetLife logos disappeared from the pavilion, Cranium Command and most of the pavilion’s other attractions continued to operate normally through 2003. (The AnaComical Players Theater had already been cut in 2000.)

When a Disney attraction loses its sponsor, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it ceases to operate. At Epcot, ExxonMobil stopped fueling the Universe of Energy in 2004, and United Technologies got out of the water of The Living Seas in 2001. Both pavilions still operate daily. The Living Seas is now very popular as The Seas with Nemo & Friends—still without a sponsor.

The Wonders of Life was past its prime. The pavilion looked very much like something from the 1980s, with its Miami Vice color palette and its trendy 1980s design elements. Although guests still enjoyed the clever script and high energy of Cranium Command, the heavy reliance on “current” comedy stars (even as characters from SNL skits) from 1980s made the attraction seem quite dated.

former Cranium Command marquee in 2007
Former Cranium Command marquee above wine seminars at 2007 Food & Wine Festival

No new sponsor came along to take over the Wonders of Life. Disney limited its spending to routine maintenance and basic staffing. It didn’t help that the simple dome of the Wonders of Life was easy to overlook between its flashier Future World neighbors.

In 2004, the Wonders of Life pavilion became seasonal. It seemed to be open fewer days each year. In 2006, it even remained closed during Epcot’s busy Easter period, leading to reports that the pavilion was now closed permanently. Surprise! The Wonders of Life reopened for the 2006 Christmas season, but that was its last hurrah. When its doors were locked New Years Day 2007, the Wonders of Life—and with it, Cranium Command—became history.

The domed pavilion that was once the Wonders of Life is now used for special events. It’s the Festival Center for Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival in fall and for Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival in spring.

So what happened to Cranium Command? Although its name is gone from the marquee, all indications are that Cranium Command still exists behind locked doors. During the 2008 Food & Wine Festival, Cast Members working right outside the shuttered attraction did not have access to it.

former Cranium Command marquee in 2008
Former Cranium Command marquee above culinary demos at 2008 Food & Wine Festival

If you’re reading this article and you also happen to control the advertising budget of a major health or insurance corporation, perhaps you’ll want to approach Disney about reopening the Wonders of Life. But, in that case, you and Disney’s Imagineers will probably want to do some serious updating. After all, 1989 was a long time ago. You’ll want to reuse infrastructure, but not an old show in which Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey play Hans and Franz.

Thus, it’s highly unlikely that Cranium Command will ever reopen, even if Disney were to find a sponsor to reopen the Wonders of Life.


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Updated February 17, 2012.

Photograph of Cranium Command sawhorse sign: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Cranium Command interior marquee: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of General Knowledge cut-out at Cranium Command: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Cranium Command entrance queue: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Cranium Command “Good Pay” poster: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Cranium Command “See the World” poster: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Cranium Command pre-show theater: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Buzzy at Cranium Command: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photograph of Annie in “eyes” at Cranium Command: 2006 by Brian Henry.
Photograph of Buzzy in front of “eye” at Cranium Command: 2006 by Brian Henry.
Photograph of former Cranium Command marquee in 2007: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photograph of former Cranium Command marquee in 2008: 2008 by Werner Weiss.