The Strange Tale of the Stolen Epcot Animatronic
Epcot is home to the World Showcase, Future World, and the incredibly strange tale of theft of a huge animatronic from a popular urban exploration hot spot.
Epcot is one of the four main Disney theme parks that makes up Walt Disney World in Florida. People often refer to Epcot as a permanent World’s Fair due to its focus on exhibits and educational attractions over traditional rides (though recent attractions have veered towards the more traditional). It’s divided into two sections: the World Showcase, which features food and exhibits from various countries around the world, and Future World, which is made up of individual sponsored pavilions with technology- and science-based attractions. It’s the latter section of Epcot where our weird story takes place.
One particular pavilion in Future World was called Wonders Of Life sponsored by MetLife. This pavilion housed a few body and health related attractions, including Cranium Command, which was an educational brain focused show presented by a large animatronic named Buzzy. The theater itself represented a human brain and Buzzy sat high up on a swivel chair near two screens that represented eyes looking out at the world the host, Bobby, was experiencing.
Wikipedia describes the experience as follows:
The show took Buzzy’s host through a typical day: getting up, skipping breakfast, running to school after missing the bus, meeting and falling for a cute new girl, protecting her from bullies, getting involved in a food fight at lunch, getting sent to the principal, and being thanked by the girl, then kissed after asking her out. At each point in the day, the various organs of the body talked to Buzzy, explained the problems they were facing, and in many cases argued over how Buzzy should deal with the situation. In the end, Buzzy (via help of General Knowledge’s advice) eventually learned how to effectively balance the needs of his body crew in order to combat potential stressful situations.
MetLife dropped its sponsorship of the pavilion in 2001 and over the next few years, interest in the attractions began to dwindle. It was reduced to a seasonal pavilion shortly after it lost sponsorship. By 2007 it was permanently closed. The space is still used for festivals and special events, but wooden walls have been constructed in front of the main attractions to block them from view. For all intents and purposes, these attractions were retired and left to rot.
Enter: Urban Explorers.
Urban Exploration is an interesting hobby where adventurers enter condemned, abandoned, or otherwise neglected spaces, often posting pictures and video of their experience on social media for the world to see. It’s not difficult to imagine that an abandoned attraction at Epcot would be a prime target for such plucky explorers, as anything with the word Disney associated with it would spread pretty far on social media.
It’s important to note that in most cases Urban Explorers are very clearly trespassing, as is the case here, but that doesn’t really deter people from doing it. It’s an unexpectedly popular activity given you are essentially incriminating yourself in a crime. As a disclaimer, we don’t condone breaking the law. Also, it’s dangerous, guys. A lot of buildings that become the target of Urban Explorers are in poor state and you can injure yourself.
All that said, it wasn’t exactly difficult to access to the Wonders of Life pavilion. It was often “protected” by a simple rope at the entrance and little else. A lot of chatter online indicates the doors were frequently left unlocked, too, which means that once you stepped over the rope nothing was stopping you from walking right in and snapping pictures of the abandoned attractions. It wasn’t a challenging place for them to go, and the payoff was immense in the world of social media popularity. A quick search on YouTube shows tons of clips of people poking around Wonders of Life and there’s quite a few who take to Twitter to showcase their adventures as well.
Side note: big YIKES on how relaxed the security at Epcot. I always had this picture in my head of Disney security being rather hardcore, sort of on par with infamous Disney lawyers. But I grew up at Disneyland. So maybe things are different out in Florida? Or maybe my perception was off? I was a kid when I had an annual pass to Disneyland after all, so maybe security was way worse than I thought it was. But the Wonders of Life was essentially a walk in for anyone who knew it was there, and lots of people knew it was there.
Urban Explorers documented the attractions in Wonders of Life as they began to decay, noting that the other major attraction in the pavilion, Body Wars, was dismantled at one point. People theorize the parts have been used in various Star Tours attractions in other parks, which are essentially the same style attraction with different dressing.
But while Body Wars was cannibalized for other parks, Cranium Command just… sat there. Explorers noted the clothing fade and his eye began to droop. At one point Disney put a huge spotlight on Buzzy for some reason, possibly to deter vandalism. But in general it was just left alone to decay and Epcot didn’t seemed to concerned with punishing trespassers.
But in late December 2018 these Urban Explorers noticed something weird. Buzzy was missing.
This is Buzzy. He used to be a part of Cranium Command at EPCOT before the attraction closed. He was to be saved as a part of Disney parks history.
He has been stolen. If you recognize him or know of his whereabouts or see listings on merchant sites contact OCPD! pic.twitter.com/0VLKarhbtH
— Miss Moth (@MissMothTweets) December 22, 2018
— Wonders of Life Fanbase (@WoLFanbase) December 22, 2018
This event was shocking to say the least. Getting Buzzy out of Cranium Command would be no easy task. He is huge and was bolted in place above a huge pit. Per the article on WDW Today:
Stealing an audio animatronic requires two things: technical knowledge of how to disconnect it and a team of people to carry it, as they are quite heavy. How a company as large as the Walt Disney Company could be unaware of a team of people trespassing into a building and doing this is mind-boggling. Someone would need to have some experience to cut a pressurized hydraulic line. According to sources, there was hydraulic oil spilled everywhere when he was removed by the culprits.
After disconnecting Buzzy, it would also take more than one person to carry him out. How does something like this happen without Disney security noticing? This also raises safety concerns for guests; if someone without authorization drove a truck into a backstage area in a park to do something like this, what would stop someone with more serious intentions?
Due to how difficult it is to get to Buzzy, some people theorized that Disney may have taken it for archiving purposes. Urban Explorers who had been in Cranium Command shortly before Buzzy went missing had noticed that it had been red tagged for this purpose. It seems like a simple explanation, but the state of the theater would indicate that it was removed with very little care. The hydraulic cables were hastily slashed and fluid was all over the floor. If Disney was going to archive him, wouldn’t they remove him cleanly? Why leave a big mess? Why cut the hydraulic cords in such a sloppy manner?
But if it was a theft, how did someone climb up that high and carry it out unnoticed? It’s huge and suspended high up in the air. You’d definitely need a ladder to get to him unless you took a very dangerous flying leap across the pit. And it wouldn’t exactly be easy to carry it through the main exit to the park once you did get it down. This isn’t a simple shop lifting venture where you can cram it in your pocket and walk out the door. Buzzy is a sizable robot. People would notice.
Neither theft nor Disney removing it for archival purposes made complete sense and the Internet became a hot bed of conspiracy theories as a result. My favorite video outlining these conspiracies is this one by Jenny Nicholson from last February. It’s a long one, but worth a watch if you want an in depth break down of the situation as of February (though there have been developments since then, which we’ll get to in a moment). Was it an inside job? Was it a set up? Did someone just walk in and pluck it off the swivel chair and smuggle it out the front gate? Did Disney secretly take Buzzy without telling anyone? If so, why? It’s their own property. There’s no reason to be so secretive.
Shortly after Buzzy vanished, the Internet found a potential suspect. Patrick Allen Spikes, who operated a now suspended Twitter account called @BackdoorDisney, voluntarily submitted to an interview with authorities in December 2018:
Sometime between August 1 and August 8, someone entered a backstage, off-limits area of the Wonders of Life and stole a red bomber jacket, rubber molded hands and a green military-style cap from Buzzy, detectives say. The report said the area where Buzzy is kept wasn’t very secure, as there are many points of entry because the building is still being used by vendors and contractors.
While the official arrest only mentioned his clothes (and his hands??), it was the closest anyone had to a solid lead. He’d been in there before and clearly had no problem with lifting items from Epcot or being associated with those who do. And, more specifically, he’d clearly been in Cranium Command before. But without Buzzy himself being found (uh, except his hands apparently), people were still skeptical. Perhaps he (or someone he knew) took the clothes and hands, but left Buzzy himself behind and someone else came in and absconded with the animatronic.
But then six months later things escalated.
On May 12th, @BackdoorDisney posted a picture of Buzzy’s head on Twitter. Yes, that’s right. HIS HEAD. Buzzy had been decapitated and BackdoorDisney had photos of it. I have not been subjected to these photos myself as his account is gone now, but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere if you’re morbidly curious. This tweet was pretty damning and kicked up the rumor mill again. Was this a confession or was he just showing off that he knew where Buzzy was? Being in possession of photos of his head must mean he’s connected somehow, right?
On May 17th the Orange County Sheriff issued an arrest warrant for Spikes and confirmed that Buzzy had been stolen. And the scene was set for how Spikes went about stealing property from Epcot:
Police said Spikes and his cousin, who posed as a Disney staff member, had access to the stolen Haunted Mansion items via “underground tunnels” used by employees. The two men went to a nearby 7-Eleven and took photos wearing the stolen clothes. Photos were also taken of Spikes and other people wearing the clothes at his home.
Though the warrant itself doesn’t directly link Spikes to Buzzy’s theft, it’s the first confirmation that Buzzy has actually been stolen and not taken by Disney for archival purposes as some had speculated previously. The Sheriff’s office has apparently been aware of the theft since November 2018, before Urban Explorers made it known online.
So let’s lay out the timeline: the clothing was taken in August 2018, the police were aware that Buzzy had been taken in November 2018, Urban Explorers noticed he was gone in December 2018, and he posted the head shot on Twitter and was charged for stealing Haunted Mansion items and we learned that Buzzy was definitely stolen in May 2019.
Spikes denied that he is the one who absconded with the animatronic, and, prior to his Twitter account being suspended, he appeared to maintain that he only had pictures of stolen merchandise. In the eyes of the law he’s innocent until proven guilty. But when it comes to the court of public opinion it seems most people think they’ve found their guy. He was suspected as far back as December, after all, and hasn’t been shy about showcasing stolen property from Epcot on his social media profiles. He also posted pictures of his mugshot on his social media account, showing he found the whole ordeal sort of hilarious. It’s not a difficult conclusion to come to.
But seriously, RIP Buzzy. What a gruesome and horrifying way to go out. Poor guy didn’t deserve that treatment. He deserved a nice retirement in the Disney archive and he got butchered instead. Cheers to you, Buzzy. I hope you’re recovered some day and get pieced back together.
Author: Angel Wilson
Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3.
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