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Tomorrowland: Then and Now – A World on the Move?

It was appropriate, considering that from almost anywhere you stood looking at Tomorrowland you could see various vehicles in motion: the People Mover (similar to the Magic Kingdom’s WEDway/Tomorrowland Transit Authority), Rocket Jets, Skyway, and even the Autopia cars (think Tomorrowland Speedway). Most of them also had counterparts in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland.

But Disneyland’s Tomorrowland had even more kinetic energy, from the grey (and later yellow) submarines that graced its lagoon the Magic Kingdom’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was in Fantasyland), to the graceful Monorail trains (which of course remain outside of the park at WDW), to even the steam train at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland station. From almost any angle you would likely see vehicles in motion.

The Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland might use that same catchphrase, "a world on the move," for another reason though, since it seems that attractions in this land just keep changing. For instance, take the first building on your left as you enter Tomorrowland. It’s now "the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center," home to Stitch’s Great Escape. This is the fourth attraction housed in this venue since Flight to the Moon opened Christmas Eve 1971. Yes, you read that right. Although the Magic Kingdom first opened its gates October 1, 1971, there wasn’t much available in Tomorrowland those opening weeks. It was nearly the end of December before the C-Ticket Flight to the Moon attraction opened.

In fact, until the Circle-Vision 360 film "America the Beautiful" (a "free" attraction in that it didn’t require any separate tickets) opened November 25, 1971, in the location where Timekeeper now resides, the Grand Prix Raceway (D-ticket), and the Skyway to Fantasyland (also a D-ticket) were the only attractions in operation — not too futuristic in my book! If You Had Wings (another free attraction) opened the following year, but the rest of Tomorrowland wasn’t really completed until 1974-75. It was also at this time that two of the initial attractions of this land received a makeover — and one of them received two changes within a year!

The Circle-Vision 360 theater began screening Magic Carpet Around the World in 1974, only to be replaced with an updated version of America the Beautiful a year later, with new footage added in honor of the nation’s upcoming Bicentennial celebration. About the same time, the flight path at Mission Control changed from roundtrips to the moon to service to the red planet when Mission to Mars opened. As time went on, the tall graceful fountain spires that flanked the Tomorrowland entrance were complemented by other spires — like WDW’s first coaster, Space Mountain (E-ticket) and the central rocket spire of the Star Jets (D-ticket).

Another favorite (and free attraction) that made its debut about that time was General Electric’s Carousel of Progress, fresh from its six-year run at Disneyland, complete with a new theme song, "The Best Time of our Lives." Prior to that, it had ran at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Making this a real "attraction on the move" in more ways than one, both in it’s unique rotating theatre concept, and also in it’s being installed in three different locations in just over ten years. Also at this time, the D-ticket WEDway People Mover (now Tomorrowland Transit Authority) began service another "World on the move" experience and with a different source of propulsion at Walt Disney World than at Disneyland, at Florida’s Magic Kingdom Linear induction propulsion (electro-magnets) are the source of the "drive" moving the vehicles rather than the genuine Goodyear rubber tires that were set into the track to drive the Disneyland peoplemover trains.

A few minor changes occurred during the ’80s. America the Beautiful was replaced by American Journeys in 1984. If You Had Wings was rechristened If You Could Fly in 1987 when Eastern Airlines’ sponsorship ended and Delta took over. Then in 1989the Imagineers reworked the attraction into Delta Dreamflight.

In all honesty, it had been a while since the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland had received a new "Futuristic" attraction. Not only that, but by the time Tomorrowland really got off to a good start in the mid-1970s it can be argued that the sleek concrete lines so prevalent in this land (and reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey) were already no longer seen as "futuristic."

Movies like Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner, while presenting darker futures than those that might seem appropriate for a Disney theme park, continued to shape the consensus of what the future would look like, and made the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland look, well, a bit dated.

Eastern Airlines was not the only sponsor to leave this part of the Magic Kingdom in the 1980s. General Electric began corporate sponsorship of Horizons (and later IllumiNations) at Epcot starting in 1983, and eventually decided to drop sponsorship of the Carousel of Progress in 1985. To its credit, Disney continued to run Carousel of Progress even without a sponsor. In 1993 the attraction received a major refurbishment that included new dialog, a whole new final act, and the return to its original New York World’s Fair and Disneyland theme song ("There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," written by the Sherman brothers). The name was also formally changed to "Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress," appropriate as this attraction embodies many of the things that Walt believed in.

Finally, the 1990s — The Future That Never Was Is Here!

With this makeover, even Tomorrowland attractions that were not replaced received a new look. Star Jets became Astro Orbiter (with more Buck Rogers-like rocket sleds), WEDway became Tomorrowland Transit Authority (with a new spiel), and even the Grand Prix Raceway got a makeover to become the Tomorrowland Speedway. Restaurants and shops also received new decor and most of them new names as well.
The land’s new vision of the future drew on our past projections of what the future would be. The book Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind The Dreams Look At Making The Magic Real credits 1930s publications such as Mechanix Illustrated and Amazing Stories. I see an even wider array of sources than that. For me, the rock work at the entrance to Tomorrowland that replaced the tall spires always reminds me of the scenes from the old Buck Rogers (or was it Flash Gordon?) serials — the scenes where the rocketship is taking off. In places it also draws on "Googie architecture," a sort of 1950s future. (Some of this is also seen at the Studios near the Prime Time Cafe.) I think that the neon lighting draws on that era, too.

All the futures that are drawn from are blended together with a great bit of fun. In a sense, the remaining bits of the 2001-type future (namely Space Mountain) became refreshed this way, as they are only one component in the wider mix of futures shown. Still, don’t think that the changes were limited to rock work and new signs (though I really like the new signs, the new entrance sign the most of all). Attraction replacements came, too — taking its cue from Le Visionarium at Disneyland Paris, and giving a few cosmic comic twists with the voices of RobinWilliams and Rhea Perlman, The Timekeeper replaced Tomorrowland’s American Journeys.

Across the way from the Tomorrowland Science Center (home of the Timekeeper) the Tomorrowland Convention Center hosted a new attraction– a teleportation demonstration by a company known as X-S Tech: "If something can’t be done with XS, then it shouldn’t be done at all." This was the setting for the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, the third attraction in this location since the opening of the land. There were those who felt that if you experienced this attraction once that was all there was to it, not much reason to return. I loved the more comic bits of the show, though, and enjoyed trying to take in details I might have missed here and there.

Since that major makeover, there have been other changes in Tomorrowland in the last 10 years. They include the loss of Delta Dreamflight, which continued for a while as "Take Flight" after it lost its sponsor Delta Airlines in 1996. But the Imagineers finally came up with a winning new attraction, one of the few attractions in any of Disney park’s Tomorrowlands actually based on a Disney movie: the popular Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.

In 1999 the Skyway to Fantasyland closed, and the area where its station sits has yet to be redeveloped. There are different theories as to why this attraction closed, and it is likely that several of them are true to varying degrees: higher insurance costs (especially in the light of an employee accident), bottom line affecting labor costs, room for future expansion.

The Timekeeper attraction has gone to "seasonal" status, as has the venerable (and venerated) Walt Disney’s Carousel Of Progress. Seasonal attractions only run during the busier times of the year, like summer, spring break, Thanksgiving weekend,
and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This has led to rumors that both of these attractions’ days are numbered. Now that Stitch’s Great Escape has opened, some wonder how much longer these two attractions can hold on. (One line of thought about the Carousel of Progress says that it is unlikely that they will close it in the coming year since it has such a historical tie to Disneyland, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.)

So what can we expect for Tomorrowland’s future? One possibility for an attraction re-theming might be the Tomorrowland Speedway. With an upcoming animated release featuring a story about cars (Cars, Disney’s last pairing with Pixar Studios, is due to be released June 9, 2006), such a change might be good for the speedway.

One of the rumored replacements for either The Timekeeper or the Carousel of Progress is an updated version of an attraction that first appeared at Disneyland from 1961-66 — the Flying Saucers. It was rather like an air hockey board, with the "pucks" as cars big enough for you to sit in and steer. This attraction is fondly remembered by many, even though it was plagued by mechanical difficulties. A newer version with modern computer controls, and situated indoors for both less wear and tear on equipment and guests, is one of the things that could replace either one of these attractions. The theme of this ride? It could possibly be tied to the Little Green Men from Toy Story. (For those of you who think two attractions based on one movie in one land might be a bit much, remember that the Mad Tea Party and the Alice in Wonderland dark ride have existed in the same land in Disneyland for more than 45 years.)

I will be sad to see either Timekeeper or Carousel of Progress go, most especially the latter. Still, it is hard to see how many more times they can renovate this attraction and still keep a coherent story line. As it is there is quite a jump in time from the third act (1950s) to the fourth (2000). If it is retired after Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, I’ll give Disney credit for the 20 years the attraction has operated without a sponsor, as well as the classy treatment they gave it in its 1993 restoration. Not only that, but with a wide swath opened up from the Skyway station, including the carousel theater, and possibly even the Galaxy Place Theater I would look forward to seeing what the Imagineers could come up with for this sizable chunk of the Magic Kingdom.

As beautiful as Tomorrowland’s "Future that Never Was" makeover was (and still is), the future remains a moving target, and unlike the 1970s rendition of Tomorrowland, it appears this Tomorrowland is going to keep moving with it.

Brian Martsolf martsolf@mindspring.com

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