Skip to content

The Tomorrowland That Was, Is, and Could Be


“There’s a great, big beautiful tomorrow
shining at the end of every day.
There’s a great, big beautiful tomorrow
and tomorrow is just a dream away.
Man has a dream, and that’s the start.
He follows his dream with mind and heart
and when it becomes a reality,
it’s a dream come true for you and me.
There’s a great, big beautiful tomorrow
shining at the end of every day.
There’s a great, big beautiful tomorrow
just a dream away.”

These lyrics guide our journey through the decades on Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, and they stand as a mantra not just for their own attraction, but also the land it exists within and even Walt Disney himself. The song, written by Disney Legends Richard and Robert Sherman, is an embodiment of Walt’s sense of optimism, hope for the future, and, yes, his progress that he led the way with for his industry, first in filmmaking and then in tourism. For Tomorrowland as a whole, those words ring important, too. The east corner of the Magic Kingdom compass is portrayed as an intergalactic spaceport, hardly a perfect fit for a showcase of an American family’s homestyle life of the 1900s. And yet, both realms somehow capture the same spirit and merit juxtaposition, if nonsensical—that the tomorrow of our fantasy can be the tomorrow of our reality. As Tomorrowland looks forward to the building of TRON Lightcycle Power Run, its first major attraction in over a decade, let’s take a look back (counterintuitive, I know) at how this area has taken a unique approach to its storytelling, and how this new addition could fit within that bold narrative.


What Was

It’s no secret that Tomorrowland has always presented an artistic challenge because the idea of “tomorrow” is always going to change. The original Disneyland version of Tomorrowland, which opened with the park in 1955, presented a vision of the future as predicted for 1986. In Tomorrowland‘s first few decades of operation, the Imagineers continued to revise the area’s menu so as to stay ahead of themselves, both at Disneyland and later once the Walt Disney World version of Tomorrowland opened in 1971. The attractions were constantly replaced, and generally fell into one of two categories, relating to either outer space (Flight to the MoonMission to Mars) or technology (If You Had WingsAdventure Thru Inner Space). While not completely disparate themes (they both present images of something that is far-reaching or at least not easily accessible to the modern Guest), they never meshed as well as Disney’s other intricately designed theme park areas which required less ground-up overhaul.

In 1994, Imagineers cut out the middleman to present Florida with its slick, shiny New Tomorrowland. Rather than a mismatched collection of attractions from varying different eras (both thematically and in terms of when they first opened), the complete top-to-bottom makeover now connected all of its attractions under one story. Tomorrowland wasn’t just an area of a theme park, it was a physical community that functioned as a headquarters for intergalactic travel. Tomorrowland Transit Authority wasn’t just a people-moving respite, but a true transportation system that these alien lifeforms used to commute. Space Mountain wasn’t just an indoor space-themed rollercoaster, but an actual hub of rocket launches into outer space hosted right here in Tomorrowland. The area went from a stepping-off point for venturing into other stories… to becoming part of the fabric of the story itself. Props and atmospheric elements throughout the area supported this idea. (Carousel of Progress was still the odd one of the bunch in this scenario, not making sense within this construct, but perhaps overlooked as a means to an end.)

Over time, this narrative unfortunately became less and less maintained with the introduction of each new attraction debuting after that 1994 makeover. This reached an inarguable turning point with a 2009 refurbishment of Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. Its new script treats the ride as a tour of Tomorrowland as a theme park area rather than Tomorrowland as a fictional community, making note of specific gift shops and attractions, and even referencing history about Walt Disney World. This doesn’t make this version “bad” by any means, but it does destroy the story that 1994’s New Tomorrowland upheld.


What Is

At the time article publishes online, Tomorrowland is in the middle of an awkward mesh of many different ideas. Stitch’s Great Escape! still stands, but only opens during peak seasons and most of the time is only utilized for its queue area, transformed as a character greeting location. The famed “Purple Wall,” existing for years with nonexistent attention, has seemingly instantaneously become an Instagram icon and one of the most popular photo spots in the entire park. Incredible Tomorrowland Expo literally covers up Tomorrowland‘s story with a temporary summer overlay showcasing the Incredibles and their many super friends, bringing yet another flavor of “tomorrow.” The highly anticipated TRON Lightcycle Power Run is slated to open in 2021, bringing a signature thrill ride from Shanghai Disneyland stateside in what is sure to be an amazing E-Ticket. And Carousel of Progress still hangs in there as an anomaly from truly everything around it.


What Could Be

Ok, follow me here. So we’ve established that Tomorrowland, while filled with many intriguing attractions (some of which are among the park’s best), might be experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. An alien storyline is the canvas, but outer space isn’t always involved, sometimes we’re in the future, other times we’re not, and now 1960s-era superheroes are mixed into things too? Confusing.

Furthermore, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was an instrumental vessel for the future of Imagineering. It was a turning point for Walt and his team in more ways than one. As Imagineers developed four attractions (including Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress) for corporate sponsors that delighted Guests at the Fair, they proved that Disney attractions would have an east-coast audience, should Walt continue to pursue his plans for a resort on this side of the country. It also presented major breakthroughs in Audio-Animatronics technology and storytelling techniques that paved the way for a completely new genre of Disney attractions that would follow it. What’s more, the retro, mid-century, idealized vision of the future as depicted in the architecture and stylization of the Fair continues to inspire a generation of artists today. (For instance, the entire feel of Incredibles 2 is modeled after this era’s style.) The spirit of the Fair and the aesthetic of its visuals are both nearly unanimously praised today among the Disney community and creatives alike.

In the spirit of armchair Imagineering, I think that there is a viable and exciting solution for what Tomorrowland could become. Main Street U.S.A. is modeled after Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri, but is a romanticized version of it that never truly existed. Likewise, Hollywood Bouvelard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is dubbed as “the Hollywood that never was, but always will be.” In this same vein, what if Tomorrowland was a hyperreal version of a World’s Fair that never really existed, but so many people “remember”? The bright colors, the architectural angles, the themes of a “great, big beautiful tomorrow”… All gloriously on display in a romanticized showcase of the latest innovations and wonders from various vendors, with Tomorrowland as the hub where these presentations are being hosted.

Tomorrowland as a fictional community could still be a spaceport, or anything, really, but now it would be inviting intergalactic and humanoid creatures alike to share and celebrate one vision: that tomorrow can be a better place for you and me. All of Tomorrowland‘s existing attractions could fit within this framework. Monstropolis is the “sponsor” for Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor and its breakthrough energy technology. Starport Seven-Five is excited to show travelers their latest rocket models to blast them off into space. Walt Disney Imagineering is even a sponsor as it shares an historical look at progress that was particularly beloved by its founder. This “fair” theme would allow more flexibility and less rigidity, giving the future of its attractions breathing room to explore new ideas without disrupting an overarching story already in motion.


What is your favorite Tomorrowland memory? What do you think its future could hold?


(All images © Disney.)


To learn more about Blake and read his recent posts for the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page by clicking the link on his name at the top of this post.