The Tomorrowland Problem: Part 2
The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World
The original Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland /1971-1993
As was Tomorrowland at Disneyland on its opening day 16 years earlier, Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World (WDW) started out quite bare.
On October 1, 1971, when Tomorrowland became the 6th "land" in WDW Magic Kingdom, it consisted only of the Grand Prix Raceway and the Skyway to Fantasyland. Over a month later, CircleVision 360, presenting the multimedia show "America The Beautiful," debuted in the south Tomorrowland building and 1971 saw one more attraction open when on Christmas Eve, Flight to the Moon opened. It was the most noteworthy addition of the year, though it was an attraction that had originally debuted in California over 4 years earlier. Flight #92 took Walt Disney World Guests on a virtual trip to the moon utilizing screens on the floor and ceiling of a circular room.
The expansion of Tomorrowland continued on June 5, 1972, when "If You Had Wings" opened, a WDW original with sponsorship by Eastern Airlines (then the official airline of Walt Disney World). The attraction was an omnimover ride that passed several plywood sets with built in screens depicting Mexico, the Caribbean, The Bahamas and various other vacation destinations. Word is that it amounted to a ride-through Eastern Airlines commercial. The title song featured music by Buddy Baker and lyrics from noted Imagineering Show Writer X. Atencio; the pair had previously composed Grim Grinning Ghosts for the Haunted Mansion.
Over two years later, in November 1974, "The Star Jets" debuted on a platform in the center of Tomorrowland. Guests would board their individual "Star Jet" (or boarded with a child) after taking an elevator up to the platform several stories off the ground; the ride simply spun the guests slowly in circles, providing them with a panoramic view of the Magic Kingdom. Also in 1974, a new show, "Magic Carpet Round The World," replaced "America the Beautiful" in the Circle-Vision 360 theater.
1975 would prove to be a banner year for Tomorrowland at the WDW Magic Kingdom. First, on January 15, the Carousel of Progress sponsored by General Electric opened, following its previous runs at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair and Tomorrowland at Disneyland. At WDW Magic Kingdom it featured a new song by the Sherman Brothers "The Best Time Of Your Life" replacing their original theme song "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow." The stated reason was that General Electric wanted to emphasize "Now" was the time to buy their products.
In the Summer of 1975, three more iconic Tomorrowland Experiences opened--two carryovers from the California Tomorrowland and another that would eventually be replicated there. The first transplant was "Mission to Mars," which replaced "Flight to the Moon," while utilizing much of the same infrastructure to simulate a flight to Mars. The other was the WEDway Peoplemover, a guided tour through WDW Tomorrowland, which was narrated by Jack Wagner. The Peoplemover vehicles were powered by magnetic linear induction motors.
But the most important opening of 1975 was Space Mountain, a roller coaster in the dark, originally sponsored by RCA. When it opened, the ride's post-show was a display called the "Home of Future Living," a series of vignettes depicting futuristic home life during which was played the song "Here's To The Future and You." But it was the ride itself that brought in and thrilled guests, first at WDW and then in California.
"America The Beautiful" returned to Circle Vision 360 after barely a year's absence, newly updated for the United States Bicentennial. It would run until 1979 when "Magic Carpet Round the World" returned for an encore that lasted until 1984, when it was replaced with "American Journeys."
The next decade saw a slow but steady series of updates. In 1980, the live-performance Tomorrowland Stage was built between the "Carousel of Progress" and "If You Had Wings." The next year, the finale scene of the "Carousel of Progress," was updated to bring it up to date with developments up to 1981. On March 10, 1985, General Electric withdrew sponsorship of the "Carousel of Progress," but the show went on with the Carousel receiving a new circular logo similar to the Future World circular logos of EPCOT Center.
In June 1985, the original Jack Wagner narration for the WEDway Peoplemover was replaced with narration from ORAC-1 "The Commuter Computer." Also in 1985 RCA renewed sponsorship of Space Mountain with a new post show RYCA-1 - Dream of a New World, featuring the song "We've Come So Far" .
In June 1987, however, Eastern Airlines withdrew sponsorship from "If You Had Wings" and the attraction was retitled "If You Could Fly" keeping virtually the same ride experience but with a new theme song. It continued to operate until January 3, 1989 when it was closed to make way for Delta Dreamflight for new sponsor Delta Airlines. Dreamflight was a whimsical look at the history of aviation with a theme song written by Bob Moline, who had previously written several songs for EPCOT Center.
Throughout the late 1980s, various new colors were added to the original mostly white aesthetic that pervaded WDW Tomorrowland. Bigger changes were to come in the new decade.
In 1993, the "Carousel of Progress" was completely refurbished into "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress" with new "voice of the father" narration done by Jean Shepard, humorist and short-story author now best known as the narrator of the film A Christmas Story, based on stories in his book In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash. The original 1964 voice of the father, Rex Allen, was now cast as the grandfather. The song "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," almost as much of an earworm as "It's a Small World," the other Sherman Brothers song still in use from the 1964 World's Fair, was re-instated as the theme song. The building was painted with a multi-colored gear motif as well as a new marquee shaped like a giant gear.
The future that never was 1994-2000
In 1994, nearly all of Tomorrowland was given a complete aesthetic overhaul into a "Future That Never Was"--a more science-fiction influenced view of the future. An elaborate backstory was concocted for the various areas of the land, establishing that Tomorrowland was headquarters for the "League of Planets." The Star Jets were re-modeled into the Astro Orbiter. The WEDway Peoplemover became the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, complete with new narration that added extra depth to the backstory. In addition, Space Mountain's sponsorship was taken over by Federal Express and given a new post-show.
The original Mickey's Mart was re-named to the far more thematically appropriate Mickey's Star Traders. The nearby Space Port Gift Shop was re-named Merchant of Venus. Circle-Vision 360 was re-dubbed The "Tomorrowland Metropolis Science Center," now featuring the show the "Timekeeper," an import from Disneyland Paris, which was by now two years old. The attraction featured the robotic Timekeeper (voiced by the late Robin Williams) and his robot assistant 9-Eye. The attraction cleverly re-used the Circle-Vision 360 infrastructure in addition to the new animatronic hosts.
Across the street, the former home of Mission to Mars was being prepared to become the controversial attraction "The Extra TERRORestrial Alien Encounter," which was initially conceived as being tied in to the Alien franchise. Many senior Imagineers were appalled at the concept of basing an attraction on an R-rated film in the family friendly confines of the Magic Kingdom and in fact asked George Lucas to convince Disney CEO Michael Eisner it was a bad idea.
With Lucas's input, the concept changed to an evil corporation called XS Tech holding an open house at the "Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center" and using Magic Kingdom guests as human guinea pigs to test their teleportation technology transporting an alien monster into the chamber--the good part being that the test is successful, the bad part being that the monster then proceeds to terrorize guests, a fact that made the attraction highly involving but equally infamous.
The attraction opened for previews in late 1994 and officially opened on June 20, 1995, with some changes made during the interim period to accommodate a number of parents and children who found the attraction far too scary for the Magic Kingdom. The attraction was saved by a cult following of teenagers and young adults who enjoyed being taken to the edge, but once the Imagineers saw the reactions of one too many young fans, they slightly toned down the show, made the preshow more ominous to weed out the fearful, and made sure there were SEVERAL warning signs posted in the queue.
Less frightening changes also were made in the late 90s. On January 1, 1996, Delta dropped sponsorship of Dreamflight and the attraction was re-dubbed "Take Flight"; around the same time, the Grand Prix Raceway became the Tomorrowland Speedway. Two years later, on January 5, 1998, "Take Flight" closed, with plans for it to become "Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin" based on the Buzz Lightyear character from the hit film Toy Story, the first of many attempts to capitalize on the Pixar megahit and its sequels. The ride utilizes the same Omnimover track as all of the attraction's previous incarnations but adds laser guns mounted to the vehicles, which guests use to fire at the forces of the Evil Emperor Zurg. The attraction debuted in October 1998, the last opening before the park began planning celebration of the coming new millennium. In 1999 the Skyway to Fantasyland shut down.
After years of complaints from many parents and children alike, the "ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter" finally closed in 2003, with plans announced to retrofit the attraction to one with elements from "Lilo and Stitch," a Disney movie that was a hit in its day, but hasn't shown the legs of more classic Disney and Pixar fare. "Stitch's Great Escape" debuted in November 2004 and was arguably even more controversial than what it replaced, with an obnoxious Stitch wreaking havoc in the chamber and belching chili dog breath in guests face. It was arguably the worst attraction in Disney history, though I wouldn't argue (unless you bring up "Superstar Limo," but that was another time and another park.)
In 2001, "The Timekeeper," was converted from a full-time attraction to a seasonal attraction and on New Year's Eve 2005, it had its last performance, leaving what had been Tomorrowland Metropolis Science Center dark for all of 2006. In 2007 the site became home to Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor (or MILF as Disney Parks fans derisively refer to it.) What the attraction has to do with the theme of Tomorrowland has yet to be explained, even though the attraction is in use to this day.
In 2009 Space Mountain was expected to receive a refurbishment similar to that done for the Disneyland version a few years earlier. Disneyphiles anticipated new effects, a whole new track, and ride vehicles with a synchronized on-board audio score and more. However, the budget was slashed by then-Magic Kingdom Vice President Phil Holmes. A far more modest refurbishment closed the ride from April 19 to November 21 in 2009 (contrast that period to the more than two years it took Disneyland to refigure its Space Mountain). The budget- and time-conscious changes consisting of changing all signage from orange to lime green while keeping the 1994 font.; removing the glow strips from the ride vehicles, supposedly to make the ride darker; and constructing a new roof over the load area, which blocked the view of that area and much of the ride interior for passengers on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (which was also closed for much of the refurb). Also new were interactive games in the queue and a post-show featuring intergalactic travel destinations. To say this refurb was a massive wasted opportunity would be an understatement.
After the "Tomorrowland Transit Authority" reopened, it received new narration by Mike Brassell beginning on October 2, 2009. The narration now also featured various character voices who would appear near their respective attractions, including the first appearance of Bret Iwan as the voice of Mickey Mouse in the segment for Mickey's Star Traders. In August 2010 the Attraction was re-named the "Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover." Also in August 2010 Space Mountain recieved "Stary-o-phonic sound effects, basically an off-board musical score.
The 2010s and beyond
The theme of Tomorrowland in the 2010s would have been, had it not been someone else's hit film "Back to the Future." Because the changes, while largely insubstantial, had a clear pattern: a return to the early days of Tomorrowland, the 1970s.
In 2014 the Progress City model visible from the Peoplemover was given its first refurbishment since being installed in 1975. A new red color scheme for the Peoplemover platform was implemented and the Astro Orbiter elevator was re-painted to its original red color. (It had been painted teal when the Star Jets became the Astro Orbiter in 1994.)
In 2016, "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress" received a new paint scheme replacing the multi-colored gears motif and a new marquee was added that resurrected the circular logo from the 80s. Also in 2016, the orange rocks that were added as part of the 1994 re-do were re-painted purple and the exterior of Space Mountain received a color changing lighting package.
On October 2, 2016, Stitch's Great Escape went into seasonal operation, which has pretty much left the ride in limbo. Its demise is seen as imminent but not official; it's difficult to find the attraction being operational at this point.
At the D23 Expo in July 2017 it was announced that a clone of Tron Lightcycle Run from Shanghai Disneyland would be built next to the Speedway in Magic Kingdoms Tomorrowland.
In 2018 the entrance marquee for Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor (which before had been at the entrance to the building since the debut of "The Timekeeper") was demolished. A new marquee, reminiscent of the marquees of the original pre-1994 Tomorrowland, appeared there soon after. Also in 2018, the video games in the Space Mountain queue were removed and the moving walkway which had been in place for the Space Mountain post-show since 1975 was removed and replaced with a carpeted ramp.
On July 9, 2019, the Tommorowland entrance sign in place since 1994 was removed; a more retro model was completed on September 17.
Also in 2019 came a rare case of Disney removing an Intellectual Property, "Mickey's Star Traders" was refurbished into simply "Star Traders." In an ongoing project many of the 1994 elements on the exteriors of the main buildings are being repainted white to bring back the look of the pre-1994 Tomorrowland.
The Tron Lightcycle construction continues and while the building does create forced perspective problems with Space Mountain, it looks like it will be a popular, fun attraction. In August of 2022 New narration for the Peoplemover debuted which is much better than the previous (2009-2022) narration, bringing back ORAC-1 as narrator. A few weeks later new signage for the Peoplemover (losing the "Tomorrowland Transit Authority" title) appeared. The Tron Lightcycle Run attraction opened on April 4th 2023.
Summation-The future of Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom
The future of Tomorrowland is uncertain at the moment. While aesthetically, the WDW Tomorrowland is in nowhere near as bad a shape as Disneyland's version, thematically, it is still confused with Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor in particular not fitting the theme of the land.
Meanwhile, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin is showing its age and has become redundant in the larger scheme of things with the opening of Toy Story Mania! in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Meanwhile "Stitch's Great Escape" is essentially closed and no replacement has yet been announced.
So what's next? Although I have no real problem with the "look" of the 1994 updated Tomorrowland, I think it could be a good thing that the current plan is to go back to Tomorrowland's original look and theming. However, this is the only area where there has been consistency. Changes in the 2000s were mostly terrible and the next decade was not that much better, mostly aesthetics.
What is needed is the creative thinking that marked the first two decades of WDW Tomorrowland. Hopefully the Tron Lightcycle will be successful and will inspire more creativity and construction in the area, which would benefit not only the land, but the Magic Kingdom in general.
But in my opinion, the most pressing need, perhaps in all of the Disney universe, is bringing Space Mountain into the 21st Century. Anyone who has ventured onto its sister ride in Anaheim knows how great the ride could be and given that Anaheim did its upgrade nearly two decades ago, the possibilities for a refurbished Space Mountain are very exciting. Granted that type of update will cost not only money but time in closure, but it will be well worth it.
About the Creator
Writer, Drummer, Singer, Percussionist, Star Wars and Disney Devotee.
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