Friday, August 5, 2011

Tomorrowland: Nostalgia vs. Reality

On my last few trips to Florida’s Magic Kingdom, I’ve often found myself longing for the pure, unspoiled pre-Flash Gordon Tomorrowland of my childhood:


The funny thing is, the last time I was there I didn’t feel that way at all.

It was 1992. I was 14 years old, and my family was on a day trip to the Magic Kingdom. Even though park maintenance had not yet begun to slip the way it would later in the decade, Tomorrowland felt like an abandoned corner of the park that the Imagineers had forgotten about. More than anything else, it reminded me of Marineland.

Marineland was Florida’s first theme park, a kind of proto-Sea World. Located just south of St. Augustine on A1A, it opened in 1938 and remained popular with tourists well into the 1970s. I made frequent visits on school field trips and family outings during the ‘80s, but by then Marineland had entered into a sustained period of decline thanks to the opening of Sea World. I didn’t notice it when I was in elementary school, but the last trip we made to Marineland was in 1990, and by then even my dense twelve-year-old self could tell that the park had seen better days. Marineland in 1990 was quaint, creaky, and obviously old. Just like Tomorrowland in 1992.

Unfair, you say? Let’s take a look at Tomorrowland’s 1992 attraction lineup. Guests entering the land from the hub were greeted by two attractions that anchored Anaheim’s Tomorrowland when it opened in 1955: Mission To Mars (which was really just Flight To The Moon with a different film) and a CircleVision theater. Pushing farther into the land you had Delta Dreamflight, a ride that was charming, but looked a whole lot like a scaled-down, cheaper version of EPCOT Center’s more elaborate Omnimover attractions. The final scene of the Carousel of Progress was showing audiences of the 1990s what people in the late 1970s imagined life would be like in the late 1980s, and the Grand Prix Raceway was another Disneyland original that was no more futuristic in 1992 than it is today. Compared to EPCOT Center’s sleek, modern Future World, Tomorrowland looked about as pathetic as Marineland did when compared to Orlando’s sleek, modern Sea World.

It’s tempting to look at today’s Tomorrowland with its visual clutter and its crass Licensed Character-infused attractions and think that everything would be perfect if we woke up one morning to find it magically restored to its pre-1994 iteration. That might satisfy a tiny minority of the Disney fan community, but it wouldn’t play well with the general public, that’s for sure. And if we take an objective view, I think even hardcore WEDHeads like me would admit that the old Tomorrowland is best left in the past.


  1. I think when people talk about wanting the old Tomorrowland back, they mean the clean design moreso than the attractions that were part of it.

    Then again, I'd argue that the current crop of attractions in today's Tomorrowland are only marginally better than what was there in the 90s anyways.

    At least WDW still has a Peoplemover adding kinetic energy to Tomorrowland. Out here in California, ours is a rather lifeless area of the park without it.

  2. I agree with you that most people want the clean design back, rather than the attractions. I kind of agree, but I think the Flash Gordon look serves the park better for reasons I'll enumerate in my next post.

    I'm so glad that we still have the PeopleMover in Florida. Ripping it out at Disneyland before they were sure that the Rocket Rods would work was a huge mistake.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Good points in your article! The older shows weren't exactly the cream of the crop even though one had Carousel Of (Now is the Time) Progress, PeopleMover, and Space Mountain. I agree though with Cousin Orville that one would have hoped the attractions would have evolved into something much better that what we have now. I guess that EPCOT Center siphoned off some of that creative energy.

    I too like the original clean design even though it was a bit sterile. What's interesting is that thanks to companies like Apple, clean design is back in vogue (clutter is out)....and retro 50's/60's is also popular. I would definitely support cleaning-up the over-designed spaceport clutter and develop a "plussed" design that evokes more of the original Tomorrowland. They did a very successful job of it with Disneyland's Space Mountain.

  4. As a late-comer to Disney's parks, I don't have anything to compare to. But it's hard to imagine what today's Tomorrowland looks like without the crowds. I've never been there when the crowds weren't overwhelming the scenery...

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