Picture from WDWmemories.com
The Walt Disney World fan community is more or less united in the belief that there’s something wrong with Florida’s Tomorrowland. The most common complaint, aside from the existence of Stitch’s Great Escape, is that Tomorrowland has turned its back on a realistic future in favor of a fantastical “future that never was”. I don’t really see that as a problem, and here’s why:
The original intention at the first Magic Kingdom park, Disneyland, was that the overt fantasy be restricted to Fantasyland. The other lands were more or less based on reality, or at least reality as we perceived it in 1955. Main Street was supposed to simulate a real turn-of-the-20th-century American town, something that was an actual childhood memory for some of Disneyland’s early guests. Adventureland’s sole attraction, the Jungle Cruise, had not yet acquired the comical edge it has today but was presented as a “real” trip into the jungle. Westerns were still hugely popular, and Frontierland was presented as an actual tribute to America’s past and the “frontier spirit” of the people who settled the West (as was customary back then, very little attention was paid to the fact that there were already people in the West when the white settlers got there). It’s worth noting that, since the days of the Old West were only 70-90 years in the past in 1955, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that an elderly visitor to 1950s Disneyland might have childhood memories of that time. Finally, Tomorrowland-with an attraction lineup that included the Monsanto Hall of Chemistry and the Kaiser Aluminum Hall of Fame-was devoted to real science and technology.
Let’s compare that to today. I’d argue that the areas of the Magic Kingdom that once allegedly represented aspects of the “real world” no longer do. The American Main Street of the 1900s is too far in the past to serve as a nostalgic touchstone to anyone. The idealized, sanitized Old West of Frontierland never really existed, and the same can be said of Adventureland’s Afro-Poly-Caribo-Asiatic tropical pastiche. Really, adjusting Tomorrowland to represent a fantastical “future that never was” caused it to be more consistent with what the rest of the park has become.
Secondly, the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, with its detailed Future World, made Florida’s Tomorrowland kind of redundant. Future World was Tomorrowland on a much grander scale. Perhaps this is best illustrated by Delta Dreamflight, the aviation-themed attraction that made its home in the southeastern sector of Tomorrowland from 1989 to 1996. It followed the same template as several Future World attractions-a ride through the past, present, and future of something accompanied by a soaring 1980s-flavored melody. Dreamflight would have been a good fit in California’s Tomorrowland. But in Florida, located a short monorail trip away from EPCOT Center, it looked like a pared-down Future World attraction. Converting Tomorrowland into something more fantasy-based served to differentiate it from EPCOT.
Still, I believe that the 1994 Flash Gordon overhaul created a problem that didn’t exist before. You see, this was one of the few times where Michael Eisner’s edict that everything had to have some kind of a backstory actually worked. The storytelling details that peppered the land-from the drone of the pre-2010 TTA announcer to the posters advertising the Tomorrowland Towers Hover-Hotel and the Leonard Burnedstar concert-really helped to create a sense that the Tomorrowland you could see was a tiny sliver of a much bigger retro-futuristic metropolis. They also whetted your appetite for some kind of an immersive family attraction that would take you on a tour of the “invisible” Tomorrowland that was implied but not seen. Sadly, no such attraction exists. The result-at least in my experience-is that walking through Tomorrowland creates a kind of indefinable frustration. The storytelling details are telling you that there should be something more there, but none of the land’s attractions adequately scratch the itch that those storytelling details create. It’s a real shame, too, because I really think that the presence of a satisfying family attraction that immersed you in Tomorrowland’s retro-futuristic theme would serve to lessen the antipathy a lot of us feel towards the land as it currently exists.
I certainly don’t have enough of a knowledge base to do any armchair Imagineering, so I don’t have a detailed idea of how such an attraction would work or where it would go. I just know it’s something that I keenly feel the absence of.
We’re not through with Tomorrowland yet. I’ve got a post in the works about the land’s Holy Grail, the Carousel of Progress, and farther into the future you’ll see an article about the history of space rides at Disneyland and Disney World. Thanks for reading!