DESIGN: A walk through WDW’s Tomorrowland – Part 2

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Last week I compared the site plan for Tomorrowland to Main Street USA. This week I am going to focus on a couple of related items. First, I will talk about the level of motion that is unique to Tomorrowland. Then I will shift gears and talk about where this level of motion came from – Tomorrowland 1.0.

One of the signature hallmarks of Tomorrowland is all of the vehicles moving about. Moving vehicles dominate the land at all levels. On the ground plain, constantly queuing up are the cars of the Speedway. Up one level are the TTA trains. The TTA trains continue throughout the land and become a thread that ties many of the Tomorrowland structures together. Flying high overhead are the Astro Orbiter rockets.

When the Carrousel of Progress is open and spinning even the buildings add to the movement. And not long ago, you had the gondolas of the Skyway passing overhead. And we can’t forget Push, the talking trashcan. There is no other spot in the Magic Kingdom with such diversity of vehicles on display.

This movement is due to the original Tomorrowland. Tomorrowland 1.0 lived until 1994. In the relatively brief history of the Magic Kingdom, only Tomorrowland has received a significant makeover. Adventureland and Frontierland have been expanded as attractions have been added. Toontown Fair is a temporary idea made permanent. But only one land has had a sequel – Tomorrowland.

What you see today is the Imagineers solution to a longtime vexing problem. How do you create the world of tomorrow when tomorrow happens so fast? What happens when the design and construction process takes so long that by the time the project is done it isn’t relevant anymore?

Don’t believe me that this is a real problem? Need an example of what happens when you lose this battle? Been to DisneyQuest lately?

One of the hallmarks of Disney design is that each land feels like a “place”. And by place I will use the definition drafted by architect Charles Moore. He once stated that “Place is the projection of the image of civilization onto the environment”.

Disneyland’s first Tomorrowland (1955) was set in 1986, the return year for Haley’s Comet. It was updated in 1967 to no specific date but the place was the “world on the move”. The Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland 1.0 was the next generation of that concept. But 20 years later the “world on the move” was looking dated.

So the solution in 1994 was to rethink the entire question.

Instead of projecting a place set into the future, why not just create a fantasy place influenced by visions of the future. The Imaginers decided to borrow elements from Disneyland Paris’s Discoveryland and create “a future that never was”. This created a place that is less about anticipating the future than creating a more timeless setting. To this end, the Imaginers borrowed heavily from predictions of Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Buck Rodgers to create a “Spaceport”; a place where visitors from throughout the universe come and go. In some respects Tomorrowland is the first “postmodern” land and that idea would be amplified at Disney’s California Adventure.

When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Tomorrowland was a bright shiny optimistic vision of the future. It was a world of motion. Gleaming white spires greeted you and the future looked so bright that you had to wear shades (that white paint). Today, Tomorrowland has become sci-fi Fantasyland. The emphasis is on the familiar instead of the challenge of what could be. Even the most forward-looking attraction – the Carousel of Progress – is presented like it is a museum.

Tomorrowland is clearly organized, a very entertaining space to sit and take a break, and brings back a nostalgic moment for those old enough to remember when…

Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennaway is an Urban Planner who runs the fantastic SamLand’s Disney Adventures blog. Sam visits Disneyland on a frequent basis and toured with the Unofficial Guide team on our recent Disneyland Trip.

6 thoughts on “DESIGN: A walk through WDW’s Tomorrowland – Part 2

  • July 27, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I always thought that Discoveryland in Paris was the Jules Verne future (lots of zeppelin references), while Tomorrowland was the Buck Rodgers future (lots of rockets/space travel). Can you point out any specific Jules Verne (or HG Wells) influences in the Anaheim or Orlando Tomorrowlands?

  • July 27, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Discoveryland was the first of the Tomorrowlands to give up on predicting the future and was a huge influence on the other Tomorrowland updates. That was the biggest change.

    For the Magic Kingdom, the Timekeeper attraction was brought over from Europe and lasted a number of years. The tinker toy-like construction also has a similar feel to Europe. You are supposed to feel like you are at a Space Port. Instead, it has become Pixar’s sci-fi Fantasyland.

    Disneyland’s 1998 redo was just a mess. The initial idea was Tomorrowland 2055, a celebration of American sci-fi moives, but that whole idea was muddled up in various budget cuts. The underlying theme now is what is known as the “Montana” future which was never fully articulated. However, much of the plant material is edible. The original color palette and industrial painting style was a carryover from Disneyland Paris. But much of that has been painted over and returned to the white background of 1967.

    • July 28, 2009 at 12:35 pm

      Hmmm… who needs counter service when you can nibble on the shrubbery?

      I am forced to admit that Timekeeper was already on “open seasonally” by the time I started going to WDW in 2003, so I never had a chance to experience it or even notice the building and queue area.

      And as for Disneyland (CA), I’ve been there twice and honestly thought that Tomorrowland was essentially like it had always been. Interesting that they had a more vibrant color scheme but went back to the white. Have they ever done anything with the People Mover tracks?

  • July 28, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I thought Timekeeper was pretty cool. It fits better at Disneyland Paris and acts like the orientation film for the entire land.

    As a Southern California native, Tomorrowland is very different than the 1967 “World on the Move” version. The entrance was grand and open and not clogged up with a ride. The PeopleMover provided that kinetic energy. And the rockets were up high where they belong.

    Sadly, the PeopleMover tracks are still there rotting away and visible everywhere. The Rocket Rods that replaced them did serious stress to the structure.

    I love the TTA and really miss the PeopleMover.

    The land was white (for one reason it was easy to maintain) and then changed in 1998. Parts have flipped back to white (especially the Space Mountain building) or the harsh color have been muted (Buzz Lightyear).

    Thanks for the comments.

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