Friday, June 4, 2010

Dissecting Disney's Lands: Tomorrowland

On the opening of Disneyland back in 1955, Walt was able to introduce each of his fantastic lands in just a few sentences each. But as they’ve grown, and even when they first opened, their component themes are incredibly wide ranging; an eclectic collage of ideas and settings grouped loosely by their land’s title. In this series, I hope to break down these sub-themes (their settings both in location and in time) to better understand how to lands come together as a cohesive whole.

"A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying man's achievement. A step into the future with predictions of constructive things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure, and ideals, the atomic age, the challenge of outer space and the hope for a peaceful and unified world."

“Now it is time for a preview of the World of Tomorrow. We step into the future and find fantastic atomic-powered machines working for us. The world is unified and peaceful. Outer space is the new frontier. We walk for a time among the strange mechanical wonders of tomorrow, and then blast off on a rocket to the Moon."


At it’s opening, Tomorrowland contained twelve attractions – the most of all the lands – but had the least amount of money spent on it. Instead, Walt made the show space available to outside companies willing to receive exposure in the park instead. This heavy involvement of corporations including American Motors, Monsanto, Dutch Boy Paint and Richfield Oil, and the appropriate favourable light that was consequently shone upon them, established the first theme of Disney’s Tomorrowland; Corporate Benevolence – the American economic system and the benevolence of the corporation (a benevolence the public would lose trust in as corporate scandals appeared in the succeeding decades).

But these corporate pavilions were specifically chosen to further the message of Tomorrowland. The Aluminium Hall of Fame, Dutch Boy Color Gallery and The World Beneath Us each demonstrated the wonders of invention, whilst the Monsanto Hall of Chemistry explained the inner workings of the physical world. The theme demonstrated was that of Science & Technology.

One of the most popular of the Tomorrowland attractions, the Autopia, intended to introduce the wonders of the highway system to guests of all ages – a prototype of the weaving motorways that would soon crisscross America. Combined with the short lived Phantom Boats, and even the hands on miniatures of Hobbyland and the Flight Circle, the next theme is revealed; Transportation, and the strides made in opening up the entire world to its population - discovering quicker, safer and more luxurious ways to traverse continents, or even solving the infrastructure problems of every home city.

Perhaps at the farthest end of this theme lies Tomorrowland’s centrepiece theme. Fuelled by the rocketry advances of the previous decade, eyes were set on the stars above and Disneyland was going to make that possible. While Frontierland represented the frontiers of the past, Tomorrowland would represent the frontiers still to be conquered; none more evident than Space. Rocket to the Moon and Space Station X-1 (the Satellite View of America) would quench this curiosity years before mankind would escape Earth’s atmosphere.

Another attraction was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; a walk through the sets and props of the popular live action Disney motion picture. While the events of the film were used to dramatic effect, the emphasis was not upon convincing guests they were transported to Nemo’s nautical realm – it was on the special effects and skills involved in movie production. This theme was Film, not in the Hollywoodland sense of glitz and illusion that would be represented in Disney’s studio theme parks, but of the hard processes and technological underpinnings of the medium. Another attraction, Circarama (later known as Circle-Vision 360) would further this theme; emphasising the brand new technology that makes surround cinema possible.

As well as this, there was the display running through the heart of Tomorrowland – the Court of Flags, a display of all 48 American state flags, with the stars and stripes for the United States as a whole. Just as in Frontierland and Main Street USA, Tomorrowland too took the theme of Patriotism.

But of all Tomorrowland, there was one overarching theme; utopianism – the idea that everything will be better in the future through technology and understanding, providing us with the safety, efficiency and increased recreation time that tomorrow will bring. Tomorrowland is the physical manifestation of the futurist cartoon shorts of the time such as Magic Highways USA and Destination Earth.

As Tomorrowland expanded, so to would its existing themes. The Corporation would be reinforced with the fashion pavilions of Monsanto, and the Crane Company’s Bathroom of Tomorrow would push forward the theme of Science & Technology, later including the wonderful Adventures Thru Inner Space. Film would be represented with the Art of Animation; Transportation with the Skyway and Viewliner, and Space with the Astro Jets and, introducing a more whimsical view of outer space, the Flying Saucers.

It was 1959 brought Tomorrowland’s first major additions. The Matterhorn (later moved to Fantasyland), the Submarine Voyage and the Monorail were all opened within a short duration of one-another. Whilst the Monorail clearly pushed the Transportation theme, the Matterhorn emphasised the idea of new Frontiers; this time the unconquerable extremes of Earth’s mountains. The Submarine Voyage, both a unique transportation itself, but also an exploration of the mysteries of the deep oceans, sat somewhere in between.

But it would be Transportation that would hold the most significant sway over Walt’s future Tomorrowland. As his interest in city planning grew (culminating in the Epcot project), Walt began to investigate new forms of transportation that would feature in Disneyland. As well as the Monorail, the Junior Autopia, Skyway, Viewliner, and PeopleMover were all added since opening – each presented as possible solutions to future transportation problems. Transportations representation was so important that the New Tomorrowland would be dubbed ‘the World on the Move’.

This direction would last until the mid 1970s, marked by the departure of the Carousel of Progress to Walt Disney World. With the opening of Space Mountain, Mission to Mars and the opening of the Starcade and Space Stage, the new dominant theme of Tomorrowland would be Space. Patriotism would be reaffirmed with America Sings, despite much criticism it was out of theme with the land.s As the second generation Imagineers came forward however, they realised Disney was lacking in source material for this new direction. Led by Tony Baxter, Disney joined forces with director George Lucas to bring the perhaps now iconic theme of Tomorrowland to the park; Sci-fi. In time, this theme would expand more and more; with Captain EO, “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” and the Jedi Training Academy to come, amongst others. At times, some of the original themes would return; the American Space Experience would return the wonders of Space; Innoventions would rekindle Science & Technology in a new way more in line with trades expos.

Through the 1990s, Tomorrowland had an identity problem. Inspired by the success of Disneyland Paris’s Discoveryland, attempts were made to move Disneyland to a retro, bronze and copper design with a fusion of neo-agrarian ideas as well.. Not steampunk, but not recognisably anything else either, the retheme seems to have stumbled to a lack of funds, and just a few shorts years later was almost entirely undone.

The latest unique theme, however, would belong to Pixar. Compelled by the studio’s
popularity to have representation in the park, but out of place in any of the other lands, Pixar took root in Tomorrowland – at first with the retro sci-fi of Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, which (if the toy theme is downplayed) could fit in Tomorrowland’s sci-fi range of attractions, and then with Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. It’s contemporary setting and immersive cartoon world seems out of place with Tomorrowland’s past, but its transition placement between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, and pure enjoyability give it a pass for most people.

Magic Kingdom

In Florida, the Tomorrowland stayed in close step with its west coast sister park. Opening in 1971, the Tomorrowland took the dominant theme of the time and ran with it; Space. The themes of the Corporation, Science & Technology, Film and Transportation were almost entirely gone, barring the eventual inclusion of the WEDWay PeopleMover. The new Space theme, seemingly inspired by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey released a few years before, used huge, clean, white expanses. It was a place of monolithic towers, spires and scientific realism; a view of what a space-age society might live like, but in a distinctly Hollywood way.

Tomorrowland’s major revision came in 1994, when the land was entirely transformed into an intergalactic spaceport. This new headquarters for the League of Planets is science-fiction as seen through 1940’s comic strips: Pulp - a place of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, robots and flying saucer aliens where “robots perform household chores, ice cream comes from the Milky Way, and a trip through time is as common as a spin around the solar system.” One of the most unique attractions of this new Tomorrowland was the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, one of the projects supervised by George Lucas. Uncharacteristically scary, this attraction was criticised by some as un-Disney. In sharp contrast to Tomorrowland’s origins, combined with Captain EO’s equally barren world, the theme of the Dystopia became part of Tomorrowland – at least in a Hollywood sense.

Pixarification too would influence Tomorrowland. Pixar’s Monsters Inc. would be the source for the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club. The Imagineers were clever in the way they included this attraction; the Tomorrowland technology supposedly transports you to the world of monsters.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland took a distinctly more urban direction when designing its Tomorrowland, but is otherwise very similar to Walt Disney World’s. As a one off, Tokyo’s Tomorrowland included Meet the World, a Carousel of Progress style attraction chronicling the history of Japan – for its market, this was a unique take on Patriotism.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris has the most unique of all the Tomorrowlands. Now called Discoveryland, it takes as its inspiration some of the past’s greatest visionaries of the future; from Leonardo da Vinci to George Lucas, and most heavily Jules Verne. The result is a type of science fiction known as steampunk; how the world would look if Victorian era technology was used to power airships, rocketships, computers and various other modern and future technology. From launching to the Moon in a giant ballistic cannon, to the giant zeppelin suspended over the land, and Nemo’s submarine emerging above the waters, Discoveryland has a wonderful blending of the past and future.

Hong Kong Disneyland

Hong Kong Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, while small, has a cohesive theme throughout. Here, the retro science fiction clichés are presented in a childlike and whimsical away, recognising the parks inability to compete with the truly futuristic city of Hong Kong just minutes away.


Before I conclude, I want to point out just how much of Tomorrowland is taken from the past, perhaps to the degree that Time Travel should be included as its own theme. From the Carousel of Progress’s overview of the past century, to time travel rides like De Temps en Temps, Tomorrowland uses examples of the past to demonstrate where the future might take us.

Tomorrowland has perhaps the busiest history of all of the main lands; a past weaving through no less than three radical overhauls and consistently putting pressure on the Imagineer designers to always keep a grip on the ‘Tomorrowland Problem’ – how do you represent Tomorrow when it’s always catching up with you? Tomorrowland’s origins can be pinpointed quite directly: Tomorrowland is Walt’s interpretation of the popular World’s Fairs of the time which inspired and enthused him, and which he too himself played a hand in, contributing four attractions to the later 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Tomorrowland would be a demonstration to guests of the wonders of the future; but various things – funding requirements, pop culture fads, cost prohibitive upkeep and more – would influence and bend the original motivation into something entirely unique. To some, Tomorrowland is a demonstration ground for next generation technology, city planning solutions and optimistic futurism. To others, it is the exciting world of science fiction – a place of aliens, robots, Buck Rogers and Luke Skywalker. And still to others there are problems of ‘Pixarfication’, or worst still the dilution of Tomorrowland into ‘the land of attractions that don’t fit anywhere else’. Its true location is somewhere in the middle of all that - a strange blending of abstract concepts like corporate benevolance and utopianism with real future technology and pure science fiction and fantasy. Increasingly, it is the third category that is taking over, concentrating on the sci-fi escapism that Hollywood loves. Breaking it down, Tomorrowland is made up of;

- Science & Technology
- Corporate Benevolence
- Transportation
- Utopianism
- Frontiers (Oceans and Mountains)
- Patriotism
- Film
- Space
- Sci-fi
          - Pulp
          - Epic Fantasy
          - Dystopianism
          - Steampunk
- Pixar
- Time Travel

The Future

Appropriate to the land, here are some ideas of where future lines of opportunity could lie for Tomorrowland;

- Could other problems in need of solutions be explored? Natural disasters, global warming, oil spills and similar?
- How about a dedicated presence for computers, the Internet and video games on a deeper level than just an arcade?
- Are Superheroes appropriate for Tomorrowland? Too contemporary or fantasy to some, Disney’s acquisition of Marvel seems this may well be a reality in the future.
- What about other frontiers yet to be tamed? The deserts, the arctic poles or beneath the Earth’s surface?
- What about contemporary culture - modern art, postmodernism and similar trends of recent decades in relation to art, architecture and media.
- How about other knowledge; not just Science & Technology, but geography, maths or even music?
- Merging this with Patriotism, would Politics and Democracy work in Tomorrowland – enthusing guests with the democratic system, its strengths and the importance of involvement - or is this more suited to Main Street USA or Liberty Square, or even too controversial for a recreational park?
- Sci-fi literature suggests the genre of Alternative Histories. Similar to steampunk, this could explore what the world would be like if history had gone in a different direction; if the Roman Empire had never collapsed, if Lincoln was never assassinated or if a fantastic future technology became a reality.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you found this interesting. The final part should come soon and complete the series; Main Street USA.


  1. "Corporatism – the American economic system and the benevolence of the corporation (a trust that would whither and disappear in time)."

    Says who? That's just your opinion. There are still plenty of people who believe in the American economic system and trust corporations as a whole. To say that belief has completely disappeared is both false and insanely broad and absolute. Also to imply that everyone loved corporations in 1955 and now everyone hates them is ridiculously simplistic.

    And by the way, the term Corporatism is defined incorrectly here. Corporatism is a political system wherein the state own all corporations and runs industry through them. That idea has nothing to do with the American economic system of free enterprise and nothing to do with the original idea behind Tomorrowland.

    Next time, please leave broad political statements out of posts. Thank you.

    1. I do believe that in general the public is becoming less and less trusting in large corporations and the Wall Street economics and politics. This happens to be the dominate economics system currently but it hasn't always been the case, and there is nothing saying that it will continue indefinitely. Our current system may be as out of date as Tomorrowland is.

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  2. Woah, you misunderstood what I was trying to say - although I see now it was a clumsy sentence structure. The bracketed portion was only intended to refer to the benevolence of the corporation, which I think is an apt statement - I think very few companies have the trust of the population in the same way as the during the 1950s. This isn't to say people don't trust the corporate system, just that they are skeptical of individual companies and are more aware that their primary purpose is for their stockholders. As I said, I'm saying the 'benevolence' of the corporation disappeared, I just think people are more aware nowadays.

    I CERTAINLY wasn't meaning to say the American economic system whithered and disappeared - which of course would be absurd! I'm a huge supporter of capitalism (hey- it gave us Disney!). Yes, this is a very simplistic view of this subject, but obviously its not my main focus.

    As for misusing Corporatism - whoops! Thanks for correcting me on that.

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